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What is "Paranoia"

a Young Student Asks

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This emergence transcript is excerpted from a brief exchange between a young health class student and me. As you'll read, she wrote to me as part of a health class assignment, and asked me three questions about paranoia.

Sunday, December 19

Hi, my name is Beth.

I was recently assigned a health project, in which I was allowed to select a health issue that has affected my family one way or another. I selected paranoia, as my uncle suffers from it severely, and much of my family is on medication due to related issues. Part of my project is to contact four agencies for further information. If you could answer these few questions for me, I'd be very thankful.

1. What inspired you to learn about mental illnesses?

2. What are some symptoms of paranoia?

3. How does paranoia begin? (where does it come from?)

Once again, if you answer these few questions for me, I will be very thankful. Happy Holidays!


Beth *****

That Evening, I wrote back and said

Hi Beth,

Thanks for writing.

As for your questions, I'll do my best to answer.

1. What inspired you to learn about mental illnesses?

This question would take a long time to answer fully.  The short answer is, I, myself, have had several very powerful spiritual experiences. I've also had to recover from a number of mental illnesses including two decades of alcoholism and a lifetime of dysthymia.

In addition, my mother was schizophrenic my whole childhood and many of my mother's siblings had pretty severe mental illnesses as well.

I guess you and I have a few things in common.

All this said, many people with mental illnesses never really recover let alone lead productive lives. Thus, unlike my mother and her siblings, I am one of the lucky ones. At least in part, this has left me feeling both inspired and spiritually motivated to share with others what I've learned and how I've recovered. It has also left me wishing to make a difference in peoples' lives, especially in the lives of children, in that I wish to leave the planet a better place for them.

Some say I already have. However, each time I see a little suffering boy or girl, I know that whatever I've done, it is far from enough and I've much work left to do.

2. What are some of the symptoms of paranoia?

To know paranoia, you need to start with the simplest symptom: fear. Now know that a paranoid person may feel anything people who are very afraid can feel. [1]  For instance, the person's heart may race or feel like it will beat out of the person's chest. [2] The person's breathing may get faster or the reverse; it may get slow and shallow. [3] The person's mind may race, or it may freeze and go totally blank. [4] The person's eyes may dart, or they may avert anything which moves. And so on.

Now ask yourself, what is the paranoid person afraid of?

Now gently sit with this question for a few moments.

Now hear my answer: regardless of what the person says they are afraid of, know that in truth, there is nothing in the present which can account for this fear. Nothing at all. There is however, something in the mind of the person in the present which is creating the fear but which the person can not visualize on the screen of their mind.

These symptoms, and this inability to see what you are so afraid of, is paranoia.

3. How does paranoia begin? (Where does it come from?)

Recently I wrote an article about autism in which I spoke about where "symptoms come from."  Applying it to your question; "paranoia"; it might have read:

The theories and practice of Emergence reveal an even deeper truth about symptoms. This truth is that all symptoms are normal life responses experienced at abnormal times and in abnormal ways.

In a sense, what I'm saying is, all symptoms are a compulsive repetition of what was once a normal, natural response to life. Thus, symptoms are like the sound of a stuck phonograph record which "compulsively" replays a small section of what may in fact be beautiful music. Even the most beautiful music endlessly replayed will feel terribly annoying or worse.

All symptoms then, including the symptoms of paranoia, are simply a "compulsive" replaying of what was once a normal human response to some otherwise normal life experience.

Now let's take this idea a step further. Given you can blamelessly explore a person's symptoms, what would you find?

You'd find that all symptoms reveal, not the source of illness, but rather the onset of illness; not the "cause" of illness, but rather the literal life stage on which a particular symptom, or cluster of symptoms, was once a normal, natural, healthy response to the person's life events.

What do you gain by looking at symptoms in this light?

For one thing, more focused healing interventions. For another, less suffering during the healing process. And for another, more natural compassion and blamelessness.

Now let me translate this into words which may be a bit easier to understand.

Whatever the origin of your uncle's paranoia, his symptoms are a lot larger than the original wounding event. Why? Because we humans, when we measure our pain, never treat each painful event as a separate experience. Rather, we add these events up.

So for instance, if you, Beth, were to get angry tonight at your computer, and if I were to ask you to fill a bowl with water and then drop one drop of red ink into it to represent your anger, how long would the ink remain visibly separate from the water?

Not long.

And if tomorrow morning, you again got angry at your computer, and if I were to again ask you to drop one drop of red ink into this same bowl of water, how long would that drop stay visibly separate from the water?

Again, not long.

Now imagine this happening to you many many days in a row.

Now imagine I ask you to feel the anger from just one drop, say the third drop. Could you?

Of course not. And we can not separate our feelings from different events this way either. When we feel, we add up all the feelings we've felt from every similar event and then we attach them to whatever is currently provoking this feeling. Or not, if we currently feel nothing.

Paranoia is like this. Only the drops of ink would probably be a greenish black.

Whatever the color, these drops would eventually add up and the person would feel the sum total of all the fearful events rather than the fear of just one.

Does genetics play a part in your family's conditions?


Does your family culture play a part as well?


Even so, if these two things alone were the cause of your family's difficulties, everyone in your family would pretty much have the same conditions. But they do not.

This means there is a lot more going on than just what can be inferred from looking at the symptoms.

Now let me offer something to you which is where I would start if I were to try to help your uncle.

I would start with asking your uncle if he would be willing to try to picture being paranoid. In a safe place and with help of course.

Next I would try to get him to imagine he is in a movie in which he is playing the role of himself when he is paranoid.

Next I would ask him to picture the whole stage on which he is standing, detail by small detail.

Next I would have him move forward in the movie, asking him to make the story up.

All during this whole event, I'd be watching to see when your uncle goes blank, or I'd have him watch and then have him tell me.

The instant his mind changes from visual to blank is the spot in which the injury lives. This spot is the source of your uncle's paranoia, the junction between where he can visualize and where he goes blank.

This spot is literally the wound itself.

Beth, at this point, if you weren't confused, I'd be worried. I've just spoken to you as if you'd been studying with me for many years. Why? Because I never talk down to anyone. And if people don't get what I've said and want me to explain further, they have only to ask. This includes you.

Most of all though Beth, I hope I've helped you to meet the requirements for your assignment.



P.S. Many great healers and mental heath professionals start in the same position you, yourself are in right now; in a family with mental illness and wanting to understand why. If this is you, please, never give up your search for answers. It will make your life very, very rewarding.

That Evening, Beth wrote back and said...

Thanks a million, Steven! Your responses were very helpful in assisting me with my project. They also helped me to understand my uncle a bit more, which I am happy about. Thanks again, and have a safe and happy holiday!

Beth *****

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