The Creeping Feeling That People Are Out To Help You? That's Pronoia

Brilliance | Dec. 17, 2017

We've all been paranoid at some point or another. But have you ever been pronoid? Pronoia is the sneaking suspicion that everyone around you is plotting your success. Sounds kind of lovely, right? Just because it's the opposite of paranoia doesn't mean it's particularly ideal...

Pronoia Sure Sounds Nice

In the 1963 JD Salinger novella "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour," a character thinks, "Oh, God, if I'm anything by a clinical name, I'm a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy." Decades later, in 1982, a sociologist named Fred Goldner gave that exact feeling a name: pronoia. Goldner describes this feeling as "the positive counterpart of paranoia. It is the delusion that others think well of one. Actions and the products of one's efforts are thought to be well received and praised by others." But the feeling is only positive at first glance...

It's More Like Paranoia Than You Might Think

Later in his 1982 paper in the journal Social Problems, Goldner talks about "individuals who suffer from pronoia." That word suffer is interesting, isn't it? Though being blissfully pronoid sounds like a warm, fuzzy hug, the emotion likely has a darker root cause.

Laurence J. Kirmayer, a Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University, cautiously approaches the concept of pronoia in his 1983 paper that was also published in the journal Social Problems. Kirmayer writes, "Pronoia is a form of denial that protects the fragile person's self-esteem from criticism and rejection. It can arise from persistently grandiose thinking in a narcissistic personality. [...] In contrast to the benevolent misperceptions of pronoia, the paranoid sees hostile forces in the world and weaves them into a satisfying conspiracy." He goes on, "Both pronoia and paranoia create an exaggerated sense of coherence from the chaos and confusion of the social world."

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