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Paranoia: Illness or Personality Trait?

Updated on July 5, 2013

The art of GETTING IT

There's a leathery homeless lady near where I live who sits outside all day, holding a thermos. Her hair looks like straw and she smells like kidney beans. She has a collection of all of her belongings around her. Most of her stuff is in plastic bags but she also has a suitcase. That's where she keeps the really good stuff, probably.

Sometimes she sits cross-legged on top of the suitcase. She talks to herself. When she opens her mouth you can see her gums. Occasionally she stops to laugh. From time to time she opens a little package of something (soup mix? hot coco? I have no idea) and pours it into the thermos.

This lady is clearly crazy in some way. But she is also loving life. In other words she is GETTING IT.

Not everyone likes that this lady is GETTING IT. People walk by constantly, shooting her disapproving glances. I can tell that she notices and understands, because she has a look of arrogance on her face. She knows that she's being gross and offensive. But she's out there doing the damn thing, all the same.

There's a look of rebellious resistance in her eyes that would be absent if she was unable to feel the darts shooting out of the eyes of nearly everyone who passes her.

If this homeless lady is out there GETTING IT, why can't you?

Hell no, Mercury Services. I don't want to be anything like this hobo you're describing. Even if she is "mentally strong" in the way that you suggest, her type of fortitude is not the type of strength that I want to ever have. This leathery lady that you seem to be infatuated with is hardened. Grizzled. Crusted over. Isolated. Weird. Go married and live in a box with your girl, if you love her so much.

Yeah all that is true, italicized voice of reason. Especially the infatuation thing. You definitely called me out on that one-- my heart clearly belongs to Ms. GETTING IT, and my love for her ghetto ways is affecting my objectivity.

However, isn't it also true that turtling up and running away from the negativity is just another path to separation? After all, what's the difference between sitting outside and crusting over and retreating inside of a nice air conditioned house where it's nice and safe, only to obsessively worry about what everyone thinks?

Essentially that's like being a hobo in reverse.

Authoritative advice from an expert with smart looking glasses who is sitting there leaned back in a leather chair with his hands folded across his stomach.

Tinfoil Hats Work: the Proof

Science, personality and paranoia

If you check Google Books you might run across a long, boring book called Organizational Trust: a Primer. (It's very dry, so don't click that link if you're operating heavy machinery.)

There is one informative section of that book, though, that talks about the nature of paranoia.

Here's the info in a nutshell:

Some scientists tried to study the nature of "mild paranoia." What they found out (through a series of weird experiments involving two-way mirrors) is that a person who spends lots of time thinking about how he or she looks in public is generally quicker to assume the following:

  • that someone is looking at them
  • that people who really are looking are paying special attention and noticing them more than they have any logical reason to believe
  • that the people that they interact with are out to get them in some way

In other words, at some point an excessive amount of consciousness tends to turn inward.

Check out Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic Notes From the Underground for an example of how an intellectual mind can be the worst enemy of the person in possession of it.

Important Things

Once you have something to eat and a place to live, you're free. You can do whatever you want and say whatever you want. Yet, many people squander this opportunity because they are afraid.

Beyond basic needs, there are few serious consequences for any action. Most of the choices we make are inconsequential in terms of impacting "nuts and bolts" reality.

The fear, then, is a fear of feeling a certain way. Emotions are powerful but illusory. Time goes by, and emotions fade away.

Since most of what affects us and motivates us seems to have little to do with securing basic needs, in a way we're all dreaming. So why worry?


Chocolate chip pancakes

A blonde, bird-like waitress approaches the table.

Ken understands "omelet" and "delicious."

Ken and his wife have been saving. Now it's time to enjoy.

But… twenty dollars. For an omelet!

The bird chirps to Ken. He recognizes "fluffy."


Small laughs all around.

Ken bows his head, smiling. Then he looks down.

Oh no. Pineapples!

The bird saw Ken's face. Now she can't stop cooing.

Ken turns to his wife.

"What's the word? Quickly!"

"I don't know!"

Ken taps the menu. Chocolate chip pancakes. The waitress understands. Thank God! And reaches for Ken's plate.

Wait... what am I doing? How incredibly... fat!

Ken titters and tries to shoo the waitress away with a jerky motion.

But she won't leave. The pitch of her chirping rises. People are staring.

Ken's stomach folds up and sinks. He lets the pineapple pancakes slide out of his grasp.

Ken's wife giggles and glides a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth. But her eyes have no sunshine.

The bird returns with fresh chocolate chip pancakes. With a stiff grin, Ken accepts the new plate and slides down in his seat. Bite-by-bite, Ken shovels the food down.

What a horrible way to start a vacation.

Sometimes someone really is watching you

So I'm sitting here in a coffee shop, writing this. For the most part nobody cares. But a few minutes ago, some guy flip-flopped over and tried to look at my computer screen. I turned around.

Immediately: "Paranoia..." His eyebrows bounced up and down. "I think it's a personality trait!"

Then he took a long drag on his e-cigarette.

"And if you add drugs to the mix... it's baaaaaaad."

Sometimes paranoia is real

Right now I'm staring at a woman at the mall and making up a story in my mind about her. Here's one possible reason why she's here.

You're an Unsatisfied Wife

Maybe the act of shopping in a clean, air-conditioned environment is a soothing pacifier that you occasionally need to suckle on to maintain your sanity. Maybe you need that because you have a shitty, boring job. You may not necessarily mind having a job. You may not even need to work because maybe your husband does...

But going to work fulfills an important function in your life: it keeps you busy. Your crappy job, whatever it is, occupies your mind and gives you something to do, something to talk about, new people to interact with and so on. At the same time, though, your job also wears you out. It sucks away all of your energy. You're feeling drained. That's why you go to the mall. Buying things cheers you up and helps restore that missing energy.

The other thing that is draining you is that your husband is obviously getting bored of you. Or you are getting bored of him. You're not exactly sure what is going on with your relationship, actually. You've searched the Internet looking for advice. You asked your pastor. You watched an Oprah episode about it. But nothing seems to really satisfy that itch that nags at you. Something isn't right.

One thing, though, is clear: all your husband wants to do on a Sunday is sit there like a lump and watch the football game. He keeps burping and farting. Gross. Who is this slob? Not the same guy I married. That's for sure.

But you cut that lovely thought down at the stem before it can fully blossom into a very mean flower. Because it's not polite to think mean thoughts. So, you don't. Because you love your husband. Thoughts like that aren't supposed to come to mind, if you love someone. So instead of being mean to your hubby in your head, you think about the past. Dating. You think about how you weren't sure how to respond to a simple text message because you were too nervous. You wanted to make the right impression. Your mind was constantly wrapped up in wondering about whether or not he liked you back. You laugh to yourself, because you were so young, girly and ridiculous back then.

He farts again. Then, so do you. Clearly, all of the nervous tension in the relationship is gone. You're all grown up now, and this is how it is. This is life.

You begin to chastise yourself for thinking in a negative way about your situation. After all it's a nice house that you have together... and a nice life. But you don't see what's so interesting about a football game. You try to turn your frustration around on yourself. Maybe football bores you because you don't know the rules.

You turn things around on yourself in this way because guilt feels better than disgust.

Those are some troubling thoughts. So now you feel a bit uncomfortable and restless. You need a distraction. Something to do. You see your car keys resting on the white kitchen counter and you snatch them up and start walking toward the door. The jingling sound of the keys turns his head for a second. "Where you going babe?"

"Shopping, I'll be back in a bit. Love you."

"Love you too," he says. Then he scratches some popcorn across the bottom of a plastic bowl. He's trying to collect all the salt and butter at the bottom.


Now you're strapped into your brand new SUV. That makes you feel a little better. You're all big and bad in there. Elevated. And when you walk into Macy's, your pupils expand. You catch your breath. The lights and the rising action of the escalator hits you in just the right way. A feeling of calm overtakes you as Kenny G's smooth saxophone stylings glide into your ear canal and cool down your over-stressed brain.

You pick your way through some sexy lingerie. Hmmm, maybe this will get his attention.



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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Good point. I hadn't thugoht about it quite that way. :)

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Keep these artclies coming as they've opened many new doors for me.

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      You're absolutely right Alex, isn't life full of observations and comparisons? I don't know what our purpose is; to negate one thing or justify another? I admit... I'm a people watcher and yes, sometimes I laugh and maybe even poke fun at people, of course for my own pleasure but not as so to bring to their attention. I watch people because I am like a sponge; I want to learn and understand things... everything, which is a little unrealistic I suppose. But rather than making judgments, I make simple observations. He does this because of that? She doesn't do that because of this? People are a funny breed and I'll probably never understand them entirely. I think I do it for my own psychological health. The world has some seriously ugly in it and I just want to figure out why. What's the point? I've got so many of my own problems, I can't let myself be concerned with what others may be doing wrong. You know what I mean? I wish I could say everyone had that outlook.

      Sorry for the delay, I'm pages behind in my emails and they just seem to be getting away from me. It's a pleasure and I'll have to get to some of those other always-interesting hubs of yours! :D

      Have a goodnight Alex (Alexzander the Great... me son's name ;-)


    • mercuryservices profile imageAUTHOR

      Alex Munkachy 

      5 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Cat: I'm in the same dimension as my buddy BeeBee890 for sure. Basically I'm just jumping up and down, singing about KFC, McDonalds and a Pizza Hut over here. Glad you appreciate it!

      That was interesting feedback about the lady in my story at the end, and I wanted to take a couple days to let it marinate. I think I added that little tale because when I was watching the lady I described in that story, I started thinking about another friend of mine who had moved to Hawaii from Panama to marry some dorkish guy that she met in a club here. She told him up front: yo, I'm only marrying you for the papers. And he was okay with that. He took care of her, paid for everything, etc. Well... now they're getting a divorce and this friend of mine is moving back to Panama. When I was watching the lady in my story shop, I thought that she could easily be in a similar situation.

      I included that little observation in this somewhat random hub about paranoia because I think people look around and compare what they see to what they've experienced all the time. On the surface, when we talk to our friends, etc. we're all smiles but in our heads, everyone is forming opinions, judgements, etc. That's why I like your writing and your comment style. You're just like POW! telling people what you think. Thanks for the feedback.

    • Cantuhearmescream profile image


      5 years ago from New York

      Hey Alex, I really need to come around more often so I can appropriately determine if you are superbly creative or just wacked :D No, jokes aside though, I always feel like I'm in a special dimension when I grace your pages. I don't know, I'm either a fruit loop with you or entirely appreciative of all types of creativity. This was great! I don't know where I went, but it was fun :D

      Paranoia... ha! First, I'd like to say your straw hair lady, she's the kind of people I tend to be friends with, it's safer that way. Second... I'm particularly paranoid, well, about people looking at me and making judgments. However, I don't think they want to harm me or are up to no good. I'm just self-conscious about being looked at, so I don't know if that's some kind of fear or phobia rather than paranoia. But my world is relatively fun :D

    • mercuryservices profile imageAUTHOR

      Alex Munkachy 

      5 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Hi Joe, and thanks for commenting on one of my weirder hubs. I'd be interested to read the story behind your perspective on paranoia and how keeping a watchful eye out saved your life. Sounds like you've got a kernel of an idea for a story brewing there. By the way I think you're right-- the subject of paranoia definitely goes deep enough to warrant exploration in a novel. There's so many angles that one could take in approaching it. There is no way to really be sure what anyone is thinking, and the stories we tell each other regarding that have an impact on how we see the world. In some sense, human interaction is a poker game. As writers we try to transcend the guessing game and communicate as clearly as possible (or at least lead people astray in a compelling way.) Of course there's no way to render our thoughts in words perfectly, so we have to restort to metaphors, similies, etc. I'm reading "On Writing" by Stephen King right now. In it King suggests that writing is a type of telepathy. I've been turning that idea around in my head and it got me thinking about what makes a crappy writer, what makes a good one, paranoia, self-perception, public perception, confidence vs. stupidity vs. being too modest, etc.

      "Tarentino of the islands" is a great compliment hahaha... I love his stuff. Both King and Tarentino "keep it real" and I respect them both for that. Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 

      5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      I like your writing, Alex. The last scenario sounds like the beginning of a cool novel. I can tell you're taking people watching to a new level--definitely a great way to learn about dialogue; to build a repertoire of characters; and to get inspiration for both fiction and nonfiction projects.

      I am well acquainted with paranoia. The trouble is, it's kinda like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I've been right, it's saved my life. When I've been wrong, well, at least I was being careful to be right another day.

      Finally, this thought...when I read your writing, I get a very strong impression that you'd make an excellent playwright. I can't quite pinpoint why I sense that. Or, if not a playwright, then a director. You're like the Tarentino of the islands. Thanks for your unique perspective, Alex!



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