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How to turn anxiety into paranoia

Posted Feb 07 2013 5:00am
English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some days it is a short trip from anxiety to paranoia

The higher the volume is turned up on your anxiety control the greater the risk that this could lead to paranoia.

Some caveats here. In this context I am not talking about one of the paranoia’s that are currently diagnosable as a mental illness. Most people say Paranoid-schizophrenia as if it was all one word. There are lots of people with schizophrenia that are not paranoid. There are also people who suffer from paranoid personality disorder who do not have schizophrenia.

This discussion is about people without those two diagnosable illnesses who have some feeling that looks like paranoia during the course of another illness or even without meeting criteria for a diagnosis. In other words this is about the dictionary definition of paranoia not the DSM definition of a paranoid mental illness. 

Yes, in my opinion, you can have paranoid thoughts and not have a mental illness with the word paranoia in it.

One definition of paranoia is an unfounded, exaggerated or unreasonable distrust of others not based on facts. This is fear based and makes you question others motives.  

Here is how a case of paranoia might begin.

You are very fearful, sensitive and worried about what others think of you. You have “trust issues” and are not sure if people are really your friends or might want to harm you.

People who have been victimized in the past are especially at risk for these kinds of trust issues and for good reason. They have been harmed by someone in the past and may feel that they were too trusting.

One day this anxious person, let’s call her Annid. This is one of those made up names contracted from her mother’s name Ann and her father’s name, David. I don’t know an Annid or an Ann and David combination so I think I am safe here.

One day Annid is walking down the street and she hears footsteps behind her. She walks faster but the footsteps are still there. She looks over her shoulder and there is someone there. Let’s make this person a man. She is afraid of men because she was attacked by a man in an alley. This would be even worse if the man who attacked her was a member of a particular race and the man behind her was the same race.

At the corner she decides to cross the street to get away from this man. She notices out of the corner of her eye he stops at the corner to talk to another man. She is becoming more anxious.

When the light changes the second man turns and follows her across the street. She walks faster but every time she looks back there is a man back there. She is not sure if this is ether of the two men she saw before but there is always one behind her.

Eventually she ducks into a coffee place and has some coffee. She decides to wait a bit to get rid of those men who are following her. But when she leaves the coffee place there across the street are 5 or 6, men all standing together and one of them looks like that man who was following her. Same sports team shirt and everything.

At this point, convinced she is being followed by a gang of men she ducks back into the coffee place and calls a friend who comes to pick her up and take her home.

Unchecked this fear that men are following her can grow until she is unable to leave the house.

One problem for this woman is that no matter where in this town she may walk there may be a man walking behind her.

Is this an irrational fear? Maybe, maybe not. Having been the victim of an assault once there is proof that a man could assault her. Is this fear excessive? Probably. The chances that every man on the street is following her and plans to assault her are very low, most of the time.

The challenge for this person and other people with paranoid symptoms is to reasonably evaluate the situation, assess for danger and still keep this fear of another assault from keeping her a prisoner in her home.

Now so far in this example I have said that Annid has a history of being a victim. What if she has never been victimized?

She might have had a friend who was assaulted, or heard a story on T. V. about assaults in her town. If she had a preexisting anxiety disorder even if nothing had ever happened to her she might keep looking over her shoulder believing that constant vigilance will keep her safe. And if you keep looking for something you will begin to see it.

See how easy it is to turn a fear in your mind into a belief that there is a real danger. We have even had cases where someone believing they were in danger pulled out a gun and shot a person who just happened to be going in the same direction they were. Family members have killed other family members in the mistaken belief that there was an intruder in the house.

High levels of fear can create the situation in which everything becomes scary. 

If you have anxiety issues or feel threatened and unsafe, consider getting profession assistance both in determining of this is a real threat and in learning to manage your anxiety or other issues before that emotional problem turns you into a paranoid person.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com

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