Shhh, the CIA Are Following Me: The Six Types of Delusions

Knoji reviews products and up-and-coming brands we think you'll love. In certain cases, we may receive a commission from brands mentioned in our guides. Learn more.
The different types of delusions.

Delusions are sticky beliefs that are either strikingly improbable or outright impossible. Characterized as a symptom of mental illness -- schizophrenia, most specifically -- a delusion occupies an individual’s mind to the point of hindering his daily living, grounded in a different reality so to speak.

There are six types of delusions that could plague an individual: (1) persecutory delusions; (2) delusions of reference; (3) delusions of grandeur; (4) delusions of being controlled; (5) delusions of guilt or sin; and (6) somatic delusions. Each will be discussed in turn in the succeeding sections.

1. Persecutory Delusions

The hallmark of persecutory delusions are grand conspiracies that a client may weave upon himself. He may believe that government forces are working in tandem to watch him (e.g. the CIA are watching me) or are conspiring for a bigger prize. Theorists say that the main antagonist for such a delusion may vary across culture but are almost always associated with a government-controlled group in the Western context.

2. Delusions of Reference

Similar to persecutory delusions, delusions of reference are beliefs that emphasize the centrality of events to the individual. Simply put, it is the belief that random events are somehow directed to the client. For example, a client with a delusion of reference might believe that an earthquake occurred just because he sneezed. The belief that a newscaster on TV may is reporting on your movements is also another such example.

3. Grandiose Delusions

This may be one of the most popular associations of people with delusions for this is characterized by a false belief that one is a person of immense importance. People believing that they are Jesus Christ, for example, falls into this category. Delusions of grandeur are also characterized by the belief that a person could somehow perform impossible or miraculous feats such as ushering in world peace or creating a grand theory for everything.

4. Delusions of Being Controlled

There are actually three subcategories to this type: (1) thought broadcasting, or the belief that somehow one’s thoughts are being broadcasted to everyone; (2) thought insertion, or the belief that opposing forces are inserting ideas or thoughts into one’s head; and (3) thought withdrawal, or the belief that someone is manipulating one’s thoughts and memories by removing these from their minds.

5. Delusions of Guilt or Sin

Delusions of this type are normally characterized by beliefs that a client had somehow been responsible for the death of another individual or a cataclysmic event. For example, a person who has this delusion might say that he was responsible for killing Michael Jackson even though there is no evidence for the act. A person who believes that he has somehow caused a terrible accident may also have this delusion.

6. Somatic Delusions

The last category, somatic delusions, is described as having a false belief that one’s body has been somehow altered or corrupted. For example, the belief that one’s internal organs have turned into mush would fall under this category. 

Some Facts to Remember

Take note, however, that different categories of delusions could exist and work together in a single individual. For example, a persecutory delusion could co-exist with a delusion of reference while believing in a grandiose delusion to “explain” the other beliefs. It also needs to be noted that some delusions might differ according to culture and nationality.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2008). Abnormal Psychology: 4th Edition. London:McGraw-Hill.