Just because he's paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get him
In 2017 North Korea’s Kim Jong-un finally got the very thing he was paranoid about: the serious military attention of the United States of America. A major expansion of his nuclear arsenal and a relentless programme of missile tests saw to that. The obsessive certainty that America was a real threat to him actually made the threat materialise. At the time of writing, the question of whether the US is prepared to do more than major sabre-rattling remains to be answered.
Kim Jong-un’s paranoia, although on a grand scale, bears many of the hallmarks of a condition which afflicts a surprisingly high number of people in the UK in more normal walks of life. A 2006 research project by a team at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London found that one in three people regularly suffers paranoid or suspicious fears. The degree of paranoia can vary considerably from mild to all-consuming but when the condition has a firm grip on a person it can cause significant distress both to them and to those around them.
Paranoia may make someone highly suspicious and make it difficult for them to trust other people through a fear of being taken advantage of. They may study others for traces of hostility and imagine non-existent threats and perils in everyday life. It’s not uncommon for them also to have a strong sense of self-importance and to be hyper-sensitive, jealous and a prey to feelings of rejection and shame.
At the core of paranoia is a process – beyond conscious awareness – whereby parts of oneself that feel unacceptable (aggression for instance) are jettisoned and seen instead in the external world which is experienced as menacing. It’s not difficult to see how such mistrust could easily provoke the very situations that are feared – as with Kim Jong-un.
What causes paranoia? Well, sometimes those suffering from pronounced levels of it have had childhoods where they felt humiliated and subjugated. Their parents and/or siblings may have directed hatred, blame, ridicule and random punishment at them. The effect was penetrating fear, anger, guilt, and shame. Those emotions were too painful to tolerate and the person unconsciously got rid of them. Great efforts subsequently had to be made to thwart the efforts of others whose behaviour was, wrongly – believed to be designed to cause the same reactions of fear, anger, guilt, humiliation and shame.
The parents of people prone to paranoid thoughts may themselves have been suspicious and quite possibly very anxious with that anxiety percolating their child. The child may not have had much sense of being understood and their perfectly normal feelings may have been disputed and contradicted. They may have picked up a sense that feelings and thoughts are dangerous and parents may have given confusing communications about what was real and what wasn’t, effectively contesting reality. It may have been a disturbing environment in which to live and one where it was hard to fathom things.
Although there can be no guarantees, the good news is that analytic psychotherapy can quite often be helpful in alleviating the symptoms of paranoia and working through its underlying causes. As so often with therapy, however, problems that have taken years to be engendered will probably need quite a bit of time to be modified. Magic bullets are the domain of Kim Jong-un.
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About Brian Shand
I am an experienced, highly qualified analytic psychotherapist working with individuals and groups. I offer a safe, confidential and friendly service covering a wide range of issues. I am based in a large medical centre near Guildford and am one of very few trained and qualified group psychotherapists in private practice in Surrey.