Folie à Deux (French – literally, “the shared madness of two”) is the term for a psychological phenomenon whereby two people who live together in close quarters and are isolated from external influences, begin to mirror and magnify each other’s delusions. Since these people tend to be co-dependent, they will not risk challenging each other’s beliefs in fear that it might jeopardize the relationship. Over time, their delusions become magnified as they reverberate from one to the other, picking up greater and greater strength each time they are “bounced” back and forth.
The phenomenon isn’t limited to two people and has been described to include several or even many individuals. Manfred Kets De Vries, the psychiatrist and “guru” of leadership development, included a chapter in his book, The Irrational Executive, on how pathological leaders in organizations are capable of creating this shared madness among their subordinates.
But I have come to the realization that it doesn’t necessarily take two to do this dance, when you come down to it; we are perfectly capable of being our own “other” in creating these reverberating delusions.
A number of single friends and acquaintances have settled into a comfortable retirement, surrounded by like-minded individuals (a type of isolation in itself), “keeping busy” with travel, Yoga, spirituality, healthful cooking, and regular gym attendance. Their homes are spotlessly clean and neat, with an order than can only come from the combination of disuse and a maid service. They appear to have a broad intellectual life, reading a vast array of books spanning every conceivable topic. They have rediscovered the Symphony and The Ballet, have lifetime memberships to museums, and take organized tours of exotic countries. For all intents and purposes they appear to have rather idyllic lives.
But, of course, they are going completely nuts! “Bazooks” as my friend Nick calls it (Nick also coined the expression, “I had one, but the wheels fell off” in response to any topic with which he is unfamiliar…but that’s another story for another day).
One of the great advantages of having young children around is that they are the greatest psychotherapists you can ever have (if you can survive them without losing your marbles in the first place). Children have the terrific skill of excising and cauterizing your narcissism with the efficacy of a brilliant cancer surgeon. If you are to be a good parent, you must first accept that children will absolutely ruin your life. They will destroy all your treasured possessions. Your time will never again be your own. And by the time they do leave you the f*#k alone, they will have produced grandchildren to take you on yet another journey of personal exorcism and flagellation. And the crazy part is: It’s a good thing!
It’s a good thing because narcissism is the biggest barrier to personal development and growth. Comfort is the greatest discomfort of all because it’s a delusion. Paraphrasing the Buddha, life is suffering, and suffering is the path to enlightenment. The Christians understood this concept too, with their “Way of the Cross”.
My recommendation to all my single, wealthy, neat, clean, and comfortable friends? Let someone else into your life, and make sure they have all kinds of nasty habits like leaving up the toilet seat, putting tons of salt in their food and their feet on your mahogany table in order to watch mindless TV for hours. Encourage them to eat a large bag of popcorn at the movie theater by sticking their tongue into the bag like an anteater. Bring a loaf of bread, a pound of cold-cuts and a knife to the movie theater, and then make sandwiches for your friends right on your lap…take a nap if the movie is boring. If you see a dust bunny in a corner of your home…leave it alone…it’s a nice quiet pet. Wrap yourself in a mouldy old blankie.
Share your bed with someone who snores and farts. It’s good for the soul.
Oh yes, and if you have any excess funds, be sure to leave me in your will as I will surely be working till I’m 85 in order to keep supporting these kids and grand-kids!