Understanding Paranoid Personality Trait

Cover of "Conspiracy Theory (Keepcase)"

Cover of Conspiracy Theory (Keepcase)

by Christine Hammond

Have you ever met someone who truly believes that everyone is out to get them?  They are paranoid about family, friends, co-workers, the trash man, the police, or even the cashier at the grocery store.  When confronted they can site numerous reasons not to trust other people and insist that the problem is everyone else and not them.  Or is it?  Paranoids are just that, paranoid.

So what is Paranoid?  Well, according to the new DSM-V, paranoid is no longer a personality disorder in and of itself rather it is now classified under Personality Disorder Trait Specified (PDTS).  This means that there was not enough research to properly classify paranoids as having a named personality disorder but there is evidence enough that it does exist.  So the traits of paranoid are still classifiable and qualify as a PDTS.  Here is the technical definition based on the new classification:

  • Distrust and suspiciousness
  • Intimacy avoidance
  • Hostility
  • Unusual beliefs and experiences

The practical definition looks more like this:

  • Believes others are using them
  • Reluctant to confide in others
  • Unforgiving and holds grudges
  • Takes criticism poorly
  • Reacts with anger, retaliates
  • Cold, distant, controlling, and jealous
  • Believes they are always right

Mel Gibson in his portrayal of Jerry in “Conspiracy Theory” did a wonderful job showing what paranoids look like in real life.  The constant looking over his shoulder, reading more meaning into seemingly meaningless things, the hypervigilant behavior, and intense anger are all characterizations of a paranoid.

So how do you deal with a person who might be schizoid?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Although they are highly logical, don’t try to logically reason their paranoid thoughts away.  It won’t work and the only one who will get more frustrated is you.
  • Paranoid beliefs are rooted in childhood and have nothing to do with present circumstances no matter what they say.  There really is no magic ingredients of affirmation that will stop the paranoia.
  • They record as many things as possible by video or audio including people or family in their own home, so expect it.  To everyone else, this seems a bit strange and weird but to them, this is normal.
  • Choose your words carefully when speaking as they frequently read far more meaning into them then intended.
  • All it takes is one comment they don’t like and they will shut you out of their life forever because you are unsafe.

Living with a paranoid is exhausting because they can fake social interaction but inside they don’t do social interaction really well and will often leave saying all kinds of horrible things about the people they were just nice to.  Their paranoia will be pervasive as in nearly every conversation some form of it will appear.  Most of the time they have learned to say things like, “I was just trying to keep you safe” or “I can see things that you don’t” as a way of softening the paranoia.  But it is still there.  You need help if you are dealing with someone who has this as their perception of reality is usually way off-balance.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.