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Excessively Paranoid Family Member

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From the U.S.: One of my family members is excessively paranoid. People are always plotting against them, casual comments made months ago are taken out of context and used as evidence, any wrongs done are never forgotten nor forgiven, and once they have decided that a person is “against them”, everything that they do is viewed with suspicion and searched for hidden motives. Most family members have cut contact with this person, and they have few close friends but a large circle of acquaintances who respect them. For whatever reason, I am still viewed as mostly trustworthy, which has resulted in this person leaning heavily on me for support and attempting to get me to join them in criticism of actions that I think are benign.

I really do not want to cut contact. This person also has many positive traits which I will omit for brevity, and I also feel a strong sense of guilt at the prospect of abandoning them. Frankly, I also feel a high level of concern for this person’s mental stability without me, as literally all other family members are now alienated. But they absolutely refuse to seek any kind of mental health care (they believe it is some sort of conspiracy to label everyone with an illness and medicate them).

How can I best continue contact with this person without getting sucked into their world? What are some resources that will help me? Is there any reading material that could be recommended? I am willing to serve as support but not to carry them, and their attempts to involve me and have me choose sides have been extremely stressful and caused me to miss a lot of sleep, furthermore, my work performance is suffering and my home life is virtually non-existent now. I had a few counseling sessions but I did not find them helpful — although I am wondering if that was just a poor fit.

Excessively Paranoid Family Member

Answered by on -

A.

I’m sure this is very, very difficult. I do have to wonder if it is helpful to the person for you to continue to hang in there. Your enduring support may “prove” to her that everyone else really is against her. She may have to lose everyone before she is willing to consider that just maybe the problem lies with her.

I do understand your reluctance to let go if you are worried taking distance will destabilize her. But it seems that walking on eggshells with her is destabilizing you. You are under stress. You aren’t sleeping well. Your own life is going down the tubes. From my point of view, substituting your mental health for hers doesn’t make much sense.

I wonder if there is a way for you to take distance without completely cutting off contact. Confronting her with her behavior is not likely to be helpful. But perhaps you can tell her you are going through your own stressful time just now and need to be less involved with hers.

Do consider finding a chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) near you. This organization has a Family-to-Family program that helps family members of people with mental illness learn more about the illness and effective ways to cope. Most important, the classes help members become a support for each other.

I did search on Amazon and found several books for family members of people who are mentally ill. I haven’t read them myself so can’t make a recommendation but I do encourage you to do a similar search in order to find a book or two that might be helpful.

Finally — Yes. It’s likely that the counselor you saw wasn’t a good “fit” for you. It is not at all unusual for an individual to see several counselors before finding someone they feel comfortable with. That’s important. The intuitive connection between therapist and client has been repeatedly found to be what matters most in outcome studies. Do try again. You deserve the practical help and support.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Excessively Paranoid Family Member

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Excessively Paranoid Family Member. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2017/07/04/excessively-paranoid-family-member/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.