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Self-Knowledge • Fear & Insecurity

The Roots of Paranoia

One of the most useful realisations we might come to about ourselves is that we are ‘paranoid.’ The word is easy to laugh off as impossibly eccentric, evoking people who insist that they are being tailed by the secret service or watched over by an alien species. But the reality is lot more normal-looking and far less comedic-feeling. To be paranoid in the true sense is to suffer from a repeated feeling that most people hate us, that most situations are extremely dangerous and that some kind of catastrophe is likely to befall us soon.

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

It may not be immediately obvious what connects up — for example — our impression that a colleague is taking us for a fool, with our fear of being talked about unkindly by our friends, with our impression that the waiter has deliberately placed us at the worst table and our dread that we’re about to be caught up in a scandal.

But our sense that the world is permanently and imminently conspiring to belittle, attack and humiliate us is most likely the outcome of a very particular string of experiences of belittlement, attack and humiliation that will have occurred at the hands of just one or two people in our formative years — and yet that will have been carefully submerged and overlooked. And this will have been done because we have implicitly preferred to fear the world rather than acknowledge the reality of the torment we underwent at the hands of characters — who might also be our mother or father — whom we would have liked so much to trust and to love.

It’s unfortunate that our minds need to discharge their toxins somewhere and that if they have been blocked from doing so in the appropriate location, they will seek to do so anywhere that feels remotely relevant: the office or the restaurant, the party or the newspaper article. The hatred and viciousness we fear from colleagues, friends or social media is only a proxy for what we once received from sources close to home — and which we have lacked the support required to return back to their senders.

Understanding who has crushed and scarred us constitutes a critical part of adult self-knowledge. It is also — we should recognise — an insight we may be deeply reluctant to secure, opting to be forever terrified rather than raise arguments against our treatment by care-givers whom we have chosen to believe are innocent. It may one day feel as though far fewer people are actually laughing at us and that there is far less risk of a scandal soon — once we understand that the mockery and shaming we anticipate for tomorrow already unfolded in our heartrendingly anguished and unexplored yesterdays.

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