Mass Psychosis: What You Need To Know

History offers examples where villages and entire nations fell into the depth of human evilness. Dictatorships, cults, and sinister groups all tapped into the subconscious wickedness of the people under their influence and power. They controlled residents to endorse genocide, massacres, and brutal oppression.

But this is the creepiest fact of these infamous instances: these crowds were only ordinary people like you and me. They did their chores, went to work, and dreamed of the future for their families. Yet they snapped under the sway of raw, violent emotions. What caused them to morph this way unsuspectingly?

As he investigated the history of regimes and his mentally disabled patients, Carl Jung discovered the mass psychosis phenomenon. This world-renowned psychologist taught that mass psychosis could unleash the horror that we seek never to witness again. However, with the right timing and combinations, a despot and manipulator can awaken it in the population.

Because of this, we must learn about mass psychosis and how to fight it. This article will equip you with the crucial information you must know to avoid becoming a victim of mass psychosis and help others break free from its dangerous spell.

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Psychic Epidemic Through Fear

Lunatic asylums seclude violent, mentally ill people from society. During the 19th century, while psychiatry was still in its infancy, Carl Jung noted what makes patients rampage and attack. He wrote that it was not anger or hatred—they become dangerous when overcome by fear.

Once unrestrained and powerful fear possesses a society, it can lose its collective sanity. History demonstrates that humanity can survive and rebound from severe disasters and diseases. But, as stated in Carl Jung’s books, the greatest danger to a community is its people losing control of their psyche. Once mental illness becomes the trend instead of an exception, they can become a “wolf” toward their fellow humans. He calls this point a “psychic epidemic,” a constant risk in every society.

Mass psychosis: Societies Going Mad

The worst psychic epidemic is a mass psychosis. As this happens, delusions and insanity spread throughout a community like wildfire. People hunt scapegoats to blame for their problems and release their miseries to them. The people here lose their moral and spiritual compass as their unconscious minds descend. Hence, they lose their reason, reliability, and self-control. They form groups and mobs where they feel motivated to commit crimes they cannot do themselves.

Worse, the people under mass psychosis do not know they have become victims of collective delusion. They cannot observe their beliefs and behaviors from an outsider’s perspective. Instead, these crowds dwell on their group’s beliefs, passions, and tendencies.

Driving a Community To Mass Psychosis

Understanding what this term means is crucial to understanding how societies can dive into psychosis simultaneously. Psychosis means losing a sense of reality. Psychotic people believe delusions as truth, becoming detached from verifiable facts and independent thought. They reject evidence that opposes what they believe.

Psychology shows many examples of psychotic patients. For instance, catatonic schizophrenics want to constrict themselves like statues for days. Deluded paranoid people think that someone constantly monitors and follows them. We know that their beliefs are false as they suffer from mental disabilities. But people suffering from such conditions believe what they perceive as “reality.” Because of this, psychotic people willingly act on their imagined disturbances and disorders.

You might be thinking that psychosis is only caused by drugs, severe head injuries, and genetics. But psychological triggers can bring entire societies to mass psychosis. As mentioned earlier, a barrage of fear and anxiety turns people erratic and panicked. They will then look for comfort from their heavy emotional burden and dread.

Their response to their anxiety can either be positive or negative. The favorable answer to fear requires individual effort and determination. People must fortify their moral and intellectual willpower to remove the looming darkness. Unfortunately, they will have an adverse reaction if they lack the strength and decision to fight it.

In his book about national issues, Carl Jung said that such a crowd that fails to defeat excessive fear could fall into a psychotic break. They will start to restructure their narrative on reality, mixing facts and delusions to rationalize and end their anxiety. Their panic leads to confusion, beginning to twist how they interpret events around them. Then, they create an “insight” that explains their fears by attaching meaning and connections to their experiences and rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the reasoning they create does not solve the threat or help them adapt. These psychotic masses only escape their intense anxieties by attaching blame and avoiding reality. Psychotherapist Alexander Lowen says that their ego has fallen insecure, so they cannot adjust or absorb the stream of negative emotions around them.

In summary, these are the conditions that can lead a society to mass psychosis:

  • A population with weak character and a personal sense of worth are susceptible to the full blow of negative emotions.
  • Such a community must be exposed to intense anxiety and panic. The threat can either be natural or made-up, but an insecure population have a high risk of falling into mass psychosis.
  • A society with conscientious, adaptable, and firm members can withstand such a crisis and respond positively.
  • Therefore, stresses and problems are a trial for the community and its people.

The Salem Witch Trials: 17th-Century Mass Psychosis

Powerful ideas and assertions raised the Greco-Roman civilizations to have a lasting legacy in our current democracy, language, and ways of life. The persistence of scientists enabled us to reach the Moon, build skyscrapers, and enjoy the Internet. Artists and musicians turned their inspirations into masterpieces that foster culture and creativity.

But ideas—more so for twisted ideologies—can also seduce people to murder, reject human dignity, and commit shameful acts. They can possess an entire population and call them to act on their fears and insecurities in the name of the “higher good.” One infamous chapter in Western history is the Salem witch trials, where a hunch brought intense paranoia and the death of innocent people.

The Fear of Witches

During the medieval period, European Christians believed devil-worshipping witches actively harmed people. So from the 13th to the 17th century, tens of thousands of accused witchcraft practitioners were hunted and killed. Being charged with witchcraft is almost an instant death sentence. After all, it is virtually impossible to prove your innocence once the town is convinced that you are a witch or a wizard.

The trend was almost over in Europe when the colonists in North America committed the most infamous witch hunt.

Poverty and Religious Tensions in Salem

The war between the British and French Empires in 1689 involved their colonies in North America. New York and Quebec got destroyed, causing refugees to rush down to Massachusetts Bay. Salem felt the brunt of this crisis as their monarch’s war depleted their resources and supplies as more people lived with them. The village’s farmers and port traders also fought against one another.

Meanwhile, Salem residents disliked their first minister, Samuel Parris, for his alleged greed and strict behavior. The hyper-religious Puritans believed that the Devil was responsible for quarrels and disagreements.

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Mysterious Incidents

One day, in January 1692, minister Parris’ daughter and niece suffered from a “supernatural” disease, as described by their local doctor. They screamed strange sounds, twisted themselves, and threw objects violently. Another girl also showed similar symptoms.

The village’s magistrates forced the three girls to blame somebody for their episodes on February 29. They pointed at three suspects for making them sick: Tituba (the Parris family’s servant), Sarah Good (a beggar), and Sarah Osborne (a poor older woman). The rulers interrogated the women during the following weeks. Osborne and Good asserted that they were innocent. However, Tituba admitted that the Devil talked to her to become his servant, and she signed his book. Tituba also declared that there were witches who sought to destroy Salem’s Puritan population.

Salem’s Paranoia and Mass Psychosis

Tituba’s statement sent intense fear and panic in Salem. They accused faithful Church attendees in their village like Martha Corey, showing that residents could suspect anybody of witchcraft. Salem’s magistrates even resorted to interrogating Sarah Good’s four-year-old child, interpreting that her nervous responses were a confession of guilt.

The crisis at Salem reached the deputy governor’s attention. He and his assistants observed the hearings, making the tension worse. People from different villages in the colony got summoned too. Because of the uproar, Governor William Phipps established a special court on May 27, 1692, for the Salem witchcraft incidents.

Injustice and Bloodshed

Convinced that they have real witches, the people brought Bridget Bishop to the special court. She is known in the village for her sexual immorality and gaspiness. Despite rampant hearsay and lack of evidence, Bridget Bishop got sentenced as guilty and hanged on June 10 on Gallows Hill. She was the first casualty of what would become the Salem witch hunt.

Less than a week after Bridget Bishop died, a famous minister named Cotton Mather asked the court to reject testimonies involving mere dreams (also called spectral evidence). They ignored his plea, so eighteen more would be sentenced to guilty and hanged in the next three months.

The End of The Salem Witch Trials

The gravely anxious Salem families forgot their relationships as they suspected their friends, neighbors, and churchmates. They frantically looked for clues to catch the witches who were supposedly out to curse and destroy them. The residents claim to see visions revealing the witches’ identities, pulling more innocent people into the special courts.

Soon after, Governor William Phipps’ wife got accused and summoned for the witch trial. It was a wake-up call for him that came too late. On October 29, he ended the special courts, stopped the arrests, and freed the suspected witches. In May 1693, he pardoned everyone still in jail for the Salem witch hunt.

During that year of mass psychosis, around 200 people were accused of witchcraft. Nineteen people were wrongfully hanged, while an older man was pressed with large stones. Many accused prisoners also died while waiting for their trial.

The Shame that Followed Their Paranoia

The infamous interrogations and executions left a scar on the state of Massachusetts. On January 14, 1697, the state ordered a fasting day to reflect on the tragedy. Some judges and the authorities also admitted their mistakes in handling the witch trials.

A decade later, the state court said the Salem trials were unlawful. They also brought back the rights of the accused residents in 1711 with a £600 payment to their heirs. Finally, in 1957, the Massachusetts state government formally apologized for what happened two and a half centuries ago.

Describing and Explaining What Happened in Salem

Writers, psychologists, and doctors explained the Salem witch hunt differently. During the Red Scare in the 1950s, Arthur Miller used the Salem witch trials in his play “The Crucible” to represent the decade’s hysteria and paranoia.

Then, in 1976, Linnda Caporael assessed that ergot, a fungus that infects cereals, caused the delusions and spasms seen in both the “cursed” and paranoid Salem residents. She also said in her journal article that ergot grows more in damp areas, like the humid Salem meadows.

But, above all, Carl Jung’s mass psychosis best explains what happened in Salem. The population suffered from crises after crises because of the war, the flood of refugees, and squabbling. Then, the apparent curses by hiding witches broke the community’s sanity. Their fear and panic made them bring innocent people to jail and the gallows out of insane hunches and suspicions.

There are famous museums in Massachusetts about the Salem paranoia, such as the Witch Trials Memorial, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Salem Witch Museum.

Totalitarian States: Mass Psychosis in Action

The infamous dictatorships that began last century demonstrate the dangers of mass psychosis. Their authorities detach their people from reality while assigning targets to blame for their misfortunes. Their leaders convince the public that an enemy is within them, so they would police themselves and weed out imaginary foes in their community.

Looking at the demise of Nazi Germany, Carl Jung described the rule of Adolf Hitler as a psychic epidemic of insanity. The average Germans may have had negative beliefs and prejudices against Jews, but Hitler tapped into their thoughts. The public unknowingly became “hypnotized,” unaware they were being brought to promote war and mass slaughter.

After all, imagine if someone said that the government must exterminate Jews—that person would be considered deluded and unredeemable! But if the collective does it out of terror, people under mass psychosis will readily accept it.

Fighting Mass Psychosis

Now that we have learned the meaning and depraved examples of mass psychosis, we must now know how to fight it. Fortunately, psychologists and philosophers gave us instructions and guidance to free our minds from sinister control and manipulation. We need these more than ever, now that weakness, political correctness, and extreme ideologies are rising.

Emphasizing Individual Worth in The Society

Carl Jung declared that we must stop always looking for collective solutions. Instead, we must empower and value every person. Liberty allows people to pursue their goals and ideals under laws protecting them from property and violence.

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Limiting Elitist Influence Over Your Mind

Thomas Sowell, a leading American economist and historian, said that the elites believe that they must lead people to what they think as better lives. This belief upheld by politicians, bureaucrats, and the media compels them to seek ways to influence the population. This self-proclaimed “anointed class” subjects the population to surveillance, regulations, preaching, and censorship. This active attempt by elites to “teach” the public to fulfil their vision is a red flag, and you do not have to become a conspiracy theorist to see this play out nowadays.

Therefore, limited state power and control protect individuals from government overreach and corruption. But how can people fight off a looming authoritarian regime?

Developing Your Character and Virtue

Carl Jung taught that legislation, propaganda, and violence do not guarantee lesser governmental power. Instead, people must transform themselves from within by staying mindful of their wants, attitudes, and decisions. They must foster their values, plans, and preferences. These individual transformations will then improve the collective community.

Such a solution may seem slow and tedious, but self-actualization is the most excellent antidote to mass psychosis. Once you exceed your limitations and weaknesses, you no longer become a conforming tool or part of the collective—you realize your more tremendous potential and capabilities. Finally, your life will be defined by your fulfilled ideals, not fear or panic imposed by autocrats or despots.

Discover Your Life’s Purpose

It is vital to hear your conscience and determine your mission in life. Inspect how you feel about your beliefs, motives, and behavior. Listen to the wisdom so far, and discover if they align with what you truly believe. Doing this will save you from complacently following someone else’s path, primarily if he seeks to manipulate you to do his bidding.

A Jewish Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, endured grave torture and pain in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. But despite his ordeal, he did not surrender to despair and misery. He followed his advice and listened to his conscience, similar to what Carl Jung declared. Because of his vocation, he defended his values from darkness and pursued his hope for freedom.

Why The Emphasis on The Individual Helps The Collective

Such a solution seems implausible for those who prefer government action and spending to solve societal problems. So how can each person’s effort to reach self-actualization stop totalitarians from gaining and holding on to power? And how can strong citizens help treat the community’s illnesses, such as the risk of mass psychosis?

First, society depends on the strength of the people within it. If cowards and passive residents built the community, authorities could quickly take control and manipulate them. History demonstrates that triumphant and mighty civilizations had people who had the willpower to adapt and spend their energy on clear goals.

People with solid characters tend to search for freedom from control, the antithesis of mass psychosis. According to Carl Jung, “spiritually immature” people want and need an authoritarian rule. On the contrary, people with a firm conscience and purpose do not depend on politicians and bureaucrats for them to reach their dreams and potential.

Once a society becomes full of virtuous and steadfast people, they will be prepared to defend their rights and freedoms. An authoritarian cannot successfully hinder the people’s vocations and liberty since the people listen to their conscience, wary of attempts to turn them psychotic.

Therefore, shared goals in society form organically. Individuals who share a vocation to help their community can do much more than legislation and political promises. People like this do not look at the elites and rely on their “goodwill.” Better yet, they do not just wait for someone else to solve their problems while complaining about their miseries.

Do you want to fight mass psychosis or stay free from its grip? Know that you are a unique person with so much potential. Listen to your values and let your purpose in life guide you. Strive to help others, and do not rely on the government or wealthy people for solutions to your problems. Most importantly, stay mindful of the facts and what you believe.

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Examples of Mass Psychosis in Popular Media

One of the most recent movies about mass psychosis is “The Falling.” This 2014 British film follows the story of an all-girls school where everyone faints at once because of hysteria and an epidemic of mental illness. But be careful: “The Falling” has intense scenes and themes of promiscuity, violence, and incest.

Although “The Falling” is fictional, it is based on infamous incidents of mass psychosis. For example, over two hundred girls in Colombia suffered from fainting, difficulty breathing, and convulsions. Psychologists and doctors could not trace the source of this illness; not even the HPV vaccine administered to them. The president called it a consequence of “collective suggestion” or mass psychosis.

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Also see: Where Do Clinical Psychologists Work?

Dave P
Dave P
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