Paranoid Personalities

“Personality” refers to how a person functions in life, including all the ways he or she perceives things and behaves. For more on personality in general, see the first post in this category entitled “Personality 101”

People with paranoid personalities fear others’ evil intentions. Much of their energies are directed towards anticipating and avoiding what they see as other peoples’ efforts to shame and humiliate them. People with paranoid personalities never feel fully safe and spend much of their time scanning the environment for potential dangers.  At the core of their experience is a profound emotional isolation, and this isolation engenders a strong wish for understanding and validation from a buddy they can trust.

Their experience of self goes back and forth between, at one pole, feeling powerless, humiliated and despicable and, at the other pole, feeling powerful, vindicated and triumphant. At the humiliated pole, people with paranoid personalities live in constant fear of injury from a hostile world and at the triumphant pole, they come to feel guilt and yet more fear for the harm they think they might cause others. There is also a grandiose aspect to the paranoid person’s self-referential perspective: Everything they observe has something to do with them personally.

The principal defense mechanism for a paranoid person is projection. Through the process of projection, one’s negative qualities or experiences are seen as belonging to another person and these disowned aspects of one’s self are then seen as external threats. Thus for example, a person who disowns her anger and envy tells her friend in an antagonistic manner that she can tell the friend is jealous of her accomplishments. Sympathetic attempts by the friend to present an alternative perspective are then interpreted by the paranoid person as envy-driven attempts to undermine and control her.

Much of the content for the above was derived from passages of Nancy McWilliams’ book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in Clinical Process.