Among the list of personality disorders in the Big Silver Book of Unhappiness is Paranoid Personality Disorder. Those of you who’ve followed this column know that such a label is thought to be less than helpful. Any state of being doesn’t cause us problems (unless it’s being dead, I suppose, and then our problems are really over with…). Our behaviors cause us problems, especially in our relationships with others. Indeed, it is an axiom of Choice Theory Psychology (CTP) that almost all long-term psychological problems are relationship problems.
The question when looking at Paranoid Personality Disorder, especially in relationships, is – just what are we doing that hurts our relationships? How does what we are choosing to do negatively impact our relationships with other people?
There are any number of ways PPD could harm our bliss with others. When we are constantly suspicious of the motives of others, we don’t trust them (duh). This lack of trust may then play out in behaviors such as constantly keeping tabs on others, requiring verification of time spent apart, demanding proof of other’s intentions. Such overt demands to allay suspicions are experienced by others as attempts at control. And if there’s one thing that we, as human beings, don’t like it is to be controlled. This, in and of itself, is a relationship killer.
Because there is no trust, we demand bonifides of loyalty and trust, often while at the same time acting in ways that are neither trustworthy nor loyal. This behavior of untrustworthiness and unloyalty drives the other person away. We may then choose to act grudgingly or maliciously toward the one who left, because they left.
When we choose to paranoid, we refuse to confide in others. This is really a non-behavior. The behavior is that of keeping secrets, remaining silent (or deflecting the conversation) when asked to share personal details with others. This also plays out as refusing intimacy with others – deflecting attempts at intimacy through a variety of means.
The sad thing about PPD and the other personality disorders is that the behavior in which we are engaging usually elicits the very behaviors in others that we fear. This dooms the relationship and we are left alone, unable to meet Basic Needs through healthy relationships and, therefore, miserable.
The only remedy for this is for us to change the problem behaviors. This isn’t an insurmountable task because we are almost always in direct control, of what we choose to think and do. The real question is, are we miserable enough to actually make changes in our lives, or, do we continue to choose misery over happiness because we don’t want to change what we are doing.
Prochaska came up with a model for the stages of change that includes pre-contemplation (I’m not thinking about changing), contemplation (I’m thinking about changing), preparation (I’m preparing to change), action (I’m actually doing something different), maintenance (I continue to act differently) and relapse (I go back to my old behavior). Some include a termination stage (My old behavior is entirely extinguished and replaced by my new behavior). Since the pictures of past successful behavior are forever in our Quality Worlds, I consider relapse to always be an option and termination to occur only at death (that state in which we have no more problems).
One problem with the stages of change model from a behavioral point of view is that we can indefinitely remain in pre-contemplation, contemplation and preparation. In order to move to the action stage (to actually do something different), we have to believe that the change will benefit us in some way more than our current behavior. In order for the change to “take” and become a pattern of behavior, we have to experience consequences that are positive immediate and certain (PIC). Why would we change our behavior if we didn’t believe it would get us closer to what we wanted and the consequences of the behavior (in relation to the goal) were negative, distant from the act (so that actual cause and effect isn’t seen) and ambiguous?
The answer is, of course, we don’t.
We continue acting in those old paranoiding ways because 1) we don’t develop patterns of behavior (such as paranoiding) that don’t fulfill our Needs in some way, 2) we don’t see the cause and effect relationship between our behavior and our misery (usually because of thinking errors such as victim role and blaming others for the consequences of our behavior) and 3) some people are more tolerant than others of our behavior (so there is no consistency in responses to our behavior).
Getting to the action stage of change and salvaging our relationships requires a long-term view and an holistic view of what is happening in our lives. It requires that we accept feedback from others about our behavior (especially difficult if we are paranoiding) and actually do something different to receive consequences that are positive, immediate and consistent.
Arranging such interactions may require professional help. We must ask ourselves – Are we tired of being miserable? Are we so miserable that doing something different is a viable option?
If the answer to these questions is “yes” then congratulations. Do something different!