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Stein, R. (2010). Reflections on Paranoia. Psychoanal. Rev., 97(2):231-237.

(2010). Psychoanalytic Review, 97(2):231-237

Reflections on Paranoia

Ruth Stein, Ph.D.

Paranoia is about alienation of the Other and from the Other. It is about the creation of enemies, a process where inner tension, fear of humiliation, shame about weakness, and repressed self-doubt crystallize into the figure of a threatening Other. This Other, the persecutor, the enemy, provides a sense, however truncated, of connection, a feeling of clarity and the relief that comes with certitude. The “paranoid streak”, as Arthur Koestler (1967) called it, is an indelible part of human nature. Stanley Cath (1982), who studied cult followers, postulates “a universal social paranoid core with its roots extending into the matrix of individual infantile and childish helplessness, fear, and hate.” Variations in this reservoir or core probably determine the degree of projection of paranoid constructs each society will tolerate.

Many of us have had moments of vague suspicion that something is out there just waiting to get us. Some say that these feelings are produced by the lower, “visceral” brain, the limbic system, which generates raw feelings from deep inside the body, which we feel we cannot shake. It is only moments later that the “thinking” areas take over and the intellectual fixation on this quirk of fear (in the underlying system) is born. The fear creates a premonition, a warning of impending danger. Beset by such deep-seated fear, the brain searches for explanations. It decides that something is persecuting you. The brain is in the grips of paranoia.

One of the strengths of psychoanalysis is its awareness of mental continuities.

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