Is she New Age or psychotic?

My stepmom thinks she can control the dog with telepathy

Topics: Since You Asked, Psychology,

Is she New Age or psychotic? (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

My stepmom is in many ways a wonderful woman — creative, thoughtful and fun. The problem is that during the past few years, she has turned into a full-fledged believer in almost everything New Age.

To tell the truth, I couldn’t even begin to describe her beliefs, since it’s almost impossible to keep up with her. Every time I see her or talk to her, she has some new “life-changing insights” she wants to share. Sometimes her ideas are harmless — like when she obsesses about new ways of making green smoothies. Sometimes, she does things that I would label crazy, like when she claimed a certain stone was giving her special powers. Her ideas can even be outright dangerous — like when she proposed to keep her dog, that had a biting problem, away from my newborn daughter by telepathy. “I’m making a line right here in the living room that he’s not allowed to cross. He’ll listen to me, you’ll see.”

She is well aware that my sister and I have a very different worldview. We have tried reasoning with her. We have tried changing the subject, again and again. Nothing works. It’s as if she’s incapable of realizing that some of the things she believes in come off as incredible or offensive to others. She only trusts her own heart and her own instincts and has little respect for science or reason.

And yet, she seems to believe that she is some kind of guru, that her advice is always welcome. She keeps sending links to articles about the dangers of just about everything in the modern world — modern medicine, cellphones, Wi-Fi, microwave ovens, water that hasn’t been blessed in the proper way by the proper deities. Every phone call starts with 10 minutes of complaints about how we should stop using cellphones. She keeps telling us that our lives are too stressful, yet she’s the one that hardly ever has the time to visit us — her courses and retreats take up too much time.

For the past few months, I’ve avoided talking to her. But what I’m really looking for is some kind of strategy to be able to enjoy her good sides, without letting her strange ideas and complaints get to me. Can you give me some advice?

Feet on the Ground

Dear Feet on the Ground,

If she has hallucinations, or hears voices directing her behavior, or believes she has magical powers, she may be psychotic.

That’s an amateur opinion, of course, but whenever I tell psychiatrists I hear voices they always want to find out if I’m psychotic. I’m not psychotic. I just hear voices. So maybe she’s not psychotic either. But it’s worth knowing.

You Might Also Like

Because she does not respond to social cues, it will be hard to direct her choice of topics and therefore hard to enjoy her good sides and not let her strange ideas and complaints get to you.

She’s a package deal, I figure. What you see is what you get.

Have her talk to someone. A psychiatrist with some sympathy for the New Age movement would be a good choice — someone with chimes and colorful weaves. Just to talk. “Indeed,” writes Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., in a post on the Psychology Today site, “there are certain transpersonally oriented psychotherapists who insist that many examples of what would traditionally be diagnosed as psychosis are, in fact, not psychosis, but episodes of so-called ‘spiritual emergence.’”

Maybe she’s having a spiritual emergence. The whole idea of psychosis versus enlightenment is kind of interesting. Who am I to judge? I just don’t want that dog to bite your baby.

If it’s not practical to have her talk with a sympathetic psychiatrist, then you yourself should talk with a psychiatrist or social worker to find out what your options are should she slip into something more than harmless eccentricity. You might want to know if there are warning signs for a person who seems out of touch with reality.

She may feel very alone with her beliefs and her inability to see things as others see them; her involvement in so many New Age groups may be a way of finding acceptance. She may distrust science not because she has thought hard about it but because it challenges her beliefs and she cannot afford to have her beliefs challenged; her beliefs may be more in the realm of voices and hallucinations, things over which she has no control, so it may be scary to know that science will say they don’t exist.

Of course we have sympathy for her. But your baby is weak and powerless and must be protected.

If telepathy doesn’t work, get a leash.

Leashes are great. We don’t have to agree about whether they exist or not.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>