“Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away”
(from the song, For What It’s Worth, by Buffalo Springfield)
There are different kinds of paranoia with different unconscious factors driving them. This article gives a Jungian look at one type of paranoid delusion. It begins by exploring the symbolism of houses.
Houses are fairly common dream images. If you dream of a house in which you are living, or used to live, it likely symbolizes your ego, or conscious mind. Because it is a house you are familiar with, it represents the beliefs and attitudes that structure your worldview. On the other hand, a very large house or mansion, perhaps one you encounter only in your dreams, typically symbolizes the psyche as a whole. Its many levels and rooms symbolize different parts of the total personality, both conscious and unconscious.
In order to grow as a person old ways of perceiving and looking at things must sometimes be discarded to make room for new levels of awareness and understanding. These periods of transformation are often symbolized in dreams by death. Genuine transformation of the ego’s viewpoint is a death/rebirth experience. It feels like death to the ego because one way of seeing and being is sacrificed so that a more creative and encompassing perspective can come to life.
But another way that transformation of the ego is represented in dreams is by the destruction of your house. For example, a woman who had outgrown certain beliefs and assumptions of her youth dreamed: “I see a man driving a bulldozer. He is driving it towards my house and I sense that he is going to destroy it. I yell at him to stop, but he just shakes his head.”
Apocalyptic dreams deliver the same basic message. Mass destruction and the end of the world symbolize the end of some phase of your own life. In these dreams the world as you know it is destroyed so that a new worldview and sense of identity can take root and grow.
When important changes push for recognition and expression in a person’s life, they may be met with acceptance and openness or resistance and fear. When the latter prevails, it is because we are reluctant to let go of certain beliefs or attachments. We may try to deny or ignore the transformation that knocks upon the door. This is when anxiety problems typically enter your life. Anxiety is aroused because you sense that a change is coming into your life, but you don’t want to look at it. Unfortunately, if you run from this change you are likely to experience a troubling sense of dread or impending doom. This is a classic symptom of panic attacks.
The psyche embodies the whole personality and so is far stronger and wiser than the ego. The changes that it seeks will eventually bring down the constricting and outmoded house of the ego. Now, whereas some people experience this impending change with anxiety, others approach it with a readiness to fight. Not to fight for change, unfortunately, but to fight against it. And, typically, they project the intended inner change outward. In other words, they become gripped by the belief that there is a dangerous external threat in their life. For example, they may be certain that someone is going to rob them, that they are going to contract a fatal disease, that all of their rights will be taken away, or that the world will soon come to an end due to nuclear war, collision with an asteroid, or some other catastrophe. It is these imagined outward threats that they then begin to prepare for and fight. The following is a fictional but psychologically accurate example of this phenomenon.
David grew up in a small, Midwestern farming community. His family was religiously conservative with traditional, clearly-defined gender roles. One night, at the age of 57, he had the following dream: “My home is under attack by an invading army. The house is surrounded and I’m being told to surrender.” Like the woman’s dream mentioned earlier, this dream was telling David that it was time for a change in his life. His house (conscious viewpoint) was under attack because some of his beliefs, such as his outmoded expectations of his wife and children, were becoming more of a hindrance than a help to him (and them). It was time for him to move on, to see and live life in a new way. Unfortunately, David externalized this call for inner change, and viewed the dream as a literal representation of a future event. He became convinced that the dream was warning him of an external threat to his home and lifestyle. More specifically, he developed the delusion that his own government was actively plotting to take his guns—his primary means of self-defense—and his right to bear arms.
Wariness regarding the intentions of your government is often appropriate. In David’s case, however, wariness spilled over into an unyielding paranoia. Suggestible by nature, he became very emotional, one-sided, and fanatical in his thinking on this issue. He started buying more and more ammunition and guns. He searched the internet for information and organizations that aligned with and supported his own viewpoint. The more he expected and prepared for battle with Homeland Security and the National Guard–the more he fortified and sought to protect his outworn way of life–the more he aggravated the intentions and goals of his deeper self. In time, his dreams became nightmares reflecting back to him his own misguided attitude towards the psyche. And, of course, the more persistent his dreams became, the more certain he became that invasion was just around the corner. David was driving and escalating his paranoia without even knowing it.
Ironically, as David stockpiled guns and ammunition, and as he became more vocal regarding the threat of invasion, he did eventually come to the attention of Homeland Security. He was essentially drawing forth at an outer level what he failed to see and understand at an inner level. He was unconsciously enacting his dreams. This is a dangerous aspect of the person who refuses introspection and the examination of his political or religious fixations from a symbolic standpoint. In refusing to explore how his view of reality is influenced by his inner attitudes and psychological issues, he unwittingly enacts his inner drama in the outer world. The internal dream becomes an outer dream. To paraphrase Carl Jung, what we do not face from within comes at us from without.
Shakespeare said that, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” But where do we get our lines from? What motivates our decisions and actions? Ultimately, they are driven by our own inner dramas, often reflected in our dreams. These are the emotional issues and addictions, fears, hates, loves and calling that compose our deeper personality. Our decisions and actions are driven from below by our relationship to the unfolding development of our psyche and destiny. If we are at odds with this process, our inner drama and attitudes will tend to manifest in our outer life as conflict and recurring frustration.
What happens when a number of people are resisting a death/transformation process in their life? If they communicate with each other, such as through a political organization or an internet chat room, they may develop and reinforce shared delusions about end of world threats that are not based in reality. As their numbers grow and their paranoia spreads, they may, like David, provoke the very situation they imagine they are trying to avoid. This mentality is an underlying dynamic behind much of hate radio and political and social movements driven by an inordinate amount of anger, fear, or self-righteousness.