A video is making rounds on the internet. It’s a CCTV footage of a guy mopping the floor. The guy hears something and moves out of the frame. Five seconds later, a scary girl pops into the picture with a horrible screaming in the background. The video uses the classic ‘scary girl who screams’ technique. It is not frightening per se but it does make you jump. There is so much out there that can frighten us–lizards, darkness, germs, heights, strangers, the list goes on. Such fear originates in something real, it can be explained and hence, is justified.
But fear takes its worst form when it arises out of nothing, a delusion. In this case, it is called paranoia.
Paranoia is often used interchangeably with worry, but the two are not the same. Paranoia is a medical condition wherein those suffering from it either have a false sense of grandeur causing them to be suspicious of others or experience recurring delusions of others trying to harm them. The exact causes of paranoia are unknown but medical practitioners often cite factors like heredity, head injuries, bad past experiences or substance abuse.
Unlike pessimists who see the world in a negative light, those with paranoia imagine the worst-case scenario and constantly feel afraid, angry and betrayed.
Common symptoms consistent with paranoia are mistrust, hypersensitivity, hostility, baseless suspicions and difficulty in forgiving. The condition could also be an underlying symptom of mental illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder and delusional disorder. Those suffering from paranoia believe that others are out to target and persecute them. Unlike pessimists who see the world in a negative light, those with paranoia imagine the worst-case scenario and constantly feel afraid, angry and betrayed. Also, they are known to get oversensitive, tense and confrontational–often resorting to aggressive behaviour.
For instance, on hearing a bunch of people laughing and talking, those suffering from paranoia would immediately get to the conclusion that they are being laughed at.
Paranoia is not easy to live with. The condition affects a person’s ability to hold jobs, maintain relationships and thrive in society. Caught in the relentless grip of fear and anger, it leaves many mentally crippled. However, some also fare well with it.
Though the condition is very difficult to treat without medical intervention or cognitive behavioural therapy, paranoia can be kept in check by altering thought patterns.
The first step to counter the condition is to accept it. Those suffering from paranoia can concentrate on talking themselves out of negative thoughts, think of contradicting scenarios whenever they feel targeted, acknowledge obsessive thoughts and distract themselves.
However, in most cases, those exhibiting paranoid behaviour are either oblivious to their condition or unwilling to accept it. Here is where family and friends can help out. “Although, arguing with someone who suffers from paranoia is an exercise in vain, it is advisable to persuade the patient to repress their thoughts as far as possible,” says Vadodara-based psychotherapist Tishya Mahindru Shahani.
Shahani further explains, it is important to learn more about the chain of events, experiences, feelings and judgments that have led to suspicious thoughts. The patient needs to feel that their problems are being taken seriously. Therapists working with paranoia patients should acknowledge the distress caused by these experiences, at the same time, explaining that the perceived threat is not real. While prevention is not a possibility, there are productive ways of dealing with paranoia. The final word of advice: To even begin treating it, paranoia has to be acknowledged first.