I keep thinking that people are out to get me.
How many times have you been confronted with this thought, or a thought like it? Paranoia affects us all to some extent. But for some of us, paranoid and suspicious thoughts pervade our daily lives to dangerous levels.
I thought I’d write this article because there are very few resources out there specifically focused on the paranoid person. Having dealt with paranoia in the past, I wanted to share with you what I have learned.
(Note: If you suspect that your paranoia is edging close to psychosis, I recommend seeking out medical help immediately. This article has only been written for general self-help purposes only.)
What You Should Know About Paranoid Thoughts
- They cause us to worry about other people or situations causing us unfounded or unrealistic harm.
- They can result from social anxiety, shyness, schizophrenia and stress disorders.
- People experiencing them often fear different things, such as being watched or talked about, hidden double meanings, physical harm, social harm (e.g. ridicule), psychological harm (e.g. people trying to irritate you), financial harm, and thoughts or actions being interfered with by others.
- They make you feel: anxious, stressed, scared, mistrustful, isolated, victimized, worried and tired.
Why Paranoid Thoughts Occur
Common triggers can be:
1. Stress and major life changes. For instance; relationship problems, financial pressures, leaving home, sleeplessness, shyness, death of a loved one etc.
These can lead to …
2. Negative emotions and beliefs. For instance; depression, anger, anxiety, guilt, low self esteem, cynicism.
Leading to …
3. External triggers. For instance:
- When we’re in social situations.
- Situations hard to escape from.
- Situations where we feel exposed.
- Unusual or out-of-the-ordinary situations.
- When we’re alone.
4. Internal triggers. For instance:
- Our emotions (unhappiness, shame, anger etc.)
- Arousal, e.g. when we’re feeling especially alert and sensitive.
- Changes in the way we perceive or experience the world (e.g. things for some reason seem louder, brighter and more intrusive than usual).
- The use of drugs or alcohol.
How We React to Our Paranoid Thoughts
There are a number of ways we choose to deal with our thoughts. These are to:
1. Ignore the thoughts.
2. Adopt a problem-solving approach, e.g. reasoning or analyzing the thoughts.
3. Responding emotionally, e.g. feeling miserable, annoyed, helpless or ashamed.
4. Avoiding the thoughts, e.g. withdrawing from people and situations.
5. Thinking the thoughts are true.
6. Trying to understand the thoughts, e.g. getting other people’s perspectives, finding out more information.
In the essence, the way we react to our suspicious and paranoid thoughts actually determines how long they’ll persist, and how badly they’ll affect us.
What We Can Do to Overcome Our Paranoid Thoughts
The smartest way to approach our paranoid thoughts is to have a problem-solving approach in which we explore where they came from and how we can stop them. Think of this as being a Sherlock Holmes of your mind.
One good way to start is to record in a journal daily what triggered your paranoid thoughts and how you reacted to them. This will allow you to become increasingly conscious of your paranoid thoughts. After all, how can you possibly stop your thoughts in their tracks if you’re not even aware of them first?
It may also help you to record the stress and major life changes, followed by emotions, and followed by the internal or external triggers that may have led up to your paranoid thought.
Tips: The goal is to become a detached observer of your anxieties.
Next, you will need to assess and challenge the paranoid thoughts that arise in you.
I have found these 5 rules to be extremely helpful:
1. Don’t treat your thoughts and feelings as facts.
2. Think for evidence both for and against your thoughts.
3. Try to think of alternative explanations for events.
4. Test out your explanations.
5. Always try to keep an open mind.
These are extremely important.
Paranoid people tend to jump to conclusions, generalize, take things personally and catastrophize events very easily. This is why it’s a good idea to record your suspicious thoughts, the evidence for and against them and how strongly you believe them both before you’ve weighed up the evidence and afterwards.
Tips: It’s a good idea to have a supportive statement prepared for when you experience paranoid thoughts, for instance: “I am a realistic person” or “They’re just thoughts – they’ll pass soon”.
Remember, resistance is what causes suffering. Don’t fight your suspicious thoughts – they will only come back to haunt you. Instead, focus your efforts on surrendering, accepting and trying to learn from your tendency to be paranoid as a conscious observer.
If you deal with paranoia, feel free to share any helpful strategies of your own below!