What a spiritual high shares with a mental breakdown

Of infinite time“We’ve all heard stories of sudden self-transformation, or what American psychologists William Miller and Janet C’de Baca call ‘quantum shift’, whether it’s the religious conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, drug addicts at their lowest to find God, or near-death experiences that give people a new outlook on life.But all sudden – or seemingly sudden – changes in outlook and personality The onset of psychosis in particular involves a surprisingly similar transformation of reality, but which precedes a frightening descent into “mental illness”.

What can explain the striking similarities in these sudden transformative experiences, some of which presage “mental illness,” while others lay the groundwork for spiritual renewal and an galvanized sense of purpose? Are these really two versions of the same underlying psychological process?

. . . Here’s a major clue to the parallels between sudden psychotic episodes and religious epiphanies – it’s the mythical idea, endlessly repeated and very hard to shake, that the same struggles that can lead to spiritual breakthrough or heroic acts also risk destroying an individual or, in other words, triggering mental dysfunction. As [hospital chaplain Anton] Boisen said:

The conclusion follows that certain types of mental disorders and certain types of religious experiences are all attempts at reorganization. The difference is in the result. When the attempt is successful and some degree of victory is achieved, this is commonly recognized as a religious experience. In the event of failure or of indefinite duration, one generally speaks of “madness”.

. . . To help make sense of what’s going on in all these stories of sudden transformation, British psychologist and neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris and I recently introduced the construction of “pivotal mental states” (or PiMS), which we consider to be an evolved human being. capacity for sudden and radical psychic change. In our article from Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2020, we defined PiMS as a “hyper-plastic state[s] promoting rapid and deep learning that can mediate psychological transformation”. We believe that spiritual or incipient psychotic experiences that can lead to religious conversion or psychotic disorder, respectively, are two examples of PiMS, as are acute traumatic experiences that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic growth or some combination thereof.

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