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Vunessuh's avatar

Why do schizophrenics only imagine bad things?

Asked by Vunessuh (16704points) June 18th, 2010

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormalities in the perception or expression of reality. It makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.

My question is, why do schizophrenics (not on medication) only seem to imagine things that would be considered more negative than positive?

For example, if they are paranoid (constantly afraid of bad things like the government implanting tracking devices/thought reading chips in their head or someone following them on the street wanting to kill them), then why can’t they constantly imagine/constantly be happy about something good? For instance, imagining everybody around them loves them because they are a famous celebrity. Why don’t they go around offering their autograph because they think everyone is an adoring fan? (Just one example among many.)

I understand that it has something to do with chemical imbalances in the brain, but even most people who are bipolar swing from the depths of despair to rapturous highs.
So why can’t a schizophrenic ever have a different perception of reality that happens to be more positive than negative?

And I’m not saying that they can’t or that it’s impossible. I’m just saying that it seems to be pretty rare.

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23 Answers

aprilsimnel's avatar

There are people with delusions of grandeur, but I’m not sure if that is any part of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia. The one I lived with as a child definitely imagined she heard or saw only negative, terrifying things, but I don’t know why.

BoBo1946's avatar

“If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.”

unknown author!

envidula61's avatar

I don’t know this based on any research. It’s just a hunch. I suspect that the sounds schizophrenics hear can be interpreted in many ways. Because we are humans and we seek to make meaning out of everything, schizophrenics interpret what they hear as voices.

Voices, of course, must be saying something, and if the sounds you hear could be anything, then the voices should reflect your state of mind at the time. Since anxiety and fear are probably on the top of their minds, they interpret the sounds as voices saying bad things—telling them how bad they are, or that they should murder someone, or whatever.

It looks to me like the voices are terribly insistent—so much so that a person can scarcely imagine not obeying them. They hound the person incessantly. Maybe complying with them makes the voices calm down for a while.

It should be some difference in brain chemistry that causes these effects that most people don’t experience. If you can satisfy the voices by doing what they say, it suggests that you have some control over your brain chemistry.

My guess (just trying to think this through logically) is that the part of the brain that is most involved with schizophrenia would be the same part of the brain that creates our urges. It should also have help by parts of the brain that have a lot to do with perception—both aural and visual.

The brain, I believe, is highly adaptable—so brain cells can be used for a variety of purposes. They specialize as the person matures. In a blind person, there is no need for the brain to devote any resources towards interpreting information from the eyes. So they can be used for other things. Similarly, after a stroke, living cells can be repurposed to take care of the functions the dead cells used to take care of.

Therefore, the parts of the brain that cause the symptoms of schizophrenia would also be spread out throughout the brain, in addition to the specialized areas I mentioned.

I think that there are times when the schizophrenic does see what we might think of as a more positive thing. One story I heard said the guy believed that this woman was in love with him. So he followed her into a women’s room in a store and took off all his clothes. She was a bit upset when she came out of the stall to find him standing there buck naked, and he ended up in jail. I think this guy was (and is) obsessed with sexual issues. TMI, I’m sure.

Vunessuh's avatar

@envidula61 That makes a lot of sense. Excellent answer. Thank you! :)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I have never known anyone with this condition (that they revealed to me, anyway) so I am hesitant to make a sweeping generalization. Maybe, some do imagine situations that are positive, so to speak but the very imagining is taken badly by others and perhaps, after being so stigmatazed, a little paranoia is warranted.

envidula61's avatar

Actually, I think you’ll find this website to be very helpful. Apparently the hallucinations are generally a response to stress, and the nature of the stress helps determine what the hallucination is. Obviously, stresses tend to be seen more as negative events than positive, but there can be positive stresses, I would think.

Vunessuh's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You make a good point about being stigmatized about imagining things and therefore being paranoid and negative about it, however, schizophrenics think the hallucinations and delusions they are experiencing are real and very few of them actually know that they even have schizophrenia and if they don’t know, then they wouldn’t have much of a reason to be paranoid over being stigmatized for it. If that makes any sense at all. And of course I am talking about schizophrenics not on medication, because I know that medication can help them decipher what’s real and what is illness.

@envidula61 I’ll check it out. Thanks.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I knew someone that was schizophrenic and he was all over place in terms of highs and lows. You never knew what was going to come out depending on the day.

superneil21's avatar

I had a gf that had it….and one night she went crazy(she stopped taking her meds):( but she had like 4 very different and distinct personalities, old man, young boy, 20 something slut, and herself. She was kinda all over the place happy one second then sad then mad. bad times lol

downtide's avatar

My hunch is the ones that imagine nice things don’t get into such a mess that they need psychiatric intervention, and so they don’t ever get diagnosed. They might be people who believe in things like angels or aliens or fairies. But as long as they’re not harming themselves or anyone else, why worry?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@superneil21 I thought in a rather strange twist, she’d make an interesting date.

envidula61's avatar

You know, I’ve always thought that a dwarf with one leg longer than the other would make an interesting date, too.

[in case you hadn’t noticed, this statement should be dripping with sarcasm]

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@envidula61 Only if she’s also schizo.

envidula61's avatar

I’m sorry, @Adirondackwannabe but I don’t find that funny. There are precious few people in this world who will advocate for the mentally ill. Most just have no problem making fun of them, often unaware they are doing so.

Schizophrenia is a serious illness. Making light of it by saying you’d want to date one is condescending at best. Many mentally ill people would probably take offense. Not that you should care. They’re crazy, after all. Yes, this is a sore point with me.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

As an easy answer to your question, they don’t. I happen to have a mental illness, which is not schizophrenia thankfully, and know some schizophrenics. One of them is very neat in his appearance and rather quiet and withdrawn. It turns out that one of the voices in his head regulates his personal appearance telling him when to bathe and what to wear.

Unfortunately, other voices in his head tell him that what he has to say is worthless, so he doesn’t talk much.

The disease is better understood today than it was many years ago, but we still have a long way to go.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@envidula61 I understood exactly what you meant. I was twisting your shorts a little. I worked with the guy I knew quite a bit, so I understand it a little. I always cut him extra slack because I knew of the challenges he faced.

envidula61's avatar

I don’t need my shorts twisted. I’ve got high enough blood pressure as it is. I don’t get riled at too much, but that is a hot button issue for me.

Any other subject, and I’m sure I would have appreciated your joke. We all get one red button, I hope, don’t we?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@envidula61 Ok. Filed that away for future joke avoidance. It is a real bitch when the person attacking you is inside your head.

superneil21's avatar

she was an interesting date lol and we had fun if you know what i mean ;)

SmashTheState's avatar

Schizophrenia is not really a mental illness. By that I mean that it is not technically disabling. Throughout recorded history, schizophrenics have served the function of intermediary between the spirit world and the tribe, using their altered consciousness to help interpret the archetypal imagery from which we construct representative reality. We moderns have, in our ignorance and arrogance, removed the roles schizophrenics once served from our lives: saints, mystics, oracles, prophets, shamans, and so on. Where once schizophrenia was regarded as a blessing from the gods, today it is “treated” with toxic chemicals like Haldol, which lop 20 years off your life.

Research has shown that schizphrenics who are never “treated” for their inner voices are quite high-functioning. This accords with the bicameral mind theory, in which anthropologist Julian Jaynes hypothesizes that consciousness is only 4000 to 5000 years old, and that prior to this, it was “the gods” who did our moral reasoning for us. That is, “the voices” which schizophrenics hear are actually the archetypal personifications of the gods which reside in the left language centre of the brain, the so-called “God spot” which, when stimulated, causes people to have religious experiences.

So in answer to your question, the reason schizophrenics experience only negative effects from their voices is because we have interfered with their gift, preventing them from adapting to the altered consciousness which schizophrenia offers.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

@SmashTheState I’d like to see that research that shows that non-treated schizophrenics are high functioning. I am reluctant to believe it, considering all the schizophrenic people who become homeless because they can’t hold a job. Yes, we may not have oracles and shamans in modern times, but schizophrenia does certainly seem to be disabling, and a very real mental illness.

Vunessuh's avatar

I was thinking the same thing as @ParaParaYukiko.

@SmashTheState While I think what you’re saying is plausible for some schizophrenics, it’s certainly not for all of them.
It’s not really fair to say that we’ve interrupted their gift and are responsible for these negative effects because it takes their responsibility out of their own hands. Everyone is responsible for their own actions to an extent, regardless of mental illness.
I’m positive that a lot of schizophrenics are much better off because of medication.
If schizophrenia is classified as a gift in every individual who has it, then there would be no need for medication in the first place.

mattbrowne's avatar

Just look at all the wonderful stuff Vincent van Gogh imagined.

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