Paranoia and Isolation

Phillip* is a 47-year-old accounts-person in the public service who lives with his mother. “I’ve let new people into my life and it never ends well. People are only out for themselves”. He came to treatment to address panic attacks, but it became clear that his problems were deeper. He was lonely and felt hopeless. “I’m not happy, but no one is really happy. Humans are just selfish and mean. There’s no way out of it. Everything would be better if we were wiped off this earth”.

Many mammals are social. One mammal is hyper-social. Humans gather in groups in sizes that exceed anyone’s ability to know each other member. This hyper-sociality helps us to build a pyramid or build a complex, integrated health system.

Most people now live in cities or towns where they have little knowledge of the people around them. Our old ancestors lived in small groups, in which everyone was well known to one and other. Cities offer convenience and safety. They offer a better chance at achieving prosperity. They also offer anonymity to those who are plagued by anxiety and shame.

Many are plagued by anxiety and shame. Some have been mistreated by parents, carers and authority figures when young and have developed a Mistrust Schema. Some have been bullied and ostracised by their schoolyard peers and now have a Social Isolation Schema. Some were made to feel worthless, flawed or evil by others, they have a Defectiveness Schema.

Many of these people will habitually interpret the intentions and actions of others negatively. They will jump to conclusions that others are conspiring against them or wishing harm upon them. They will take bad luck or mistakes personally, as if every bad thing that occurs to them is the result of malice. These habits are commonly referred to as paranoia.

Paranoia occurs together with anxiety and isolation in a death spiral. Once a person becomes isolated their ability to reality-check atrophies. The socially-unleashed mind wanders to some sinister places, and anxiety builds. Anxiety builds towards others and the outside world, towards society and social groups. Anxiety leads to avoidance – further isolation, the cycle complete and continual.

Our poor, hyper-social mammal! All it wants connection and acceptance from others. It assembles in enormous groups of others. It gets lost in a crowd and suffers in loneliness when so, so many abound.

Remember: You are this mammal. You need others to be able to reality-check to keep paranoia in check. Loneliness is suffering and death. There are many all around you (so close really) who have the same needs as you. Break the cycle any way you can!

Phillip broke his Black and White thinking habit. People weren’t all good or all bad. He had been denying that he needed others – he accepted this truth, grounded in biology. We developed and implemented a plan to increase social contact. He practiced noticing and challenging his paranoid thinking.


* names and key details changed to protect anonymity

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