Modern life is enough to give almost anyone a mild case of "everyday" paranoia, a syndrome so common even shrinks suffer from it.
"Why do you think I decided to study this topic?" Allan Fenigstein, a psychologist at Kenyon College in Ohio, asked Jan Goodwin in an article in the current issue of Cosmopolitan, a Hearst magazine.New York City psychotherapist Judy Wenning added:
"Whenever we open a newspaper or turn on a television, we're bombarded with information about bad things that could happen to us - murder, rape, getting fired, developing breast cancer. There's a perception that these things are happening increasingly to other people, which magnifies the fear, no matter how irrational, that they will happen to you."
These fears, even if irrational, are unrelated to clinical paranoia, a symptom of serious mental illness. Everyday paranoia is more closely related to mild anxiety.
"EP is the feeling you have that an acquaintance who walks by you in the hallway without saying hello is trying to avoid you, when she may have been preoccupied and didn't see you," Fenigstein said.
"EP is the young, insecure woman who walks into a party as people begin laughing and who assumes they are laughing at her because of the outfit she's wearing. It's the boss' curt comment one morning that convinces us a pink slip is on the way. In most people, the phenomenon is very, very mild."
Women are particularly susceptible to everyday paranoia. It also shows up prominently in men who abuse their wives or girlfiends, according to a recent study by Fenigstein.
As for women who suffer everyday paranoia:
"Women are much more vulnerable than men in this society, more likely to be assaulted, discriminated against, treated as a category rather than an individual," said Christopher Peterson, a psychologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan.