Paranoid Personality Disorder and Relationships: Moving Past Fear, Together
When someone has paranoid personality disorder and is in a relationship, their fearful perceptions can seem to eclipse everything else. There’s no “cure” for paranoid personality disorder, but there are ways to redirect and lift some of the paranoia and fear with professional help. Ultimately, the relationship can become a supportive healing environment when guided by therapists who understand.
When you are in a relationship with someone who has paranoid personality disorder, it can feel as if they never see you for who you really are. It’s as if they have glasses on that distort the picture of your life together. Paranoid personality disorder overstimulates their fear response, and they can go through their days experiencing an exaggerated negative spin on most events and interactions. It’s not that they want to believe that you might be sneaking around, keeping secrets from them, or otherwise betraying their trust, but they do believe these kinds of things—regardless of the truth of the situation and your intentions.
The interaction of paranoid personality disorder and relationships can be a very sensitive one because close partnerships are built on trust, and those with the disorder find trusting others to be very difficult. While the difficulty introduces issues to address, it doesn’t mean that having a relationship with someone who’s been diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder is impossible. The problem is that many people with the disorder do not seek treatment. With professional care and therapy, both partners in a relationship can learn to bring compassion and understanding to the symptoms of the personality disorder and start to redirect the experiences of fear in more positive directions.
How Does Paranoid Personality Disorder Affect Relationships?
The usual relationship challenges are heightened and intensified when a partner has paranoid personality disorder (PPD). Especially if they are not participating in clinical treatment and therapy, they may not be able to maintain a clear view of their mistaken perceptions, so their disordered paranoia becomes their reality. The imbalance between their perspective and the real truths about their partner and the relationship can pose numerous challenges:
- Suspicion. They can be very resistant to trusting others and may even insist on proof of your whereabouts and activities when you’re not together. They may doubt your love and expressions of constancy.
- Criticism. They may be judgmental—whether they express it or not—and verbally insulting, lacking sensitivity for your feelings. They may also mistakenly place blame on you or on others.
- Stubbornness. They may hold grudges and be inflexible with their ideas and conversations, especially when holding onto mistaken paranoid beliefs.
- Pessimism. They may develop a generally negative attitude and seem to be blocked from happiness and experiences of love. They may also be preoccupied with potential threats and discovering evidence of those threats, even if they are not grounded in reality.
- Secrecy. They may be guarded with their feelings and their expression and suspect that others are the same way. This can also present as passive-aggressive behavior.
- Controlling behavior. They may feel the need to control others around them. It can prevent you from maintaining other healthy relationships with family and friends as they are excessively attached and resistant to you engaging in activities without them.
- Paranoia. They may be constantly anxious about others’ loyalty, including yours.
In addition to your partner’s behavior, consider your own feelings and behavioral patterns in the context of the relationship. If you are feeling weighed down, negative, stressed, isolated from the people and activities you used to enjoy, and like you’re walking on eggshells around the other person, it’s time to seek help and encourage them to do the same. Without critical treatment and perspective, someone with paranoid personality disorder may be building up mistake beliefs over time that implicate you and other people—rather than building a healthy pattern of trust and cooperation with you over time. Paranoid personality disorder is often misdiagnosed or overlooked as a serious mental health disorder, and an accurate, professional diagnosis is critical so people can get the help they need and return to the life they want.
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First, Professional Treatment for Paranoid Personality Disorder
A person with paranoid personality disorder may not realize that their thinking is disordered and that there is another possible way of living. But compassionate support is right around the corner. People whose lives and relationships have been significantly affected by PPD can benefit enormously from a residential mental health treatment program to kickstart a positive life in recovery. In this professional setting, they will receive a careful, accurate diagnosis and assessment for any co-occurring disorders. Clinicians and therapists will take into account your partner’s particular goals and hopes from treatment as they develop an individualized care plan.
The primary direction for healthy long-term management of PPD is for a client to reorient themselves around their fearful thoughts and perceptions. They do this under the guidance of a compassionate therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective approach to evolving a client’s experience because they can become more aware of their disordered through processes and learn to redirect those thoughts before they take a stronger hold and begin to influence their behaviors.
As important as treatment is for someone with paranoid personality disorder, it can be a stretch to get them on board with the idea because being vulnerable with and trusting others is so difficult for them. While it may take some time for your partner to open up to the idea of treatment, remember that you can’t force them into it. In fact, it can be counterproductive to insist, as it may trigger their paranoia and strengthen their resistance. It’s important to start somewhere, and you can always call a treatment center for advice and guidance on next steps.
Second, Managing Paranoid Personality Disorder in Relationship Together
While you can’t be your partner’s only ally in recovery from paranoid personality disorder, the relationship can be a great context for growth and healing. Just like with any relationship, it’s good to work toward patterns of interdependence. In this way, partners can access their personal strength and healthy habits whether they are alone or together. Ideally, both people in the relationship will be involved with individual therapy and you will work with a couples therapist or counselor together too. A counselor will be able to help you navigate the complicated challenges of:
- Setting boundaries. Your partner with PPD needs compassion and understanding, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay for them to treat you poorly or take their frustrations with the disorder out on you. A therapist can help you both with how to draw lines and make your expectations understood. It’s also important that you continue to identify your individual needs and set boundaries against compromising those needs for the sake of their paranoia and fear.
- Practicing self-care. Similarly, proactive self-care practices can help to encourage greater awareness and positivity in general. Ultimately, both partners in the relationship need to practice self-care, but you might set an example from the start of creating positive habits and encourage your partner with PPD to develop their own in time.
- Maintaining a healthy social life. The effects of PPD can mean that both partners in a relationship become isolated. Isolation can lead to psychological unrest, and it also means that you are without important support systems. As you gain awareness of various areas of life, be sure to give attention to developing your social connections with family, friends, and other supportive peers.
- Bringing gentle awareness to disordered thinking. It’s true that it can be counterproductive to simply try to set your partner straight about the mistaken ways that they are viewing reality. But with expert therapy and guidance, you can learn ways to bring more awareness to the disorder together and to take some of the power away from the fear they tend to experience.
When you’re living with paranoid personality disorder or in a relationship with someone who has PPD, it’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed and lose hope. But if you have the support of professional clinicians, therapists, and counselors who understand both the challenges and the immense possibilities for healing, you’ll always have someone to light the way.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.