Why do we - go mad together? cover image

Why do we - go mad together?

Dorian Minors • September 25, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Sometimes, when the delusional cup runneth over, someone else will take up the slack (if you'll allow me to mix metaphors). Imagine a scenario in which someone you know is dealing with delusions or hallucinations. And imagine if they were so powerful that eventually you started to believe them too. It's a thing that happens and it's called folie à deux, or 'madness of two'. Initially described as folie communiqué (communicated madness) in 1860 by neurologist before his time, Jules Baillarger, it eventually became known as folie à deux in 1877 through Charles Lasegue and Jean-Pierre Farlet, doctors of some renown. Although it goes by many names, (for example, 'double insanity') and can actually be expanded to include more than two people (e.g. folie à trois or folie à famille), all boil down to one key concept. The delusion(s) of one is matched by another.

. You could convincingly argue that all couples go crazy together.

Usually, a dominant person in any given relationship will develop (or already be experiencing) some kind of delusions. Subsequently, the other person(s) in the relationship will begin to either experience the same delusions or perhaps simply believe the other person's delusions. Other times, both parties may be delusory, but their delusions might coalesce.

Unfortunately, precise information on how common the phenomenon is hasn't really surfaced yet. We know it isn't simply a French phenomenon (although the early research came from there as you may have gathered). We've seen cases in Africa and India. In fact, as recently as 2008, we may have had a pretty high-profile case in the UK, although that incident is debatable.

And there, as the Bard would say, lies the rub. Folie à deux is a tough case to identify for health professionals. In fact, fairly stringent requirements to conclusively diagnose a case exist. Commonality of delusion (of course), intimacy in the relationship, and acceptance or support of each others' delusions. As for the ever-bothersome 'why', although several theories have been put forward, not one has been satisfactorily accepted. However, there is a common thread; intimacy in the context of social isolation. Folie à deux is perhaps the most intriguing example of the crucial nature of our need to be social. It exemplifies, in its own puzzling way, the lengths the mind will go to to feel connected to something bigger. It also displays the myriad peculiarities of love.

There is always some madness in love." - Nietzche

Speaking of love, learn how the 'love' hormone isn't so lovely. It's all well and good to go mad as a couple, but what happens when you get a group together (it's terrifying)? Finally, learn just how impressionable we can be (you're more susceptible than you think). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.