The word paranoia comes from the Greek "παράνοια" (paranoia), "madness" and that from "παρά" (para), "beside, by" + "νόος" (noos), "mind".
- 1: a psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations
- 2: a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others
Paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself. Making false accusations and the general distrust of others also frequently accompany paranoia. For example, an incident most people would view as an accident, a paranoid person might make an accusation that it was intentional.
Historically, this characterization was used to describe any delusional state. In modern colloquial use, the term "paranoia" is sometimes misused to describe a phobia. The general lack of blame in phobia disorders sharply differentiates the two. In other words, fearing that something bad or harmful might happen does not in itself imply paranoia. Rather, with paranoia there is an irrational fear of malice by others (excepting rare cases of schizophrenia).
The term was used to describe a mental illness in which a delusional belief is the sole or most prominent feature. In an original attempt at classifying different forms of mental illness, Kraepelin used the term pure paranoia to describe a condition where a delusion was present, but without any apparent deterioration in intellectual abilities and without any of the other features of dementia praecox, the condition later renamed "schizophrenia". Notably, in his definition, the belief does not have to be persecutory to be classified as paranoid, so any number of delusional beliefs can be classified as paranoia. For example, a person who has the sole delusional belief that he is an important religious figure would be classified by Kraepelin as having 'pure paranoia'. According to Phelan, M. Padraig, W. Stern, J (2000) paranoia and paraphrenia are debated entities that were detached from dementia praecox by Kraepelin, who explained paranoia as a continuous systematized delusion arising much later in life with no presence of either hallucinations or a deteriorating course, paraphrenia as an identical syndrome to paranoia but with hallucinations. Even at the present time, a delusion need not be suspicious or fearful to be classified as paranoid. A person might be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic without delusions of persecution, simply because their delusions refer mainly to themselves.