The Suspiciousness Spectrum: Exploring Paranoia

From the mildly suspicious to the extremely paranoid, the feeling of paranoia exists on the scale of an ordinary human emotion.

| February 2016

  • Suspicions
    When a paranoid person becomes delusional, their ideas are airtight, rigidly held, logically consistent, and unshakeable.
    Photo by Fotolia/deepfruit
  • Paranoid
    “Paranoid,” by David J. LaPorte, will help you understand the many factors that can distort your mental outlook.
    Cover courtesy Prometheus Books

  • Suspicions
  • Paranoid

The signs of paranoia are all around us. In Paranoid (Prometheus Books, 2015), author David J. LaPorte describes what paranoia is, why it manifests itself, and the many forms it can take. This excerpt, which contains information about paranoid disorders and the spectrum of suspiciousness, is from Chapter 2, “Inside the Mind of Paranoia.”

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I am assuming that the reader has a general sense of what paranoia is all about. But paranoia and paranoid disorders are multifaceted in nature.

It will be important to keep in mind that paranoia occupies the extreme end of a continuum. We can perhaps call the continuum in question suspiciousness. In that sense it reflects a normal and healthy human psychological experience, much like anger, love, happiness, and so on. At the low end of the continuum is naïveté, while paranoia sits at the other end. Each end is abnormal/pathological. In the middle are varying degrees of healthy trust or suspiciousness. So by definition paranoia and paranoid disorders are pathological states. They rep­resent an extreme of a normal, adaptive emotion.

The Suspiciousness Spectrum

The most salient symptom of paranoia is excessive, undue, or unreasonable sus­piciousness. Paranoid people are typically mistrustful of others and harbor a view that others have malicious or evil intentions. Or, put another way, they feel that others are persecuting them.

The level of suspiciousness can be as simple as thinking that others are talking behind their back, or as extreme as the truly delusional belief that someone is malevolently trying to harm them, often in bizarre ways, for example, by beaming x-rays into their head or stealing their thoughts. The “someone” can be their neighbor, family members, or organizations. The government, the FBI, the CIA, and other such groups are frequently blamed in this regard. Others are seen as trying to harm, humiliate, discredit, blackmail, or even kill them. They are being talked about, laughed at, vilified, disrespected, threatened, followed, stared at, harassed, oppressed, observed, wronged, plotted against, disparaged, and discussed by others, known and unknown.

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