Paranoia - What is Paranoia?

Paranoia is a thought process heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs concerning a perceived threat towards oneself.

The word comes from the Greek "παράνοια" (''paranoia''), "madness", from "παρά" (''para''), "beside, by" + "νόος" (''noos'') , "mind". Historically, this characterization was used to describe any delusional state.

The term ''paranoia'' was derived from the Greek term ''Paranous'', which roughly meant "beyond the mind". It was used to describe a mental illness in which a

delusional belief is the sole or most prominent feature. In original attempt at classifying different forms of mental illness, Kraepelin used the term ''pure paranoia'' to describe a condition where a delusion was present, but without any apparent deterioration in intellectual abilities and without any of the other features of dementia praecox, the condition later renamed "schizophrenia". Notably, in his definition, the belief does not have to be persecutory to be classified as paranoid, so any number of delusional beliefs can be classified as paranoia. For example, a person who has the sole delusional belief that he is an important religious figure would be classified by Kraepelin as having 'pure paranoia'. Even at the present time, a delusion need not be suspicious or fearful to be classified as paranoid.

A person might be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic without delusions of persecution, simply because their delusions refer mainly to themselves, such as believing that they are a CIA agent or a famous member of royalty.

In modern psychiatry, paranoia is diagnosed in the form of:

  • paranoid personality disorder
  • paranoid schizophrenia (a subtype of schizophrenia)
  • persecutory delusions (a subtype of delusional disorder).

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