Feelings of paranoia
We live in an age where danger seems to surround us on all sides. You need only watch the news to feel threatened by the many issues that are reported on a daily basis. The problem comes in when these feelings start taking a hold of your life, affecting your ability to function properly. Dr Daniel Freeman, author of Paranoia: The 21st Century Fear (Oxford University Press) says many of us find ourselves overcome by unnecessary fears and plagued by paranoia - a persistent belief that someone is ‘out to get you'.
‘The more we worry about our fears, the bigger and more entrenched they become. This is especially true for people whose past experiences have led them to feel negatively about themselves, other people, and the world in general,' says Freeman.
The following statements are typical examples of paranoid thinking:
- I constantly get the feeling that other people are gossiping about me.
- I find that people are mostly untrustworthy.
- I am sensitive and easily offended.
- I see the world as an unsafe place.
- I avoid telling people my innermost thoughts in case they use this information against me.
- I find it really difficult to forgive and forget.
- People often tell me I'm defensive and argumentative.
- I am suspicious of people and often believe that they are deliberately trying to irritate me.
- I feel persecuted by the world at large.
- I might be being observed and/or followed.
- I tend to assume that people will lie, scheme and cheat me.
- I am convinced that people at work read my emails.
If you identify strongly with these statements, you may be encouraging thoughts that are making you increasingly paranoid. Here are a few suggestions for dealing with paranoid thoughts.
1. Get some perspective
Start becoming aware of your thoughts. Paranoia is characterised by a belief that others are out to harm you. Stop and analyse your thoughts when next you start feeling anxious and suspicious of others' motives. When your colleagues were laughing when you walked past them; was it really because you looked ridiculous that day, or could it be that they shared a funny joke? Is that person really following you in the supermarket, or are they just shopping in the same aisle as you? The idea is to focus on the more likely scenario instead of immediately jumping to the worst conclusion. By redirecting your thinking you can disable paranoid thoughts and the hold they have on you. Be wise though. If you suspect that someone really is following you, seek assistance immediately.
2. Find the cause
Paranoia loses its grip when you figure out what's causing it. Stressful life events are usually at the centre. For example, a colleague gets retrenched, and you start interpreting every frown from your boss or meeting that does not include you as a sure sign that you're next. Consider what is driving your fear. If your colleague was not recently retrenched, would you feel the same way? Is it possible that a past experience, such as having been laid off from a previous job, is stopping you from seeing the situation more clearly?
3. Focus on the positive
Paranoia makes it all too easy to jump to illogical conclusions. Once you start believing your suspicions your behaviour changes as well. This could cause others to respond to you in a way that you feel confirms your suspicions. For example, if you fear that your colleagues are always gossiping about you, you might start acting coldly towards them or become increasingly uncomfortable and distant in their presence. This undermines the relationship, and could cause the very thing you were concerned about in the first place, where they start talking about you and your unpleasant behaviour as soon as you leave the room. Instead, think realistically and positively, and then act from that frame of reference. You will be surprised at how positively people will respond to you in turn.
Paranoid thinking is often an unhealthy way of protecting yourself against getting hurt. Unfortunately, it harms relationships by creating a barrier between you and other people. Break down the barriers erected by paranoia by believing the best of other people and becoming more trustful of them. Within reason of course.
When the problem is more serious
Chronic paranoia is often a symptom of a serious mental illness, such as personality disorder or paranoid schizophrenia. Professional help is needed in these cases. For more information contact the South African Depression Anxiety Group on 011 262 6396.
The Bankmed Individual Stress Assessment (ISA) can help you assess your mental-health status. Bankmed Vitality members can earn up to 5000 points for completing the ISA. The Bankmed Special Care Programme for depression offers support and guidance to members diagnosed with depression. For more information, phone 0800 BANKMED (0800 226 5633).