Everything You Need to Know About Paranoia

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

Many of us are familiar with common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. And even though you may have heard people use the word “paranoid” casually, as in, “I’m paranoid that my package will arrive when I’m not there to sign for it,” clinical paranoia isn’t quite as well understood as other mental health concerns. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about paranoia, from its definition to symptoms, treatment, and more.

What Is Paranoia?

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Paranoia refers to thoughts and feelings that you’re being threatened or that people are out to get you, even when you don’t have any evidence to support these supposed threats. These thoughts sometimes referred to as delusions, can be suspicions that have been greatly exaggerated. For instance, perhaps a person you know once made a rude comment about you. If you start to believe, without any proof, that this person is running a campaign against you and making others hate you, that would be an example of paranoia.

It’s important to note that experiencing paranoia occasionally is normal. It only becomes troubling when it begins to happen frequently. For example, many of us have had the experience of walking into a room and feeling like everyone has been talking about us. However, in most cases, we’re able to realize that we don’t have any evidence for these paranoid thoughts.

In a clinical sense, paranoia is a rare mental health condition. The hallmark of this condition is the belief that others are actively attempting to harm you or are constantly lying to you when there’s no proof. People experiencing clinical paranoia do not believe they’re paranoid because they’re so sure of these delusions. It’s often hard for people with clinical paranoia to have close relationships and function normally in social settings. Click here for more articles about paranoia.

What Are the Symptoms of Paranoia?

Symptoms of paranoia include the following:

  • Constant assumptions that others are speaking negatively of you
  • Finding relationships is extremely challenging
  • Viewing the world as being filled with constant threats
  • Not being able to talk to anyone about your thoughts and feelings
  • Being overly suspicious of others
  • Finding hidden harmful meanings in innocent remarks 
  • Always behaving defensively
  • Being unable to cope with criticism of any kind
  • Acting aggressive, argumentative, and hostile
  • Being unable to trust others

Types of Paranoid Thoughts

There are many different types of paranoid thoughts. One of the most common is the belief that others (people or organizations) are watching you or talking about you behind your back.

Another type of paranoid thought is the belief that you’re at risk of being harmed or even killed.

Paranoid people may believe that others speak in ways that contain threatening hints and double meanings. They may also have thoughts that others are deliberately trying to irritate and upset them.

Also common is the belief that others are attempting to take your possessions or money, or that others are attempting to control your thoughts and actions.

Some people who experience clinical paranoia believe the government is targeting or even controlling them.

It’s also possible to have paranoid thoughts about harm coming to society, your culture specifically, or other people besides yourself.

What Causes Paranoia?

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While the exact cause of paranoia hasn’t been determined, some general risk factors make it more likely for you to experience paranoid thoughts. 

  • Isolation
  • Past trauma
  • Thought patterns in which you jump to conclusions, believe things wholeheartedly, and don’t change your mind easily
  • Having low self-esteem and anxiety
  • Having expectations that others will criticize or reject you
  • Having feelings and experiences that are unsettling, confusing, and not easily explained
  • Some types of physical illness like hearing loss, dementia, stroke, and Huntington’s disease
  • Lack of sleep
  • Recreational drug and alcohol use
  • Certain steroids, insecticides, fuel, and paint
  • Genetics

What Mental Health Disorders Have Paranoia as a Symptom?

Paranoia is not a mental health disorder in and of itself, but a symptom of other mental health disorders, including paranoid personality disorder, delusional disorder, and paranoid schizophrenia, among others. Learn more about each of these below.

Paranoid Personality Disorder

The paranoia that is a part of paranoid personality disorder is considered the mildest type. Although they have an innate mistrust of the world, the majority of people that live with paranoid personality disorder are still able to function properly in day-to-day life. When the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours associated with this disorder become more apparent and obvious, it’s usually discovered that the person has been experiencing them for most of their life.

Delusional Disorder

This disorder has one important characteristic: a delusion or false belief that comes without any other signs or symptoms of mental illness. Behaviours resulting from the delusion are dependent on the delusion itself. One example is when a person believes they’re dying from a horrible disease, even though doctors have run numerous tests and confirmed that they’re in good health. Another example is a person who stalks a celebrity because of the delusion that the two are good friends.

Paranoid Schizophrenia

The paranoia that comes along with paranoid schizophrenia is thought to be the most severe type. People who have paranoid schizophrenia often have strange delusions and bizarre hallucinations. They usually have a hard time functioning in society unless they seek out treatment.

How to Manage Paranoia

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Here are a few simple ways to manage mild paranoia:

  • Actively identify, question, and challenge your paranoid thoughts, rather than accepting them as accurate or truthful; say to yourself, “Even though I’m having these thoughts and feel worried about this situation taking place, I know that it’s very unlikely to occur in reality”
  • Keep a daily journal in which you can write about the paranoid thoughts and “debunk” them
  • Seek out support from loved ones
  • Learn coping and relaxation strategies that you can employ when you’re having paranoid thoughts
  • Take care of yourself physically by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthily, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, and spending time outdoors; this supports your brain and helps it to function well

If your paranoia is more severe and you feel like you may be losing touch with reality, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional or doctor. When you can tell that your thoughts aren’t rational or reasonable, there are many treatment methods that can help.

It’s possible to not have a mental health disorder but to still have paranoid thoughts that hold you back from doing things you need or want to do. If this is the case, speak with a mental health professional. Talk therapy and other solutions are available.

Sometimes, people experiencing paranoia don’t realize that their thoughts are irrational or unreasonable. If you’ve noticed this in a family member or friend, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are two good resources to turn to. 

Generally, a mixture of coping skills, therapy, and medication is used to relieve paranoid thoughts. (Always speak with your doctor before starting a new medication.) In some severe cases, it may be necessary for a person to stay in a mental health facility or hospital until their condition is more stable.

Everything You Need to Know About Paranoia 1

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