The Glass Delusion

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20150508

Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips explores the extraordinary psychiatric phenomenon where people believe they have turned into glass.

Cases of the delusion spiked across early modern Europe. Even King Charles VI of France was a sufferer and was reported to have wrapped himself in blankets to prevent himself from shattering.

Andy Lamejin, a psychiatrist from Leiden in the Netherlands, recalls his search for contemporary cases, and remembers the astonishing moment that a case cropped up in his own hospital and he was offered the chance to probe the meaning of this enigmatic delusion with a living patient.

Adam Phillips believes the 'glass delusion' has powerful contemporary resonance in a society where anxieties about fragility, transparency and personal space are pertinent to many people's experience of living in the modern world. The feeling of being made of glass could be a useful way of understanding how we negotiate society - a society that is increasingly crowded, but also one in which modern technological advances isolate us and offer apparently boundary-less communication.

Professor Edward Shorter, a historian of psychiatry from the University of Toronto suggests that it is the material of glass itself, and its newness in 17th Century Europe which holds the key to understanding the disorder. Throughout history the inventive unconscious mind has pegged it's delusions onto new materials. In the 19th century cement delusions appeared when cement emerged as a new building material, just as common delusions of recent decades include the fixed, false belief that the CIA or other security services can download thoughts through micro-transmitters.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd

A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.