When a Parent Has Paranoid Personality Disorder

When a Parent Has Paranoid Personality Disorder
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Although it’s not often talked about, some children have parents with paranoid personality disorder. These children suffer the effects of unstable family relationships, scarring emotional instability, and a dysfunctional environment. Later in life, they have an elevated risk of mental illness. Clearly, these children and their families need the help of medical professionals.

People with personality disorders, schizophrenia, and disassociative disorders are still people. They still fall in love and have children and their own families. But without proper social and family support, many of them have to deal with complex, difficult, family situations that often go unnoticed.

Mental health and social services professionals have to be very attentive with  children and adolescents who grow up with a family member with a psychological disorder.

Unfortunately, people with paranoid personality disorder often have a difficult time forming relationships with the people around them. To make things worse, it’s also a difficult mental illness to treat. All of this can quickly create very complex family situations, to which children are very vulnerable. Therefore, it’s important to raise awareness of the difficult home situations this mental illness can cause and address them with compassion. 

Man suffering from paranoid personality disorder.

Living with someone with paranoid personality disorder

We still don’t know how or why some people develop paranoid personality disorder. It’s generally thought to be a complex combination of biological, genetic, and social factors. But this disorder can be one of the most difficult to cope with for several reasons. It not only affects all areas of the person’s life, it makes it very difficult to create healthy relationships, including personal, work, and family relationships.

Some common characteristics of paranoid personality disorder are:

  • General distrust. This disorder usually appears in adolescence, when it manifests as continuous suspicion and thinking that others are out to get them.
  • Continuous suspicions that others will deceive, betray, or abandon them.
  • Excessive worrying.
  • The need for constant displays of trust and loyalty.
  • Poor emotional management skills. Being unable to forgive or forget perceived insults, even to the point of obsessively holding grudges.
  • Overly vigilant, always watching for any sign of threats or danger.
  • Always suspicious and on the defensive.
  • Cold and hostile.
Children are often effected by a parent's personality disorders.

Children of people with paranoid personality disorder

There have been several studies on the impact of having a parent with paranoid personality disorder. But keep in mind that the impact on children is twofold. First, paranoid personality disorder has a genetic component. There’s a clear evidence that the tendency to develop this disease can be passed from one generation to the next.

However, genetics never guarantee that someone will develop a mental illness. Without a doubt, their environment and upbringing have a more significant impact on a child’s development. This second way a parent’s illness affects children is where the real problem lies. Let’s take a look at what scientific research shows about the growth and development of children who grow up with a parent with paranoid personality disorder.

Educational and developmental effects

  • By the age of two, children are already more evasive and less receptive to external stimuli.
  • Insecure, unstable, and stressful family relationships make children have a strong fear of abandonment, constantly seek comfort, and also act distrustful and hyperactive.
  • Parents with paranoid personality disorder are often emotionally inconsistent. They can go from very emotional to cold and hostile in moments. This inconsistent parenting creates a high- stress environment that affects the child’s brain development. 
  • Low self-esteem and negative self-image.
  • They bottle up their feelings because their parents have long invalidated their emotions and emotional needs.
  • Very poor school performance.
  • Children may feel guilt when they finally understand their parent’s illness.
  • Parents with paranoid personality disorder are often overprotective. Sometimes, they don’t allow their children to socialize in an attempt to protect them from being abandoned later.
  • During adolescence, children often become defiant or involved in criminal activity. They also commonly suffer from anxiety disorders, depression, or other mental illnesses.

Existing interventions

Children of people with paranoid personality disorder undoubtedly need personalized psychosocial intervention. But it’s important to remember that an unpredictable family environment has far-reaching effects and that the treatment shouldn’t focus on the child alone. Intervention and treatment should extend to the entire environment, including the parents. 

Mother with her child.
  • When someone with paranoid personality disorder has a child, it’s important that they undergo psychotherapy treatment to encourage attachment to the child. The mother or father should be encouraged to talk about their own childhood experiences. Comparing their childhood to their current relationship with their children can help them understand how to break the cycle of unstable relationships.
  • In addition, the family needs appropriate psychosocial support to help them develop support networks. It’s also essential to teach the family the skills needed to create stable relationships, routines, and habits.

However, older children who are already in school will need much more specific psychological intervention. The child or adolescent needs help to develop a good self-esteem and build positive relationships with their peers. They should also be encouraged to try hobbies and pursue their interests as a tool to help them deal with the stress of having a mentally ill parent.

Children of people with paranoid personality disorder need specific help in many aspects of their lives. However, with the right support, they can grow up to be healthy, happy, and productive people.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bernstein, D. P., & Useda, J. D. (2007). Paranoid personality disorder. In Personality Disorders: Toward the DSM-V. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483328980.n3
  • Rosenstein, D. S., & Horowitz, H. A. (1996). Adolescent attachment and psychopathology. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.64.2.244
  • Tyrka, A. R., Wyche, M. C., Kelly, M. M., Price, L. H., & Carpenter, L. L. (2009). Childhood maltreatment and adult personality disorder symptoms: Influence of maltreatment type. Psychiatry Research. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2007.10.017
  • Raza, G. T., Demarce, J. M., Lash, S. J., & Parker, J. D. (2014). Paranoid personality disorder in the United States: The role of race, illicit drug use, and income. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332640.2013.850463
  • Cohen, L. J., Tanis, T., Bhattacharjee, R., Nesci, C., Halmi, W., & Galynker, I. (2014). Are there differential relationships between different types of childhood maltreatment and different types of adult personality pathology? Psychiatry Research. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2013.10.036

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.