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Relationship between a paranoiac parent and his children

Updated: 4 days ago

29 décembre 2016

Traduction en anglais de l’article “Sur les relations entre un parent paranoïaque et ses enfants”


Specialized in the psychopathology of power, I have been studying paranoia psychosis for over twenty years, not only through the phenomenological and psychoanalytic studies that I have done in a psychiatric hospital (doctorate), but also later, through all my clinical and psychopathological experience, both as a psychologist of children and adults, as an investigator/auditor in large companies, on the issue of harassment, which is the “way of being in the world” of paranoid or, as I often say, his “masterpiece.”

As a teenager, I was already interested in the deviances of power, and before becoming more specialized in psychopathology, I studied moral and political philosophy in which I earned a master’s degree in the Sorbonne on the question of the disease of civilization from Nietzsche.

This double psychological and philosophical glance gives me access to the passage from peculiar pathology to collective pathology, which is symptomatic of the delirious contagion in paranoia, and explains by itself the tilts in totalitarianism, hence the interest to identify and understand it radically, that is, at the root.

I have been awarded a diploma of Normal Superior (Ulm), clinical psychologist, doctor in psychopathology, I have been an instructor since 2004 in various universities in France, I am an expert on the psychopathology of harassment and paranoia (processes, functioning, trauma, taken in charge, etc.), on which I give lectures in various places, I write, I teach and train the professionals of psychiatry, psychopathology and law in France, in Canada, and today in South America.

Summary of paranoiac psychosis

Paranoiac psychosis is by far the most dangerous of all psychosis for society, considering both its widespread nature and the risks of acting out.

Paranoiac delusion is orchestrated into a series of pseudo-argued interpretations, which creates a logical illusion. It is in this that the psychiatrists Sérieux and Capgras [1] called this form of madness a “reasoning madness”, indicating that “the delusion of interpretation is a system of errors”. When systematized, delusion presents an essential theme to which several delusional elaborations are added, in an apparently coherent and orderly development.

In reality, it is a false reasoning based on sophisms (sophism: an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid; especially : such an argument used to deceive). The delusion then changes very little in its themes and its certainties.

Perception is guided by excessive mistrust, but reasoning and argumentation, and thus calculation and strategy, are preserved.

Paranoiac psychosis works by projection, intuition, delusional interpretation and ideas of persecution. It may, but it is not obligatory, to be accompanied by pathological jealousy, mythomania, megalomania, melancholy, ideas of ruin, etc.

There are several profiles in paranoiac psychosis, but the advocacy profile is particularly important. He distinguishes himself by his procedural nature, by his own presentation as a “savior” who makes him claim ever more rights (especially in court), in defiance of the rights of others and his own duties.

Finally, in this summary, it is necessary to distinguish between perversion, paranoia and psychopathy.

Perversion is not a psychosis, for there is no delirium, but it is the antechamber. Paranoia maximizes perversion, with persecution, rigidity, megalomania, histrionism (theatricality), idolatry of the Law… It is much more dangerous than perversion, but it is not uncommon to see perverts then decompensate (degrade) in paranoia, through events destabilizing psychically.

Psychopathy is not a psychosis either because there are no delusion or affectivity (contrary to the paranoiac who always presents himself as a victim and seems to suffer, only violent and transgressive acts of action).

Impacts of paranoiac psychosis on the surroundings

In favor of certain elements of life (happy or unhappy), the personality presenting a paranoiac structure can decompensate (degrade) in a very violent way, in a projective mode.

Clearly, the paranoiac inverts everything: while he persecutes, he claims to be a victim, while he harasses, he says he is being harassed, while manipulating, he is being manipulated.

He accuses the other of being responsible for all his evils.

It is always the fault of the other; the other is the persecutor, and for the paranoiac to recover a semblance of psychic serenity, he/she must harass the other lived as persecutor (including by judicial means) until he/she annihilates or kills her/him.

The characteristic of the paranoiac decompensation is indeed in the passage to the act: blackmail to suicide, attempts of suicide, or violence on others, including by indirect ways, harassment, transgressions, murder.

There is, therefore, a good risk of blows/wounds, rape and/or death in the presence of a paranoiac decompensation.

In addition, this pathology works much in a manipulative and strategic mode, and changing few affective objects and delusional themes (contrary to schizophrenia), the person targeted by the paranoiac delirium is really in danger, as well as everything in which she is involved (her business, her children, her animals, etc). A paranoiac who deceives can set the house on fire, kill women and children, kidnap children, commit all kinds of acts that seriously affect the integrity of others, and sometimes his own.

The paranoiac parent, justice and his children

A paranoiac parent represents a real danger for his children, a danger which is increased in cases of separation, on the one hand because the spouse can no longer make “buffer” (third party), on the other hand because the separation in itself is a factor of decompensation, the paranoiac being unable to tolerate the spouse “taking off” from him/her.

In cases of separation, the children are held hostages, in a manipulative manner, and because of the projection, the paranoiac parent will accuse the other parent of “manipulation”, “parental alienation”, “danger” for the child. Justice will be held hostages, and will often make the mistake of believing in a “parental conflict” when it is actually a harassment of the paranoiac parent towards the other parent, through the judicial channels.

I have often developed this point (articles, lectures, conferences), namely the differentiation between harassment and conflict, and the fact that the “masterpiece” of paranoia is harassment (see the bibliography in the appendix). This differentiation is fundamental because it excludes from the outset any approach of “conflict resolution” such as mediation and unfortunate ignorance of the greatest number, including professionals. For the paranoiac, “the Law is him/her”, according to how he/she interprets it, in his/her omnipotence. A great strategist with a strong resentment, he/she will present himself/herself as a victim and will not stop complaining or claiming more rights from the person he/she feels persecuted by, but that in reality he/she is the one who is doing the persecute.

The relation of the paranoiac parent to his/her child is extremely destructive. It must be compared to a stay of adults in a sect, adding also that the child does not have the psychic means to defend from the delirium, which is increased in the private sphere, while the paranoiac can make illusion in the public sphere. The child, therefore, may be undergoing delusional talks, or even represent for the paranoiac parent the persecutory element. Extremely aggressive and devaluing remarks will be made.

The paranoiac parent is not able to meet the educational and psychic needs of the child.

His/her educational behaviors are careless and abusive.

Emotional responses, needs management and demands are totally inappropriate for the age of the child.

As examples, we see paranoiac parents claiming shared custody for babies, while it is totally not adapted for their need of maternal care at this stage.

The paranoiac parent wants to be “everything” for his/her child, father and mother at the same time, all together asexual, omnipotent, omniscient, and do not bear another third party.

Having not himself acceded to Oedipus or the thought of filiation as his father’s son; the paranoiac parent is like an unborn father, who denies the representation of the difference of the sexes. Thus, he occupies all the roles, archaic mother and father are confused in a crazy matrix from which the child can not leave.

The child left alone with a paranoiac parent is therefore in great psychic danger of entering a “two-sided madness”, to use the words of psychiatrists Lasegue and Falret [2], and in physical danger of abuse (including sexual).

The paranoiac parent sees his child as his own bodily extension, as a cellular part of himself, a kind of outgrowth, a polyp, which has no self-identity or autonomy. Thus, anything that can allow the child any empowerment will be experienced as dangerous, by the paranoiac parent, who will have the impression, no more and no less, of losing a limb. In doing so, he places his child into great insecurity, giving himself both the feeling of being the ultimate protector and the only one, the irreplaceable, but also, to be all-powerful, possessing a “right to life or death “on the child.

It is an incestual climate [3] that keeps the child in a confusing place: he is forbidden to access a subjectivisation, to grow as a child, and instead, the paranoiac parent, as much as he occupies the places of the mother and father confused and all powerful, self-generated, will also be placed, by its emotional immaturity, as a child of his own child, who himself will live both the places of the parent, of spouse and child of his parent.

With the paranoiac parent, the child will be drowned in incestual problems, and therefore permanently immersed in adult issues, including (most importantly) the most sexual, the most morbid and the most deadly, with no regard for the needs of the child. For example, the paranoiac parent will find it a priority for her toddlers to see their grandfather on their agonizing deathbed in the hospital, or to expose their sexual encounters with their lover(s), by placing the child in the guilt of the confidence, or else he will explain in detail his illness to his children, and so on.

The parent imposes control, persecutory anxieties and confinement phobias on his entire family. The children of the paranoiac parent are thus absorbing very great intrusion anxiety and multiple phobias around intrusive themes: phobia of bites and blood tests, phobias of poisoning with food selection and control, etc. The children of the paranoiac will be regularly confronted with a kind of psychic black hole against which it will be a question of struggle, as well as with a terror of intrusion and control. This terror is contagious, and it is indeed that (whether there is awareness of it or denied) that often stuns institutions, by diverting intervening parties (social workers, police, judges, etc.) from the adequacy of their professional practices.

In short, the paranoiac parent psychically sweeps his children along, to whom he also transmits his phobias, his ideas of persecution, his suicidal thoughts and his anguish of the world. Instead of providing his child security, the paranoiac parent never ceases to transmit extremely archaic anxieties, anguish of death, sickness, annihilation, abandonment, cataclysm, choking, persecution, being let loose in a fall without any help, etc.

Often, caught in his delirious interpretations of imaginary danger, the paranoiac will not notice the real dangers he is causing to his children, and may thus expose them physically and, of course, psychologically. For example, he can leave his children under five alone in the village square unattended, send a six-year-old child alone to the pool, his twelve-year-old daughter hitch-hike forty kilometers to get home from school. The physical exposure may also affect the lack of hygiene, the needs of the child in terms of sleep patterns, food, heating, etc.

As soon as the child makes the slightest disagreement, he suffers the wrath of the parent and the reversal of guilt, along with the devaluation: “you are naughty”, “how dare you tell me that, after all the sacrifices that I have done for you?”

The children suffer the inadequacy of the parent, but also his fear of contagion, illness, the fear of missing, his delirious hypochondria… The paranoiac parent spies and locks, these are his key words in his relationship with his children.

But above all he controls, and he controls, in particular, the body of the child: he takes his shower or bath with the child, whatever the age (even until 17-18 years), does not close the doors to go to the toilet, exposes his child to the level of health (including, to over-medicalize symptoms that he can even invent, to maltreat by medical means – see syndrome of Münchhausen by proxy -), has an extremely intrusive relationship to the child’s body.

Paranoiac totalitarianism is inviting itself to every level of the psyche, in every nook and cranny of intimacy. Above all, the paranoiac parent will not hesitate to invoke powerful principles and ideals, which will obviously be quite the opposite of his “black pedagogy”, to use the term of the famous psychoanalyst Alice Miller [4]: such mothers will invoke Dolto (famous french psychoanalyst) and the respect for the needs of the child while his family will not have the slightest breathing space, such father will invoke Christian charity and values while locking his children in the cellar in the dark and cold as soon as they make noise, etc.

The relationship of the paranoiac parent to the child is one of power, in which he must win. This is to be distinguished from a necessary educational limit imposed upon the destructive impulses that the child encounters in his development. In the paranoiac relationship of power, the adult has rights over the child (and not duties, including the right to properly educate him), the child is made to feel guilty for no reason, he is the support of parental anger and has no right to any autonomy, especially not affective. The paranoiac parent does not distinguish the stages of development of the child and does not adjust to it. He will treat a baby as a five-year-old child and will not see that there is a profound difference in the ability to withstand frustration, anger, and so on.

In any case, the paranoiac will seek to preserve exclusivity over his family, to maintain absolute control over his children and his couple, spying, watching, preaching the false for knowing the truth, wrongly accusing, etc.

As soon as the child of the paranoiac shows a desire for empowerment and independence, especially in early adulthood, the paranoiac parent does not tolerate it. If he can no longer exercise his omnipotence, he may even try to prolong control by spying on his own son, by following his daughter, in short, by harassing his own child, even paying a private investigator. This scenario will then be found in the pathological couple with a paranoiac, who also does not hesitate to use the services of private detectives, spyware and so on to quench his thirst for control over the spouse suspected of infidelities.

If decidedly the paranoiac has, in spite of all his efforts to re-establish the grip, the impression that his child is now out of this grasp completely, then he will banish him, and, very importantly, he will deny the real and symbolic filiation by orchestrating the spoliation of heritage.

The children of a paranoiac parent are prey to anxieties of the psychotic type without being: anguish of fragmentation, fear of death, etc. Sometimes they have nightmares about the parent himself. These nightmares can occur in childhood, without the parent himself being directly and necessarily represented except in symbolic form or, later, in adulthood.

For example, the child can have the same recurring nightmare of having, over his cradle, the figure, not of a good fairy, but of Gargamel, the ugly villain of the Smurfs. Or, to resume nightmares of adult patients, children of a paranoiac parent, these can relate to both intrusion and death. For example, the child of the paranoiac may experience the nightmare of rats that roam all over his apartment, the day after the visit of his paranoiac father.

Or else, another may have the nightmare that his paranoiac mother leads him into the underground, at the bottom of which is his own coffin, and that same mother leaves her there after closing a door that cannot longer be opened. Another can evoke recurring nightmares where his father leads him into underground labyrinths to flee a torture he supposes their duty to be inflicted on them. Another will dream of his father (teacher and paranoiac) sexually abusing several children by posing as a fake doctor… or that the father cuts him into pieces, etc.

It is certain that the psychic life of the children of a paranoiac parent is marked under the seal of terror. For some children, those who are under total mental control, it is forbidden to think, to imagine, to dream, and these children become perfectly alienated adults in a two-sided madness to the sick parent. For this alienation to take place, it is necessary that the child has no possibility of distancing himself, whether through another adult (a third party) who allows him to become aware, but also by books, an attachment to animals or any other third way that allows him to disconnect himself from the paranoiac parent.

These former adult children suffer from major phobias, severe post-traumatic symptoms and somatic inflammatory symptoms (eczema, fevers, migraines, cystitis, urticaria etc.).

The behavior of the paranoiac is orchestrated around fraud, harassment and death threats, while manipulating the outside world, who would have “never thought that this good father” is capable of such acts. Children are held hostages in cases of divorces/separations, suffering both paranoiac delirium against which they have no means of resistance, psychic and/or physical/sexual abuse, negligence and emotional abandonment – if not real – of the paranoiac parent. Indeed, it is not rare to see in the course of the paranoiac parent real abandonments, as the parent deciding not to see his child for several years, then re-emerges as a “savior” to deliver them from the “other bad parent” which take care of the child on a daily basis. This abandonment is often materialized in the form of a theatrical staging and particularly traumatic for the child.

In a total denial of reality and otherness, paranoiac parents often demand full custody and the eviction of the other parent as parent.

It should be noted that according to the clinical observation, the majority of paranoiac patients are men. It is therefore more common for the paranoiac parent to be a man and deploy colossal means to present himself as a savior and perfect father, demanding total care in order to oust the mother in her role as a referent and protector for the child.

The justiciary component of delusion is to be taken into account (harassment and procedural complaints by judicial means).

Paranoiac parents are also those who kidnap or confine their children, even for short periods, without the child having the resources to contact a third party.


In summary, the child is in serious psychological and/or physical danger in the presence of a paranoiac parent.

On the psychic plan, the child will be subjected to delusion, perpetually terrorized, confronted with paradoxical speech and in the delusion of persecution, made to feel guilty or instructed to have to reject the other parent.

On the physical plane, the child will be exposed to serious negligence, to inadequate responses in that which regards his emotional, educational and biological needs.

At the level of the couple, in cases of separation, the ex-spouse of the paranoiac is often subjected to constant and lasting harassment because of the “fixation of object” present in this psychiatric pathology. Children are held hostage, as is justice, which plays a very special role in paranoiac delirium, since the paranoid said to be “victim” of a “plot”, a “machination”, and expects that “justice to be done to him”.

A strategist, calculator and manipulator, the paranoiac profile will often manage to manipulate the institutions, including judicial, through what I called “delirious contagion”, and which operates according to very specific collective psychic mechanisms (same mechanisms as in the sects, religious fanaticism, terrorism, Nazism, among other examples).

It is necessary to underline the psychological and physical danger for the child to be exposed to the madness of the parent, danger increased by the intensity, the chronicity, the duration but also the relationship “alone” with the parent.

Paranoiac delusion is very difficult to detect, because of its apparent normality and its “reasoning”dimension, it is nonetheless very dangerous for children who are exposed to it. The prognosis of a cure of the paranoiac is almost none-existent, this pathology continuing to increase with time, the rigidity of the psychic structure and the rejection of any psychiatric follow-up by the person (who, according to his delirium, thinks himself invested with a mission, thinks that he is alone to be right and that all others persecute him, including psychiatrists).

To develop further points, I refer to the bibliography below.

Diciembre, 29, 2016.

Ariane BILHERAN, graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de la rue d’Ulm, Clinical Psychologist, PhD in Psychopathology


Some informative references on the subject



« Psychopathologie de la paranoïa » (par Eugénie Izard, Juillet 2016)


· Bilheran A. 2016. Psychopathologie de la paranoïa, Paris, Armand Colin.

· Bilheran A. 2016. « Repérage des personnalités perverses et paranoïaques », in Danger en protection de l’enfance, Paris, Dunod.

· Bilheran A. 2013. Manipulation. La repérer, s’en protéger, Paris, Armand Colin (« Coup de cœur » de la Fnac).

· Bilheran A. 2009. Harcèlement. Famille, Institution, Entreprise, Paris, Armand Colin, coll. Sociétales.

· Barthélémy S., Bilheran A. 2007. Le délire, Paris, Armand Colin (traduit en coréen).

· Bilheran A. 2006. Le harcèlement moral, Paris, Armand Colin (« Coup de cœur » de la Fnac 1re rééd. 2007, 2e rééd. 2010, 3e rééd. 2013).


· Bilheran A. 2012. « Harcèlement et suicide au travail : psychopathologie », in Bilan du Grand Forum de la Prévention du Suicide, Association Québécoise de Prévention du Suicide.

· Bilheran A. 2011. « La soumission psychologique au travail. Comment un harceleur parvient à soumettre tout un groupe d’adultes pourtant bien constitués, et ce qui s’ensuit », in Revue Les Cahiers des Facteurs Psychosociaux, Catéis. Article consultable sur ce site >>>

· Bilheran A. 2008. « Harcèlement, système et organisation », in Les Cahiers des Facteurs Psychosociaux, août 2008 --> "Harassment, System, Organization", article consultable sur ce site >>>


[1] Serieux, P., Capgras, J. (1909), Les folies raisonnantes, Paris, Alcan.

[2] Lasegue A., Falret J.P. (1877). « La folie à deux ou folie communiquée », Annales Médico-Psychologiques, Paris, 18 : 321-355.

[3] To come back to the studies of Psychanalyst Racamier, at the origin of this concept.

[4] Miller, A. 1985. C’est pour ton bien. Racines de la violence dans l’éducation de l’enfant, Paris, Flammarion, 2015.


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