If we suffered from childhood trauma, particularly if, as a child, we felt frequently persecuted, then, all else being equal, we are more likely to develop symptoms of paranoia in our adult lives than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively benign childhood.
In this post, I will focus on how FAULTY REASONING, also known as COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS, are a major contributory factor in fueling symptoms of paranoia. Such faulty reasoning has its roots in adverse childhood experiences.
I will look at four main types of faulty reasoning. These are:
1) A need for certainty
2) Blaming others
3) Jumping to conclusions
4) A failure to look for alternative explanations
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1) Need for certainty:
When we are under stress and occurrences take place that upset us and disturb our peace of mind there is a human tendency to develop a strong desire to obtain a definite reason why the event happened (as, theoretically, if we know the true cause, we put ourselves in a less vulnerable position). However, this need for knowledge may become so potent that it can, potentially, lead us to prefer an upsetting explanation to no explanation at all/being forced to live in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty and ignorance.
Indeed, cognitive therapists, who help to treat people who suffer from serious psychological problems compounded by their tendency to employ faulty reasoning, have found that individuals who can accept living with uncertainty are less likely to develop suspicious/paranoid thoughts.
2) Blaming others:
When unpleasant events happen to us we assign the cause to one of two categories. These are:
a) internal factors
b) external factors
(or, of course, to a combination of both).
If we attribute the cause to internal factors, this tends to mean we blame ourselves; if, on the other hand, we attribute the cause of the unwanted event to external factors, this will tend to mean that we see the negative happening as having been outside of, and beyond, our personal control.
For example, let’s say I’ve just failed an exam. I may attribute my failure to:
a) internal factors (e.g. I failed to revise adequately or am simply too stupid to have passed)
or, alternatively, I may attribute it to:
b) external factors, thus exonerating myself from responsibility (eg whilst I sat the exam it was 98 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside and the air conditioning had broken down, or, the person next to me impaired my concentration with his constant hiccuping).
If I am the type of person who tends to attribute my problems to the kind of explanation represented by the second example of ‘b’, above ( the habitual hiccuper) and, therefore, tends to blame external factors/ other people when undesirable things happen to me, then, research suggests, I am also more likely to be the kind of person who suffers from suspicious/ paranoid thoughts.
In the case of my example, if I was very paranoid indeed I might even think that the relentless hiccuper was only pretending to have hiccups simply to distract and infuriate me (perhaps, I might think, I have an enemy who was paying him ten pence per hiccup).
3) Jumping to conclusions:
Anxiety may compel us to jump to hasty conclusions without gathering, scrutinizing, and assessing all of the relevant evidence.
This is related to:
4) Ignoring alternative, less upsetting explanations for what has happened.
Why Paranoid Thoughts May Persist.
Once we start to think in paranoid ways, we may set off a chain of behaviours and beliefs which perpetuate our paranoid thoughts. Examples include:
– CONFIRMATION BIAS: this is a common error (and is certainly not limited to paranoid thinking). It involves focusing on evidence that supports one’s theory, whilst ignoring or minimizing the, quite possibly more compelling evidence, against it.
– BEHAVING IN ACCORDANCE WITH OUR ERRONEOUS PARANOID BELIEFS: e.g. by avoiding situations we (falsely) believe to be threatening and dangerous. This perpetuates our fear as we do not allow ourselves to confront and master the fear. It also prevents us from learning that the previously feared situation is not a danger to us after all.
– NOT SEEKING HELP WITH AN ANXIETY CONDITION (anxiety and paranoid thinking are closely linked)
– NOT SEEKING HELP FOR A DEPRESSIVE CONDITION (depression leads to the kind of negativity that paranoid thinking thrives upon
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE( FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.