Finding A Paranoia Definition That Makes Sense In Today's World

By Julia Thomas|Updated August 2, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Cessel Boyd-Lewis, LCMHC

Looking For A Professional But Don't Know Where To Start?

In the past, it was a lot easier to tell if someone was paranoid. They thought someone was out to get them, following them, or monitoring their every move. Well, guess what. In today's world, the technology exists to make that possible. Not only is it possible, but it's happening more often with more people online sharing personal information as a matter of routine. The question is: does the old paranoia definition make sense in a world where privacy is all but gone?

Common Ways To Define Paranoia

Common ways to define paranoia include the following:

  • Thinking someone or some organization is trying to do you harm.
  • Thinking you're being watched or followed.
  • Feeling suspicious of others.
  • Imagining others know things about you that you haven't told them.
  • Accusing others of plotting to harm you.
  • Thinking others are judging you without any evidence of it.
  • Feeling "keyed-up" and hyperalert, always watching for threats to your safety and privacy.

Why Most Paranoia Definitions Fall Short In Today's World

There is some truth to the paranoia definitions above, but there's a problem with most of them. In many cases, these are natural and normal reactions to things that are going on in the world.

Yet, it doesn't make sense that having a natural reaction to something would be deemed a mental illness. What people once saw as ridiculously jumping to suspicion is now considered prudently protecting yourself. Here are some of the reasons more people tend to feel more suspicious in recent years.

Privacy Issues

With the burgeoning internet, people expose their private information daily. They bank online, buy products and services online, and post the details of their day on social media sites. Companies buy and sell their information to gain prospective customers. Or, as in the case of Cambridge Analytica scraping personal information from Facebook accounts, to further their political ends.

While Congress tries desperately to legislate a better security system for the internet, people around the world worry about companies, government agencies, and hackers acquiring and using their personal information in ways they don't approve of or ways that would harm them.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is a major problem both in the U.S. and globally. In 2017, 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft. In the years preceding 2017, the numbers rose steadily. Data breaches are becoming common, but their impact can be devastating and can be the first step to identity theft.

With so many unscrupulous people using others' identities for their gain, it seems quite reasonable to stay alert, maybe even hyperalert, so you can catch trouble before it gets too far.

Lack Of Transparency In Government

In recent years, there has been a push towards transparency in government. While some progress has been made, there will probably always be things the government doesn't share with the people. In some cases, there are very good reasons why everything going on in government can't be shared. But often, things could be shared if those involved didn't have a private or political reason for keeping them secret.

Because there's been so much attention on government transparency, people sometimes find themselves pondering about what the government isn't telling them. Pondering can lead to increased suspicion, which sounds a lot like paranoia.

Looking For A Professional But Don't Know Where To Start?

Social Media

People around the world have a love-hate relationship with social media. They love to go to sites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter to find out what people are saying or just to rant about their views. Yet, because they make themselves so vulnerable, they may begin to feel anxious and suspicious.

Changing News Sources

There was a time when most people got their news from a few sources: newspapers, radio, or television. In a 2017 Pew Research survey, 67% of the 5000 people questioned said they got at least some of their news from social media.

The problem with getting news from online sources is that, if you want to believe something, you can nearly always find some news source to back you up. If you begin to wonder if there's a conspiracy going on, you might easily stumble upon "expert" or "eye-witness" reports that confirm your suspicions. These reports might be unreliable or even total fiction, but when you're getting your news online, it can be very hard to tell.

Advancing Technology

With advancing technology comes new threats to personal privacy. Face recognition is now possible, so anyone who uses it, including Facebook and other online platforms, can identify you even if they've never met you. A wide range of technological advances has made inroads into our personal space, making it easier to be suspicious that those who have the technology can find out whatever they want about you. But, is this paranoia, or is it the absolute truth?


Hackers are after personal information wherever they can find it and whenever they can benefit from it. How many times do you hear that you should be careful with your identification and account numbers to make sure they don't end up on the Dark Web? Hackers aren't imaginary monsters, either. They're very real and can cause individuals and companies major financial damage.


The entertainment arts often deliver up stories filled with paranoid fantasy. Is it wrong to believe that some of these things might be happening? If you say no, the old definition of paranoia would place you in the category of mentally disturbed.

Scam Warnings

The news seems to focus a lot on how to protect yourself from scam artists. People are told to hide the keypad when they punch in their PIN at the bank. They're told to avoid paying for gas at the pump with a debit card for fear someone will use a card skimmer to get their PIN number. These tactics are considered not only normal but also prudent. Yet, these actions weren't necessary years ago. Now, news stories tell people every night what threats and frauds they must watch for to protect themselves.

What Is Paranoia In A Modern Context?

In a modern context, then paranoia has to be more than just anxiety or suspicion. Nearly everyone today has anxiety at some time or another. If you don't have a certain amount of suspicion, you can be taken advantage of very easily. So, what's the best paranoia definition as the world stands right now?

Paranoia can be used as a general term to indicate a belief that you're secretly persecuted or threatened by something or someone.

Paranoia can also have three clinical definitions:

  • Paranoid personality disorder - being distrustful and suspicious of others since young adulthood or before. This suspicion pervades every part of your life.
  • Paranoid schizophrenia - a mental illness in which you have paranoid delusions and lose touch with reality.
  • Delusional disorder - a disorder in which you can't tell what's real and what isn't and have paranoid thoughts.

Finding An Apt Paranoia Synonym

The most facile synonym for paranoia is suspicious. However, that simple word doesn't tell the whole story. Overly suspicious comes closer. Other words sometimes used as paranoia synonyms are distrust, fear, mistrust, obsession, or terror. However, none of the words makes it clear that the thought is out of proportion with the reality of the situation.

Symptoms Of Clinical Paranoia

Perhaps the best way to define paranoia is with a list of its symptoms. Here are several of the most common:

Looking For A Professional But Don't Know Where To Start?

  • Having thoughts that are both anxious and irrational
  • Feeling unable to trust anyone around you
  • Jumping to anger and arguments when feeling threatened
  • Racing heart and muscle tension when you're having paranoid thoughts
  • Thinking others mean you harm when you have no proof of it
  • Thinking you're the victim of a conspiracy
  • Always searching for hidden agendas
  • Being defensive and quick to think others are criticizing you
  • Being hypervigilant

(Include a statement about how these symptoms affect the person daily in different areas of their life. It's not just fleeting thoughts but something that occurs frequently and has a huge impact on their life)

Dealing With Paranoia

Whether you have mild, occasional suspicious thoughts or a true pathological paranoid condition, you need to find a way to deal with paranoia.

Helping Create A Less Paranoid World

You can help make the world a less threatening place. You can't eliminate the danger or certain peoples' malicious intentions, but you can make a difference. How? Here are some ways to try:

  • Get involved with political organizations that can create change within the system.
  • Contact your legislators to ask for better privacy legislation.
  • Help others when you can.

How To Overcome Your Own Paranoia

If you have mild, infrequent paranoid thoughts, you're pretty much like the rest of the world. Try not to dwell too much on those thoughts or the thought that they mean you have a mental illness. One thing you can do to make this easier is to learn meditation techniques so that you can let go of suspicious thoughts without dwelling on them.

However, if your suspicious thoughts and behaviors are persistent and deeply troubling, you may need help from a psychiatrist and a psychologist. You might benefit from certain medications as well as psychotherapy to help you deal with the day-to-day appearances of paranoia.

How To Deal With Others Who Show Signs Of Paranoia

Dealing with someone who is showing signs of paranoia can be extremely distressing and unsettling. It's especially upsetting when the person you once felt you knew very well suddenly becomes suspicious of everyone including you.

It's usually best not to try to prove them wrong. This usually only makes their mind work faster to try to figure out what's "really going on." In fact, there isn't much you can say to comfort them. They are going to have to find a way to go for help and get beyond their problem.

At the same time, you may not be ready to leave them behind. Even if you do, you may still carry emotional scars from the time you spent with them in their paranoid state. You might need to talk to a therapist to heal from the damage the relationship caused you. They can help you discover the true paranoia meaning to find out if what you're feeling is paranoia or reasonable distrust.

A therapist can teach you relaxation techniques, help you build your self-esteem, and guide you to a better understanding of your relationship. You can talk to a licensed therapist at for private, convenient online counseling whenever suits you best. Having paranoia or living with a paranoid partner can be very emotionally painful. Yet, with the right help, you can get past the pain and on to a better life.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.