Paranoia is an ever-present feeling of suspicion that others cannot be trusted. Such feelings are not based on fact or reality; insecurity and low self-esteem often exaggerate these emotions. Typically, paranoia is not seen in children, but in most cases it begins to develop in late adolescence and early adulthood. Most people experience feelings of paranoia, usually in response to a threatening situation or in connection with feelings of insecurity based on real circumstances. These feelings are related to the mild anxiety people experience at some points during their lives.

The fourth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) includes diagnostic criteria for the more serious condition, paranoid personality disorder. According to the DSM-IV, individuals afflicted with this disorder assume, with little concrete evidence to support the assumption, that others plan to exploit, harm, or deceive him or her; and continually analyzes the motivations of friends, family, and others to confirm his or her doubts about their trustworthiness; expects friends and family to abandon him or her in times of trouble or stress; avoids revealing personal information because of fear that it will be used against him or her; interprets remarks and actions as having hidden, demeaning, and threatening connotations; and is unwilling to forgive an insult. The behaviorof an individual with paranoid personality disorder may compel others to react with anger or hostility. This tends to reinforce the individual's suspiciousness and feelings that friends and associates are "against" him or her.

In the 1990s, the term "everyday paranoia" (EP) came into usage among psychologists to describe the intense anxiety that was becoming prevalent in society. Everyday paranoia is sparked by fear of losing one's job, feelings of inadequacy when confronting a new interpersonal or romantic relationship, or insecurity in a marriage or other long-term relationship. Low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity contribute to a person's susceptibility to feelings of everyday paranoia. Stressful situations-economic insecurity, divorce, a move, a job change-can also reinforce a person's paranoia. Almost everyone experiences feelings of suspicion or insecurity-and in fact, paranoia can be a mechanism for coping with misfortune or personal problems. Rather than view the situation as "bad luck" or personal failure or incompetence, paranoia places the responsibility for the problem on some "enemy."

The term paranoia is used erroneously at times to define special life circumstances. Members of minority groups and new immigrants may exhibit guarded behavior due to unfamiliarity with their new environment and lack of knowledge of language and cultural norms. This display of suspicion of authority figures and lack of trust in outsiders is based on a real lack of understanding of the person's surroundings, and does not represent an abnormal reaction. In addition, the term "political paranoia" is used to describe attitudes shared by members of groups on the fringes of society who suspect that government agencies are conspiring to control the lives of citizens by imposing new values, or suspect that other dominant groups are persecuting them. The growth of paramilitary organizations in the United States in recent years appears to be indicative of such feelings of political paranoia among a small percentage of citizens.

Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001.


Paranoid personality disorder is characterized by a distrust of others and a constant suspicion that people around you have sinister motives. People with this disorder tend to have excessive trust in their own knowledge and abilities and usually avoid close relationships with others. They search for hidden meanings in everything and read hostile intentions into the actions of others. They are quick to challenge the loyalties of friends and loved ones and often appear cold and distant to others. They usually shift blame to others and tend to carry long grudges.


People with schizoid personality disorder avoid relationships and do not show much emotion. They genuinely prefer to be alone and do not secretly wish for popularity. They tend to seek jobs that require little social contact. Their social skills are often weak and they do not show a need for attention or acceptance. They are perceived as humorless and distant and often are termed "loners."


Many believe that schizotypal personality disorder represents mild schizophrenia. The disorder is characterized by odd forms of thinking and perceiving, and individuals with this disorder often seek isolation from others. They sometimes believe to have extra sensory ability or that unrelated events relate to them in some important way. They generally engage in eccentric behavior and have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time. Their speech is often over elaborate and difficult to follow.


A common misconception is that antisocial personality disorder refers to people who have poor social skills. The opposite is often the case. Instead, antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a lack of conscience. People with this disorder are prone to criminal behavior, believing that their victims are weak and deserving of being taken advantage of. They tend to lie and steal. Often, they are careless with money and take action without thinking about consequences. They are often agressive and are much more concerned with their own needs than the needs of others.


Borderline personality disorder is characterized by mood instability and poor self-image. People with this disorder are prone to constant mood swings and bouts of anger. Often, they will take their anger out on themselves, causing themselves injury. Suicidal threats and actions are not uncommon. They think in very black and white terms and often form intense, conflict-ridden relationships. They are quick to anger when their expectations are not met.


People with histrionic personality disorder are constant attention seekers. They need to be the center of attention all the time, often interrupting others in order to dominate the conversation. They use grandiose language to discribe everyday events and seek constant praise. They may dress provacatively or exaggerate illnesses in order to gain attention. They also tend to exaggerate friendships and relationships, believing that everyone loves them. They are often manipulative.