On Paranoia: A Brief Reflection

I have a friend with mental illness who thinks that “the powers that be” intentionally shut certain people down by making them go insane. My friend thinks this when my friend is healthy.

I want to think a bit about paranoia: its psychological causes.

I have delved into the literature on paranoia and psychosis in general and found it, quite honestly, unsatisfactory. I propose that paranoia, in at least some cases, is caused by subliminal or unconscious (as in, subconscious) threats. Then, when these threats come to the fore, they bring with them out-of-control beliefs that constitute what we know as paranoia.

Take, for example, a person who is living their life in academia (to take an example I am familiar with). This person, we presume, has the right to academic freedom, a subset of free speech. This person–call her Sally–creates academic articles that are transgressive to current political understandings. They, theoretically, undermine the whole of a nation. Sally goes on with her life. It’s just an argument, after all. Possible implementation is for someone else. Thus, Sally herself is no real threat when it comes to overthrowing a government.

Years after creating her argument–that is, her academic paper–she starts to become psychotic, triggered by something. Suddenly, she thinks the government in many ways, shapes and forms is out to get her.

What has happened here? Sally, who isn’t a threat, knows that her ideas could possibly overthrow the government if put in the right hands. But Sally herself was simply practicing free speech. In her psychosis, however, Sally knows she isn’t a threat, but she thinks other people are out to get her, anyway. She believes this because she knows that the assessment of threat has been imperfect in the past. Now, Sally is fully paranoid.

Buried within Sally is the unconscious idea that her own thoughts may be used against a government and, explicit to her, is the belief that this government is now out to get her because of it. Sally has a false belief. No one is out to get her. Panic and fear arise in her, however, because she intensely believes she is being persecuted.

This is what I think of as the landscape of paranoia. Only time will tell if my understanding is correct.

UPDATE: Here’s an account of a psychiatrist who experienced paranoia, which bolsters my view. And this patient/doctor recovered!

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