By the time you read this article, we will have elected a new President and a new Congress...and you're probably feeling a little bit paranoid!
All of us throw the word "paranoid" around quite generously without giving much thought to its definition in classic psychotherapy or its contemporary usages in colloquial speech. The word itself is quite elusive, effusive and even ebullient at times.
Paranoia is the irrational predisposition of a person to interpret the actions of others as calculatingly degrading, intimidating or menacing.
A paranoid manager or worker anticipates domination or harm by others, questions the loyalty or honesty of friends or co-workers, reads cryptic meanings into benign remarks or events, holds hard feelings or is unforgiving of insults or slights, fears speaking in confidence because the information may be used against him or her, and retorts quickly with resentment and retaliation to the slightest effrontery.
Nothing escapes paranoid persons. They are extraordinarily aware of their surroundings and of others' motives at all times. Their sensors, tirelessly scrutinizing the people and situations around them, notify them immediately of what is amiss. They have an almost exceptional type of hearing. They are immediately and uncannily aware of the mixed messages, the concealed motivations, and the faintest distortions of truth that dupe less gifted observers.
On the job, they are acutely aware of dominance and authority in their relationships. They will suspiciously watch for signs of disrespect and abuses of power. Paranoids are autonomous to the extreme and cautious and reserved in their work habits. Often, their envy of people in authority betrays itself in hostility. As a result, they are only able to sustain relationships with people they perceive as passive and docile.
However, they run the risk of misinterpreting the signs they perceive. And as their paranoia expands, suspicion distresses and undermines their relationships with co-workers. They begin to exaggerate others' human shortcomings and assume that others are looking at them as attentively as they are observing other people.
Paranoids are never wrong. But ironically, they really feel so guilty, at fault, feeble, pathetic, disreputable and weighed down by inappropriate impulses that they have to project all their negative thoughts about themselves onto other people in order to shield their brittle self-respect. They notice the most insignificant imperfection in others and disdain them for it, because they feel so fragile themselves.
As a manager, you must be aware that any criticism you express will offend this person unbearably, and you will find yourself among the inventory of people who have wounded them. Maintain a cordial distance. Don't try to talk them out of any suspicions, or you will be on the list of traitors.