What are the causes and symptoms of paranoia?

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ncchemist's profile pic

ncchemist | eNotes Employee

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Paranoia is a psychological affliction.  It is basically a suffering from extreme fear and anxiety.  Severe paranoia can lead to delusion and a loss of rational behavior, leading to a person being overcome by their emotions.  Paranoia is different from phobias in that the fear does not stem from a particular object or situation, but instead involves a feeling of personal persecution. 

Causes include feeling a general lack of control over the circumstances of one's life (i.e. victimization).  Also, people who grow up in a home environment full of distrust can have higher rates of paranoia.  In addition, experiencing a long period of discrimination based on race, gender, or other similar factors can lead to feelings of paranoia.

Symptoms include a perception bias in how the person views others and society in general.  Instead of perceiving the world around them as it is, paranoid people specifically look for behavior and attributes in others that support their bias that they are being victimized.  Paranoid people also tend to be single and "loners" due to the fact that they are unable to form and maintain friendships and interpersonal relationships.

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nishu2766 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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People with paranoid personality disorder are generally characterized by having a long-standing pattern of pervasivedistrust and suspiciousness of others.  A person with paranoid personality disorder will nearly always believe that other people’s motives are suspect or even malevolent.Individuals with this disorder assume that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive them, even if no evidence exists to support this expectation. While it is fairly normal for everyone to have some degree of paranoia about certain situations in their lives (such as worry about an impending set of layoffs at work), people with paranoid personality disorder take this to an extreme — it pervades virtually every professional and  personal relationship they have.

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hermy27 | Student, College Senior | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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According to the DSM V, Paranoid Personality Disorder (301.0) is, "A pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following: 

(1) suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her 
(2) is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates 
(3) is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her 
(4) reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events 
(5) persistently bears grudges, i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights 
(6) perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack 
(7) has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner"

However, it should be noted that paranoia is not limited to a Paranoid Personality Disorder diagnosis, and can accompany many other disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, and many others.

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eli468 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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"Paranoia is an irrational feeling that people are trying to harm you, which causes unnecessary suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others. Three key features of paranoid thoughts include: fearing that something bad will happen; thinking that others are responsible; and having a belief that is exaggerated or unfounded."

There are many different causes of paranoia. There are studies that suggest there is a possibility it can be heredity and a passed down disorder through genetic traits. Problems with chemicals/hormones in the brain may also be another cause of paranoia. A large factor that can cause paranoia is when someone is on certain drugs that affect brain chemistry. A traumatic event can cause someone to feel paranoid afterwards. Stress ( a very high, severe, and ongoing amount) can lead to paranoia especially in the case following a traumatic event. It may be due to a mixture of different things such as genetics as well as factors such as drug use, ongoing stress, a traumatic event, etc. The mixture of two or more of the causes can also be a cause in itself for paranoia. Paranoia can also be a side effect of certain illnesses.

"Symptoms of paranoia and paranoid disorders may include the following:

  • Intense and irrational mistrust and suspicion, which can cause rage, hatred, and betrayal
  • Rigid and maladaptive behavior
  • Mistrust
  • Taking offense easily
  • Having difficulty with forgiveness
  • Defensive attitude in response to imagined criticism
  • Preoccupation with hidden motives
  • Fear of being deceived or taken advantage of
  • Inability to relax
  • Argumentativeness
  • Abruptness
  • Stubbornness
  • Self-righteousness
  • Perfectionistic "
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teachervee | (Level 1) eNoter

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People with paranoid personality disorder are generally characterized by having a long-standing pattern of pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others.  A person with paranoid personality disorder will nearly always believe that other people’s motives are suspect or even malevolent.

Individuals with this disorder assume that other people will exploit, harm, or deceive them, even if no evidence exists to support this expectation. While it is fairly normal for everyone to have some degree of paranoia about certain situations in their lives (such as worry about an impending set of layoffs at work), people with paranoid personality disorder take this to an extreme — it pervades virtually every professional and  personal relationship they have.

Paranoid personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent. This usually begins in early adulthood and presents in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the  following:

  • Suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her
  • Is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates
  • Is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her
  • Reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events
  • Persistently bears grudges (i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights)
  • Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others, and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack
  • Has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner

Researchers today don’t know what causes paranoid personality disorder.  There are many theories, however, about the possible causes of paranoid   personality disorder.  Most professionals subscribe to a biopsychosocial model of causation — that is, the causes of  are likely due to biological and genetic factors, social factors (such as how a person interacts in their early development with their family and friends and other children), and psychological factors (the individual’s personality and temperament, shaped by their environment and learned coping skills to deal with stress). This suggests that no single factor is responsible — rather, it is the complex and likely intertwined nature of all three factors that are important. If a person has this personality disorder, research suggests that there is a slightly increased risk for this disorder to be “passed down” to their children.

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