Amy sat in my office, jumpy, distraught, confused, and slowly crying. “It was like he was two different people. The one I loved, and the one who was so mistrusting. I don’t understand what happened. I didn’t do anything wrong. I still love him, but this is ripping me apart.”
This client had just ended a year-long relationship with her boyfriend, who exhibited symptoms of paranoia. She explained that for six months of the relationship, she was perfectly happy and then one day her boyfriend accused her of cheating on him.
Amy said it came out of the blue, and that the thought of being with another man never even crossed her mind. As we talked about what she was experiencing emotionally, she also talked about her body symptoms. Amy felt anxious nearly all the time, had crying spells, stomach aches, migraines, and shoulder tightness with severe pain. “I just can’t live like this anymore. Please help me feel better.”
Paranoia is the powerful, unrealistic belief that someone is out to harm or deceive you, despite evidence to the contrary. Paranoia in romantic relationships can stem from several larger mental health issues including, PTSD, depression, anxiety, personality disorders and psychosis (delusions). When paranoia is involved, these diagnoses will NOT resolve on their own.
7 Ways to Help Yourself Recover
Coming out of the fog of a paranoid relationship can be an exhausting, emotional rollercoaster of an experience, but it is possible to regain your sanity and feel like yourself again. Here are seven strategies to help get you on the path to recovering from a paranoid relationship.
1) Recognize paranoia for what it is. Paranoia is not jealousy or suspicion. It is a delusion and cannot be argued with or disproven. If you are having trouble deciding if your partner is paranoid, check the facts of the relationship with a trusted friend. Get their perspective on what you’ve been accused of doing. Please also see my article on Being Caught in a Paranoid Love Relationship for more information.
2) Seek professional help. You may have your own trauma reaction to your partner’s paranoia, so seeking counseling to help with your symptoms is a good idea. For severe symptoms, you may need the help of an anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication to temporarily reduce your symptoms and allow you to regroup mentally.
3) Recover your own truth. Making a list of falsehoods, (things you were accused of doing or things your partner wrongly accused others of doing) is a great way to organize your thinking and remind you that there is a reason the relationship did not work out and that it was not your fault.
4) Grieve the loss of expectations and beliefs of the relationship. If the relationship was going well and turned sour, you may need to recognize the loss of future planning you were already doing for your future life – trips, kids, marriage, living together, etc. Maybe you need to grieve the loss of companionship and love itself. Take time to be sad and allow yourself space before you try and enter a new relationship.
5) Care for your body. Many people who leave paranoid relationships experience severe physical symptoms resulting from stress and trauma that they experienced during the relationship. You may need to get massages, exercise regularly, or change to a healthier diet. Thankfully your body is a self-healing machine! Give it the right inputs and time to repair itself.
6) Recognize you are not alone. Understand that others have experienced the distress and fatigue of a paranoid relationship. Depending on the kind of mental health issue that caused the paranoia for your ex, (military service, childhood trauma, chemical imbalances, substance abuse, etc.) you can find a suitable support group or peer advice forum online where you may be able to share your story and receive support.
7) Review what you learned from the relationship. Did you learn some important moral or value-related truths about yourself? For example, one client reflected that she realized she possesses a great sense of integrity and values honesty in a relationship. Another client said he learned that being afraid to say what was on his mind, is a mistake he doesn’t want to duplicate in his next relationship. A third client recognized that being falsely accused of cheating made her value monogamy even more and she began to surround herself with like-minded people.
Paranoia is a real mental health issue. Recovery from a paranoid relationship can be a challenge, and the work you put into it can also help lead you to further happiness in your next relationship. You can do this!