A reader struggling with solipsism writes
I asked if I could share this exchange on the off chance it may be of help to other readers with similar struggles and the reader gave permission. He writes:
I hope I am not out of term emailing you out of the blue like this but I recently found both of your articles on Solipsism and, as the other reader that wrote to you, it really resonated with me. I am sorry again for the random email and I’m sorry if this message is particularly long. But like you this is a topic that I have struggled with for a long time and I’m not sure where else to turn. Maybe you can help. It seems like your struggle was similar to mine.
I have been struggling with this topic of Solipsism for years now. I actually didn’t even know there was a word for what I’ve been battling until only about a year ago. I found out that there was a name for this philosophy in an attempt to find answers to my problem and stumbled upon this concept of Solipsism. Until then I figured I was just going insane because I thought certainly no one else has struggled with this idea before. This of course adds to the isolation that Solipsism brings.
Some background. I have been a Christian my whole life. My family would go to church every Sunday. I was in our church’s Sunday school program, my parents taught me and my brother about the Bible and who God is, and I have always had a genuine belief in the God of the Bible. I was raised this way and it has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child I was always a deep thinker. My Mom even told me that my grandfather would always say, “That kid’s a deep thinker.” I could ponder life and it’s meaning and why things work the way they do on this Earth and not have any problems because if I ever had a question that couldn’t seem to be answered my answer was always, “Because that’s the way God made it.” As a kid my shield of faith was held high and all of these deep questions couldn’t penetrate into my mind. They were simply silly questions that were sort of fun to think about. My protection was knowing that God created everything and this is how he intended it to be. That everyone he created has free will. That I am not alone and that everyone else I see is real and that they can see me too.
As I grew up, as every human being eventually does, I lost my innocence. I won’t go into detail but there is a particular habitual sin that I developed when I was entering adolescence, around the age of 12 or 13. It is a sin that I still struggle with and something that I have wanted out of my life since it began. A few years after this started, I was in ninth grade, my grandmother had gotten sick and passed away. She had been battling breast cancer for a few years and the chemo had gotten to her immune system. I was very close with my grandparents. It was a devastating thing for me. I would go to my grandparents’ house every weekend. I never missed one weekend staying there. Friday after school hit and we were there. I am very family oriented person so this was a very difficult time. Not a year later my grandfather also passed away. He had been battling colon cancer. So now these two very important people in my life were gone and I wasn’t, and I guess I’m still not, sure how to handle it. Not having them here has made life feel like a dream. Like it’s not really happening. An illusion.
In between the death of my grandmother and grandfather something happened to me. One day, out of nowhere, some sort of depression hit me because of this sin that I kept committing. Now I think this was a way of God telling me that this thing that I am doing is not good for me and that it needed to stop. This depression stayed with me for a few years. It was the lowest I had ever felt in my life because I thought I was too far gone for God to forgive me which only added to the pain I felt everyday. Life felt “broken” and I felt as though I was alone because I didn’t think anyone else on the planet could understand was I was going through. I didn’t think anyone else had this particular sin in their life and it was horribly isolating. I believe this started to wear on my mind in some way.
A few years after this dark season began something else happened to me. Many would probably not think it a big deal but it was devastating to me, especially in the state that I was in. My brother saw one of those commercials for Ancestry.com and wanted to see what it was all about. My Mom helped us set up one of those free trials for it. We searched our parents to see what we could find. When my Mom’s name came up I noticed that she had two last names in the Ancestry records. My stomach was in knots. I asked her about it, and she said that she, as well as my Dad, were married and divorced before marrying each other. I started questioning everything. Literally everything. I wondered if I had other brothers or sisters somewhere in the world. I wondered if my Dad was my biological Dad. And this all greatly upset my Mom. I was never supposed to find out because it had no effect on me or my life. I don’t know much about what happened in my Dad’s first marriage but I know that my Mom’s first marriage was somewhat mentally abusive. This of course was not fair to her and this was something that both my parents wanted to keep secret because in reality it really didn’t affect me or who I am. But it really got to me. I grew up thinking that my parents were only married to each other and that’s it. And finding this out was like a punch in the stomach. Eventually I came to grips with it, forgiven my parents for not telling me, and moved on from it. But I think this was a huge thing that opened me up to this mental battle with Solipsism. Some crazy thoughts entered my mind when all of this was going on and they scared me. Things that wouldn’t have bothered me when I was younger.
So after all of these things happened this thought of Solipsism took root in my head. One day, just scrolling through the internet, I saw this video titled, “Is Your Red the Same as My Red?” I thought this was interesting because it was a question I regularly thought of when I was younger. Of course when I was a kid I knew the answer. Of course my red is the same as your red. I clicked on the video and watched it to the end, and at the end of the video the narrator said, “We are all alone in our minds.” I started spiraling. These were the words that set this whole battle in motion. I was completely in the dark. I tried to talk to my parents about it. My Mom is kind of a “no nonsense person” so she would regularly become frustrated with me when talking to her about this problem. I have talked to my parents about it multiple times and it’s always the same thing. I’m fine for a short time and then right back into the dark I go. The answer isn’t quite as simple for me as it is my parents. “We are here too, just be happy, you need to let it go.” But it isn’t quite that simple. Suddenly my protection, “Because that’s the way God made it.” wasn’t working anymore.
So I have talked to many people seeking advice. I have talked to my pastor, two of my college ministers, a few friends, my parents, and nothing seems to be able to break this “spell” as you have called it. I will go through months were the thought doesn’t bother me and I can carry on with life as normal. But I will also go through months where I can’t think of anything else but that nagging question of “How do you know it isn’t all a lie?” On and off, fine not fine, and it has been this way for years now. I am now 22 and I am exhausted from this war. I was actually doing very well with it only until a few days ago. I have been fine for about a year up until this past week. I believe Satan got me when I wasn’t looking and the whole thing started up again.
In my heart I know that these thoughts and feelings are only tools that the Devil and his army are using against me but my head is saying otherwise. Once I find myself clawing my way out of this hole, there is something else that pulls me right back down again. This struggle has really helped me to find out more about who God is, what Jesus did for me, and how the Devil can come against us and attack us. But knowing this doesn’t seem to break its power over me. At least not quite yet. “The Sacrament of Two English Muffins on the Floor” is helpful but my head doesn’t listen to logic and reason when I am in this state. Like you said, this has been a true taste of what Hell is like. It truly is a horrible, fiery furnace of yourself. It makes life feel broken, not real, and it seems like there is a black veil over me that I can’t seem to shake off. But I also know in my heart that one day God will break this curse and I will be totally free once again like I was when I was a kid.
I am sorry again for the lengthy and pretty deep message. Your articles really resonated with me as I said and I thought that you might be someone that could understand what I am going through and what this awful darkness feels like. I’m not really sure what else I can do but maybe you have some wisdom and knowledge to share. Thank you again for your articles, they have started pointing me in the right direction. Please pray for me and I hope to hear back from you.
Hello. Sorry I’ve been so slow to reply. I’ve published a book this year and a lot of my time and energy went to it.
I am neither a spiritual director nor any kind of psychological counselor, but I would *strongly* urge you to connect with one or both of these, as I have done myself in the throes of such spiritual struggles.
When it comes to the logic of solipsism, that is fairly easily dealt with. The simple fact is, you are not the only thing in the universe and you are not alone. You yourself have explained why in your story. People you love have been lost and it was entirely outside your power to prevent that. This painful fact has, all by itself, sufficient dynamite to destroy forever the lie of solipsism the devil has been telling you. If you never had a grandmother or grandfather, why do their deaths grieve you so? Because you they were real and they, like the rest of the universe, have an existence independent from yours. It means that, whatever else is the case, solipsism is a lie.
Beyond this though, is the reality that the suffering you have endured is about something other than solipsism, I reckon. Your depression, if it is anything like mine, is likely linked to anger about something. Depression is, in my experience, a kind of frozen anger. You are angry about something that you are afraid to confront, so you turn it against yourself and it becomes depression. Often, being able to name that anger to God can be a release and the beginning of healing as he helps you forgive who ever you are angry at.
I think you may be the one who is punishing you, not God. Finding somebody to talk to about all this, preferably somebody with some psychology training, is often of immense help.
I don’t know if you are Catholic. I am. If your are, one thing to avail yourself of is the sacrament of confession. If not, at least trying to make a confession to God in prayer when any sins become apparent is always good. But when you do, I would also urge you to say, out loud, “I hereby ask you, Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, to forgive the sin I have confessed and I accept, in the Name of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness that you have absolutely promised to give me in his Name.” Then, make some physical gesture of handing that sin over into God’s hands and Let. It. Go. One of the devil’s favorite strategies is to pester you with the fear that you are not really forgiven. Here are two prayers I find very helpful at such times.
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, And in our hearts take up thy rest; Come with thy grace and heavenly aid To fill the hearts which thou hast made.
One final thing: a wise priest once told me that the best thing to do is keep your eyes on Jesus and not on myself. You can never get an answer to the question “Do I trust Jesus?” because you heart is a confusing maze. But you can get a solid answer to the question, “Is Jesus trustworthy?” because he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
You are not alone. The Blessed Trinity made you as he made all things. You did not write this reply to yourself and your are not imagining it any more than you imagined your grandparents. If it comes to it, you didn’t even imagine that Youtube video. Somebody else made it and it came into your life from the outside because you live a real world of all sorts of people and things you can’t control and did not invent. Satan is a liar. Resist him (by focusing on Jesus, which is everything he is trying to prevent you from doing) and you will presently find yourself gaining light and strength from the Holy Spirit. Try asking him to show you what step you should take and, whatever your hand finds to do, do it in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Your grandparents are in His care and you will see them again. Meanwhile, you are not alone here, but are immersed in the love of God, who made not just you, but heaven and earth. He knew your sins before ever you committed them and his love for you can no more be dimmed by them than the sun can be put out if you put on sunglasses. Be at peace and tell God, “This is who I am and I will never do any better if you don’t help me, so please help. Thank you for your mercy, Father. Please tell me who I can love today so I can get my mind off myself because that is the devil’s favorite trick with me.”
And find that counselor/spiritual director/psychologist. And if he tells you I gave you bad advice, listen to him and not me. I’m just speaking from my experience, but my experience is not infallible.
God bless you!