14. World Conspiracy- Paranoid - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
Go to content

Main menu:

14. World Conspiracy- Paranoid

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > How Dangerous

 How Dangerous is this Person? Assessing Danger & Violence Potential Before Tragedy Strikes

PARANOID: Characteristics, Criteria, or Elements for Aggression & Violence Potential
-- Code: NO=not applicable; YES=applicable; DEPENDS= Depends on other issues or occurs sometimes
PARANOID: DEPENDS, Specific Triggering Event
PARANOID: YES, Opportunistic Behavior
PARANOID: YES, Sense of Entitlement
PARANOID: YES, Self-Righteous Attitude
PARANOID: YES, Ego-syntonic Perception
PARANOID: YES, Self-Esteem Gain or Loss
PARANOID: YES, Intense Emotional Arousal
PARANOID: YES, Resentment
PARANOID: NO, Functional Reinforcement (positive or negative)
PARANOID: YES, Characterlogical Behavior/Perceptions
PARANOID: NO, Transitory Behavior/Perceptions
PARANOID: YES, Isolation/Avoidance Behavior
PARANOID: NO, Presence of Remorse

MacKenzie and Colton’s dynamics had become so toxic and problematic that there no one gives the other the benefit of a doubt for any words or actions.  They had become hypersensitive and hyper-vigilant to the point of virtual paranoia.  However, this characteristic did not necessarily extend to how they experience other people.  Owen, on the other hand thought a significant part of the world conspired against him or are exploitive and abusive to people (himself included) in general.  MacKenzie is after Colton and Colton is after MacKenzie.  They were accurate about each other's hostility.  It is arguable that they created two mutually self-fulfilling toxic prophecies.  However, their perceptions were based on concrete experiences of insult and injury.  Without any prior experience with others, Owen anticipated that they only needed to sense his vulnerability and would grab any opportunity to screw him over.  Hiding any vulnerability and always keeping his guard up became his deflector shield against harm.  Owen avoided a large measure of the negative consequences from this strategy through associating with other hyper-macho men and staying in hyper-macho social and work environments.  He rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with aggressive hard drinking and crank indulgent fellow bad-asses.  They keep their relationship on a superficial level with an occasional illicit raid upon each other’s girlfriends or wives.  They were all “cheating motherfuckers” but they all knew it about themselves and each other.  He was a security guard whose job was to be paranoid and suspicious about everyone.  Little did his boss know that Owen did not trust him to screw Owen over too.  

Despite his fundamental distrust of others and expecting to be screwed over, Owen had a series of girlfriends.  Underlying his paranoia, he still wanted intimacy although he could not admit it.  He could be argued to have an avoidant attachment style.  They were all dysfunctional relationships.  He continued to avoid intimacy being fearful of becoming vulnerable.   Getting too close with another person meant being controlled or dominated or hurt sooner or later.  His paranoia about partners cheating on him created raging accusations and entitlement for him to cheat sexually on them.  A life partner did not seem possible for him.  Then Grace got pregnant.  She did not tell him until she was showing so much, it could not be hidden.  Owen of course questioned Grace about the paternity of the baby.  They did the DNA thing and it was him.  He still doubted his paternity a bit.  After all, could not Grace have manipulated or somehow worked the lab test to deceive him like he saw on some “Law and Order” episode?  Grace had been through his paranoia, his hostility, his suspicion, his rage, his disappearances and returns, and his emotional and physical abuse before she got pregnant.  It continued and intensified during the pregnancy.  There was a brief respite from the paranoia and emotional and physical abuse during the early days after Owen Jr.’s birth.  One day, Owen had been drinking and had a couple of lines of crank with the boys before coming home late.  Grace’s mother was over to babysit because Owen and Grace were supposed to go out.  Grace and Owen got into an argument about him being late, not caring, not spending any time her and the baby, and a whole lot of other “nots.”   Owen pushed Grace and when she would not back down, he slapped her.  The baby started crying and Grace’s mother called the police.  

When the police came, Grace tried to convince them that it was all ok.  They did not believe her and Owen’s hostility towards them and Grace confirmed their suspicions of him being potentially dangerous.  They arrested Owen.  Owen spent the night in jail before Grace bailed him out the next day.  Despite Grace minimizing the violence, Owen was charged.  The court eventually referred him to domestic violence treatment.  His lawyer was able to get Owen the option of entering couples therapy instead of attending a domestic violence treatment program or men’s perpetrators group.  Owen’s obvious hostility in therapy led the therapist to challenge the couple’s assertion that therapy was to “build a better relationship” and improve parenting skills.   The therapist confronted Owen on his clear resistance to being in therapy, and asked him why he was really there.  “Because I have to,” Owen muttered.  The therapist asked, “Have to or else what?  Or else who will do what?”  Grace was visibly anxious during this exchange.  The possibility of Grace somehow forcing Owen to reveal himself in therapy seemed unlikely.  She was clearly intimidated by Owen.  Realizing that Owen would not reveal anything on his own and that Grace was too scared to, the therapist asked directly, “Is this mandated therapy?  Is this court-ordered?”  Grace become more anxious as her eyes widened and she glanced furtively at Owen.  Owen glared at the therapist with greater rage, but did not speak.  The therapist skipped waiting for an answer, and declared, “OK, this is court-ordered mandated therapy.  You need to tell me what it is all about.  If you don’t, then whatever you want from me to get them off your ass, you ain’t gonna get.  If you think I’m on their side, it is what it is.  I’ll see what I give them or give you.  It depends.  So talk or don’t talk.  It’s up to you.”

The therapist had come to the conclusion and made a diagnosis based on the inconsistency between their request for therapy and Owen’s hostility and resistance, the lack of experience among them (therapist and Owen) for Owen to already be so hostile, Grace’s inability to speak much less, drive the therapy, and knowledge and experience with paranoid personality disorder.  Once and if Owen began participating in therapy, he would name Grace giving him shit when he got home.  She was at fault for triggering his anger and leading up to him slapping her.  He would claim that Grace’s mother made a small family conflict into a big deal by calling the fucking police, the cops being suspicious, and the damn judge being against him as further triggers or justification for his hostility in therapy.  Despite being able to identify one trigger or another for any number of hostile or violent choices in his life, his aggression is less about being triggered and more about his hypersensitivity to offense.  All perceived offenses against Owen, he considered intentional rather than some being unintentional or benign.  With such paranoid sensitivity assuming inherent hostility against him, he is actually opportunistically seeking excuses to “fight back” to assert his lack of vulnerability.  Highly characteristic of paranoid personality disorder, he feels deeply entitled to vengeance.  He feels completely self-righteous since he considering other persons’ rights automatically means losing his own.  Owen cannot see himself as a conciliatory individual because that would infer weakness on his part.  He overtly holds an extremely compelling self-image of being a powerful “don’t take no shit” individual who does not “let anyone get away” with disrespecting him.  Letting Grace “push” him around is ego-dystonic.  Being arrested and forced into therapy is agonizingly ego-dystonic and is fundamentally humiliating and infuriating... again.  Feeling that he has to submit to the therapist is equally awful.  Being hostile, uncooperative, and defiant gives him some semblance of self-esteem after the crushing reality and consequences of the domestic violence charges.

The three characteristics set of arousal, pleasure, and resentment are profoundly compelling and definitive for the paranoid personality disorder.  Owen is very high in all three characteristics.  His arousal is comparable to the arousal of a borderline individual when triggered by betrayal, abandonment, and rejection.  However, whereas the borderline individual experiences arousal when triggered and in a transitory fashion, the individual with paranoid personality disorder stays in a characterological angry aroused state more often than not.  Or irrespective of any triggers, the angry arousal percolates slightly below the surface, liable to explode at any minor provocation.   While the borderline individual still craves and seeks out intimacy, the paranoid individual has largely given up on it happening for him or her.  Owen’s continuous rage while occasionally submerged is over complete lifelong betrayal, total abandonment, and absolute rejection by the world in general, as opposed to the transitory incidents of the borderline.  Owen has a bitter reservoir of resentments running deep and wide from a lifetime accumulation of injuries.  His paranoid perceptual filter developed from historical resentments will anticipate and confirm current words or events as further assaults of the world conspiracy against him.  Gaining intimate emotional validation was rare and now seems impossible.  Any semblance of being nurtured or supported is assumed to be accidental or part of a large scheme to get him to drop his guard so that he can be massacred.  Pleasure therefore is gained primarily from successful vengeance against the hateful world.  Aggression, abuse, and violence allow him virtually his only reliable emotional validation.  

Owen has become largely immune to negative reinforcement resulting from his paranoid behavior.   In more severe paranoid individuals, immunity to punishment or negative consequences creates the potential for extraordinary violence.  Once the paranoid individual does not care if he or she is caught, punished, or killed then normal social and legal consequences or restraints become irrelevant.  There is no mitigating, slowing, or blocking violent urges if the arousal intensifies beyond some point.  Vengeance becomes a matter of when, who, and how stunning.   This can make the aroused and compulsive individual with paranoid personality disorder more dangerous than the individual with antisocial personality disorder.  The antisocial individual is calculating and wants to get away with any aggression or violence.  The possibility of getting caught and punished would restrain him or her from an abusive or violent act.  The paranoid individual when sufficiently aroused does not care about being caught or punished.  He or she is focused primarily on how intense, dramatic and sensational, and impressive (terrifying) to others the vengeance will be.

Remorse or empathy is precluded since the paranoid individual is so self-absorbed in his or her perpetual angry pity party.  Even when around others, the paranoid is socially isolated, having given up the possibility of fulfilling social relationships.  A major benefit of social interaction is how others offer reality checks to restrain and qualify fantastic aspirations and ventures.  The individual with paranoid personality disorder, along with others who do not crave and thus lack frequent social interactions get little or no feedback as to the viability or hypothesized outcome or benefit of compulsive ideas.  Since he hangs around with like-minded paranoid people, they confirm his paranoia perceptions and philosophy.  Since Owen tended not to have long-term relationships, became estranged from family members, and otherwise kept relationships superficial, others may not know of his history of dysfunctional and destructive relationships.  Unless he had transgressed legally and had been caught or because he shifted from one community to another, people in general and a partner in particular would not know his history of frequent raging reactive abuse.  However, his paranoia is often easily recognized.

Unlike the borderline individual and the narcissistic individual who are often socially adept and well regarded, the paranoid tends not to present him or herself discreetly.  The borderline individual often is very socially competent and likable since he or she craves intimacy in relationships.  Only when triggered by betrayal, abandonment, or rejection feelings does this individual show socially inappropriate rage and aggression or violence.  The narcissistic individual is often extremely charming and worthy of adoration for his or her creative, social, political, or economic success.  The narcissist frequently successfully hides his or her vengeful abuse under the guise of circumstances and unintended consequences.  In contrast, the intense arousal and simmering resentments of the paranoid individual is readily palpable to most observers.  The borderline and the narcissist consider others, and then distinguish between problematic “dangerous” people and beneficial “positive” people.  For the paranoid, most if not all people are dangerous if given the opportunity.   The therapist or professional- actually, just about anyone is automatically under suspicion as another potential violator.  The therapist or professional is used to a new client who is cautious and tentatively opens up to the therapist or professional.  Outright suspicions, defiance, and hostility are normal with a teenager forced into treatment, scrutiny, or supervision but not with a supposedly committed invested, though reluctant adult partner.  While the narcissist may also try to intimidate the therapist or professional, the narcissist would do so with veiled aspersions against the therapist or professional’s credibility, qualifications, or experience.  The paranoid’s cultural and personal orientation revolves around aggression and intimidation: avoiding others aggression and being intimidated plus intimidating and aggressing against others to prevent vulnerability and to retaliate.  The therapist or professional- just about anyone is another person liable to hurt the individual and to be resisted.  

Entry for therapy, treatment, or change is extremely difficult- perhaps, even more difficult than with the sociopath or individual with antisocial personality disorder.  Working to ameliorate triggers, working with a more positive sense of self, dealing with low and transitory reactivity, discomfort being aggressive or violent, minimal resentments, aversion to being punished for actions including social consequences, working off of remorse and an appeal to empathy are all closed off in an individual  with paranoid personality disorder such as Owen.  One functional reinforcement- a negative reinforcement or punishment of losing the relationship with Grace and/or with his son could be compelling to risk trying to change.  However, if Owen already is doubtful that he can have an enduring mutually beneficial intimate partner relationship, then that may not be sufficient motivation.  Owen feels his pain and loneliness deeply and he expects no one to understand his experience.  He had become immune to punishment, including negative consequences he brought down on himself.  Caring about others feelings- that is, empathizing with Grace’s distress or his son’s feelings seems to require Owen in his mind to abdicate the validity of his feelings.  In his mind, however, it’s either his feelings and experiences are valid or not.  No one else’s feelings and experiences can co-exist with his.  It is a competition he cannot allow.  The therapist should try to honor his existential experience of pain.  Because of his paranoid sensitivities, this is a challenge in of itself to get Owen to see and name his vulnerability in a manner that does not trigger his experience of being emasculated or humiliated again.  From the foundation of Owen’s feelings and experience securely validated, the therapist or professional then can attempt to build Owen’s ability to empathize with Grace’s feelings and experience.  Provoking Owen’s core self-definition and evolving it into a more mutual receptive and functioning identity is another potential but therapeutically or professionally challenging strategy.  If Owen can consider an alternative or adapted ideal self to aspire to, the therapist or professional may be able to foster change.   

Getting a paranoid Owen to accept Grace’s existential world and/or stray from his paranoid sense of self without being threatened… or too threatened and negatively reactive strikes at the core of his personality disorder.   Realistically, potential growth or change depends on “how deeply or how much of a paranoid personality disordered” individual Owen or another individual may be.  Secondarily, it depends on the skills of the therapist or professional to nudge him towards less disordered thinking and behavior.  Doing this is challenging in individual therapy or treatment and may be more difficult in couple's therapy or group treatment.  Fear of being humiliated in front of the partner or others causes the paranoid to be even more careful than in individual treatment.  Owen is more likely to shut down than open up.  The therapist or professional has to also gauge the ability and strength of Grace to challenge the relationship versus how intimidated she is against disturbing the status quo.  It may be necessary to overtly acknowledge how Owen intimidates Grace with potential abuse.  The therapist or professional can validate that it is hard for Grace to speak or go against Owen because of his anger and potential to retaliate.  Using the tentative “entries” mentioned above remain strategies to deal with this as well.  Does Owen want to be the individual whose partner is scared of him?  If he felt that way too, how would it be for him?  Does he accept the limited relationship that results or the end of the relationship?  Furthermore, the therapist or professional always needs to be aware of conducting therapy, treatment, or intervention in a manner that might trigger further emotional abuse and violence.  One of the reasons, the police arrested Owen was their awareness of what might happen after they left.  They knew that he was very likely to further enraged and punish Grace for the police intrusion into their lives.  The therapist or professional may need to bring up the possibility of Owen punishing Grace at home over things that had occurred in therapy.  Strong boundaries would need to be set.

Discussion about treating or dealing with the individual with paranoid personality disorder looks at his or her amenability to change.  Change may be so difficult, that it may be impossible or impractical given immediate or imminent potential for violence.  Powerful forces and threatened consequences for boundary violations may block immediate aggression, abuse, or violence.  The paranoid individual has long experience holding his or her rage in the face of punishment, and may draw upon such skills to not abuse or attack immediately.  However, this may serve only to add to the volcanic depths of resentment and grievances at being frustrated or “fucked over” again.  The therapist, professional, or other concerned person should recognize momentary restraint is unlikely to be sustained over a longer period.  Unfortunately, resentments marinate over time with the addition of new grievances to become explosive at some undetermined later date.  It is possible that the bitterness and drive for vengeance for Seung-Hui Cho developed over most of his twenty-three years of life, before exploding homicidally at Virginia Tech in 2007.  Any number of people and situations may have drawn his rage and considered for punishment over the years.  And may have noted his volatility.  Were there close calls where he almost acted out his paranoid rage?  Were there people including teachers and various professionals who experienced his paranoia who may have instigated intervention?      

On January 29, 2013, Jimmy Lee Dykes shot and killed a school bus driver and snatched a 5-year-old boy off the bus.  He took the boy into his homemade bunker as a hostage.  After several days standoff, the police eventually rushed his bunker and killed Dykes.  They determined that he was becoming more dangerous to the child.  His aggression was not unprecedented or unknown to others.  Other neighbors said Jimmy Lee Dykes in the past had threatened to shoot children who followed dogs onto his property.  He had beaten one neighbor's dog to death with a lead pipe for similar trespassing (Cline, 2013 & Raftery, 2013).  Many people were filled with regret, if not anger that no one of the many who had experienced his paranoia and paranoid violence had done more to intervene.  The individual with paranoid personality disorder or other intense paranoia may be among the most if not the most dangerous individuals in society.  Rather than recognition in retrospect after violent explosions, using a process as proposed in this book may help identify a violent paranoid before tragedy.  Intervention and prevention may then be attempted within legal and professional mandates and boundaries.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
Back to content | Back to main menu