Mar 27

Paranoia at the Top: Never Their Fault

As philosopher Robert M. Hutchins puts it, “This is a do-it-yourself test for paranoia: You know you’ve got it when you can’t think of anything that’s your fault.” Molly S. Castelloe, Psychology Today

Recent headlines such as “Trump Sets a New Bar for Presidential Paranoia” (Columbia Journalism Review), “Paranoia and Cronyism: What Makes the White House Dysfunctional?” (Salon), and “Donald Trump Is Normalizing Paranoia and Conspiracy Thinking in U.S. Politics” (Washington Post) raise very pertinent questions and concerns about a particularly troubling state of mind.

Paranoia can be an ongoing trait or it can be a process brought out by such things as fear and stress. Mental Health America defines it as follows:

Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia occurs in many mental disorders, but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true. When a person has paranoia or delusions, but no other symptoms (like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there), they might have what is called a delusional disorder. Because only thoughts are impacted, a person with delusional disorder can usually work and function in everyday life, however, their lives may be limited and isolated.

Shahram Heshmat, PhD, Psychology Today, identifies eight types of biases that prevent rationality in those afflicted with paranoia. Click on the link for more details.

  1. Confirmation bias. Perceptions are bolstered by anything that can be found to confirm them.
  2. Attention bias. “…intense and exceedingly narrow in focus.”
  3. Disorders of reasoning. The mind doesn’t allow for revisions of already rigidified thoughts.
  4. Distorted reality. “Their thought processes go from belief to evidence.”
  5. Persecutory delusion. “They…explain life events by blaming others.”
  6. Paranoid projection. “Projection is the substitution of an external threat or tension for an internal one that one’s self denies. For example, ‘I hate him’ becomes ‘He hates me’.”
  7. Overvalued ideas. “An overvalued idea is a simple idea that resembles a delusion, and often guides specific behavior. An example is knocking on wood to protect yourself against misfortune…”
  8. Erroneous sense-making. “The suspicious person can be absolutely right in his perception and at the same time absolutely wrong in his judgment…As Mark Twain remarked, ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so’.”

In her recent Psychology Today post Molly S. Castelloe, PhD, further explains one of these, paranoid projection, something we’ve consistently witnessed coming from the current presidential administration:

Projection becomes problematic and veers into pathology when one’s identity can only be defined by what one is not. Identity for such an individual relies on contrast, and a person becomes fixated with a prolonged and intense need for ‘othering,’ for finding other people onto which to hang the unwanted and painful parts of his or herself (e.g., anger, inadequacy, shame). There is ongoing confusion regarding boundaries between self and other, between what is inside and belongs to self and what is outside belonging to another. This becomes the only way of maintaining psychic equilibrium…

Directly from the top: Obama is a bad (sick) guy? Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the temperament to be president? Meryl Streep is overrated? The list goes on and on.