Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Examined Life

I enjoyed Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life, a series of case studies culled from his quarter of a century working as a psychoanalyst. They are like surreal short stories that end with insights and aphorisms, a bit like Raymond Carver crossed with Adam Phillips. In one chapter, ‘How paranoia can relieve suffering and prevent a catastrophe’, Grosz writes:

‘Paranoid fantasies are a response to the feeling that we are being treated with indifference … they protect us from a more disastrous emotional state – namely, the feeling that no one is concerned about us, that no one cares. The thought “so-and-so has betrayed me” protects us from the more painful thought “no one thinks about me” … It is less painful, it turns out, to feel betrayed than to feel forgotten … paranoid fantasies are often a response to the world’s disregard.’

For Grosz, what we need most of all – far more than limitless praise or love – is the sense of being attended to, of being noticed, listened to and worried about.

I’m writing a book about shyness, and it occurred to me after reading this that shy people might be more inclined to paranoia, because they find it harder to make an impression on the world, and are more likely to feel unnoticed, overlooked, invisible. But I don’t think I have ever suffered from paranoia. Instead, I have what seems to me to be – although I suppose I would say this, wouldn’t I? – an entirely rational sense of my own insignificance.


  1. Although agree the shy want attention as much as others do, don't think paranoia necessarily correlates. I'm shy but like you not unduly paranoid; a condition related to swollen but fragile ego, as in narcissism

  2. The paranoia could centre around the shy person believing any attention that they do get is negative. Fantastic book, quite an insight into the lives of others.