Among the more serious personality disturbances, there’s a disorder you hardly ever hear about. Even when it manifests itself, this disorder is often neither recognized for what it is nor properly diagnosed. But when someone has Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD), believe me, you know it, whether or not you know the right label to apply to it or you fully understand its dynamics. You know always know something’s dreadfully wrong when somebody has PPD because of how unnerving it is to have any kinds of dealings with them. Just like when you encounter psychopathic personalities, you can sometimes feel the hair on the back of your neck stand on end when you deal with someone who has this disorder. That chilling feeling is your nature-given intuitive warning system telling you something is seriously wrong with the person you’re dealing with and something really bad could easily happen, especially if you should do or say anything that upsets them in some way. Given how serious this personality disorder is, you have to wonder why you don’t hear much more about it. And in the aftermath of the shootings at UC Santa Barbara, I thought it well worth visiting this subject, the reason for which will become clearer momentarily.
Like others, I was deeply moved by the tragic stabbing and shooting of several innocents by another social “misfit” with a vendetta of some type. But when I looked very closely at the all the known information about Elliot Roger – his lengthy history of treatment for psychological problems and his self-proclaimed hatred of the women who’d supposedly spurred his amorous advances – and the closer I looked and the more I reflected on rants and manifesto he posted on YouTube and other social media, the more it became apparent to me that attributing this wanton killer’s actions merely to him being a “high-functioning” autism spectrum child (i.e. having Asperger’s Disorder) or a serious “misogynist” (there appears little doubt misogyny was a big factor) misses the mark when it comes to understanding the depths of his pathology. And not having his pathology correctly pegged might also have significantly contributed to many not recognizing the full extent of his dangerousness.
Now, it would be irresponsible of me to confer a formal diagnosis in the absence of sufficient firsthand information and corroborative data. And it’s impossible to fairly judge all the possible missteps and misjudgments that might have contributed to the failure of the mental health system and law enforcement’s to prevent what might have been preventable. But there are aspects of this case that simply scream for some attention and scrutiny, so I feel obliged to share a few thoughts – in no small measure because it’s quite likely someone reading this article might have encountered a person with PPD, didn’t really know what to make of it at the time, and could have been much better served (or protected) if they had enough information.
I include PPD in my descriptions of the major personality disturbances in Character Disturbance (see pp. 127-128) but I now lament not going into greater depth. So for the benefit of the readers, here, in a nutshell, is what someone with Paranoid Personality Disorder looks like:
- Paranoid personalities exhibit a persistent, pervasive pattern of mistrust of the intentions and motivations of others.
- Paranoid personalities are highly sensitive to personal setbacks and perceived slights, rebuffs, and injuries by others.
- Paranoid personalities bear grudges and harbor resentments, often holding onto them with tenacity and using them to justify a hostile stance toward others.
- Paranoid personalities can misconstrue even the most neutral or benign events as evidence of conspiracies, ill-intentions, and justification to mistrust
- Paranoid personalities often have an unrealistic, exaggerated sense of self-importance, are self-absorbed and unduly self-concerned, and therefore cannot accept the blame for personal failures (i.e. have some malignant narcissism).
- Paranoid personalities are predisposed to aggress in the face of perceived threats to their worth or safety.
- The paranoid features of this personality type are not merely the result of a psychosis but rather are part and parcel of the person’s typical coping “style.”
Now here’s the real kicker about (and some would even argue the “core” of) the paranoid personality: Even though they’re usually not truly delusional, their beliefs border on the delusional. And under stress, folks with PPD can easily “decompensate” (i.e. deteriorate from their usual level of functioning) and become truly delusional (i.e. experience a psychotic break). Anyone who examines closely the character and content of the rants made by Mr. Rodger cannot help but see how delusional he was not only in his perceptions of others but also in his appraisal of himself. And that’s what made him so dangerous (People with PPD are not completely devoid of danger when they’re not in a decompensated, delusional state but are generally able to exercise better impulse control and practical judgment). And the fact that he was so dangerous and the way both our mental health system and our law enforcement system work left them unable to protect folks from him is a genuine disgrace.
Just how broken our mental health care systems and legal systems are when it comes to the severely disturbed is probably fodder for another series of articles. But hopefully today’s article will help make some sense of yet another senseless tragedy and provide some helpful and perhaps potentially life-saving information to those who know or have known someone with PPD.
I’ll be talking more about the Elliot Rodger case and PPD on this Sunday evening’s Character Matters program at 7 pm EDT. And I’ll be making some announcements about new foreign editions of In Sheep’s Clothing.