Fear is a part of existence, and in its true form, is not pleasant to experience. Scared people are prone to knee-jerk decisions, which is understandable. However, not all fear experiences are created equal. Some fears are immediate, apparent, and deep...
And others are based around vague possibilities, whispers, rumors, stuff that could
happen with variable or unknown odds. It is a low, background fear that lurks in the back of your mind, the classic paranoia. And sometimes, people just can't live with it, and do something to assuage it. When it actually has some merit, this is Properly Paranoid
Many times, it doesn't. It is also always an overreaction. Not that that matters. All that matters to the sufferer is to assuage that fear.
This is not The Paranoiac
. That trope's examples are demonstrated to be paranoid all the time, about everything, so they're afraid of everything. And often, such behavior will result in purely defensive reactions (going off the grid, tinfoil hats, etc). This trope is about when people are unable to live with the mild fear of certain possibilities and end up making decisions that not only affect other
people negatively, but very often end up causing the exact situation they feared to come to pass. This is especially prevalent if the being who does it should be smart enough to see the very clear possible backfires and downsides (or has direct past experience of these kind of actions not working), but does it ANYWAY.
The end result is never good. In fact, it almost always ends in Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
. Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!
, Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!
, and all the tropes in that vein (they're also incredibly vulnerable to Paranoia Gambits
and are often what said gambits aim to achieve, though using one might end up backfiring in turn because of the severe overreaction that can occur). All because they can't live with their fear, however mild and background and running on long odds it may be. Can also lead to Bullying a Dragon
, and the consequences of THAT trope as well.
- While not completely unjustified, the plots regarding many General Rippers trying to get rid of Superman (for example, New Krypton). This trope extended to the animated continuity of the DC Universe as well; see below.
- The comic book version of Red (though not the movie, which is very different) has this drive the whole plot. Paul Moses is a retired CIA agent who has done many, many bad things for the sake of his country, but is now an old man content to quietly while away his final years in isolation. Then the CIA gets a new director, who learns of Moses' existence and deeds, and completely freaks out over them, and more specifically, what could happen if anyone found out. Never mind Moses is tucked away counting his days until death; the fear of the possibility is too much and said director orders Moses' assassination. And things go downhill from there...
- Harry Potter:
- As the letters from Hogwarts grow ever more numerous, Uncle Vernon takes increasingly-strange measures, such as moving away from the house to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere and buying a gun. It could have ended very badly had Hagrid not taken the gun and tied it into a knot.
- There's also the Running Gag of Harry constantly believing that Severus Snape is part of any plot that is occurring on Hogwarts... and even when he was, he was Good All Along. Though Snape being an asshole to Harry almost all of the time because of old grudges regarding his father didn't help.
- The Light Fantastic has the wizards summon Death. One of them, not liking the way Death was looking at him (ie, Death is coming for him), proceeds to build a box with every enchantment, ward and protective spell he can think of and climbs inside, certain he's secure. The last thing he hears is a voice next to his ear saying "DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?". In building his box, he did not stop to consider adding airholes.
- Amy Tan's characters often find themselves in this situation. When your mother is constantly warning you of potential disasters, you might lose your sense of agency. Several of her characters have to overcome this feeling, as they've stayed in bad situations because to take action is to take risk. In a couple of cases the mother even helps them on this.
- A Point Horror book, The Hitchhiker, has this happen at the end. After plot twists reveal the titular hitchhiker is not the villain, the female main characters were involved in a hit and run, and the son of said victim of said fatal hit and run decided the best solution was to track down the girls, kidnap them, and feed them to a convenient lake of piranhas as revenge, the would-be avenger ends up eaten in his piranha pool. At this point, one of the girls (seemingly the only survivor at the time) decides that she has to get rid of all the witnesses to her crime and retrieves the now-dead avenger's gun to make the hitchhiker either jump into the pool or be shot. The other girl revealing herself to NOT be dead results in said paranoid girl ending up eaten in the piranha pool as well, when all she had to do was walk away and she might have not even been charged with her crime considering the now-extreme extenuating circumstances around it.
- Tom Waits' poem "What's He Building In There?" is the musings of a man who believes a neighbor is up to no good because of little facts like not waving as he passes by and escalating to weird things (which the narrator may be making up) like swearing he heard someone moaning inside of the neighbor's house. The poem ends with "we have a right to know", implying that the narrator is going to go and barge into the neighbor's house.
- In The Hunger Games trilogy, even though Katniss herself had no intent of starting a revolution, President Snow believed otherwise. The brutal crackdowns organized by him out of this fear and culminating in bombing District 12 (the home land of Katniss), combined with implied manipulations of Heavensbee, led to the revolution — and Katniss becoming the Icon of Rebellion — becoming a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
- Greek Mythology is full of kings whose sons/grandsons were prophesied to dethrone them, and reacted by sending the baby to be killed or walling up their daughters. In every case, they weren't paranoid enough: either the servants sent to do the deed couldn't go through or the girl was rescued by a god, ensuring the child would be a nigh-unkillable demigod.
- Warhammer 40,000: The Inquisition lives in between this Trope and Properly Paranoid, Depending on the Writer: any time they so much as suspect Xenos or Chaos taint, out comes the Kill 'em All measures like Exterminatus. They are willing to perform this even if it means going to war against other branches of the Imperium, such as the Space Marines (a pretty famous fluff piece of the Space Wolves involves the Marines fighting an Inquisitorial task force that had been sent to kill all of the Guard soldiers (and evacuating civilians) on a certain planet just because they were fighting against Chaos, a mission they were willing to fulfill even after the Marines told them that none of the other humans were tainted and assured them that they were willing to fight to protect said citizens). To be fair to the Inquisition, considering the consequences of being wrong and/or missing something and how rapidly it can snowball, you can't blame them for having very twitchy trigger fingers. Of course, many take this as an excuse to leave the Moral Event Horizon long in the distance...
- Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir, the Bad of The Good, the Bad, and the Evil ensemble in Dragon Age: Origins, is excessively paranoid of all things Orlesian, having spent his youth fighting a guerilla war against the Orlesian occupation of Ferelden. Unfortunately, this manifests itself in his utter distrust of the Orlesian chapter of the Grey Wardens—a truly Impartial Purpose-Driven Faction—as well, leaving Ferelden (which, for historical reasons, barely has any Warden presence of its own) defenseless when the Darkspawn attack.
- Crusader Kings:
- Characters with the "Paranoid" trait have a tendency to see plots against themselves and their loved ones everywhere, or suspect that they're not the father of their wife's child. They're right some of the time but most of the time they're wrong: a good rule of thumb for players is that if your spymaster didn't tell you about the plot, your character is imagining things.
- Said trait returns in Crusader Kings II: any character that has it lowers his diplomacy, but increases his intrigue. In THIS case, however, however, one of the most useful traits in the game, since it also makes your character pretty much invincible against plots, which is quite useful in a world full of Ax-Crazy nobles.
- In Life is Strange we have David, Chloe's step-father and head of security at Blackwell. While he's Properly Paranoid in some respects ( he even pulls a Big Damn Heroes in the timelines where Max and Chloe confide in him or he finds their notes), he goes about it in a very heavy handed manner, suspecting and accusing completely innocent parties which is one of the factors that leads to Kate's — potentially successful — suicide attempt at the end of episode 2.
- Like the comics, this trope crops up in the DC Cartoons.
- General Newcastle on Superman: The Animated Series believes that Superman is evil just because he's an alien and nothing else. When he becomes a founding member of CADMUS and eventually retires, he still keeps a pistol with Kryptonite-laced bullets next to him at all times because he thinks Superman will eventually come and try to kill him (and never seems to consider that CADMUS might do it because He Knows Too Much...)
- The CADMUS plot line on Justice League Unlimited is also eventually revealed to be this: people who were concerned about super humans going evil jumping the gun straight into Fantastic Racism, fascist tactics, inhuman weapon experiments and attempted genocide-to not mention other war crimes like launching a Kryptonite-laced nuke right at a still-evacuating island, thinking of all the innocent people as "acceptable casualties" as long as Superman (and Doomsday) died. The CADMUS example might possibly skirt the line between this and Properly Paranoid. On the one hand, the series goes to great lengths to imply that it is reasonable to be afraid of what uncontrolled superhumans could do, to the point of introducing an alternate universe League that went rogue just to prove the point. However, it is also frequently pointed out that CADMUS may have partially started the problem by doing things like creating Doomsday, attempting to kill or discredit the League, and attempting to create their own army of superhuman mooks — some of whom were only children — all before the League had done much to them.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: As Azula's paranoia gets worse, she starts seeing traitors everywhere and exiles bodyguards and servants left and right. In the end, she is of course betrayed by the people she thought she'd best terrified into loyalty.
- Plenty of historical dictators were this. A random example is Josef Stalin, whose purges to protect himself crippled the Soviet Union's military, yet led him to trust Adolf Hitler on the basis of "I see myself in him and I would never do that", in the face of loads of evidence to the contrary. Another is Pol Pot, who was so afraid of "intellectuals" "contaminating" his dictatorship that he went as far as executing people solely because they wore glasses.