I’ve Been Seeing Things and Thinking I Can Predict the Future

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Reader’s Question

I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone I know about what I’m going through but I think I should get help. About a year ago I started seeing things that other people couldn’t see, I had no idea what was going on and it was scary. Now I don’t think of them as scary really because I know they’re not really there. I’ve seen a lot of different things, trees standing in the middle of a road, people who are not really there, shadows of people that are not there, snakes, some other animals, and many other things. Also at times I feel like I can tell the future, but I don’t think that’s possible.

Psychologist’s Reply

I’m glad to hear that you have insight into your condition. Often when people hear or see things that others do not, or have unrealistic and strange beliefs, the individual experiences them as real. Psychologists and psychiatrists use the term “psychotic,” but not with the meaning often used by the general public. To mental health professionals, “psychotic” refers to sensory experiences a person has that are not shared by others in the same environment, as well as persistent beliefs that are both unrealistic and unusual.

The aspect of psychoticism having to do with false sensory experience is referred to as a “hallucination.” Often people seem to use the term hallucination to refer to seeing things that others do not see. That does indeed fit the definition, but recall that we have five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). So, hallucinations can occur with any of them, although hearing voices tends to be the most common form of hallucination.

False beliefs associated with psychoticism are often referred to as “delusions.” Common delusions involve feeling persecuted, or believing that others are out to harm the individual in some way, or delusions of grandeur, such as believing that one has special powers or abilities or that one is extremely important in some way. Although delusions are unrealistic (not based on reality), they tend to be resistant to logic or presentation of evidence. So, delusions are often characterized as “rigid.”

The important thing about hallucinations and delusions is their cause. Decades ago mental health professionals believed a person could become psychotic from severely unhealthy parenting. Today the assumption is that biological problems cause psychotic experience. A first consideration is whether there are any drugs, prescribed or recreational, that might be causing changes in neurotransmitter activity (the chemicals and receptors that make up brain activity or functioning).

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Assuming an individual is not under any influence of drugs, other possibilities include some kind of brain damage or tumor, as well as an overly active dopamine response. Dopamine is one of the major neurotransmitters, and many individuals with psychotic symptoms are thought to have either too much dopamine or receptors that are too sensitive to the dopamine that is present.

In any case, the symptoms you described clearly warrant being evaluated as soon as possible by a psychiatrist or neurologist so that the root cause can be treated.

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