"Neither doctors nor scientists can accurately predict who will become schizophrenic. The cause is largely unknown." --Newsweek, March 11, 2002

"The media has done an excellent job of demonizing schizophrenics
so that when people look at my son, they don't see a human being."
--Mrs. Nash, Law & Order SVU, season 2 episode "Noncompliance"

Beyond Survival: The Schizophrenia Myth
by Susan Lien Whigham, 2006 - 2015 All Rights Reserved

[About the Author]

Table of Contents

What is schizophrenia?
Types of Schizophrenia
Why change the definition of schizophrenia?
What is the role of schizophrenia in society?
What causes schizophrenia?
Is schizophrenia a brain disease?
What about the toxoplasmosis connection?
How does schizophrenia relate to epilepsy?
What is the difference between schizophrenia and split personality?
What are tropes?
What are delusions?
The nature of hallucinations
Messages from God?
Synchronicity and schizophrenia - COMING SOON
Related links and recommended reading UPDATED 19 NOV 2015
Messages from readers

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a state of mind, characterized by abstract, nonlinear thought patterns. It tends to coincide with unpredictable, nonconformist behavior, and thus is considered by many people to be a disease. This common belief illustrates a misunderstanding of schizophrenia, fueled by fear of the unknown.

Schizophrenia is not a disease. Schizophrenia is a natural and healthy phenomenon which occurs in everyone, to varying degrees, and need not have the stigma of disease attached to it.

"But Susan," you may say. "How can you possibly think schizophrenia is not a disease, when so many people are suffering because of it?" My answer is this. I don't believe that it's a disease, because there are also schizophrenic individuals who are not suffering because of it. To me, a disease is something you want to be rid of. Like cancer. When you have a condition like schizophrenia, which occurs on a spectrum, like autism as well, or bipolarism, and it has the potential to create both advantages as well as disadvantages, I personally find it much more productive, and less emotionally damaging to an individual, to conceive of it as a personality type rather than a "disease" or a "disorder".

This does not mean that I think you shouldn't get help if you feel you are suffering because of schizophrenia. However, there's a lot of damage being done to schizophrenic individuals out of sheer fear of the unknown. This fear causes some to systematically attempt the blind forcing of conformity onto people who will not benefit from it. For all the years that I have maintained this website, it has remained my most ardent hope that more people will seek a clearer understanding of schizophrenia, one that is not encumbered by the stigma of disease.

Types of Schizophrenia

Here, I have reorganized the types of schizophrenia, based on my own personal observations. These are not the same categorizations you will find in other manuals when speaking of primary, secondary, or tertiary schizophrenia.

Primary schizophrenia may be considered a basic personality type, characterized by predominantly nonlinear thought and behavior patterns which are evident from childhood onward. Primary schizophrenics are extremely intuitive with acute, but shifting, emotional and perceptual sensitivities. Their ways of expressing themselves verbally are often misunderstood due to the abstraction and complex progressive metaphors which lead to their particular choices of words. They may experience what others might call "delusions". The nature of delusions will be addressed in greater detail below.

They may come across as eccentric, capricious, impulsive, ambivalent or fickle; unpleasant traits to those who would prefer everyone to always behave in a predictable manner and to always move consistently in a linear, focused direction. However, not everyone can be the same, nor would we want them to be. Schizophrenic behavior plays an important role in the growth of a society, and this role will also be further discussed later on.

Secondary schizophrenia is what happens when schizophrenia occurs in response to specific, external triggers. These triggers may be in the form of physical or emotional injury. They may correspond with specific brain abnormalities, or with a history of abuse, or with a specific traumatic incident, such as sexual assault. Secondary schizophrenia which occurs in response to emotional trauma belongs to a very specific process of healing and self-empowerment, which cannot be fulfilled if interfered with by those who wish to blindly force conformity on the individual undergoing the process.

Because they are two inter-related processes, manifestations of secondary schizophrenia tend to bear strong resemblances to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which may include:

Inability to concentrate
Memory difficulties
Panic attacks
Reactive depression

One may think of secondary schizophrenia as a kind of psychological puberty, a necessary growth process to help adults cope with radical life changes. Can you imagine how difficult puberty would be for young people if we treated it like it were a disease? What if we gave medication to young men to keep their voices from changing, or gave medication to young women to keep them from growing breasts? What if we tried to keep anyone from growing pubic hair? This may sound like a strange idea but it's not too different from how many people behave toward manifestations of secondary schizophrenia.

Imagine that someone you know has been in a terrible car accident. You see this person after the accident, and you see that they are using a wheelchair, because their legs have been broken. They have bandages all over. They have scrapes and scabs from where they were cut by broken glass. You do not think to yourself, "This is a person with a disease." Instead, you think to yourself, "This is a person who has been through a lot. This is a person who is healing." Likewise, this is how we should think about people who are suffering from secondary schizophrenia. Even though their injuries may not be as apparent to you, these are people who are healing. Their bodies are doing what they need to do.

Certainly, there are things we can do to help the healing process along - this is where things like medication and therapy may be useful. But we should be careful to see these tools in the proper light: they are there to help ease the pain. They are not there to serve a pretense of normalcy. And they are not necessarily a lifelong necessity. As J. Ashley McNamara says in the film Crooked Beauty, "How can we stop telling you that you are wrong if you experience these things? And how can we, instead, help you to learn how to handle your sensitivities? That you might make the transition from having these sensitivities overwhelming you to having these sensitivities be giving you information you can use."

Tertiary schizophrenia is self-perpetuating denial, or psychosis. It is characterized by "dead-end" thoughts and behaviors which severely impair the individual's ability to care for him or herself. The tertiary schizophrenic suffers from long contained or suppressed feelings of helplessness and frustration with no viable outlet and is locked into self-destructive behaviors with no observable responses to intervention.

Manifestations of tertiary schizophrenia may include:

Severe apathy
Atypically extreme violent or aggressive behavior
Physical abuse to self or others
Homicidal or suicidal tendencies

Individuals who are in a state of tertiary schizophrenia may require medication, or even involuntary hospitalization, to prevent them from harming themselves or others.

Why change the definition of schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is commonly mistaken for a mental disorder because those who lead healthy schizophrenic lives rarely find themselves under scrutiny by Western medicine, and thus cannot be identified as schizophrenic under our culture's current criteria. By "healthy" I mean that they feel generally satisfied with their own ability to care for themselves autonomously and independently, even though their way of experiencing the world differs from the norm. Healthy schizophrenics can be recognized by their profound sense of spirituality and constant faith in their own multi-faceted perceptions.

I propose that we adjust our definition of schizophrenia because the current definitions offered by Western culture are not only confusing, but they are also impairing our ability to understand and appreciate the important role of healthy schizophrenia in society today.

What is the role of schizophrenia in society?

We human beings have a tendency to become quite engrossed in the systems we build, so much so that we forget the real human values at the heart of our systems. We risk becoming completely automated in our behavior, because we stop thinking about the reasons for things and just do them out of a blind adherence to the system. This automation is a form of death, because it means that we stop changing, we stop questioning, we stop growing. Schizophrenia gives a breath of fresh air to stale, rigid systems by introducing change, by bringing into the equation an unpredictable element, functioning much like a "wild card" does in card games.

The abstract, non-linear nature of schizophrenia lends well to creative endeavors, and schizophrenics throughout history have enjoyed success in society as artists, poets, musicians, authors, entertainers of all kinds - vocations which allow them avenues of expression for their unique personality traits which might otherwise have been disregarded as simply eccentric behavior. To treat schizophrenic thought as though it were a tragic impairment rather than realizing its true purpose as living art, a celebration of life, is to put a quite a nihilistic spin on something that occurs so completely naturally.

What causes schizophrenia?

Like life itself, schizophrenia is a spontaneously occurring phenomenon which has no cause.

However, post-traumatic stress and other conditions may trigger schizophrenic episodes in someone who is not normally schizophrenic. In response to trauma, schizophrenia opens the mind to new possibilities, which facilitates the healing process. Post-traumatic individuals may use metaphor as a more comfortable form of communication (because talking about things in direct terms may be too upsetting), which is also facilitated by the schizophrenic mindset.

The use of certain narcotics (such as cocaine or amphetamines) may also trigger schizophrenic episodes in someone who is not normally schizophrenic. This is also a form of secondary schizophrenia, which happens because these types of drugs disrupt the flow of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine or seratonin) in the body.

What about the assertion that schizophrenia is a brain disease?

The simple truth is that not all schizophrenics demonstrate any kind of brain abnormality. This is confirmed by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in his book, Surviving Schizophrenia [1], as well as by Dr. Godfrey Pearlson in his news report at Schizophrenia.com, where he states that "structural neuroimaging studies such as CAT (computed axial tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) measurements ... show subtle rather than dramatic changes, and the findings are not seen in all cases of schizophrenia, so they are not useful as clinical tests for making the diagnosis of the disorder." [2]

What about the toxoplasmosis connection?

Secondary schizophrenia is a psychological healing response that is circumstance-specific - it may be in response to brain abnormalities, trauma, toxoplasmosis, or any number of different things. Secondary schizophrenia, by my classification, is a phenomenon that will essentially go away given enough time, or given the absence of its triggers. Primary schizophrenia is not dependent on such triggers.

How does schizophrenia relate to epilepsy?

Recent studies have confirmed that epileptic individuals are more likely to be schizophrenic than non-epileptic individuals. [3] As one might expect, frequent lapses in consciousness create a natural punctuation in an individual's reality perception such that an epileptic individual does not experience a linear reality in the same way that a non-epileptic individual would. Thus, the abstract, non-linear reality perception of an epileptic would quite naturally correspond with the abstract, non-linear reality perception of a schizophrenic.

What is the difference between schizophrenia and split personality?

The word "schizophrenia" originally comes from German words meaning "split" (skhizein) and "mind" (phrenos). This word origin is thought of as the cause for a misunderstanding in which people mistake schizophrenia for "split personality", also known as "dissociative identity disorder" (DID), "multiple personality disorder" or "multiple personality syndrome" (MPS). However, I would suggest that this misunderstanding comes from not just the name alone. After all, schizophrenic behavior, with its often capricious, erratic nature, may actually give one the impression of a "split mind"; hence, the reason a name meaning "split mind" was chosen to begin with for schizophrenia.

The way that multiple personality syndrome is different, though, is that you have, in one individual, two or more very distinct personalities or identities, each with its own memory set which the other subpersonalities, also known as "alters" cannot access. So a person with MPS (or DID) actually suffers periodic episodes of amnesia, because each identity is not typically aware of the activities of the alters. This particular condition usually arises from episodes of intense childhood trauma or abuse. [8]

Something to consider is that secondary schizophrenia often occurs in response to trauma as well. So, although the source of the trauma, and hence the psychological response, may not be as extreme as one finds with MPS, there may still be some observable similarities. And I do believe these also contribute to the confusion between schizophrenia and split personality. I think what we are observing is a spectrum at one end of which we may find MPS (in more intense, severe cases) and at the other end (in less traumatic cases) we may find short episodes of schizophrenia in connection with post-traumatic stress.

Trauma, in general, impacts our ability to access memory because some memories are just so painful that it's difficult to access them. These memories become compartmentalized and clothed in metaphorical descriptions, such that they may indeed give the appearance of a "split mind" although not to the same extreme that we may find in someone with MPS.

What are tropes?

Wikipedia offers the following definition of "trope":

A trope is a rhetorical figure of speech that consists of a play on words, i.e. using a word in a way other than what is considered its literal or normal form. ... Trope comes from the Greek word, tropos, which means a "turn", as in heliotrope, a flower which turns toward the sun. We can imagine a trope as a way of turning a word away from its normal meaning, or turning it into something else. [4]
A metaphor is a way of associating two things that have similar properties. They may be literal things, or they may be images, or concepts. Metaphors are a form of trope.

Tropical expression is extremely common among schizophrenics. Perhaps schizophrenics are inclined toward thinking and speaking in tropes because it's a naturally non-linear way of communicating. Tropical language imbues words with profound, poetic meanings that speak to us on many different levels. William Shakespeare is famous for using tropes in his plays. Song lyrics of all genres abound with tropes.

Tropical expression is also extremely common among people who have been severely traumatized. Tropes allow traumatized individuals the safety of deconstructing their painful memories into simple images that express their feelings but at the same time distance their conscious mind from the painful reality of what happened. Rather than using literal terms to describe what happened, they use symbols and metaphors. Traumatized individuals may also experience hallucinations, which are tropes that manifest themselves visually or aurally.

An example of trauma expressing itself through trope is given by Rosemary Winslow in her essay "Troping Trauma: Conceiving /of/ Experiences of Speechless Terror", where she relates the story of a young woman whose grandfather assaulted her with a butcher's knife when she was five years old. In expressing the details of the event, a particular trope emerged in which the young lady saw herself as "a large snake, blood-red in color". Further examination revealed that she had seen a garden snake suffer a similar knife wound the summer before, wraught by her father's axe, and the young woman's psyche had associated the two events. [5]

For additional information, please see my essay on The Role of Metaphor in Recovery from Trauma.

What are delusions?

Delusions are beliefs which are found to be socially unacceptable. Dr. Fuller Torrey explains, "It is not the belief per se that is delusional, but how far the belief differs from the beliefs shared by others in the same culture or subculture." [6] For example, there was a time when it was considered delusional for an individual to believe that the Earth was spherical when it was commonly believed that the Earth was flat. Nowadays, you will find there are some Christians who think atheists are delusional, and vice versa.

Most people think of delusion as a belief which persists in spite of evidence to the contrary. So, someone who believes himself to have been kidnapped by the government, and implanted with an electronic device in the brain - while the alleged implant fails to register on an x-ray scan - is someone who will likely be thought of as delusional. However, there are many, many beliefs held by people which are highly subjective, strictly experience-based, lacking in specific, empirical evidence, and thus virtually impossible to prove or disprove. Belief in God is one example. Belief that certain events are signs from God is another example. Belief that thoughts were implanted into one's brain from beings who come from the future is another example. The point is this: sometimes you think a person is being delusional, when for all you know, without any evidence one way or another, they could be right, and you could be wrong.

Some delusions are complex forms of trope. For example, an individual may say that aliens came to visit him today. While it may be the case that the individual actually experienced a form of visual hallucination which involved aliens coming to visit, it may also be the case that this is an unconscious metaphor selected to symbolize the descent of new ideas upon the individual (new ideas meaning that they are foreign to the individual and thus "alien"). If the individual is speaking metaphorically, then no amount of arguing will convince him that aliens never came to visit. In order to get to the bottom of what is intended to be communicated, one must take the time to understand what aliens mean in that particular context.

Another example of how trope may manifest as delusion: A person says that when her father looks at her, he is projecting thoughts into her brain. The psychiatrist hears this and says, "Ah! This lady is delusional." It may be, however, that this is a form of metaphorical expression which describes how the lady feels when she sees her father. It could be that, due to abuse as a child, she has unwanted memories of him that she has tried to forget. But when she looks at his face, those memories become inescapable. She feels as though unwanted thoughts are being projected from the sight of his face.

Here is another example. Maybe her father is a kind and loving person who has done nothing questionable. But it might be that this same young lady did something that she regrets. Maybe she cheated on a lover. Maybe she shoplifted from a favorite store. Maybe when she sees her father's face, she is reminded of feeling guilty. These are only a few of dozens of possible examples. The point is that she has been inaccurately labeled as "delusional" simply because someone did not understand her choice of words.

It is important to understand, then, that while some delusions may be evidence of genuine psychosis, as is the case in tertiary schizophrenia, many delusions are not really delusions at all but rather the result of plain and simple misunderstanding as to an individual's meaning. Other so-called delusions may occur when an individual has a genuine vision of potential truths which are not fully realized by the culture which surrounds him or her.

The nature of hallucinations

Many schizophrenics experience hearing voices, and may also act on instruction from these voices. Auditory hallucinations, specifically in the form of hearing voices, are one of the criteria which may alone be used to confirm a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia. [7] The March 11, 2002 issue of Newsweek reports that brain imaging studies of schizophrenics experiencing auditory hallucinations show conclusively that the voices they are hearing are registering in their brains as actual stimuli. In other words, "The voices the patients heard were therefore as real to them as the conversations in the hallways they passed through en route to the lab." [7] The same is true for visual hallucinations: to the person experiencing them, they may be as completely real as anything else they perceive.

One must understand, then, that the individual who experiences schizophrenic hallucinations is neither willfully fabricating them, nor does he or she have any way, whatsoever, of determining where they come from. This may seem like an obvious point, but if you try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who experiences such things, you may find yourself coming up with perfectly understandable ways to explain them to other people. They may, indeed, seem exactly like the voice of God to you - and who could prove you wrong?

Newsweek goes on to say that the individual's personal experiences and memories do have some apparent bearing on the nature of the hallucinations. "Why one person sees whales and another sees severed heads remains poorly understood. But the content of hallucinations probably reflects personal experience: in one patient the neuronal pathways activated during a hallucination run through the memories of seashore visits, while in another they intersect memories of pain and terror. [Andrea] Yates, who has a deeply religious background, had satanic hallucinations." [7]

Bearing in mind that some hallucinations may be tropes manifesting in the individual's psyche as representation of traumatic memory, it may prove very well worthwhile to make note of what the hallucinations are about. If they are visual hallucinations, what are they images of? What special significance do these particular images have to the schizophrenic individual? If they are auditory hallucinations, what are the voices saying? Too often, people seem unable to look past the diagnosis of schizophrenia to get down to these details. They think to themselves, "Oh, it's not real, so it's not important." However, the nature of these hallucinations may be of utmost importance. In cases where there is repressed emotional trauma involved (which is often the case), understanding the background of the hallucinations can be a critical key in the person's recovery.

Messages from God?

This is perhaps one of the most controversial matters pertaining to schizophrenia. Please note that not all schizophrenics who receive command hallucinations consider them as coming from God. Some may believe they come from aliens, or the Devil, etc. However, for the sake of this discussion, I am addressing the question of God specifically, since this is a frequently asked question by website visitors on their Google searches: In their auditory or visual hallucinations, do schizophrenics really receive messages from God? In order to answer this question, you have to start by asking yourself what God means to you. Defining God is a complicated matter alone. To simplify, let us start with the question of whether or not you believe in God.

If you are an atheist, then perhaps this discussion does not apply to you, since you are already convinced that there is no God, and therefore it is impossible to receive messages from God. However, I have met a number of atheists who are deeply spiritual and who ascribe to a form of mysticism, what I would call a kind of respect for the unexplained. Sometimes you will be surprised to find that a person may share your beliefs but call them by different names.

If you do believe in God, or are agnostic (undecided), then you are probably familiar with the idea of God being the creative source of life in the universe. Since we, as humans, are able to create things of our own, we find it easy to recognize ourselves as also being products of a creative process. If it is true that God created everything, then each and everyone of us are manifestations of God's creative process, and that means that any source of creative inspiration is a source of divine inspiration. Ask yourself where intuition comes from. How often have you acted on an intuition, a gut feeling, without having any rational explanation to support your decision? If you believe in God as a creative source, then it is not difficult to realize the possibility that intuition is a form of divine guidance.

The question arises for many of why God would permit suffering in the world, and why would God tell people to do harmful things? It's not a simple question to answer. If God, as a creative process, is responsible for the existence of everything in this universe, then that means that God created both good and evil, and this is a reality that I think we would all do well to face. Alan Watts discusses this matter in great detail in his book, The Two Hands of God.

For many, God expresses the realm of the unknown, the realm of the unexplained. If a schizophrenic says that he or she is receiving messages from God, why not try to get down to an understanding of what God means to that person? There exists a vast variety of personal conceptions of God, and obviously, not all are the same.

Last but not least, we should keep in mind that sometimes people have a very unfavorable perception of themselves, maybe because of trauma, maybe because of growing up in a critical or abusive environment. They may feel that nothing they say or do is valid. In these cases, it is entirely natural for an individual to seek personal and spiritual validation by ascribing a divine value to the voices which come from within.

Related Links and Recommended Reading

Messages from Readers

: Susan Lien Whigham
: theschizophreniamyth@yahoo.com
: February 9, 2015

Dedicated with love to my friends and family: Thank you for your love and support.

Special thanks to The Antipsychiatry Coalition,Successful Schizophrenia, Peter Lehmann Publishing, Spiritual Recoveries,and Google for referring visitors to this site.

All it takes is one person to make a difference.