Paranoid: when doubt torments you

Paranoia is a deep psychosis which leads a person to think that the whole world is against them. Distrusting, suspicious, feeling persecuted all the time, people who are paranoid spend their time interpreting everything. Poorly understood and sometimes mocked, it is common for this condition to go unnoticed if someone displays only moderate symptoms.

'When we want to find meaning, we find it. This is actually the start of paranoia.' - Dominique Noguez 

How do you know if someone is paranoid?

The word paranoia was invented by Hippocrates, the founder of medicine. This term comes from the Greek ‘para’ = away from, ‘noos’ = mind. So, being away from your mind.

Someone who is paranoid interprets every situation, all words and behaviours. A single word might be enough to awaken their suspicions or a deep feeling of persecution. That’s why paranoia causes isolation. Indeed, paranoid people think that they cannot rely on anyone. Distrusting, they have to protect themselves from the world, paranoid people are often angry, scared and want to get revenge. If they have friends, it’s only because they see them as harmless.

Distrust is therefore an important characteristic of paranoid people, as well as looking ahead. Indeed, their thoughts are centred around the future, they are scared of what might happen and so try to predict violent attacks or betrayal. In doing so, they tend to behave like bullies. Interpreting everything, including what seems obvious to everyone else, they sometimes go as far as manipulating or depriving others of their freedom, just to get to the truth. And woe betide those who don’t do what the paranoid persons wants, they will therefore be seen as going against the paranoid person and presumed guilty.

There are two types of paranoia:

  • Paranoid personality: this is a personality disorder; the paranoia is constant and completely embedded within the individual’s personality.
  • Delusional paranoia: this involves episodes of acute paranoia affecting those who are not necessarily paranoid people.

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Paranoid personality: symptoms to look out for

  • Distrust and doubt: a paranoid person will always tend to think that those around them are trying to harm them.
  • Tendency to be secretive: scared that what they say will be used against them, the paranoid person will trust very few others.
  • Resentment: impossible for them to forgive.
  • Aggression: anger and hostility are part of their behaviour because they always feel persecuted, threatened and humiliated.
  • Isolation: a paranoid person has doubts about everyone around them, including their own family members. It is therefore difficult for them to maintain relationships.

Some signs are both symptoms and triggers for paranoia.

  • Loss of sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase in alcohol consumption or drug use

Useful to know: Paranoia seems to more commonly affect those who live in cities, but it can also have an effect on the elderly or depressed individuals. It would also seem that men are generally more affected by this than women.

What are the most common causes of paranoia?

There are several factors which can lead to paranoia. You have to be highly distrustful, because occasionally extreme paranoia can be a symptom which leads to a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

  • The influence of parents: experiences during childhood can play a big role. Children who are raised by distrustful parents (thinking that the world is a dangerous place and that people are not to be trusted) can form the basis of paranoia later on.
  • Social context: paranoia can also be a response to stress or a traumatic experience.
  • A narcissistic injury
  • Drugs and alcohol: paranoia might also originate from the use of chemical substances designed to ease it.
  • A small brain injury

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What treatment is there for paranoia?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to treat paranoia because the person affected doesn’t feel ill, never questions themselves and doesn’t trust anything. This is why a psychotherapist will only be effective if the ill person agrees to get treatment.

The editor's advice - Help and get help

It’s rare for a paranoid person to want to get help. That’s why the role of those around them is crucial. It is not however easy to reassure a paranoid person. In order to calm them down, you have to give them narcissistic recognition and above all never contradict them or lie to them.
Reassuring a paranoid person requires lots of energy, and sometimes those around them end up suffering from psychological fatigue. So, you shouldn’t hesitate to get help from a psychologist.

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