Suspicion - Doubt - Jealousy

Families today are faced with dilemmas about suspicion, and privacy. Suspicion permeates every level of society, from employees suspecting their coworkers, to spouses suspecting each other of having affairs. Suspicion can range through a spectrum from “Doubt”, through “Jealousy”, to “Paranoia” (See definitions on right).


Jealousy is characterized by

  • Suspicion or anger about betrayal
  • Distrust
  • Low self-esteem and sadness over loss
  • Uncertainty and loneliness
  • Fear of losing an important person to an other

Jealousy lies somewhere in the gray area between sanity and madness. Some jealous reactions are so natural that a person who doesn’t show them seems in some way “not normal.” Others seem so excessive that one doesn’t need to be an expert to know that they are pathological.

A classic example is the man who is so suspicious of his loving and faithful wife that he constantly spies on her, listens in on her phone conversations, or the woman who records the mileage in her husband’s car for unexplained trips–and despite  repeatedly proven fidelity continues to suspect the spouse and suffers from tremendous jealousy.

Here, therefore, it is important to differentiate “normal” from “delusional” jealousy. Normal jealousy has its basis in a real threat to the relationship; Jealousy is indeed the shadow of love. In the example above, woman may have fallen in love with her husband because he made her the center of his world. Her husband, however, may have fallen in love with her because she was beautiful–the kind of woman he only dared dream about as a shy adolescent. His jealousy, now, is focused on his feelings of inferiority and insecurity and fear of losing her. On the other hand, if the husband is suffering from delusional jealousy, any sign – his jealousy may be based on interpretation of  a meaningless spot on clothing, or a short delay in arriving home — as evidence that his wife is being unfaithful.

The antitheses of suspicion, is of course, trust. Trust develops in the earliest stage of childhood. In the first year of life, infants depend on others for food, warmth, and affection, and therefore must be able to blindly trust the parents (or caregivers) for providing those. Think back to the earliest time in your life you can remember. Who took care of you? Try to remember as much as you can about these people–not the way they are now, but the way you experienced them in your childhood. What were their most important characteristics, both good and bad? What was the most notable characteristic of their relationship with you? What’s the most important thing they gave you? What was the thing you most wanted but didn’t get? 

If the parents meet the child’s needs consistently and responsively, infants not only will develop a secure attachment with the parents, but will learn to trust their environment in general as well. If not, infants will develop mistrust towards people and things in their environment, even towards themselves.

The positive and negative features of the people who raised us are the building blocks for our adult images, and while the people who reared us can influence them, there is an important difference between their negative and positive traits. The negative traits tend to have more influence on our image. The reason for this is that these are traits with which we still have “unfinished business.” Thus, a child bred in a family steeped in a culture of suspicion, would probably grow up to be suspicious and mistrustful.

Childhood conflicts too, can breed doubt and suspicion. Most of us have some unresolved conflicts we carry from our childhood. We experience these conflicts as vulnerabilities, insecurities, or fears. However, when we indulge in a  trustful relationship  and our trust is reciprocated, these vulnerabilities, fears, and insecurities seem to vanish. We feel good to be trusted despite our imperfections. We feel whole; we feel safe. But when this trust is threatened, the fears and insecurities that we thought had gone forever come back in full force. If we think that we are going to lose this person whom we trust –the person we thought trusted us despite our flaws—then there is no hope for us, ever! We no longer feel secure even in those things we previously trusted in ourselves. As glowing as the trust was, so dark is the shadow of its possible loss.

Secrets are another factor that can breed doubt. When family members suspect that important information is being withheld from them, they may pursue the content of the secret in ways that violate privacy. A mother reads her daughter’s diary. A husband rifles through his wife’s purse. Relationships corrode with suspicion. Conversely, family members may respond to a secret with silence and distance, which affect areas of life that have nothing to do with the secret.

Every family experiences developmental stages. These are most evident when someone enters the family by marriage or other committed relationship, birth, or adoption, and when someone exits the family by leaving home or through separation, divorce, or death. Such entrances and exits require that a family reinvent itself in order to accommodate new roles. The stages of development are not discrete events but rather processes that take place over time. When that process goes well, complex adjustments occur in every corner of the family. When suspicion rears its head in the midst of this process, adjustment screeches to a halt.

Families and significant others are support systems. Our identity and ability to form close relationships with others depend upon the trust and communication we feel with loved ones. If such members suspect each other– the emotional fallout can last a lifetime.

There are four main ways that suspicion can shape and scar us:

  • it can divide members of the family or friendship, permanently estranging them;
  • it can discourage individuals from sharing information, inhibiting formation of intimate relationships;
  • it can freeze development at crucial points in life, preventing the growth of self and identity;
  • it can lead to painful miscommunication within a family or friends, causing unnecessary conflicts

Doubt means absence of real knowledge.  Doubt is an attitude of mind that is bred in childhood. If an infant’s physical and emotional needs are met in a consistent and caring way, he learns that his mother or caregiver can be counted on and he develops an attitude of trust in people. If his needs are not met, an infant may become fearful and learns not to trust the people around him. Such a child will grow up to be an adult who always doubts others’ intention.

Jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat–real or imagined–to a valued relationship or to its quality. (Read Dr. Gautham’s reply to a jealous boy friend)

Paranoia or, paranoid disorder, is a term used to describe suspicion (or mistrust) that is either highly exaggerated or not warranted at all. The word is often used in everyday conversation, often in anger, often incorrectly. Simple suspiciousness, doubt, or jealousy is not paranoia–not if it is based on past experience or expectations learned from the experience of others.

Paranoid Disorders:

Paranoid disorders falls into three main categories–paranoid personality, delusional disorder, and paranoid schizophrenia.

Paranoid Personality: Some people regularly become suspicious without cause — so much so that their paranoid thoughts disrupt their work and family life. Such people are said to have a paranoid personality. Indicators of a paranoid personality are suspicious,
hypersensitive and cold and aloof.

 People with paranoid personality disorder are constantly on their guard because they see the world as a threatening place. Because persons with paranoid personality disorder are hyper alert, ever watchful and always looking around for signs of a threat, they notice any slight and may take offense where none is intended.  They tend to confirm their expectations by latching on to any speck of evidence that supports their suspicions and ignore or misinterpret any evidence to the contrary. As a result, they tend to be defensive and antagonistic appear cold and, in fact, often avoid becoming intimate with others..

Anyone in a new situation — beginning a job or starting a relationship, for example — is cautious and somewhat guarded until he or she learns that the fears are groundless. Paranoid personalities, however cannot abandon their fears. They continue to expect trickery and to doubt the loyalty of others. In a personal relationship or marriage, this suspiciousness may take the form of pathological, unrealistic jealousy.

Delusional Disorder: Delusions are firmly held beliefs that are untrue, not shared by others in the culture, and not easily modifiable. Five delusional themes are frequently seen in delusional disorder, but the most common delusion in delusional disorder is that of persecution. While persons with paranoid personality might suspect their colleagues of joking at their expense, persons with delusional disorder would suspect others of participating in elaborate master plots to persecute them. They believe that they are being poisoned, drugged, spied upon, or are the targets of conspiracies to ruin their reputations or even to kill them. They sometimes engage in litigation in an attempt to redress imagined injustices.

Whether or not persons with delusional disorder are dangerous to others has not been systematically investigated, but clinical experience suggests that such persons are rarely homicidal. Delusional patients are commonly angry people, and thus they are perceived as threatening. In the rare instances when individuals with delusional disorder do become violent, their victims are usually people who unwittingly fit into their delusional scheme. The person in most danger from an individual with delusional disorder is a spouse or lover.

Paranoid Schizophrenia: Individuals with paranoid schizophrenia commonly have extremely bizarre delusions or hallucinations, almost always on a specific theme. Sometimes they hear voices that others cannot hear or believe that their thoughts are being controlled or broadcast aloud. Also, their performance at home and on the job deteriorates, often with a much-diminished degree of emotional expressiveness.

While those with doubt, and jealousy can reap benefits from psychotherapy and counseling, Paranoid personalities rarely come to the attention of clinicians — it is not in their nature to seek help. Many presumably function competently in society. They may seek out social niches in which a moralistic and punitive style is acceptable, or at least tolerated to a certain degree.

The intense mistrustfulness of those with Paranoid disorders makes treatment of the condition difficult. Rarely will they talk casually in an interview. They are suspicious of the kind of open-ended questions many therapists rely on to learn about the patient’s history fearing a loss of control or other real or imagined dangers. Those with paranoid schizophrenia may try to avoid hospitalization and medication which is the treatment of choice. Among Paranoid disorders, Paranoid schizophrenia, treated with medication, probably has the best therapeutic prognosis.