paranoia

paranoia

[par-uh-noi-uh]
paranoia, in psychology, a term denoting persistent, unalterable, systematized, logically reasoned delusions, or false beliefs, usually of persecution or grandeur. In the former case the paranoiac creates a complex delusional system that purports to show that people want to hurt him; in the latter, he sees himself as an exalted person with a mission of great importance. Other types of delusions include somatic delusions, as in the case of hypochondria, and jealous delusions. The term paranoia was first used by German psychiatrist Karl L. Kahlbaum in 1863. The condition, often known as delusional disorder, is found among individuals suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, paranoid personality disorder, and any of several paranoid disorders. Minor instances of paranoia are also commonly found among older people. Most individuals who suffer from some form of paranoia tend to be suspicious of the motives of others, leading them to be hypersensitive, tense, and argumentative. Jealousy and vengeful emotions are also common, and can lead to violent confrontation in the most severe cases. In most paranoid delusions, the individual believes that there is a pattern to random events which is somehow connected to him. Individuals with paranoid schizophrenia often suffer from delusions in conjunction with more severe symptoms, such as hallucinations.

Mental disorder characterized by delusions of persecution or grandeur, usually without hallucinations. Paranoia was formerly classified as a distinct psychosis but is now generally treated as one of several varieties of schizophrenia or, in milder cases, of personality disorder. The paranoid person generally suffers from exaggerated self-reference, a tendency to construe independent events and acts as pertaining to him- or herself.

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Paranoia is a disturbed thought process characterized by excessive anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs concerning a perceived threat towards yourself. In the original Greek, παράνοια (paranoia) simply means madness (para = outside; nous = mind). Historically, this characterization was used to describe any delusional state.

Sometimes in common usage, the term paranoia is misused to describe a phobia. For example, a person may not want to fly out of fear the plane may crash. This does not in itself indicate paranoia, but rather a phobia. The lack of blame in this case usually points to the latter. An example of paranoia, however, would be fear that the pilot is an alcoholic with no evidence to suggest such, and would crash the plane as a result of this.

Use in psychiatry

More recently, the clinical use of the term has been used to describe delusions where the affected person believes he is being persecuted. Specifically, they have been defined as containing two central elements:

  1. The individual thinks that harm is occurring, or is going to occur, to him or her.
  2. The individual thinks that the persecutor has the intention to cause harm.

Paranoia is often associated with psychotic illnesses, sometimes schizophrenia, although attenuated features may be present in other primarily non-psychotic diagnoses, such as paranoid personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Paranoia can also be a side effect of medication or recreational drugs such as marijuana and particularly stimulants such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine. In the unrestricted use of the term, common paranoid delusions can include the belief that the person is being followed, poisoned or loved at a distance (often by a media figure or important person, a delusion known as erotomania or de Clerambault syndrome). Other common paranoid delusions include the belief that the person has an imaginary disease or parasitic infection (delusional parasitosis); that the person is on a special quest or has been chosen by God; that the person has had thoughts inserted or removed from conscious thought; or that the person's actions are being controlled by an external force. Therefore, in common usage, the term paranoid addresses a range of mental conditions, assumed by the use of the term to be of psychiatric origin, in which the subject is seen to generalise or project fears and anxieties onto the external world, particularly in the form of organised behaviour focused on them. The syndrome is applied equally to powerful people like executives obsessed with takeover bids or political leaders convinced of plots against them, and to common people who believe for instance that shadowy agencies are operating against them.

History

The term paranoia was used to describe a mental illness in which a delusional belief is the sole or most prominent feature. In his original attempt at classifying different forms of mental illness, Kraepelin used the term pure paranoia to describe a condition where a delusion was present, but without any apparent deterioration in intellectual abilities and without any of the other features of dementia praecox, the condition later renamed schizophrenia. Notably, in his definition, the belief does not have to be persecutory to be classified as paranoid, so any number of delusional beliefs can be classified as paranoia. For example, a person who has the sole delusional belief that he is an important religious figure would be classified by Kraepelin as having 'pure paranoia'.

See also

References

Notes

Further reading

  • Farrell, John. Paranoia and Modernity: Cervantes to Rousseau (Cornell University Press, 2006).
  • Freeman, D. & Garety, P.A. (2004) Paranoia: The Psychology of Persecutory Delusions. Hove: Psychology Press. ISBN 1-84169-522-X
  • Igmade (Stephan Trüby et al, eds.), 5 Codes: Architecture, Paranoia and Risk in Times of Terror", Birkhäuser 2006. ISBN 3-7643-7598-1
  • Kantor, Martin. (2004) Understanding Paranoia: A Guide for Professionals, Families, and Sufferers. Westport: Praeger Press. ISBN 0-275-98152-5
  • Munro, A. (1999) Delusional disorder. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-58180-X
  • Sims, A. (2002) Symptoms in the mind: An introduction to descriptive psychopathology (3rd edition). Edinburgh: Elsevier Science Ltd. ISBN 0-7020-2627-1
  • Siegel, Ronald K. (1994) Whispers: The Voices of Paranoia. New York: Crown.

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