Monday, August 14, 2006


One of the hallmarks of the paranoid, and paranoia in general, is the ability to fixate (or obsess) on one particular point to the exclusion of all other reality and to select that point as the "evidence" of their predetermined delusion.

The paranoid is actually quite perceptive--rigidly so; and they focus their attention only on those details that give support and credence to their beliefs.

David Shapiro, in his book Neurotic Styles comments on the Paranoid style:
In the paranoid person, even more sharply and severely than the obsessive compulsive, every aspect and component of normal autonomous functioning appears in rigid, distorted, and, in general hypertrophied form....[The]paranoid person's attention is so purposefully and narrowly directed as to amount, not merely to rigidity, but to a fixed bias.

Normal people are able to see things in context; processing information appropriately and connecting dots that should be connected. Thus their conclusions and their judgement are more reliable and unbiased. The paranoid's pre-existing bias distorts his judgement and makes him unable to place facts or events in any kind of appropriate context. Dots are connected, it is true, but the only connection that exists between them is the false premises that created them.

Paranoia and projection come in all sorts of neurotic and psychotic flavors.

There is a scene in the movie A Beautiful Mind, where the mathematical genius John Nash has wallpapered his office walls with literally thousands of pages from newspapers, magazines, and other sources purportedly to demonstrate linkages. The room is total chaos; a giant complex spider-web of insane conspiracy, that accurately reflects the disorder and confusion in his mind. But he has kept most of this locked away from the view of others. To others, he appears complex, persuasive, sure of himself and often brilliant. It is not until his collegues enter his office and find the disordered nest of all his insane connections do they understand the extent of his illness.

It is always stunning to me that logical processes are usually preserved even in the most extreme cases of paranoia. And when you understand the faulty premise on which the logic is based, it makes a certain kind of wierd, distorted sense. And, it almost always feeds the ravenous grandiosity of the paranoid person.

They are always the focal point of the conspiracy. They are special; a very important person, specially selected by the FBI, aliens--or whoever--to victimize. This knowledge is both frightening and exhilarating at the same time to the paranoid. He is victimized and becomes the innocent object of the devious and despicable actions of the "other" because he is special in some way.

And, indeed he is, since the origin of the negative or hostile emotions/behaviors seemingly directed at him are deeply buried within his own mind.

The paranoid has an explanation for even the most bizarre connection (e.g., "I am hearing voices in my head saying strange things. Why would that happen? Wait! The other day I noticed a man following me. The FBI follows special people with special knowledge and wants information from them. I am special. The man following me must be from the FBI. The FBI has all sorts of special technology. Thus, the FBI must have implant a microelectrode in my brain to try to control me and get the information they want from me. etc. etc.")

I actually had a patient with this particular delusion who brought in thousands of pages he had written documenting every single look that strangers gave him; convinced that all strange people were from the FBI, assigned to keep tabs on his every coming and going. The circle of people involved in this conspiracy kept growing; the plot kept widening and widening becoming more and more complicated; sucking in everyone he came in contact with.

This spreading circle of conspiracy was absolutely necessary to account for the obvious discrepancies and increasingly apparent distortions that people would notice in his explanations. Every question that threatened his complex conspiracy, eventually caused an expansion of the circle of paranoia. Eventually, all the connections and rationalizations become to complicated and bizarre to maintain.

It is next to impossible to break through the paranoid's near-impenetrable wall of complicated logic and connections that surround the basic psychological conflict driving him.

Take the patient who was convinced that the reason he could not successfuly have intimate relationships with others was because he had some microscopic flea-like creatures on his skin that would jump from him to any person he was with and take them over. He could tell this was happening because people, when "infected" by the creatures would begin to scratch themselves--and then they would not be friendly with him anymore; and would stop wanting to socialize with him.

What made this case so fascinating was the fact that the person in question was a Ph.D. microbiologist! In fact, his credentials were extremely impressive and he was highly regarded for his work. He was in his 40's, never married, and with no children or even close friends.

Dr. "Smith" earnestly told me that he had tried to study these creatures; and had even gone to the extreme of taking skin samples from himself and looking under the electron microscope for them--without any luck, of course. But his conclusion from his failure to see them with the most powerful microscope available, was not that they didn't exist; but that the electron microscope must have been altered by the creatures so that they could avoid detection and make him look foolish if he tried to explain to anyone what was going on. The creatures' obvious ability to avoid detection by the microscope had then led him to the further deduction that they must be a species of creature completely alien to this planet and very intelligent.

I naiively asked him why the creatures had selected him to be their focal point on the planet. And I remember his look of complete disgust at my obvious ignorance. "They are taunting me!" he exclaimed. "They know I am all that stands between them and taking over the earth." His look clearly said that I was an idiot if I couldn't appreciate that simple fact.

Unselfconsciously, while thinking about how to deal with the situation, I scratched my head. "See!" he shouted triumphantly, instantly noticing what I had done. "See! I had hoped that an intelligent person like you would be able to understand. But they have also infected you and so now you will not believe anything I say!"

Game, set, and match to the paranoid microbiologist.

I felt it was deja vu all over again with Dr. Smith when I watched the Mike Wallace interview with President Ahmadinejad. Particularly this exchange (emphasis mine):
"Very clearly, I will tell you that I fully oppose the behavior of the British and the Americans," Ahmadinejad tells Wallace. "They are providing state-of-the-art military hardware to the Zionists. And they are throwing their full support behind Israel. We believe that this threatens the future of all peoples, including the American and European peoples. So we are asking why the American government is blindly supporting this murderous regime."

Wallace tried to ask him about Hezbollah's use of missiles, rockets furnished by Iran, but he wanted to talk about Israel's attacks with American bombs.

"The laser-guided bombs that have been given to the Zionists and they're targeting the shelter of defenseless children and women," the president said.

"Who supports Hezbollah?" Wallace asked. "Who has given Hezbollah hundreds of millions of dollars for years? Who has given Hezbollah Iranian-made missiles and rockets that is making — that are making all kinds …" he continued as he was interrupted.

"Are you the representative of the Zionist regime? Or a journalist?" Ahmadinejad asked Wallace.

"I'm a journalist. I am a journalist," Wallace replied.

"This is not journalism, sir. Hezbollah is a popular organization in Lebanon, and they are defending their land," the president said. "They are defending their own houses. And, according to the charter of the United Nations, every person has the right to defend his house.

Note several things:
- the implication that simply by asking the question, Wallace must be an agent of the "Zionest regime".
- the complete inattention to the fact that it was Hezbollah--not Israel-- that started the conflict and that it was Israel--not Hezbollah--who were defending their own house.

Interestingly, in talking about the interview, Wallace said of Ahmadinejad:
"He's an impressive fellow, this guy. He really is. He's obviously smart as hell."

Wallace said he was surprised to find that the Iranian president was still a college professor who taught a graduate-level course.

"You'll find him an interesting man," he said. "I expected more of a firebrand. I don't think he has the slightest doubt about how he feels ... about the American administration and the Zionist state. He comes across as more rational than I had expected."

The complete interview can be found here.

Remember, the delusion and the complicated conspiracy serve a purpose. In order to find out the purpose, you must identify the basic premises of the paranoid. The basic premise of the Microbiologist was that there must be somthing that was preventing him from having normal relationships with people; and, whatever that something was, it was external to him and had nothing whatsoever to do with his own thoughts, feelings or behavior.

In describing that "something" Dr. Smith created an intelligent, alien species that was deliberately mocking him as it used him to take over the world. Notice how this goes beyond mere projection into psychotic (i.e., completely out of touch with reality) delusion. This delusion also had the benefit of highlighting what a special and important person he was--after all, this alien species has selected him for their nefarious plot and he was all that stood between the earth and their diabolical (and rather vague) plans for humanity.

Ahmadinejad has also concluded that "something" prevents him as an individual from achieving his desires; "something" stands in the way of his religion being perceived as the great benefit to mankind it obviously is.

We all know what that "something" is, don't we? He wants to wipe it off the map if he can.

His brilliant mind has all the "facts" it needs to conclude that both his personal and his religion's problems will be solved when the Zionist regime is finally dealt with.

While not bizarre and psychotic like Dr. Smith, President Ahmadinejad is nevertheless delusional and exhibits the classic hallmarks of the paranoid style. His basic premises are faulty; he looks outside of himself and his religion to identify the source of all problems; and this psychological tactic prevents him from ever having to take any responsibility for his actions or his abject failure as a human being.

Of course, he has lots of company in using this particular psychological strategy--particularly in the middle east, where anti-semitism is the air that everyone breaths to make themselves feel less flawed and inadequate.

Projection and paranoia are two of the most primitive psychological defenses. Projection, or attributing one's own unacknowledged feelings to others; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and "injustice collecting". Most young children use projection as a defense mechanism, and it is considered normal for a child.

Projection is never a good long-term strategy--nor is it healthy--in an adult; and using such a defense mechanism represents a primitive attempt to shirk the responsibility for one's own feelings, thoughts, and actions. It causes and has caused much human misery, death, destruction and some of the most horrific acts that humans are capable of. When entire countries subscribe to a projected delusion (e.g., the "Jews" are to blame; the "Blacks" are the cause of all of our problems; "Republicans" are evil) it can lead to genocide and other behaviors that are paranoid and psychotically delusional. Full-blown paranoia occurs when one's mind severs the connection with reality entirely. Paranoia is a symptom of mental illness.

Ahmadinejad and Dr. Smith both come across as fascinating, intelligent, impressive and rational. They are also perfect examples of the paranoid style in action.

UPDATE: SC&A have a great post up with quotes from yet another Islamic "leader" who excells in the paranoid style. And then in another post, the three shrinks go on to quote Gagdad Bob (from One Cosmos) in the next post: "...the enemies of Israel are steeped in lies." You could also say that they are wallowing in paranoia and projection--which inevitably lead to distortions and endless lies.

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