Folie á Deux refers to two people. An emotionally healthy person can share a delusion of a psychotic person, if the other person believes in the delusion. The person with the delusion is the primary person, and the person that shares the delusion is the secondary person. The secondary person will usually not have the same delusions when he or she is separated from the primary person.
Two people could be living in an old house that creaks. One person may be convinced that the house is filled with menacing ghosts, and the second person may be so unnerved by the sounds that the secondary person comes to believe that the house is, indeed, haunted.
I did my psychology clinical in a state hospital environment. There was a woman there who had been convinced by her husband that there were aliens invading their property and home. She was so drawn into this Folie á Deux that she killed a person who entered her home. When I saw her she was totally together and looked like she belonged there. She looked like she could have been a staff member.
How can a group of sane people share a psychotic disorder?
We can look at the Jim Jones massacre to take a look at Folie á Culte or shared psychosis of a congregation. Jim Jones was a young preacher with charisma and style. He convinced his congregation that he was the son of God, and that all who went to heaven would go through him.
It is commonly believed in the Christian religion that the way to heaven is through Jesus Christ, who is believed to be the Son of God. Believers are taught that there will be many false prophets who will claim to be the son of God. We, who consider ourselves sane people, would like to think that we wouldn’t fall for a charismatic preacher who touts to be the way to heaven, but it happened.
He had a diverse church that included everyone. He was whatever the people needed. If they needed a friend, he was their friend. If they needed a father, he was their father. People who were searching to belong somewhere found a place to belong at Jim Jones’ church called The People’s Temple. You can watch this video to see how easily people followed him.
Jim Jones started his ministry in the 1950s, and moved it to San Francisco in the 1970s. Later, he moved the ministry to Ghana, where the mass suicide occurred.
This shared psychosis of Folie á Culte wasn’t completely shared by everyone. Yes, many did willingly commit suicide, but many others who didn’t want to end their lives were murdered by members of the cult. All together there were 909 people who died. Out of them, 303 were kids. This massacre took place on November 18, 1974.
How could so many people buy into Jones’ psychotic religious vision? It’s not really so farfetched when you reduce it down to something less frightening. I was a member of a charismatic church. We were told that when the clock ticked from 11:59 a.m. December 31, 1999 to 12:00 a.m. on January 1, 2000 that our world would end. We were told that all the computers would stop running, and airplanes and jets would fall out of the sky. We went to church prepared for the end of the world, but still wondering if it could really happen. When I was with the congregation I believed it, but when I was home and away from my church family I wasn’t so sure I believed it.