By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC
Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC
Part 2 of a 3-Part Series
This is the second in a three-part series about paranoia. This article describes symptoms of paranoia. The first explores possible causes of paranoia. The third discusses how people express their paranoia.
Like all personality disorders, paranoia is a spectrum. Sometimes it is as mild as people projecting their own experiences onto others. For example, a woman was discussing with her mother a disagreement she had with her husband. The mother could not help but project her own experiences in an abusive relationship onto her daughter, even though her daughter’s husband had never been violent. The mother fearfully urged her daughter not to upset her husband, lest he attack or abandon her.
Toward the psychotic end of the spectrum, projections become more grandiose and unrealistic. McWilliams cites the example of billionaire Howard Hughes who obsessed over the dangers of atomic testing in Nevada. While we now know exposure to radioactive substances can cause many health issues, knowledge during Hughes’ time was too rudimentary to give credence to his beliefs. “The eventual vindications of his point of view do not make his psychology less paranoid; the events of his later life speak for the extent to which his own projections were the source of his suffering.” (216)
What does paranoia look like?
Paranoid people often share common emotions: guilt, anxiety, lack of shame, and hostility.
- Guilt – Paranoid people are terrified that, once others get to know them, they will be shocked by what an awful person they are. This is because they have been so often beaten down and humiliated.
“They are chronically warding off this humiliation, transforming any sense of culpability in the self into dangers that threaten from outside. They unconsciously expect to be found out, and they transform this fear into constant, exhausting efforts to discern the ‘real’ evil intent behind anyone else’s behavior toward them.” (She’s does not like me; he is out to get me) (218)
- Shame – Sometimes paranoid people are so adept at denying and projecting their emotions that they no longer feel shame. They spend their time combating anyone they think might attempt to humiliate them. (217)
- Aggression – Some researchers propose that many paranoid adults were aggressive, angry children who could not figure out how to process their feelings in a healthy way. Their caregivers may have struggled to deal with a challenging child, and their negative reactions reinforce the child’s perception that others are out to get them. (216)
- Fear – One of their most overwhelming emotions. “Analysts have long referred to the kind of fear suffered by paranoid clients as ‘annihilation anxiety;’ that is, the terror of falling apart, being destroyed, disappearing from the earth.” (217)
- Envy – They project their own feelings of envy outward, “That person is out to get me because they are jealous of me.” McWilliams suggests this emotion is projected because they already have so much energy tied up in managing their anger. (217)
Get rid of fear and paranoia
Paranoid people are consumed by fear. Fear they are not good enough, and fear others mean to do them harm. This is not how God wants his children to live. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NIV) In this passage, Joshua was taking over as leader of the Israelites after Moses died. He must have been apprehensive. But God urged him not to let his fears overwhelm him. He would take care of Joshua.
It is the same for people suffering with paranoia. Life’s challenges can be frightening, and you will go up against people who want you to fail. But God did not give his people a spirit of fear. Below you will find suggestions for getting help for your paranoia.
Christian counseling for people struggling with paranoia
Paranoia burdens everyone in the sufferer’s life. They try to defend themselves against their inner demons, but only succeed in making their environment more hostile and frightening. Their loved ones struggle to maintain a relationship with them in spite of hurtful accusations and erratic behavior. They will use therapeutic techniques help the paranoid person understand why they react to life this way. The Christian counselor will also use the hope of the Gospel to speak peace and strength into a world of disorder.
Projecting-emotions-paranoia Flickr user Nina Matthews Photography
Christian-counseling-paranoia Flickr user Noella Choi