If you have a family member or friend experiencing paranoid delusions, then it can be challenging to know how to respond. Let’s explore some ways you can help them overcome their paranoid beliefs and unusual behavior.
Living With A Paranoid Person
Although most of us tend to be paranoid at times, it is primarily a severe thought disorder that can lead to intense stress, anxiety, mistrust and suspicion. According to a 2001 study 1 , “Paranoia is a disordered mode of thought that is dominated by an intense, irrational, but persistent mistrust or suspicion of people and a corresponding tendency to interpret the actions of others as deliberately threatening or demeaning.” Due to their paranoid delusions, they tend to be highly alert, vigilant, guarded, secretive and isolated. Research reveals that paranoia is mainly “a projection of the patient’s internal disturbance,” which makes them falsely believe that others are trying to harm them. As a result, it can often be difficult for friends, partners and family members to live with a paranoid person. Moreover, it can be challenging to understand how you should respond and react to their irrational behavior.
Coping and trying to help someone diagnosed with paranoia necessitates that you are compassionate, empathic, develop strong personal boundaries, and most of all, be patient. The sufferer may feel threatened by you or even accuse you of trying to harm them. They may behave strangely around you and may have complicated & distorted thoughts and beliefs that can be hard for you to understand. Living with someone who has paranoia on a daily basis can be difficult to say the least. You may feel confused and even terrified at times and may misinterpret their behavior driven by paranoid delusions.
As it can be highly challenging for family members of paranoid individuals to navigate through the situation, it is crucial to seek professional help. Paranoia can indicate a wide range of mental health conditions such as –
- Psychotic depression
- Delusional (paranoid) disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder
- Mania with psychotic features
- Substance abuse
Accurate diagnosis will help the doctor understand their condition better and devise the right treatment plan. Seeking medical attention will also enable you to ensure that their condition doesn’t get worse and the person receives the help they need. However, consulting a mental health professional is only the first step towards helping a person with paranoia. There are many other things that you can do to help and support your loved one manage the symptoms and overcome paranoid delusions in the long run.
Helping Someone Overcome Paranoid Delusions
If you have a loved one suffering from paranoid thoughts and delusions and you are unsure about how to help them overcome their symptoms, then here are a few useful tips that can help you be more supportive in their journey towards recovery:
1. Encourage them to seek medical help
Consulting a mental health professional and seeking treatment is the most important aspect of recovery. When you realize that your loved one is being constantly paranoid, then make sure to encourage them to see a doctor. A mental health professional can help devise the right treatment plan that can enable the patient to cope with their symptoms and develop healthier thought & behavior patterns.
However, this can be highly challenging due to their intense mistrust of others. Moreover, it can also prevent them from attending therapy sessions and taking prescribed medications. This is why it is crucial that you encourage treatment compliance and motivate them to follow the treatment regime. However, it is also important that you do not force them to seek medical help as it can worsen their paranoid delusions. In case they are not willing to see a doctor, you can individually consult a mental health professional for advice.
2. Educate yourself
Learn about paranoid delusions and other associated mental conditions as it will help you better cope with the symptoms of your loved one. By learning about the symptoms, triggers, causes and treatment options, you will be better prepared to deal with the situation and help them recover.
3. Avoid panic
Make sure that you do not overreact when responding to a paranoid loved one. Although it can get extremely frustrating when they are experiencing psychosis, it is crucial that you refrain from reacting in a negative manner or reprimanding them. Negative emotions can affect them intensely and make symptoms worse. It also important that you do not take things personally or confront them for their irrational behavior. Make sure to remain calm and patient while interacting with them.
4. Listen actively
One of the most crucial factors of “unintentional harm to patients is ineffective communication. The important part of this skill, in case it has been forgotten, is listening,” explains a 2016 study 2 . It is important that you listen to your loved one patiently without judging them, criticizing them or laughing at them. Be empathic and compassionate in your approach especially when they are feeling vulnerable, anxious and afraid. Paranoid delusions can lead to strong feelings of fear and make them feel threatened even in the absence of any real danger. It can prevent them from sharing their thoughts and emotions which can hamper their recovery. Encourage them to talk openly and actively listen to what they say even if you may not understand them completely. Instead focus on making them feel comfortable.
5. Speak calmly and use simple words
Paranoid people going through certain mental health issues often fail to grasp complicated language filled with complex words, long sentences, metaphors, sarcasm or exaggeration. Hence, it is best to talk to them using clear and short sentences. Moreover, you should also give them ample time to process what you have said and respond accordingly. You should also avoid talking down to them in front of others or talking about their issues to someone else when they are present in the vicinity. It is also important that you talk honestly with them and share your perspective as it may often help them gain a better understanding and keep them from feeling isolated.
6. Avoid being aggressive or threatening
If your child, sibling or even a parent is suffering from paranoid delusions, then threatening punishment or reacting aggressively can often become a natural reaction. However, this may not necessarily be the best way to react to someone struggling with a mental health condition. Threatening a negative repercussion for their behavior can make them react violently or may make them feel afraid of you. You need to understand that their behavior is driven by a psychiatric condition and not due to a lack of discipline.
7. Have a positive attitude
The emotional distress experienced by sufferers can be overwhelming and terrifying not just for them, but also for their friends and family. This is why it is important that you have a positive approach and be comforting towards your loved one. Their delusions and distorted beliefs can make them highly prone to negativity and your attitude towards them can make a huge difference in overcoming the symptoms. “In all the realms of healthcare, positive thinking has surely been the most enthusiastically upheld by mental healthcare providers,” explains a 2019 study 3 . Learn how they want you to help them and understand what they are thinking and feeling. Practicing empathy and gaining their trust is an important step that should not be ignored.
8. Try to justify their beliefs
Although their thoughts and beliefs may appear unusual and irrational, try to consider if they may be justified even if you may not personally agree with them or they contradict your own beliefs. Instead of dismissing their beliefs, make sure you are not making assumptions. Moreover, it is also important that you try to understand what motivates their beliefs and behaviors as most fears and anxieties are based on real experiences. This can help you develop a better understanding about their thought process.
9. Acknowledge their feelings
Analyze the degree of the distress your loved one with paranoid delusions is experiencing and recognize their distress. Acknowledge their fears and other difficult emotions without accepting their irrational reasons for such feelings. Their emotions are real even if their reasons are not.
10. Avoid challenging their beliefs
Avoiding conflict and confrontation can help you from making the symptoms worse. Challenging their beliefs can lead to arguments and disagreements that can make them think that you are planning to harm them. It is likely not possible for you to rationalize with them or to change their mind with the help of a professional therapist. The more you disagree with them, the stronger their beliefs will become. Instead ask them questions about their beliefs and try to understand the real cause of their fears.
11. Anticipate triggers
Learn to identify and expect triggers so that you can notice when symptoms of paranoid delusions become intense in your loved one and be prepared to cope with it. You can even inform them in advance so that they can also overcome their own distorted thoughts and improve their symptoms.
12. Focus on their strengths
As mental illness can often affect the self-confidence and self-esteem of the sufferer, it is crucial that you emphasize their strengths. Although they may have problems with interpersonal relationships, they tend to be highly intelligent in general and are high functioning. By focusing on their strengths and positive traits, you can enable them to build a more positive attitude towards treatment and life.
12. Have a plan for emergencies
It can be helpful to know what you need to do in case of an emergency. Create a plan to cope with the situation when they are experiencing a severe episode of paranoid delusions or having a serious mental health crisis. Keep emergency numbers listed close to you, inform your friends and relatives and ask them to provide support when needed. This can make a lot of difference during a crisis.
13. Practice self-care
Look after yourself and do things that you enjoy. It is crucial that you maintain balance in life apart from looking after your family member with paranoid delusions. Focus on different aspects of your life, maintain your relationships, socialize with friends, follow a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and learn to cope with stress yourself. It is also important that you take care of your own mental health as taking care of someone with a psychiatric condition can be stressful and challenging. Talk to a therapist about your mental state, if needed.
Recovery From Paranoid Delusions Is Possible
Although recovery may take some time and each person may progress at their own pace, it is possible to overcome the symptoms of paranoid delusions and develop healthier thought and behavior patterns. However, treatment alone is not enough for effective recovery. If you want your loved one to deal with their condition properly, then your love, care and support can be vital for their mental, emotional and physical well-being. Make sure you are empathic and compassionate with your loved one, be as supportive as possible and encourage them to follow the treatment plan properly. With patience, you will be able to help them live a healthier and normal life in the long run.
- Fenigstein, A. (2007). Paranoia. ScienceDirect.com | Science, health and medical journals, full text articles and books. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780122678059500274
- Jahromi, V. K., Tabatabaee, S. S., Abdar, Z. E., & Rajabi, M. (2016). Active listening: The key of successful communication in hospital managers. Electronic physician, 8(3), 2123–2128. https://doi.org/10.19082/2123
- Andrade G. (2019). The ethics of positive thinking in healthcare. Journal of medical ethics and history of medicine, 12, 18. https://doi.org/10.18502/jmehm.v12i18.2148