I have a tendency to become obsessive about what other people think/say about me, but I do not necessarily feel that I distrust them. I used to look into people’s office after work to see if they had anything written about me, realized that it was wrong and have avoided doing it. However, at one point I left a tape recorder in office I shared with other people just to see if they talked about me. Is this paranoid? How can I stop being preoccupied about what they say/think about me?
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Paranoia is not a tightly defined word, but generally means that someone believes that others are out to harm them. Are you acting paranoid when you snoop on others around you for clues to whether they don’t like you. Well, sure you are. But at the same time, it must be understood that the type of paranoia you’re describing is not at all the same or nearly as severe as how bad paranoia can get. A person with Paranoid Schizophrenia, for instance, might believe that the FBI, CIA (or even MIB) were out to get him or her. I can recall several experiences I have had working in psychiatric hospitals where patients would insist that they were in communication with starships or needed to cover the floor with tinfoil so as to keep the people attacking them in the basement from shooting radiation guns through the floor. We can and should distinguish between psychotic paranoia (where a break with shared social reality occurs), non-psychotic paranoia (where someone is prejudiced to believe that there are others conspiring to harm him or her, but where those beliefs are within the bounds of reality (e.g., that neighbors don’t like him or her), and simple insecurity about whether others like and accept you or not. As best I can tell from your short letter, you might fit into the latter category. As to how to remediate the condition, you might perhaps profit from a group psychotherapy experience. Paranoid feelings necessarily involve suspicion of others and that the self is vulnerable. Becoming an accepted part of a safe group environment might go a long way towards helping you get past your fears.