The Paranoiac is the person who is paranoid all the time
, as a major aspect of their personality. They may or may not suffer from specific paranoid delusions or believe crackpot conspiracy theories (and such theorists may or may not be paranoiacs themselves; most, it should be said, do not qualify, though many of course do), but they have a natural inclination to mistrust the people around them and the situations they find themselves in.
This trope is the Paranoid Personality Disorder
as demonstrated in the media. In both fiction and Real Life
, it is often a major importance to areas of study such as crime, cults, terrorism, dictatorships, and mass murder.
To qualify, the character or characters must meet at least three
of the following criteria:
1. Never My Fault
: Paranoiacs are hypersensitive to setbacks and rebuffs. They tend to either blame others for their mistakes and bad behaviour, or take pride in them as achievements. This is usually a defensive act — since they are constantly on guard against attacks, deceit and criticism, they typically experience being caught out as a personal assault on themselves and thus, denial and blaming others is their way of deflecting attention away from their weaknesses if they feel their defences are being breached. At extremes, they may go full-on Tautological Templar
: Paranoiacs are the most likely of all the personality types to hold grudges and hold them long
. Once again, this is primarily a defensive act, taking the view that if people know they will take vengeance for any wrongdoing done to them, real or imagined (often imagined), they will be less likely to mess with the paranoiac. This also compensates for their typically low self-esteem — since they constantly feel embattled, revenge is a way of asserting control over their lives, and taking out their stress on those who they feel deserve it (often, anyone and everyone). Disproportionate Retribution
is to be expected as well. note
3. Suspiciousness / Cynicism
: Perhaps the core feature of this type of personality is the tendency to be mistrustful and cynical about people and the world at large, which they tend to view as a harsh, chaotic, or oppressive place
where only the mean and the tough survive
. They tend to assume that people they meet or know are out to bully or trick them, which ties back into Never My Fault
as they can blame their shortcomings in life on the malicious sabotage of other people; ironically, those shortcomings are often actually
the result of stress or distractions from assuming everyone is out to get them
, or their paranoid obsessions with self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
: The tendency to assume that the world is filled with malicious jerkasses ends up causing the paranoiac to act like a colossal jerkass themselves, the logic being "do unto others before they do unto you". They tend to be combative, hostile, and quarrelsome and detest laziness (esp. with regards to vigilance) and weakness in themselves and their families, friends, and anyone who is supposed to be on "their" side. Kindness is a deceptive ploy at best and weakness at worst, so outside of manipulative
behaviour or to buy / reward loyalty (if even that), they have no time for it. They may try and hide it behind a pleasant façade, but inside they are mean, angry, petty, and spiteful and believe that those who aren't
are either weak, arrogant, or stupid. Many are outright proud
of their cruel actions, as they conflate it with boldness, strength, and bravery. Paranoiacs who are also sociopaths
are amongst the most unpleasant and aggressive people you are ever likely to meet.
5. Control Freak
: Paranoiacs are often plagued by fears that their significant others are cheating on them; more generally, they tend to be hypersensitive regarding issues of loyalty from their family, friends, colleagues, followers, and those either in their power or who they themselves owe allegiance to. Often leads to clingy jealous
behaviour which, once again, leads to the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
of inspiring disloyalty rather than encouraging it. Expect them to police and spy on their own side (as they see it) as much or more as their real or imagined enemies. They might also try to dominate, belittle, or otherwise demean others in order to keep them in their power.
: Though distinct from Narcissistic Personality Disorder
(although narcissistic paranoids and paranoid narcissists both certainly exist too), paranoiacs are themselves prone to grandiosity and egomania; after all, if everyone
is out to get you, or if you are the only one who sees how hard and crappy the world is
, then clearly there is something special about you
. They also have the narcissistic tendency to assume that their own problems or issues are bigger, harder, or more important than what anyone else is going through, and thus suffer from an egotistical Lack of Empathy
. Since many are emotionally unstable and suffer from low self-esteem, this tends to be an Inferiority Superiority Complex
rather than genuine overconfidence; as such, excessive self-reference, in some cases up to and including Third-Person Person
, is common in this type of personality, since they are constantly trying to reassure themselves (and others) of their own specialness and invincibility. A Self-Serving Memory
and tendency to distort reality and read the worst into motives and situations is another feature.
7. Conspiracy Theorist
: Tend to see or imagine elaborate conspiracies against themselves, their families, causes, allies, organizations etc., or even against others they have no association or even sympathy with. As stated, although this is what most people think of when they hear the word "paranoia", it's not in-and-of itself enough to be considered a paranoid personality disorder, nor is the lack of this enough to exclude
a diagnosis of PPD. Many paranoid conspiracy theories might also be relatively grounded, "merely" thinking that people who actually dislike them are now out to get them (and not just, say, outlandish ideas about the government or aliens or such). One again, this can be a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
, as others might be inspired to work against the paranoiac precisely because the paranoiac acts like a jerkass
who thinks everyone is conspiring against them.
Other symptoms include a Hair-Trigger Temper
; Dirty Cowardice
as well as bravado and boastful behaviour
; Green-Eyed Monster
behaviour and the assumption that others are envious or jealous of them (rather than the other way round); Black and White Insanity
and a tendency to (a)moral absolutes; attempts at (or claims of) achieving self-reliance, independence, and self-sufficiency; and a poor sense of humor
, one that is either utterly lacking
or outright cruel
, reflecting the fact that paranoiacs are typically guarded and serious. They also have a tendency to believe Might Makes Right
, at least in regard to themselves and their own actions, and are likely to believe Violence is the Only Option
more than most. Many seek power, to secure their boundaries and feed their fragile egos, almost inevitably abusing it when they ever find it. Paranoia is also a root cause of all
forms of prejudice and bigotry.
Paranoid Personality Disorder is highly co-morbid with several other disorders, including Narcissism
, and Sadism
; many sociopaths are basically aggressive paranoiacs, sharing a bleak view of the world and basic mistrust of others, but deciding that attack is the best form of defensive. Sadists are very often paranoiacs who have learnt to take perverse satisfaction in controlling or avenging themselves on others (as opposed to viewing it as Necessarily Evil
, Why Did You Make Me Hit You?
, or other such Jerk Justifications
); indeed, since sadism is not currently an official psychological diagnosis (for reasons more of politics and research rather than the idea that it doesn't actually exist), many sadists are diagnosed as paranoiacs instead as an alternative (when they aren't diagnosed as The Sociopath
Paranoiacs are attracted to extremism the way flies are to lights, and many end up becoming The Fundamentalist
(either religious or otherwise), if only because it often provides them with an enemy or scapegoat to blame for their problems and focus their stress and rage upon. Many acts of terrorism are basically glorified attempts to show that the paranoiacs aren't people to be pushed around, as they tend to think that fear and violence are the pathway to respect. Consequently, some paranoiacs become cult leaders, and many cult leaders become paranoiacs as they become guarded against disloyalty or anything that might expose them as a fraud or otherwise pry people from under their control.
Compare / contrast Properly Paranoid
, Misanthrope Supreme
Anime & Manga
- Gaara from Naruto had well-justified paranoia, stemming from having a demon stuck inside him as a baby (that threatened to possess him if he ever fell asleep), causing everyone in his village to hate and fear him and eventually leading his father (who put that demon there, to make a weapon out of him) to try and assassinate him after deciding that Gaara was too unstable (and the person chosen was the uncle he loved, who then denied ever loving Gaara). As a young teen, he's an Ax-Crazy Serial Killer who keeps his siblings in line with threats of murder, mistrusts and despises everybody, and refers to his inner world as chaos that can only be fed by murdering people.
- Mewtwo from Pokémon: The First Movie exhibits several paranoiac traits. His primary motivation is an utter distrust of all humanity for enslaving Pokémon (stemming from being himself a scientific experiment Gone Horribly Right and later used as a weapon by Giovanni), to which end he seeks to Kill All Humans and save Pokémon by enslaving all of them, the idea being that since he cares more about them than their trainers do (in his mind at least), it's for their own good.
- Doctor Doom is the archetypal paranoid narcissist, and his creator Jack Kirby even occasionally referred to him as a paranoid. The absolute monarch of the tiny nation of Latveria where he has fostered a cult of personality around himself, Doom frequently and often refers to himself in the third person, accepts zero responsibility for any of his mistakes and failures, and is completely convinced that the reason The Fantastic Four are fighting him is because their leader Reed (and everyone else, but especially Reed) is and always had been insanely jealous of Doom's own "superior" brilliance.
- Darkseid, the Galactic Conqueror and Evil Overlord of the DC Universe, shows many signs of a paranoiac Sadist. Though always a total bastard, Darkseid became insanely mistrustful and paranoid after his mother Heggra, who had manipulated and controlled him his entire life, murdered the only woman he ever loved via Darkseid's own underling Desaad, with Darkseid responding by ordering Desaad to murder Heggra back, and then treating him and every other underling with even more cruelty and mistrust than before. Questioning Darkseid is an instant death-sentence, and his ultimate ambition is to control all life everywhere and eradicate The Evils of Free Will including love, happiness, and hope, turning it into a bleak, miserable dystopia where everyone suffers and worships him as God.
- The Riddler, for much the same reasons as Doom — he assumes that Batman and everyone else is jealous of his "obvious" intellectual superiority, and dismisses every defeat he's had as Batman somehow cheating.
- The Scarecrow, who was violently bullied in his youth and was left with a crippling inferiority complex that developed into an obsession with fear and a career in supervillainy, his "gimmick" being scaring people to death with hallucinogens and drugs. Like most Batman villains, he is prone to Bad Boss behaviour and violent overreactions. He also believes that the entire world runs on fear; hard to get a bleaker worldview than that.
- Two-Face, though "officially" diagnosed as having a Split Personality, probably fits this better than anything. He has Black and White Insanity and a bleak worldview down to a tee, as he literally makes nearly every decision based on a coin flip (and has a Freak Out if he ever loses said coin) because he thinks all laws and rules are based on random chance; he has an explosive temper, and once killed a lackey over spilling a drink; he murdered his mistress because "Harvey Dent is a married man"]] and later was livid to learn that a female detective he had been stalking was a lesbian and accused her of tricking him. Works such as The Long Halloween suggest that much of this attitude was present even before he became Two-Face, as that story showed a grim and humourless Harvey Dent willing to break the law to defeat the mob, having zero time for human relationships (including his wife) and maybe-or-not being the Serial Killer who was murdering mobsters and served as the Big Bad of the plot. A drunken and abusive father is also a consistent feature of his backstory, as is the implication that Harvey is mistrusting and pitiless as a result.
- Batman himself is also frequently accused of being a paranoiac; how much this is true is a case of Depending on the Writer, but he has certainly demonstrated many paranoid traits, including a grim attitude, Control Freak tendencies, and a habit of resorting to violence to solve his problems, with some stories going so far as to imply that being the Batman is simply an excuse for Bruce to take revenge for the murder of his parents by beating the crap out of criminals every night. He also has a grim and bleak view of the society he lives in — mostly because that society is Gotham City, and his explicit reason for choosing a Bat as his gimmick is to scare the hell out of his enemies. However, most stories portray him as fundamentally an idealist, who actually does trust his allies (just brutally aware that he lives in a world where Mind Control, Demonic Possession, and exposed secret identities are all very real dangers) and who is actually an extremely humble man who has decided to sacrifice his life to the cause of saving others from the evil that took his family away from him.
- Ra's Al-Ghul has all the hallmarks of a paranoiac Narcissist cult leader. Most notably, he is a Control Freak whose League of Assassins has a policy of punishing failure with death, something that rarely seems to produce results but would serve the purpose of making the world's deadliest assassins more eager to succeed than turn against him. In addition, he never once accepts responsibility for messing up his family nor any blame for any of the murders and atrocities he has committed over the centuries, or plans to commit in future. He is also prone to Revenge on everyone who isn't Batman, whom he admires and perhaps secretly envies, although his gigantic ego is rebuffed by the Detective's refusal to marry his daughter and become his heir. He is utterly cynical about the rest of humanity and is a firm believer in Might Makes Right and Violence is the Only Option, punishing any follower — or Dark Knight — who disagrees with him with object lessons. Essentially, he comes across as a man who secretly fears that he isn't as special as he always thought he was, and falls back on increasingly violent and extreme methods to both prove that wrong and stop anyone from questioning his superior image.
- Star Wars's Darth Vader fits this personality type quite well, as years of war, the death of his mother, and mountains of shame and guilt over the atrocities he kept committing turned him into a ruthless Control Freak with delusions of "bring(ing) order to the Galaxy" via crushing any and all opposition to Imperia rule. He is filled with self-loathing and takes it out on others, including his subordinates for the heinous crime of failing him. It's strongly implied that he wants revenge on the Emperor for manipulating him into being this way, but he is simply too afraid of him to do anything about it, at least until his son comes into play.
- Michael Corleone from The Godfather movies is a paranoid Control Freak by the time Part 2 rolls around. As Michael sees it, the family was attacked and betrayed in the first movie because the other mobsters no longer feared them, so if he wants to keep them safe, he has to act like a biggest bastard on the planet; naturally, he ends up becoming the greatest enemy of his family himself, alienating his wife and ordering the death of his own brother.
- Several characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, but the stand-out example is Cersei Lannister, who believes that her younger brother Tyrion is behind every bad thing that ever happens to her and is prophesied to murder her and murdered her "best friend" to conceal this "fact", and thought it was bold of herself. She is proud of her son Joffrey because he acts like a psychopath, and ashamed of her son Tommen because he isn't and therefore views him as weak. In later books she starts seeing conspiracies everywhere and stupidly recruits the local fundamentalists to her cause in order to better control the kingdom and enforce her will, only to predictably be turned on by them as they recognise her for the lunatic she is. The only person she trusts is her twin brother Jaime, and she ends up repelling even him with her arrogant, callous, and paranoid behaviour.
- Sauron and Morgoth from the The Lord of the Rings verse both fit this disorder, particularly as they get progressively weaker over the Ages and increasingly spiteful, envious, controlling, petty, and grandiose as a direct result of that. Sauron especially, as by the end he simply wants to control absolutely everything and is completely enraged by any challenge to his authority.
- Voldemort from Harry Potter is a pure paranoid sociopath. He is incapable of love (and pretty much every other positive emotion) because he never experienced it himself and is unable to understand it, leading to an extreme Might Makes Right way of thinking as he thinks power is the only thing that matters in the world. He hates Muggles as inferiors despite secretly being half-blood himself, is utterly terrified of death to the point that he can't imagine anything worse than it, believes himself to be the greatest wizarding genius who ever lived despite being repeatedly bested by a teenage boy (on whom he swore eternal murderous revenge), and has an explosive Hair-Trigger Temper that he often takes out on his own followers. Oh, and he's built a personality cult around himself based on his aforementioned supposed genius along with vague ideas of class and racial superiority, yet he is incapable of tolerating even the slightest criticism of his plans or behaviour.
- Grand Inquisitor Zhaspahr Clyntahn of Safehold manages to tick every single box on the list in the course of the books. He will thoroughly convince himself that he's in the right even when his decisions end in disaster. He is well known for his ability to hold a petty grudge. Believes man has no better nature unless forced to have it by the Inquisition, which in turn leads him to believe the loyalty gained by Rhobair Duchairn's kinder and gentler approach is a disposable commodity. Is unable to distinguish the difference between God's will and his own. Finally, he sees conspiracies behind every corner, prompting him to try and destroy entire nations, whether they actually were doing anything or not, or purge the Church of several vicars, their families, their assistants, and their families, when their only crime was meeting to discuss ways to reform the Corrupt Church.
- In Horatio Hornblower, the character of Captain Sawyer from Lieutenant Hornblower is deeply suspicious of his officers, spies on them with his toadies, and interprets nearly every action as a demonstration of their "plotting". For example, when a sail gets caught and Midshipman Wellard orders the hands to stop hauling, Sawyer concludes that he deliberately ensured that it would get caught to make Sawyer look bad and has him beaten. He takes a great deal of satisfaction in doing so and shortly after has Wellard beaten again to supposedly get the truth out of him. He purposely weakens the authority that the lieutenants have over the hands so that the hands will be loyal to him instead. Of course, all of this induces the lieutenants to seriously consider mutiny, and (maybe) for either Hornblower or Wellard to push Sawyer down the hold.
- The Caine Mutiny gives a good example of this trope in the form of Captain Queeg. An inadequate man for his position, his toxic leadership forces his executive officer to relieve him during a typhoon. The resulting trial revolves around whether or not Queeg suffered this disorder, or was merely an unpleasant person.
- The Daleks from Doctor Who are an entire species of paranoid xenocidal maniacs. Genetically programmed to feel hatred for all forms of non-Dalek life, they live in pressured pepperpot tanks both for mobility and because they are utterly terrified of being somehow infected by interacting with other lifeforms. They have a highly rigid command structure and are perfectly willing to die for the cause of racial purity, with their ultimate aim being the eradication of all life everywhere so that they will be protected from contamination from their supposed biological inferiors.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In a first-season episode, Quark makes a note of Odo's suspicious nature by saying the paranoia must be a trait inherent to Odo's species. Much later in the series, it is revealed that Odo's species are indeed paranoid, and regard all non-changelings with distrust. The entire species takes this paranoia to such extremes as subjugation of entire civilizations, and hiding their own homeworld from any outsiders.
- Many, many people in 24, both terrorists or otherwise. Live Another Day has two stand-out examples, both Big Bads:
- The first is terrorist mastermind Margot Al-Harazi, a maniac out to avenge the death of her terrorist husband. She is such a Control Freak that she even has cameras in her daughter's bedroom, is willing to mutilate her to punish her son-in-law, and is willing to murder her daughter when she is captured in case she talks; she then has the gall to be mortified when she actually does talk.
- The second is Cheng Zhi, Jack's Chinese nemesis. Rendered Ax-Crazy after being tortured by his government and presumed executed. He is now a Dirty Coward out to incite global nuclear war and is utterly terrified of Bauer; all traces of Affably Evil are gone to be replaced by a sniveling, vindictive bastard out for revenge on all the world for crimes he absolutely deserved to be punished for.
- The second series of Horatio Hornblower is based on Lieutenant Hornblower, and the things that apply to the literary Captain Sawyer also apply to the onscreen version, with a couple of additions. Sawyer's approach to "discipline" results in many of the hands being completely drunk and unable to work the guns when two French ships approach, and when Hornblower pulls an unorthodox Batman Gambit to scare them off (successfully), Sawyer insists that he's covering up for incompetence. He also puts Hornblower on continuous watch and gleefully reminds him that falling asleep is a hanging offense. Then he goes prowling around the ship, catches Hornblower dozing, and gleefully cackles "your life is in my hands!" Also, he's being enabled by the ship's surgeon, who is trying to manage Sawyer's insanity rather than declaring him unfit.
- Dale Gribble from King of the Hill is the Conspiracy Theory version of this, but most of the time its Played For Laughs. From attaching a security system to his bathroom to thinking that Chuck Mangione is hiding in the local Mega-Lo Mart.