What Are Persecutory Delusions?

Examples of persecutory delusions may include fears of being poisoned at restaurants.
Individuals who believe that they are under constant surveillance may suffer from persecutory delusions.
Doctors can diagnose delusional disorders by conducting brain imaging tests.
A person suffering from persecutory delusions may create entire belief systems to justify his or her fears.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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Persecutory delusions are characteristic symptoms of a type of paranoid psychosis. They are described by psychologists as unwarranted fears, beliefs, or hallucinations that other people are out to cause harm to the individual. Most people who experience such delusions are still able to function normally in their daily lives, though they may constantly feel anxious and irritable. Delusional disorders can usually be managed with a combination of medication and counseling, though it can be extremely difficult to convince a person with persecutory delusions to accept help from others.

Some people experience delusions concurrently with other mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, though most people who have persecutory thoughts are otherwise healthy. An individual may feel that he or she is constantly being watched or followed by others who want to do them harm. A sufferer might think that coworkers are plotting against him or her, or that government spies are constantly performing surveillance. Delusions may include fears of being poisoned at restaurants or being attacked by strangers when out for a walk or a drive.

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A person who has persecutory delusions often creates entire belief systems or mental constructs to justify his or her fears. In the mind of a paranoid individual, beliefs are rationalized to the point that he or she is absolutely convinced that threats are real and imminent. It is very common for delusional people to make frequent calls to the police and file civil lawsuits against others, even though they are not actually being harassed or harmed.

Medical doctors and psychologists are not certain of the exact causes of persecutory delusions. Research suggest that genetics play a significant role in the development of delusional disorders, as many people have familial histories of mental illness. These delusions may also be linked to the same chemical imbalances in the brain that cause depression and schizophrenia. Finally, some psychologists believe excessive stress can cause persecutory delusions.

Doctors can diagnose delusional disorders by asking questions about symptoms and conducting brain imaging tests to check for abnormalities. Once a patient has been diagnosed, he or she is usually given antipsychotic medication and scheduled to attend regular meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Psychotherapy can be very effective if a patient is willing to be open and honest with his or her psychologist. Support and reassurance from loved ones is also important to help the individual feel comfortable and begin building trust.

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Discuss this Article

anon932980
Post 17

Writing, "Think you have it bad" is kind of rude, presuming that you are not the only person on earth.

It is terrifying to have delusions. I think I am going to be hurt at all times. Night time is worse- I don't know why- but my husband is constantly trying to reassure me I am okay. And then I stop trusting him. I am slowly losing everyone who loves me.

I am not schizophrenic or schizoaffective -- I simply have PTSD from an ICU stay. I am Bipolar. And comparing any mental illness to a mass murder is pretty messed up. Quit the drama.

anon930880
Post 16

My sister has developed persecutory delusions, which breaks my heart. It is like her true self has died. She is in her late forties and until this last year no indications of mental illness were present, although growing up she was considered a bit more difficult to get along with but she was always grounded

After reading these posts, I see it is something I will have to accept, learn to support. She is thankfully willing to see a therapist, whom I hope develops trust with her because, like all the other posts, their thoughts are so self defeating to any kind of help as demonstrated by her own explanation, "That's the genius or success of the entity that is constantly pervading her life. If she does share it with people they think she is delusional so the entity wins." She still is valiantly trying to maintain normal appearances although her decisions have landed her without a job or friends and recently divorced.

She is smart and tries daily to ignore the connections she is making. She bravely engages in life but refuses to use the internet, listen to music. She says sound can't be trusted. I think without help she eventually will stop using the phone. We do live in different states. I hope she will listen to these definitions of her mental state, but then again, if you don't believe it you end up alienated. I am strongly suggesting she talk to her therapist about this darkness.

anon353246
Post 15

It's happening again. Mother thinks the people around her are plotting against her, poisoning her and burning her with lasers. Chances of her visiting a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist, are zero percent.

anon340836
Post 14

Think you people have it bad? My sister believes everyone is out to get her. She has filed hundreds of lawsuits against every single doctor she has seen. When the lawyer won't take her case, she files complaints with the bar association. When the bar finds no fault with the attorney, she moves on up the chain of command from congressmen to the president.

She believes all her doctors purposely made her sick and even injected her with herpes. She believes the government is broadcasting EM waves through cell phone towers to brainwash people, even through the microwave oven. The worst part is she is selfish and greedy to the point where a cup of cold water is too much to ask for. She lives with my mom, beats her up when she can't have her way and always gets away with it.

She's been convicted of DUI at least six times, nearly killed a family one time, has pending warrants for her arrest for more DUIs in other states, but works for the local police as an informant. She buys all the drugs she wants, uses them with impunity then rats out her connections in exchange for a drivers license.

Where are the authorities in this? No one will listen. She is going to kill either my mother, or another family under the influence or even be the next Sandy Hook perpetrator.

anon331185
Post 13

My mother is suffering from paranoid delusions. She thinks that our neighbors are conspiring against her and thinks that even my father is involved in that conspiracy against her. This has made the atmosphere in my home hell. My father and I am very much strange.

One strange, illogical thing that I have noticed in her behavior is that she says that the residents of the complex where we live follow a time slot, that the time of people entering and exiting the campus is determined by the time she enters and exits the complex. I hope to see her getting well soon.

anon296967
Post 11

The best solution would be to try and get the person to take medication to prevent them from thinking too much of insignificant matters.

About enablers: Inform them first to gather as much proof as possible, and when they believe they have enough, you make the judgment. If the matters are still insignificant, have them consider they are having persecutory delusions before they worsen.

woeidn202
Post 10

These delusions are causing heartbreak in my marriage and our family. I believe my husband suffers from this. We have been married 20 years and have two kids. It has either gotten worse over the 20 years, or maybe I am less willing to put up with it the older I get.

He is a hard-working man and great father and husband, aside from thinking that everyone around us is intentionally out to destroy him. He has a history of feeling like he is being singled out and attacked intentionally. For years I have tried to see his point but in the end I don’t. I justify what he thinks and agree with him just to keep the peace. I just thought it was his short fuse and direct personality. We cannot drive anywhere without him screaming at someone or saying, “Look at that guy! He sped up on purpose so I couldn’t get over!” It has become a game with me and the kids of how many people he will cuss out during a drive. Sad but true. Countless times he has chased someone in the car screaming profanities when only we can hear him inside the vehicle, or he slams on his brakes when he thinks they are following too close to us, on purpose, of course. Recently, he was driving home from work at 4 a.m., and thought someone was following him so he got home, went inside and loaded his gun! He sat on the front steps of our home waiting for them to break in to his car! He ended up calling the police before anything happened, thank God.

He thinks our son is not given a fair chance in football because his coach also coaches wrestling and has heard things about us from wrestling/football parents of other kids. He walked out on us on Christmas Eve one year after getting into a fight with his mom on the phone because he thought she was intentionally provoking him! I could go on and on.

We no longer have any friends because in his mind one friend has talked garbage about him to another so he does not speak to any of them anymore. He feels so strongly about it that I can no longer speak to them either. If I do then I am “not supporting my husband”. This has resulted in me losing my best friend. He also feels that certain people in our community have heard something about him and are avoiding him or are giving him “looks” and talking behind his back.

Several times he has had conversations with people and then tells me afterwards that something they said was an attack to him or one of our children. He has confronted many of these people asking what they meant by that comment and they all say he took it out of context and they didn’t mean any harm at all. He does not believe them, of course. He consistently gets upset with me when pleading his case and I say I think you are reading too much into this. He believes only what is in his head. I cannot get him to see what I see.

He is currently plotting to bring these people down. He has gone so far to pull up public records on these people and plans on providing this information to their employers as it could ultimately get them fired. That is exactly what he wants, since he feels they are defaming his character at this point.

I can no longer sit by and listen to him plot every day against someone! I can barely look at him anymore, I am so disgusted with this. I am put in the middle on a daily basis and feel uncomfortable around everyone now. I have mentioned to him in the past that he may need to talk to someone. It always ends in a fight.

Sitting by allowing this to “keep the peace” is not helping anyone in our family. Especially him. How can I make him understand he needs help?

anon282948
Post 8

This is breaking our family apart. My mom lives alone and has changed her locks, windows, alarms, has weird traps throughout her entire house and has changed phones constantly and even changed her mail address to a post office box.

She has thought that her neighbors were out to get her, and are working with the CIA. She thinks they come into her home and pee on her bed, move things around, drop pictures off of walls, leave her refrigerator open, bring boxes down from attic, drop nails on her floor; it never stops. Her family and friends all feed into it and enable her because of fear of pointing it out that these things are not real.

I finally had to say in a loving way "Mom, I am afraid for you. I don't think these things are really going on. I think you need to speak with someone." She went crazy screaming at me and telling me she wished harm on me and my kids so that she could be the last one laughing when nobody believes me.

She told me I was out of her will and she wants nothing to do with me forever. I know that is extreme, but it hurts me more to see the effect this disease has had on her. I know she loves me and my kids and I really could care less about her stupid will. I want my mom to get help before she gets hurt.

Last year I had to take her to the emergency room because she thought someone was in her attic and she crawled up there to see, then fell off the ladder coming down and hit her head. She ended up getting stitches and a concussion, but what is next?

JessicaLynn
Post 7

I definitely feel sorry for people who suffer from persecutory schizophrenia delusions. However, I actually know someone who had to defend himself in a lawsuit against someone who we later found out had paranoid delusions.

The person filed a civil suit against my friend, and the accusations were pretty unfounded. However, my friend still had to get a lawyer and go through some legal processes before the whole thing was dropped. It was very stressful for him (although I'm sure the person who filed the suit was suffering also.)

JaneAir
Post 6

I am glad there are effective treatments out there for this particular psychotic disorder. It sounds exhausting to live in constant paranoia, and I imagine it could really mess up someone's life. Imagine trying to hold a job and have a personal life when you think everyone is out to get you!

As the article said though, I bet it is hard to get someone with this disorder to accept treatment. I could see how they might think the doctor was out to get them, or think that their family member who suggested they go to the doctor was conspiring against them somehow.

indemnifyme
Post 5

@cloudel - I actually used to work with someone who displayed similar behavior. At the time I just thought she was a little odd, but now that I've read this article, I think she had a thought disorder with persecutory delusions.

She was one of those people that would say stuff all the time like, "Everyone hates me" and "Everyone is trying to make me look bad." It wasn't as extreme as what you're describing, but it still must have been a really unpleasant way to live. I'm really hoping she has gotten herself some help by now!

cloudel
Post 4

I have a coworker who is showing mild symptoms of psychosis. Her main problem is her persecutory delusions, which she cannot admit have no basis.

She is certain that everyone in the office hates her, yet she doesn’t know why. Every time any two people are whispering or talking in a low voice, she automatically jumps to the conclusion that they are talking about her.

She even believes that they are trying to get her fired. Last week, she made a big mistake on a report and got in trouble. She cannot remember making the error, and she fully believes that someone doctored her report to try to cause her problems.

I really don’t know why she has these delusions. In every other area of her life, she seems normal. She doesn’t make stuff up, but she is reading way too much into things that happen, and she is inserting events that have not even occurred into her perception of things.

Oceana
Post 3

My grandmother is in a nursing home, and one of the other residents there has grandiose delusions. She’s always entertaining and a delight to talk to, but she has lost her grip on reality.

She believes that she is the queen of a country that she made up. I actually looked up the name of the place that she claims to rule over, and it doesn’t exist.

She is always talking about how the people of her country have cast her out. She says that they are still plotting against her, and they somehow manage to keep her away from her castle and locked up in the prison of the nursing home.

She talks of her riches and all the property she owns, and she can describe everything in great detail. In a way, it must be nice to have that kind of imagination, but I think that her delusions are just a metaphor for what really is going on in her life.

She feels abandoned and cast aside by her grandkids, who sent her to live at the nursing home. She may have been wealthy at one time, but now, she can’t get to any of her stuff.

kylee07drg
Post 2

@OeKc05 - My cousin is a schizophrenic, and she has what are called non-bizarre persecutory delusions. This just means that what she is paranoid of could actually happen.

She believes that her phone conversations and interactions with other people are being monitored by the government. She believes that they have a special interest in her because they wrongfully suspect her of a federal crime, but they need to gather evidence in order to convict her.

While this belief has no basis, it is something that could actually occur. Many schizophrenics have bizarre delusions, like one girl who believes that aliens are controlling her every thought and action.

While my cousin’s persecutory beliefs are exhausting and troublesome, at least they show that she is still in touch with the real world. I would hate to see her struggling against delusions of aliens with mind control.

OeKc05
Post 1

This sounds a bit like schizophrenic delusions. I suppose the main difference would be that schizophrenics sometimes imagine people and voices that aren’t really there, while a person with persecutory delusions just has misconceptions about real people.

I’ve always heard that schizophrenics talk to themselves, and they often seem very agitated when they are responding to imaginary voices. To us on the outside, this looks and sounds very strange, but to them, the persecutions are all that they can hear. They have to deal with them, because they feel that they are under attack.

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