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Useful Information on PARANOIA


Paranoia is a term used by mental health specialists to describe suspiciousness (or mistrust) that is either highly exaggerated or not warranted at all. The word is often used in everyday conversation, often in anger, often incorrectly. Simple suspiciousness is not paranoia--not if it is based on past experience or expectations learned from the experience of others.

Paranoia can be mild and the affected person may function fairly well in society, or it can be so severe that the individual is incapacitated. Because many psychiatric disorders are accompanied by some paranoid features, diagnosis is sometimes difficult. Paranoias can be classified into three main categories--paranoid personality disorder, delusional (paranoid) disorder, and paranoid schizophrenia.


-- Derek worked in a large office as a computer programmer. When another programmer received a promotion, Derek felt that the supervisor "had it in for him" and would never recognize his worth. He was sure that his co-workers were subtly downgrading him. Often he watched as others took coffee breaks together and imagined they spent this time talking about him. If he saw a group of people laughing, he knew they were laughing at him. He spent so much time brooding about the mistreatment he received that his work suffered and his supervisor told him he must improve or receive a poor performance rating. This action reinforced all Derek's suspicions, and he looked for and found a position in another large company. After a few weeks on his new job, he began to feel that others in the office didn't like him, excluded him from all conversations, made fun of him behind his back, and eroded his position. Derek has changed jobs six times in the last seven years. Derek has paranoid personality disorder.
Some people regularly become suspicious without cause--so much so that their paranoid thoughts disrupt their work and family life. Such people are said to have a paranoid personality. They are:


An unmistakable sign of paranoia is continual mistrust. People with paranoid personality disorder are constantly on their guard because they see the world as a threatening place. They tend to confirm their expectations by latching on to any speck of evidence that supports their suspicions and ignore or misinterpret any evidence to the contrary. They are ever watchful and may look around for signs of a threat.

Anyone in a new situation--beginning a job or starting a relationship, for example--is cautious and somewhat guarded until he or she learns that the fears are groundless. People suffering from paranoia cannot abandon their fears. They continue to expect trickery and to doubt the loyalty of others. In a personal relationship or marriage, this suspiciousness may take the form of pathological, unrealistic jealousy.


Because persons with paranoid personality disorder are hyperalert, they notice any slight and may take offense where none is intended. As a result, they tend to be defensive and antagonistic. When they are at fault, they cannot accept blame, not even mild criticism. Yet they are highly critical of others. Other people may say that these individuals make "mountains out of molehills."

Cold and Aloof

In addition to being argumentative and uncompromising, the people with paranoid personality disorder are often emotionally cut off from other people. They appear cold and, in fact, often avoid becoming intimate with others. They pride themselves on their rationality and objectivity. People with a paranoid outlook on life rarely come to the attention of clinicians--it is not in their nature to seek help. Many presumably function competently in society. They may seek out social niches in which a moralistic and punitive style is acceptable, or at least tolerated to a certain degree.

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