Paranoid Personality Disorder in Relationships

In previous posts in this series, we listed the Personality Disorders that can make it impossible to achieve stable mental health in relationships. We have done Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and OCD vs OCPD. These three personality disorders are also listed as basic culprits in substance dependencies, addictions and religious cults including fanaticism.

This week we move on to Paranoid Personality Disorder.

Spending too much time with people who are suffering from a Personality Disorder can trigger mental illness. Even in people who have been mentally stable all their lives. Personality disorders are mental health conditions that affect how we think, perceive the world, feel about other people or how we relate to others. This week, we dive into OCD and OCPD, their differences and similarities. Plus, how they manifest and affect relationships.

Paranoid Personality Disorder

Paranoia falls under cognitive distortions. It is a consistent and often unfounded feeling or view that others are out to hurt you. Neutral everyday situations are often interpreted negatively, even if positive evidence is presented. Paranoia is a sign of severe mental illness and can often be associated with schizophrenia. As in many mental illnesses, paranoia is also on a spectrum. This means that it can be (i) non-clinical paranoia or (ii) Clinical Paranoia.

Non-clinical paranoia

is  so mild, even your loved ones don’t notice that you are afraid of shadows. And it can be so severe, it disrupts life entirely. Both your life and the life of your loved ones, relatives and passers-by. It manifests in mild distrust, which is adaptive and good for you. At best, it helps you detect a dangerous person or scenario before it escalates into injury. At worst, it ensures that your partner or spouse sits in a corner silently when friends of the opposite gender visit your house  To avoid being accused of being interested in other people. Imagine that girl who secretly flirts with your man every second she gets. Your body and instincts felt her flirting before she even flashed that smile at him while ignoring you as if you were one of the chairs on your man’s table. The one who thinks she is sleek so you cannot see her tricks? Isn’t she the one who got you checking his phone to see if her shenanigans have digital too?

How do you know when the girl flirting is a real danger for your relationship?

Clinical paranoia

manifests in extreme distrus directed towards everything and everybody. Innocent encounters can be interpreted to be hostile and potentially dangerous. The difference between clinical from non-clinical paranoia is the strength of the idea of the threat and the level of distress the idea causes. Does the idea of a threat and the distress it causes interfere with daily functioning? It is a tough judgment call to be made after evaluation and reflection. 

What happens to you when you cannot trust your brain to differentiate between real danger and imagined danger? Because we are wired to survive, we are always watching out for danger. The kind of danger that can end our lives. We are also looking to recognize this kind of danger in time, so we can react to it in time before irreparable damage is caused. Our brain starts lying to us when we develop Cognitive Distortions where our brain reads all the signals of our surroundings, as usual, but then distorts the perspective or the interpretation of the said signal.

Example True Story

A friend of a friend started the downhill spiral and nobody realized what it was until it was almost too late. Let us call him Jose. Jose worked in a competitive company in Upper hill where everybody was under their thirties and thirsting for more. If you were good at your job, your salary increased, you were promoted, and you were included in travel plans. He worked so hard! Got promoted, his paycheck improved, and his boss knew his name. Jose’s boss said, ‘good morning Jose!’ when they met at the coffee machines in the mornings. This is a boss who said ‘good morning all’ like teachers say ‘good morning class’ because he couldn’t remember everybody’s name. Jose was riding on a high. Supporting his parents financially and paying fees for his younger siblings. He was dating Achieng, beautiful intelligent Achieng who was also an achiever at another multinational in Westlands. Jose and Achieng were going to have a son together and had started talking marriage.

Though he can now, with hindsight see that his mind played tricks on him, he cannot pinpoint when it started. However, he speaks of a time when, wherever he walked into a room, his colleagues went silent. They were talking about him behind his back. Even his boss was just pretending to like him while he planned to fire him and promote Lauren. Jose knew it because of the way the boss said, ‘morning Jose!’ instead of saying ‘good morning Jose!’ It was said in a hurry as the boss rushed to talk with Lauren. Jose was sure the boss was sleeping with Lauren and planned to give Lauren Jose’s job as a reward.

Speaking of which, Achieng had changed too. At 8 months pregnant, she was seen laughing and flirting with other men both at her job and in restaurants. Jose was sure she was cheating. Could he even trust that the child she was carrying was his?

 Jose started following Achieng around to make sure she was not cheating on him. And he started checking the phone to make double sure which obviously made Achieng angry which led to them breaking up before the baby was born. This was in February 2017. By November 2017, Jose had a huge loud fight with his boss which led to his suspension from work. By now, Lauren had left for another company, but Jose was sure that his boss was plotting to get id of him anyway. Christmas 2017, Jose spent it with his friends I Nairobi because he was also certain that his parents were siding with Achieng to take his son away from him.

By the way, Jose had paid good money to confirm that Achieng’s baby was his.

By June 2018, Jose was being followed by the government in a black Volvo. That Volvo was everywhere he went. Could it be the illuminati? He hadn’t been to church for many years and he had criticized the government in one of Mwangi’s Facebook posts. He knew he shouldn’t have done it, but it was just a joke on Facebook. Only, another friend had told him that gava was cracking down on Facebook inciters. When I asked him, which friend told him this, he cannot remember. It could be anyone. He packed up and moved upcountry to his parents to lie low for a while. Let things calm down in the city.

The thing is, Jose didn’t trust his parents either. They were always plotting against him. Talking about him behind his back. Siding with Achieng and planning to kill him so they could steal his money.

Signs and symptoms of Paranoid Personality Disorder

In the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), Paranoid Personality Disorder is cataloged as:

1. Deep rooted and extensive distrust and suspicion of others where other people motives are often or always interpreted as malicious. This disorder sets in by early adulthood and can display itself in a variety of contexts.

  • Without sufficient basis, you suspect that others are exploiting you. Or planning to, harm you. Deceiving you even when evidence to the contrary is presented.
  • You are unfairly and constantly preoccupied with doubts about other people’s loyalty to you. You presume them to be untrustworthy even when they haven’t done anything to prove untrustworthy.
  • Reluctance to confide in loved ones because you fear that whatever you share will be maliciously used against you. Even when the fear is unwarranted.
  • Benign remarks or events are interpreted as demeaning or threatening.
  • You become unforgiving and persistently bear and nurse grudges. You may remember and magnify insults, injuries, or slights for years.
  • Angry reactions and counter-attacks for perceived attacks on your character or reputation. Even when other people did not notice or perceive the insult or slight.
  • In intimate relationships, you have recurrent suspicions regarding fidelity without justification. Even when a partner or spouse has proven to be faithful.

2. Paranoid Personality Disorder may occur as an independent disorder. However, researchers believe that this disorder is caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors.

Most often, Paranoid Personality Disorder is present in families where a history of schizophrenia and other delusional disorders are present.

Early childhood trauma may also be a contributing factor.

How Paranoid Personality Disorder Damages Relationships

Paranoid personality disorder over-stimulates the fear response which makes you experience most events and interactions in an exaggerated negative way. It’s like wearing glasses that distort the picture of your life together and how you experience those around you. There is a high probability that those close to you feel that you don’t see them as they are. That you only see what you want to see in them, and most of what you see is negative.

Heightened Suspicion

will exhaust your loved ones because nobody can spend their entire life proving you wrong.  

Constant criticism and judgment

ensures that your loved ones feel misunderstood. In the best case scenario, loved ones will avoid you. In the worst case, you will break the self-esteem of people you love.

Stubbornness and holding grudges

means you do not forgive or give your loved ones a break. It is ungenerous and most relationships do not last where lack o f generosity reigns.

Pessimism breeds a generally negative attitude

which blocks you from happiness and experiences of love. This blockage from experiencing love coupled with your preoccupation with all the potential threats and unearthing evidence of those threats,will also push your loved ones away.

Secrecy makes you guarded.

You do not show or share your feelings which can also manifest as passive-aggressive behavior. Most loved ones appreciate straightforwardness.

Controlling behavior

means that the need to control others prevents you and others from maintaining other healthy relationships with family and friends. This is corrosive for any individual.


makes you extremely anxious and mistrusting about others’ loyalty to you which makes it hard to maintain strong relationships.

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