By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC
Seattle Christian Counseling
Part 3 of a 3-Part Series
This is the third in a three-part series about paranoia. This article discusses how people express their paranoia. The first explores possible causes of paranoia. The second discusses symptoms of paranoia.
Why do people project their Emotions?
Paranoid people project their desires and feelings onto others as a defense against acknowledging or dealing with these emotions. McWilliams gave an example of a child going to their parents for help with a problem. Parents can influence paranoia in their child by overreacting to the problem or to the child’s emotions. For instance, a parent may exaggerate the problem; or the parents may condition the child to believe their emotions have a dangerous power by telling the child hearing their problems makes them anxious.
They project in a variety of ways
- Projective identification – Sufferers project certain feelings onto others in such a way that the subject of the projected emotions begins to actually feel them. The paranoid person projects this way to justify projecting these feelings onto someone. For example, a paranoid person may find excuses to believe a friend is antagonistic because they are jealous of their success. Eventually, the friend is so tired of being accused of this, that they actually do become antagonistic toward them. (219)
- Reaction formation/projection – This is a means of defensively ignoring uncomfortable desires or emotions. “Reaction formation” is kind of like projection, except the paranoid person denies a feeling by projecting a preferable alternate onto him or herself. An example of “reaction formation” would be a person insisting they hate an abusive parent in order to squelch the affection they know will not be reciprocated. An example of “projection” would be someone insisting it is not that they dislike a certain person; it is that the individual dislikes them, when really the paranoid person does not like them. (220)
- Self-aware – Some paranoid people, particularly those with productive counseling experiences, are aware they are projecting onto others. McWilliams used an example of a client who accused her of being critical. When McWilliams took a minute to wonder aloud how she may have given him this impression, the client suggested the disorder was to blame. (219)
Consequences of Paranoia
“Because they see the sources of their suffering as outside themselves, paranoid people in the more disturbed range are likely to be more dangerous to others than to themselves.” (216) They are usually less suicidal than people with depression. However, they have been known to kill themselves in order to prevent someone else killing them.
Also, sometimes people mistake legitimate fears of danger and persecution for paranoid delusions. McWilliams gave the example of people who leave abusive relationships or cults and worry someone may come after them. “Some people who are diagnosably paranoid are also realistically imperiled; in fact, the off-putting qualities of many paranoid people make them natural magnets for mistreatment.” (215)
We see an example of dangerous paranoia in Genesis 37, when Joseph told his brothers he dreamed he would eventually rule over them. Joseph’s brothers hated him because he was their father’s favorite child. However, their father was the one in the wrong for showing such blatant favoritism toward one child. Nevertheless, instead of putting the blame where it belonged, the brothers resented Joseph so they could continue to love their father. And, instead of writing his dreams off as fantasies, they allowed the insecurity created by their father’s favoritism to run away with them to where they had to kill their brother to eliminate the threat of him taking anything more away from them.
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.
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