They offer an example of a paranoid thought:
Greg, 19, student: "If I'm with a friend and someone rings them on their mobile and they tell the caller they're with me, well if the caller then says something I can't hear and the friend I'm with laughs, I always think that the person on the other end of the phone said something horrible about me."
Well, duh. Of course you do. If they laughed and didn’t go on to explain why they had laughed, they positively invited you to think that. Whether or not something horrible was being said about you, your friend has appalling manners and should be abandoned.
We are all concerned about what other people think of us and we know that other people talk about us because we talk about other people. We are social animals; we confuse and fascinate one another. What people say about us behind our backs has to remain a mystery and the possibility that we are being laughed cannot ever be ruled out. We all know this, we all suspect this under certain circumstances and, in the above example, this is a fairly rational hypothesis. Of course, some people will care much more than others, but it wouldn't make them paranoid
Paranoia is defined as a delusional way of thinking; para meaning beyond (noos: mind). Granted, we all use this word to apply to fairly minor niggles, just as we say we feel depressed because it is raining or that it has been manic in the supermarket. However, whilst psychologists need to make a living, using this word to refer to ordinary thought patterns, thus pathologising the entire human race, is somewhat irresponsible.
Crucially, it means that when people are in serious trouble, other people are less likely to understand or appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Plus it supports the idea that all mental distress is an illness which needs to be (and can be) addressed and cured. Mental distress is part of the human situation.
Now I am not a socially confident person at all. Much of the time, I get really very worried about causing offence to people or making people feel uncomfortable in some way shape or form. This is notparanoia; this is low confidence and general social ineptitude – mostly but not entirely the result of chronic illness and the resulting isolation and inexperience. My experiences don't even stretch as far as Social Anxiety Disorder; they don't stop me doing stuff or engaging with other people.
The week before last, one event caused me to feel insecure about other people I care about. This was not paranoia either; that was a fairly normal reaction to a distressing and surprising event. But last week it took on a different shape, I was without my laptop and so with far fewer distractions to take me out of myself and it got very silly, to the point that I was feeling extremely nauseous (which I assume to be psychosomatic as it has since gone away) and becoming somewhat preoccupied with bad thoughts.
It was only a couple of bad days. I have a disease of the nervous system and this boat doesn't take much to rock it. Brief spells of this kind of thing do not qualify me as having a mental illness, but I would use the word paranoia to describe this sort of thing. These sort of experiences I have had myself would include being close to certain that:
- Something I have said or done in innocence has caused major upset to someone even though there is no reason to suggest this person is upset.
- People are going to find out, or have already found out, about personal and private things in my life - usually things I would be deeply ashamed about.
- Something I have said or done has lead or will lead directly to something very bad happening to someone I care about. It was about that level last week.
- I have supernatural powers which make bad things happen to other people, or bring about major disasters in the world.
- My thoughts are leaking out of my head for all to see.
The most extreme example of paranoia I came across in someone else was when I visited my friend, who has Borderline Personality Disorder, after the Soham murder victims had disappeared. Events in Soham had happened to coincide with a bad spell for him. This was before we knew for certain these two little girls were dead, and their faces were on the news all day and on the front of every newspaper.
My friend is not sexually attracted to children and anyway, he is gay. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, lives the other end of the country from Soham and has no independent transport. And yet he said to me; “What if I killed those little girls? What if I did it for some reason or other, but have blocked out the memory?”
That is paranoia. I remember it well because I was stunned. However, part of the problem with such thoughts is they are so scary you keep them to yourself. Once my friend had said this out loud and we had gone through all the ways in which it was absolutely impossible, he was laughing at the silliness of the idea.
Uh, I am about to be kicked off the computer so no time to round up with any sort of conclusion.