Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The current American Psychiatric Association terminology is "Delusional Disorder," but this is commonly called paranoia.  Built into this concept is the notion of extreme suspiciousness, coupled with delusional thinking: delusions of persecution, grandeur, or of reference.  The nosological system is further complicated, with the concept of "paranoid personality disorder" (undue or extreme suspiciousness, but no active delusions).

Here's where the complications come in:  We inhabit different social environments; some in which the expectations of mutual honesty and trust is fairly high, and others in which secrecy and disinformation is part of the game.  We may go from one of these settings to another, and in doing so the perceptual rules change.  I should trust my boyfriend, and I do.  But I'm skeptical of claims in advertisements.  In my opinion, a true paranoid is indiscriminate in how she or he deals with those diverse situations.  But there's another aspect:  paranoid thinking can become a habit because it's adaptive in a person's occupational or social or marital setting.  So there's a tendency to generalize to other situations.  And, in turn, sour one's outlook on life.

But there's another thing.  For much of human evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in small bands or clans, and meeting strangers was a rare and possibly dangerous event.  Not just for cavepersons, but even up to modern times.  Meeting a stranger could have negative consequences: (a) he could kill or maim you, (b) he could rape you, (c) he could steal your stuff, and even (d) eat you.  Consequently, xenophobia (fear of strangers) is built into humans.  But is sure plays hell with living in a mass society.

Somewhere I read that paranoids have real enemies too.  Part of the problem is what the paranoid-thinking person does in response to his or her paranoia.  Does that person act abrupt or aggressive to others, have scary beliefs, write crank letters to newspapers or post bizarre content on the internet, hold up signs with messages that could be taken as an implied threat, such as:

"We came unarmed this time."

You know, seeing that particular message caused my mind to go into overdrive.  It's one think to express publicly dissatisfaction with our system of government, but it's another thing to imply an active overthrow of our institutions.  Yes, you: Tea Partiers and Occupy Whatever types.  You scare the Hell out of me.

That, to me, is the heart of the problem with paranoia: paranoia is a contagious disorder.  And, unfortunately, the collective media feeds this emotional reaction at times.  And we have a total absence of civility in our national political dialogue.  Should it be any surprise that there is this degree of mutual distrust?


Anonymous said...

I think your illustration of the dog wearing the tinfoil hat was very apropos. Good points about paranoia.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Hopefully, the Tea Party has shot its wad. And the Occupy Whatever movement is last month's news.

Bilbo said...

I'm sure glad I'm not paranoid. That's all I'd need, what with the whole world against me and all.

Atomic Dog said...

I've never met a happy paranoid.

Anonymous said...

You liberals tend to deonize the Tea Party; in reality they're concerned citizens who want to return things to they way they were before big government.

Big Sky Heidi said...

It's hard to be friends with someone who is paranoid.