When a person is acting suspicious or strange, we often refer to them as paranoid? But what is paranoia, and where does this expression come from? Paranoia is a psychological term that refers to the exhibition of a collection of behaviors that are associated with feelings like isolation and the perceived threat of persecution.
In many cases, a paranoid person is not actually being persecuted, but instead through a heightened sense of self-importance creates the appearance of being persecuted out of ordinary behaviors.
By definition, paranoia is a mental condition that causes an individual to experience delusions of persecution, unwanted attention, jealousy and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. The paranoid individual may create accusations against another individual, or may self-inflate to believe that there is a full system at work against them.
What is PPD?
Paranoid Personality Disorder is a type of personality disorder that causes an individual to experience a collection of unreasonable and at times unsafe thoughts about their personal identity. This is a diagnosable disorder that often occurs simultaneously with other mental health concerns, including forms of psychosis. Sometimes, people who have schizotypal personality traits will exhibit signs of paranoia.
There are several core features of paranoid personality disorder that are often looked at as the symptoms of the condition. However, paranoia is often looked at as a symptom of greater issues, and therefore the following attributes are merely considered common occurrences or features that may indicate the presence of paranoia, and are not considered medical symptoms.
These factors include:
- Chronic tendency to bear grudges against people
- Regular perception of being victimized
- Interpersonal problems, particularly with close friends and family members
- Lack of trust in relationships
- Unwillingness to form new relationships, especially close relationships
Paranoid personality disorder symptoms may develop together or on their own. Commonly, there are also a collection of social cues that may indicate paranoid behavior. These social cues may include educational problems, an inability to hold a steady job and anger towards oneself and others.
Approximately 2.5 to 4 percent of adults in the United States are afflicted with paranoid personality disorder. While this makes it somewhat common, many who are afflicted with the condition have a more mild case of the disorder in association with another condition, and therefore PPD may not be as noticeable.
Signs of Paranoia
It is rare for paranoia to develop in isolation as a mental illness. Instead, many individuals will experience paranoia in combination with other DSM qualifying mental health concerns. There are different variations of paranoid behavior, and many people look at the development of these signs as a spectrum of paranoid behavior.
At one end of the spectrum there are minor feelings of paranoia. This may include some paranoid ways of thinking, such as the belief that individuals are looking or laughing at you in public, but the beliefs are minor enough that no maladaptive behavior follows. Then, at the other end of the spectrum is more extreme paranoia, in which an individual may believe that entire systems are at work against them, and their life or something else of incredible importance is at stake as a result.
Individuals who struggle with paranoia are likely to have difficulty with forgiveness and will often have a defensive attitude towards others. Other signs of paranoia include a propensity to distrust other people, inability to cope with criticism and a preoccupation with the actions of others—especially concerning hidden ideas or motives that may lead to the harm of themselves or other individuals.
Paranoia is commonly associated with psychoactive personality disorders, such as schizophrenia. This is because paranoia often fits with the hallucinations and delusions of grandeur that individuals in this state of mind will experience. These feelings of self-centeredness and mistrust are often also present as a result of drug-induced paranoia.
What Causes Paranoia?
Like other forms of mental health disease, paranoia may develop from a genetic predisposition, as well as a series of environmental factors. Paranoia develops when a collection of neurological and emotional functions breakdown, causing fluctuations in the areas of the mind that control our reasoning ability.
Paranoia may develop as a result of intense mental, physical or verbal abuse, as well as in association with other mental health concerns, particularly delusions of grandeur and hallucination. Individuals experience extreme grief, such as following the loss of a loved one or removal from a professional position may experience bouts of paranoia as they cope with those feelings.
Psychotropic medications and narcotics can also cause temporary paranoia as a result of the drug-induced high. These feelings are typically temporary, though chronic abuse of these substances could result in more permanent feelings of paranoia.
Like many other forms of mental health disease, there is no quantifiable test that will show if a person is struggling with paranoia, or if an individual is susceptible to paranoid behavior. The only way to diagnose a paranoid personality disorder is to engage in conversation and observe the behavior of the paranoid individual.
Paranoia and Character Disorder
Character disorders are slightly different from a standard personality disorder. Personality disorders are defined by our interactions with other people, while a character disorder is based off of our internal moral code and patterns of conscious behavior. Personality disorder gages our outward display of who we are, while character shows the internal processes of the individual.
Personality traits may interfere with ones social behavior, but when those traits become ingrained in an individual’s way of thinking, then they may create a character disorder. Paranoid thinking interferes with ones thought processes and causes an individual to begin questioning their interactions, including their behavior in public and on their own. Paranoid behavior can drive a person to withdraw from social situations altogether, and in that way can be incredibly invasive and harmful to an individual’s health and social life.
Extreme Paranoia and Paranoid Psychosis
Paranoid psychosis is a level of extreme paranoia that will typically begin to interfere with an individual’s quality of life, making it difficult to maintain relationships and professional positions.
For extreme paranoia to become a form of psychosis, there are four primary symptoms that will develop. These four symptoms include:
- Lack of self-awareness
Paranoid feelings will typically develop in association with at least one if not more of these symptoms. For example, an individual may feel that the CIA is tracking their movements, or that there is an imaginary organization or figure that is after them for one reason or another. This level of paranoia will interfere with day to day actions, relationships and life goals, and often results in the need for hospitalization.
It is important to note that this level of paranoid psychosis is rare, accounting for much less than 1 percent of the total population of adults in the United States.
Paranoia and depression are often linked, as well, thanks to the relationship between paranoid thoughts and mood fluctuations. It is not uncommon for individuals who experience depression to simultaneously experience feelings of paranoia of those around them. Often, finding treatment for depression helps to reduce the experience of paranoia, as well.
Am I Paranoid?
Paranoia is a common occurrence, and having bouts of paranoia does not necessitate that an individual has paranoid personality disorder. There are different levels of paranoia, including acute paranoia, anxiety paranoia and social paranoia. Paranoid people may experience instances of paranoia off and on, such as during times of extreme stress or during uncomfortable social situations.
How paranoia affects your life will depend on your own personality. Learning how to cope with paranoid thoughts and to limit paranoid behavior will help reduce the impact that living with paranoia will have on you.
Treatment Options for Paranoia
The most effective method of treatment for paranoia and paranoid personality disorder is mental health counseling, specifically through cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. This is a form of talk-therapy that helps individuals cope with stress and negative thoughts in productive ways. Talk therapy has a high success rate among individuals who wish to overcome mental health issues, including paranoia.
The best thing to do if you are experiencing symptoms of paranoia, or if you think that someone you love is experiencing paranoia, is to contact a mental health professional. Through mental health counseling, you can learn to cope with the symptoms of paranoia and develop strategies and tools to keep paranoid thoughts at bay, giving you the ability to move forward with your life in a more productive and healthy fashion.