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« President Clinton and the Movie “Hotel Rwanda”: Why the Change of Mind after Supporting Genocide in Rwanda 1993-94? | Main | Nigeria and the End of Humanity? »

March 01, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #10 of 52: Igbo Culture and Paranoia

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- SYNOPSIS OF IGBO CULTURE: Igbo culture is characterized by individualism and competition. The culture is not ascriptive and does not recognize status as inherent in persons. It is achievement oriented; it encourages people to do their best. People are socially rewarded on the bases of their individual achievements.

There is an Igbo saying that “if a child washes his hands well he eats with elders”. This means that if an individual does what the culture expects of him, is outstanding in lines of work approved by society; he is rewarded with high social status. No matter where the child began in life, if he attains valued social variables he is rewarded with social acceptance. Social importance is predicated on achievement; it is not inherent in the individual’s birth.

(See Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, for description of traditional Igbo society. The chief character of the book, Okonkwo, was born by a poor man and “washed his hands well”, did what his society rewarded and despite his impoverished background achieved high social status. Along the line, he developed paranoid personality disorder.)

Igbo society is very conditional in accepting its children. It encourages children to do what society expects of them and accepts them to the extent that they do so. If a child is good at sports, school, and work and generally succeeds he is seen as an important person, but if he is not good at doing those valued social activities, he is generally regarded as a social nobody, a fool and is either ignored or out rightly rejected.

A failure in Alaigbo is called all sorts of names, including Anuoha (bush animal), Okpokoro manu (useless person). Often times, he is not permitted to speak in Umuna (kindred) meetings. When he tries to speak up at such meetings, the successful members of the group shout him down by saying: “do not listen to that okpokoro manu”.

Igbo culture is very competitive; it allocates social honors on the basis of competition. It is democratic and republican. It rewards entrepreneurship. (I doubt that socialism and communism can take hold in this capitalistic society.)

Many psychologists recognize that conditional acceptance of people, particularly children, is tailor made to produce neurotics.

A neurotic (see Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth) is a person who constructs an ideal self-concept and its image form, ideal self image for himself and wants to become that person. Generally, he presents his ideal self concept to society to approve and relate to. He is afraid of being his real self, particularly if it is not good enough, as defined by society, lest it is rejected by society. Afraid of social rejection, he pretends to be the ideal self he invented for himself, a self that seems to meet the acceptance criteria of his society.

Since that ideal self is not who he is, in fact, he is afraid of not seeming it. Thus, he lives with tremendous anxiety from fear of not being his idealized self concept and self image. (See Alfred Adler, The Neurotic Constitution; Carl Rogers, Client Centered Therapy.)

Generally, the cure for neurosis is for the individual to desist from trying to be his wished for superior, ideal and perfect self and simply be who he is, in fact, his real self (whatever that is). When the individual stops aspiring after an ego ideal and accepts his actual self he tends to relax, feel less tense and lives in peace and happiness.


As long as the individual tries to approximate his wished for ideal self, he tends to live in tension, stress and anxiety. When he stops doing so, he feels like a great deal of weight has been lifted off his shoulders; he breathes easier.

A human being is psychologically healthy to the extent that he is not pretending to be ideal self. A healthy person is a person who accepts himself as he is and presents that real self, imperfect as it may be, to other people and tells them, in effect, accept me as I am or leave me alone but I am not going to pretend to be who I am not for you to accept me. I am not going to be a neurotic, a false ideal person, for you to accept me. If I must be phony, a sham self for you to accept me, the price of your acceptance is too great and I am not willing to pay it. I will not seek your conditional acceptance.

The price of seeking to become ideal self, the self that other people would accept is perpetual anxiety and tension (and cardiovascular diseases). Those who insist that their fellow human beings approximate ideal selves before they accept them are actually killing them with tension. Igbos kill other Igbos by making them neurotic and giving them tension and heart attacks.

(Of course, Igbos do not necessarily understand that this is what they are, in fact, doing by accepting each other conditionally. They are ignorant of their murderous behaviors. The purpose of science, in this case, psychological science, is to describe phenomenon, as it is, and show people what they are, in fact, doing and, hopefully, they would change their untoward behaviors, if they want to produce different effects.)


Igbo conditional acceptance of Igbos seems to have some positive aspects. Western civilization came to Igbo land in the early twentieth century. Although the Anglican Church, under Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, had established a missionary outpost at Onitsha in 1851, Christian missionary penetration of the Igbo heartland, Owerri, did not occur until 1902. For all practical purposes, Igbos were exposed to Christianity and accompanying Western civilization in the twentieth century.

Late as was their exposure to Western civilization, Igbos are probably the most Western educated Africans? They embraced Western civilization with enthusiasm and went for it with total dedication. These days, most Igbo children take it for granted that they are to attend elementary, secondary and university schools. In only one hundred years of exposure to the West, Igbos have accomplished what even has not been accomplished in the West: attendance of college by just about all young men. This is an amazing accomplishment by anybody’s standards.

Igbos accomplished this seeming impossibility because of their competitive and individualistic culture. The culture does not accept failures. One must achieve something significant to be accepted in Alaigbo. To fail and be a nobody is not an option, for failures are socially rejected and laughed at.

Igbo young persons engage in what is called Imanjakiri. Here, they verbally and emotionally abuse each other, putting each other down to the extent that they did not do well in what society wanted done well.

Igbo school children are placed under tremendous pressure to succeed; the price of failure is to be socially disgraced. To fail at examinations is to become a social nobody, to be an anuohia.

During my secondary school days, ones greatest fear was to not be first in class. Second? You were given a lecture by your elders as to how you are useless. When I took the West African School Certificate Examination many of my classmates literally experienced what I now know as anxiety disorder. They were inordinately afraid of failing the examination, for they realized the consequences of doing so. Those boys studied like they were driven. (No society should put such pressure on teenagers.)

The day the result came out was the most dreaded day in our lives. The first question was: did you pass? If you did, the next question was: what kind of grade did you have, division one, two or three? If not division one, you are no good. If division one, was it less than aggregate ten (each subject was graded 1-4, I believe, with 1 being the best; one had to pass eight subjects to pass the School Cert, so if you had 1s in all eight subjects that would give you an aggregate of eight; ordinary pass required an aggregate of less than twenty four).

Some of my dormitory mates, in fact, collapsed when they learned that they did not make division one.

Thereafter, it was on to high school. At the end of those two grueling years, students took their examinations. They go through another round of tension. Did one make mostly As in the required four subjects or not?

Thereafter, it was unto university. Again, the question was: how well did you do, all As, Bs or Cs? God forgive you if you are mediocre and worse if you failed.

Finally, it was unto graduate school and eventually the much desired doctorate degree. The Igbo likes to achieve the PhD and be called Doctor; apparently, to be so-called is a symbol of achievement (not for what it is supposed to be: a person dedicated to the search of knowledge).

Then the next question was attaining high social status, via success on the job. Failure is not an option for Igbos. Failure meant being considered okpokoro manu and anuohia.

By my mid thirties, I recognized that I was dancing a neurotic dance and dropped out of the rat race. I accepted that which I was afraid of, that which my neurotic Igbo culture told me to be afraid of, failure. I accepted being a failure. I simply quit trying to succeed in any external endeavor. I looked myself in the mirror and accepted what I saw and did not want to meet any society’s criteria before I accepted myself. In doing so, for the first time in my young life, I obtained somatic and mental peace. Psychologically speaking, I healed my neurosis and became mentally healthy.
From my new stand point, I became aware that most of my Igbo brothers are engaged in the rat race for success and have attendant mental upsets.


The Igbo culture is the most tension making culture there is on planet earth; it is the most neurosis making culture there is in the world; and for our present purposes, it is the most paranoia making culture in the world.

I am afraid to say it, but the truth must be said for truth is what heals people. I have not seen an Igbo man who is not a bit paranoid in personality structure. In fact, the incidence of the more serious forms of paranoia, delusional disorder and schizophrenia, paranoid type, is high in Igbo land. I have worked in the mental health field for over twenty years, the few delusional disordered persons, a very rare mental disorder that I have seen, included Igbos. Only last week, I witnessed paranoia at work in an Igbo brother.


The term paranoia derives from Greek. It means to seek to become who one, in fact, is not. The paranoid person is trying to become who, in fact, he is not. In fact, he is like all human beings. In truth, he is weak, powerless, inadequate and imperfect. This is the human condition.

The paranoid person does not want to accept the reality of the human condition. Instead, he uses his imagination and thinking to construct an ideal alternative self, a self that is everything that his real self is not in fact. (Personality is a self construct. See George Kelly, The Psychology of Personal Constructs.)

The ideal self is made to seem superior (where the real self feels inferior), made to seem powerful (where the real self feels weak), made to seem wealthy (where the real self feels poor), made to seem intelligence itself (where the real self feels ignorant), made to seem all handsome (where the real self is ordinary looking); in short, the ideal self is the polar opposite of the real self.

The paranoid person hates and rejects his imperfect self and attempts to replace it with an imaginary ideal and perfect self.

He does so obsessively and compulsively. That is, he wishes to become an ideal self, as if he is driven to be so by an inner pressure he cannot resist. It is as if he is obeying an inner force that he must obey or else he feels anxious. As it were, he is now a slave to the desire to become an ideal self. He must pretend to be an ideal self or he feels anxious, like he is nothing worthwhile.


What is the origin of the inner pressure to become an ideal self? Psychological theorists have had a field day speculating on the origin of this pressure. Since this is not a paper for professionals but for the general public, I will not explore the biochemistry of personality. I will simply state that the pressure to become ideal results from a combination of biological, sociological and existential factors.

The paranoid person generally inherited a problematic body. He tends to be prone to anxiety disorder and anxiety disorders appears rooted in inherited somatic constitution. Certain neurotransmitters are involved in anxiety disorder.

I will not dwell on the role of such neuro transmitters as excess norepinephrine and deficient GABA in the etiology of paranoia. I will instead simply acknowledge that biology plays a role in the origin of paranoia and leave it at that. This essay will concentrate on the role of social factors in the causation of the phenomenon of self rejection and desire to become an ideal self.

Igbo culture is not unconditionally positively accepting of its children. Igbo culture is conditional in accepting its people. It accepts successful people and rejects failures. As a result of being brought up in this culture, most Igbos fear failure and aspire towards success. They tend to accept themselves mostly only when they seem successful.

Igbos tend to fear failure more than other human beings. In their hope for success and fear of failure, they live with tremendous anxiety disorder.

(Achebe probably intended showing how achievement oriented his Igbo society was by using Okonkwo as the exemplary Igbo character. Unwittingly, he ended up telling the world that his people are, in fact, paranoid, since the chief dramatic personae of the novel, is diagnostically paranoid personality disordered. Okonkwo, like paranoids, was filled with fear of failure, acted out violently when his young wife demeaned his desired high self esteem and found it easy to kill a person, Ikemefuna, so as to obtain social prestige.)

The anxious Igbo person does what anxious persons everywhere do: he masks it with alcohol and sex. He does not know that drinking too much alcohol and or seeking frequent sexual outlets is an attempt to relax his over tense body.


Every human being is a bit paranoid. In normal persons, paranoia is masked. In neurotic paranoia, the disease is overt in the individuals’ personality structures. In psychotic paranoia the disease becomes a way of living.

The most normal person exhibits paranoid symptoms during periods of social tension and uncertainty. When Moslem Arab terrorists attacked America on September 11, 2001, just about every American felt paranoid. Folks felt attacked, felt insecure and felt anxious. The month subsequent to that attack saw many normal Americans trooping to their doctors for medications to help them relax. Naturally, they were given the various anti anxiety (anxiolytic) medications. The amount of Valium, Librium, Xanax, Ativan etc popped by Americans in September of 2001 was incredible.

The relevant point is that all human beings, normal or not, have some paranoia and that this tends to be masked in normal persons. (Similarly all human beings have depression and anxiety, in masked forms in normal persons, waiting to come out when the situation stimulates them.)


(I will stay away from technical jargon and stick to pedestrian language; I do not think that it is going to help the reader for me to talk about ideas of reference, ideas of centrality, religious ideation, thought insertion, thought broadcasting etc.)

The paranoid person feels that the world he is living in is a dangerous place. He feels that other people could harm, even kill him. He, therefore, resolves to defend himself, to protect himself from the HOSTILE universe he believes that he is living in. (Is it true or not that we live in a hostile world? There is always some truth, albeit exaggerated truth in paranoia.)

Believing that he lives in a hostile world, the paranoid is GUARDED and DEFENSIVE. He SCANS his world trying to see if there are hidden DANGER AND THREATS that might sprint on him. If he believes that he has been ATTACKED, he goes into action defending himself. Generally, he MISINTERPRETS other people’s innocent actions as attacks on his GRANDIOSE, important self and defends himself.

He is always accusing other people of DEMEANING him, belittling him, putting him down, degrading him, humiliating him, criticizing him. Since, by and large, other people do not think that they are insulting him; they take offense at his constant ACCUSATIONS. Thus, they feel angry at him. Now that they seem hostile at him, they seem to have justified his earlier presupposition that people are hostile towards him. This is called the SELF FULFILLING PROPHECY of paranoia.

The individual has a false premise: he believes, wrongly that people are out to get him and stimulates attack on him and is attacked and uses that to justify his earlier preconception of what people would do to him. What he does not seem to realize is that he is the one stimulating other people’s hostility towards him by accusing them of being hostile towards him?

What is really going on in paranoia is that the individual feels inordinately INADEQUATE, POWERLESS and SMALL. He then tries to hide this sense of LITTLEMENT with false sense of grandeur. He uses his imagination, thinking, to construct a self concept and self image that he is a very important person, a powerful person, a wealthy person, a handsome person, the most intelligent person in the world etc.
Having constructed a fictional ideal self, he identifies with that imaginary self and comes to think that it is who he is.

If he merely wishes to be that IMAGINARY IMPORTANT person but knows that he is not that person, he is a neurotic PARANOID PERSONALITY. He is still able to test reality, he is not completely deluded.

If, in fact, he believes himself to be the perfect ideal self he wants to be, he believes in what is not true as true, hence he has DELUSIONAL DISORDER. This is a very rare form of paranoia.

Finally, if in addition to being delusional he also HALLUCINATES (hallucination could occur in any of the five senses: AUDITORY, VISUAL, TACTILE, OLFACTORY, FEELING), he is SCHIZOPHRENIC, paranoid type. (Schizophrenia has many types, including paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, organic, undifferentiated, residual, simple etc.)

World wide, less than one percent of the population is schizophrenic. (Another one percent has Bipolar Affective Disordered, manic-depression, to make up the two percent of people with severe, chronic mental disorders.). As noted, delusional disorder is even rarer than schizophrenia. What is quite common is paranoid personality disorder.

Many Igbos have paranoid personality disorder and anxiety disorders. (There are many types of anxiety disorders, including PANIC ATTACK, AGORAPHOBIA, SOCIOPHOBIA, GENERALIZED ANXIETY, OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE ANXIETY etc.)

(In this essay, I am not focusing on the serious aspects of paranoia. But for the sake of reference, let me briefly note that delusional disorder has five types: GRANDIOSE, PERSECUTORY, EROTOMANIC, JEALOUS, AND SOMATIC.

Briefly, in the grandiose type, the individual feels very important and may see himself as god; in persecutory type, the individual feels that other people, his ancestors, police etc are out to get him and hides from them; in jealous type, the individual feels that his spouse cheats on him, does not trust her, watches her movements and misinterprets her innocent behavior as evidence of her cheating and beats her up, domestic violence is rampant here; in erotomanic type, the individual feels that a very important person, say, Jesus, is in love with her or is her husband; in somatic type, the individual feels that he has a somatic, physical disease that is not real and goes from doctor to doctor seeking help.

All delusions are rooted in the individual’s desire for existential importance when he feels excruciatingly unimportant and does not want to accept that unimportance.

In schizophrenia, in addition to delusion is the presence of hallucination. The schizophrenic may hear a voice telling him that he is god and or Napoleon or Bill Gates. Conversely, she may hear voices telling her that she is a whore etc. The voice generally tells him that he is important thus gratifying his desire for importance; hallucinations are wish fulfillment.

Some schizophrenics will look you straight in the eye and tell you that they are god, Jesus, Zeus…whatever makes them seem special and important…and tell you that you ought to be worshipping them, that is, they are expressing their desire to be superior to you.

In MANIA/BIPOLAR AFFECTIVE DISORDER, there is excitement, euphoria, poor judgment and some times hallucination. The manic may say that he is Elvis, to compensate for his wish that he was a famous musician etc; he may write checks for money that he does not have, to compensate for his wish to be rich; he may claim to be Cleopatra, that is, the most beautiful woman on earth, to compensate for her sense of being homely and or ugly. There is always delusion in mania.)

In demeanor, the paranoid person, be it of the personality or delusional or schizophrenic variety generally looks serious and guarded; he lacks genuine sense of humor; he is uptight, stressed and anxious; he wants to be seen as a very important person and fears being seen as a small, insignificant person.

At all times, he defends what he believes is his dignity. He is stiff and inflexible in body, is not relaxed and happy.
He is generally very rational and argumentative. (Two Igbo brothers on naira politics exhibit these argumentative and pseudo rational aspect of paranoid personality disorder.) Such persons want to win and have other people loose; they want to be right at all costs and have others wrong. They will argue insignificant subjects that most people would take in stride. Their goal is to win and you, the person they are arguing with, to lose. They must be right and you wrong.

Why do they have this desire to be right and have others wrong, to win and have others loose? Think about it. If I am right and you are wrong; I am the winner and you are the loser, what does that make me? It makes me better than you. The desire to win and have others loose, to be right and others wrong is part of paranoid grandiosity.

Deep down, paranoia is rooted in desire to be godlike. The paranoid person feels small and sees god as all powerful. He wants to be godlike in his powerfulness.

(Although I want to devote this essay to strictly secular psychology, so that every mental health professional, that is, psychiatrists and psychologists, would accept it, I must digress and point out that there is such a thing as SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY.

Spiritual psychology points out that we, as manifested in the paranoia person, want to displace GOD and become God. The Son of God, as it were, wants to kill his father and replace him as God; he wants to become the creator of God, the creator of himself and the creator of other people; he wants to be the author of the universe. God created us and, apparently, we resent that fact and want to create our self. Paranoia, in this spiritual sense, is an effort to be God and create ones self, create other people and be the lord of other people. Enough Metaphysics, already. Let us dwell on secular, that is, scientific psychology.)

The paranoid personality likes to seem PERFECT. He generally cannot stand himself as imperfect. When he makes a mistake he seeks a SCAPEGOAT to BLAME for it. Whenever anything goes wrong, he blames those around him. He is forever blaming his spouse, children, friends and colleagues in any and all organizations he is a member of. It is always OTHER PEOPLE’S FAULT, not his, that they did not achieve their organizational goals.

This OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE blaming of others is obviously an infantile attempt to make himself seem perfect and others seem imperfect. It is an attempt to seem better than other people, when it is obvious that he is not better than any other person. SANITY, mental health lies in seeing ones self as the SAME AND COEQUAL with all HUMAN BEINGS, men and women adult and children, black and white.
At any moment you feel inferior and or superior to other people, you are insane; you are neurotic and or psychotic.


Paranoid people’s attitudes towards SEX are very interesting. The sexual act is obviously an animal act. Sex and defecation are probably the two most animalistic acts human beings engage in.

In their thinking, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet observed, human beings are often like the gods. In sex, the presumed gods behave like anything but godly. Lord Chesterfield observed that in sexual act people look ridiculous. Visualize whomever you construe as a very important person…since I am a Catholic, I visualize the Pope…engaged in sexual intercourse. What do you see? Not only is that person suddenly no longer important in your estimation, he looks ridiculous and absurd.

The paranoid person wants to be god like. He elevated himself to the level of the gods. To engage in sexual act makes him feel insignificant and animal like. Since he wants to retain the illusion of being dignified, he tends to feel tremendous shame from sex.

The paranoid is generally a very proud person and easily feels shamed from whatever seems not deifying; sex is one such activity. Generally, the paranoid engages in sex in a hush-hush, hidden manner but does not talk about it. (See David Shapiro, Neurotic Styles; also see his Autonomy and the Rigid Character.)

Clearly, the sex act seems ridiculous. But, then again, such is human life on earth. If one puts on ones philosophical hat and engages in pure reasoning, one would see no meaning and purpose to our lives on earth. What folks call meaning and purpose are mainly make belief.

Nevertheless, health persons accept the absurdity of being human and that includes sex. If you are going to have sex, then have it and that is all there is o it. For Christ’s sake do not be ashamed of it. Do not pretend that you are above sex. Just do it. What is worth doing is worth doing well? You might as well have fun while at it. Sex is part of the human bodily condition. People came here to be egos housed in bodies and might as well enjoy their bodies. There is no use for ambivalence towards sex, as neurotics tend to be. Do it whole heartedly or do not do it at all.

Mystics reject the human ego and the body that houses it and give up all pursuit of sensual enjoyment. They concentrate on the things of God, only. Thus, folks like Buddha, Jesus etc overcame the attraction of flesh and live in the world of spirit.

The average person is not an enlightened, illuminated and real self realized person. As long as the individual has a pull to have sex, he or she ought to do so but do so as St Paul said: within marital situations, only.

I must confess that I accept the Catholic Church’s morality on sexual matters. I want sex restricted to the marital situation. This gut level position, however, is not as emotional as it seems, for if folks limited their sexual activity to their married partners only, they would spare themselves the prospect of contracting gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HIV-AIDS, and other diseases that could kill them.


Have you been around Igbos? They are always trying to seem better than other people. They are extremely jealous of each others achievements. In fact, they do not like any one to do better than them and should they perceive you to be doing better than them their competitive spirit kicks in and they do all in their powers to bring you down. These people prefer to be lone stars and cannot work in groups for to work in groups is to subordinate ones ego to other egos, to accept others leadership. They detest others leadership. No wonder in their traditional society they did not develop political superstructures beyond the town level to rule them. Igbos do not accept chiefs. “Igbo ama eze”. Each of them wants to be the chief, the boss and does not tolerate other people’s leadership.

(Igbos, so far, do well in sole proprietorships but tend to fail in forming partnerships and corporations. Corporations have advantages that other forms of business organizations do not have. Igbos tend not to have big businesses; they tend to end up with mom and pop shows. Apparently, Igbo unbridled egotism militates against their success in collective business ventures.)

Igbos are always boasting about their accomplishments, trying to make themselves seem better than others. They fancy themselves better than other Nigerian ethnic groups when it is self evident that all human beings are the same and equal. This desire to be superior to other people is paranoid behavior, but Igbos do not know it. They are trying to seem perfect and have you seem imperfect; they are unaware that such behaviors are the mark of madness.

Let me illustrate the sad aspect of this phenomenon from the events that happened around me only last week.

We were at a meeting. My wife insisted on our need to abide by the LAW and limit our behavior to what the law permits us to do. She said this in obvious reference to an Igbo brother who has a tendency to take chances with the law. He tends to want to do whatever he wants to do without regards to the law. My wife, being a typical well socialized North American, understands the need to live by the laws of the land. North America is a land of laws. She said what she said because she wanted to protect all of us, to prevent us from running afoul of the law. She had no animosity towards any one.

The Igbo brother in question became angry, I mean angry. He was totally enraged. He looked menacing, ranting and raving about how a woman cannot tell him what to do, how he is tired of her bossing him around, how she bosses me around and now wants to boss him. He went on and on jabbering all sorts of meaningless rubbish for about ten minutes.

I had enough of his freak show and made the mistake of trying to redirect him to the issue at hand, and he let loose on me. (When a man is in anger, he is temporarily insane; one should never try to reason with him; I should have just walked out of the house and said nothing.) He called me every name under the sun. I have never before been subjected to as much verbal and emotional abuse in my life. He asked us to leave and as we were doing so he got up and started pushing us. He was totally insane.

The following day, he wrote me a series of email letters. He went on and on boasting about how he is rich and powerful and would do this or that to me if he liked. He wrote about ten pages of nonsense. (I showed his letters to two psychiatrists and both agreed that he was delusional and experienced transient psychosis and could be committed to a psychiatric hospital against his will, if he continued in his threatening behaviors.)

What is going on here is that the brother has paranoid personality disorder. He feels inadequate and compensates with fictional adequacy. He presents that imaginary important self to other people to relate to. When they affirm it, he feels okay and when he feels that they did not validate his superior self he feels demeaned, belittled and angry. Apparently, he felt that my wife did not recognize his grandiose self image and wanted to put her in her place.

In his paranoid grandiosity, he believed that women are inferior to him, men and ought to obey men.

Men and women are equal and any sexist views are insane. (In IQ tests, on the average, women tend to score higher than men so, in effect, women could be construed as smarter than men.)

Obviously, the brother’s reaction was based on injured pride; it was showing paranoid cum narcissistic rage. In that rage he was temporarily insane and could kill. That is correct, he so over identified with a false important self that he could kill any one who did not collude with his insanity and tell him that he is the fictional important person he imagines himself to be.

Paranoid persons often kill those they believe do not respect them, those they believe do not accept them as very important. (In delusion, they attack those they believe are out to kill them…folks that are not out to kill them.)

This brother’s obvious psychotic decompensation and paranoid behavior got me thinking about my relationship with my fellow Igbos. I recall many of them exhibiting similar paranoid boastings as this brother.

It became apparent to me that many Igbos tend to have grandiose self concepts and when they feel that you did not acknowledge their imaginary important selves they boast about how important they are and try to make themselves seem better than you. They are always boasting and talking nonsense about how their fathers are governors, ambassadors, chiefs, millionaires and whatever else they think would make them seem important. They tend to feel outraged when you do not humor them and go along with their infantile efforts to seem better than you.

The angry brother that tried mightily to convince me that he is better than me is mediocre. But here he was boasting of how he is the smartest man on earth, the richest man on earth, the most powerful man on earth and writing me about how I am a failure and nothing compared to him.

The relevant point is not what a temporarily insane man said but why he said it. He felt totally inferior and everything he said was in an attempt to seem superior and powerful.

As a known fact, all human children are weak. I am weak. I am powerless. I am poor. I am not the most intelligent man on earth. I am a human being, which means that I am imperfect. If am truthful to myself, I would accept all that I know myself to be: imperfect. If I do so, I am relaxed, peaceful and happy; I am not a phony, sham hypocrite who pretends to be who he is not in fact.

Igbo culture insists that I should not accept myself as I know myself to be but must strive to be successful, powerful etc before it accepts me. Igbo culture encourages me to deny my real self and pretend to be whom I am not; Igbo culture asks Igbos to be phonies. The average Igbo I see is a pretentious phony who presents himself as he is not in fact, big.

I had to drop out of Igbo culture, so as to be able to accept myself as I know myself to be: a worthless, valueless nothing, as the paranoid Igbo brother called me.

This Igbo brother is in his Igbo culture. Within that culture, he knows that people do not accept him as he is: a mediocre person. He is currently unemployed and he knows that his Igbo culture sees him as a failure (and projects his sense of being a failure to me.)

He thinks that other Igbos would accept him if he seemed perfect. Thus, he invented a perfect self-concept and self-image and latched unto that imaginary self and uses it to relate to other people.

He relates to other people from his fictional all important self. He tells lies about himself if in doing so he seems his important self. In the processes he became a pathological liar, a man who tells lies compulsively, even when telling lies is not called for.

I have eyes to see. I could see him and evaluate him as accurately as is possible. A man who is not working, at this time, but calls himself a professor is not persuasive. A man whose wife, a nurse, works double shifts to support them is not exactly rich. A man who often does not have the money to buy gas for his car is not exactly a rich man.

Simply stated, this brother ought to accept himself as he is without shame. But his Igbo culture disposed him to think, erroneously, that he needed to be important before society accepts him. He is forced by the pressure of paranoia to pretend to be who he, in fact, is not, a powerful self. In doing so, he lives in tension, stress and anxiety, and every once in a while acts out in narcissistic rage.

He is a psychologically sick man. He needs to be healed of his paranoid ideations. Unless he is healed, he is a danger to those around him, for since he consistently misinterprets their motives and behaviors and sees insults where non-exists, he is likely to attack people (as he did to me). He probably physically, verbally and emotionally abuses his wife and children; he is most likely to do so when his paranoid grandiosity feels that they did not respect it.


Essentially, there are three types of people in the world: normal people, neurotic people and psychotic people.

Normal people are the majority of the people, say 90% or more of the people in any given society. Psychotics are generally less than two percent of the population. Neurotics make up the balance.

In normalcy, the individual internalized the norms of his society and, more or less, is like any other person in that group. He is at home in his group’s world and in his own skin.

In neurosis, the individual is not at home in his group (and not even at home in his own body). Like the normal person, he, too, internalized his group’s norms. But for any number of reasons, he feels like an outsider in his group (and in his own body). He desires to be different from the group but at the same time wants to conform to the group. He is alienated from human beings but want to be part of human beings. Somehow, he is unable to do what the group requires of him to become an accepted member and feels like an outsider to it.

If the neurotic accepts his outsider-ness and gives up trying to become a member of the group, an outstanding intellect or artist is born to the world.

The normal person operates within the box; his group’s present parameters and is seldom able to make seminal contribution to art and science. It takes a bit of alienation from the group, neurosis, to see the group, the world a bit clearly.

Whereas, in aggregate intelligence neurotics are not smarter than normal persons, but because they are operating outside their group’s frame of reference they may use their intelligence more effectively. Consider the paranoid neurotic. He insists on rationalism. He attempts to seem rational. Of course, he is not more intelligent than normal persons but, by and large, he tends to make a few rational contributions to social discourse.

A particularly ultra rational Igbo brother in Naija politics insists on pure rationality. Every once in a while he actually says something that is worth paying attention to. Unfortunately, in the main, because his rationality is devoid of love for himself, love for his people and love for all human beings, it tends to be critical without understanding. He lacks wisdom. Most paranoids may have intelligence but they lack wisdom. Wisdom only comes from love and forgiveness of human foibles.

(The paranoid is the quintessential egotist; he bears grudges and grievances and seeks revenge and is vengeful; he wants to punish those who wronged him. The wise person wants to forgive those who wronged him for he knows that human beings make mistakes and need correction not hatred or punishment. The paranoid is litigious, he sues those he believes insulted him, to punish them and prove his social importance.)

Paranoia, among other things, emanates from the individual’s efforts to UNDERSTAND HIMSELF, OTHER PEOPLE AND, WHY THINGS HAPPEN THE WAY THEY HAPPEN; IT IS AN ATTEMPT TO PREDICT THE FUTURE. Particularly, the PARANOID WANTS to understand why the things that happen to him happen to him.

He does not have objective answers to his questions, so he speculates. In the process, he attributes false motives to other people. The fact is that we do not know what other are thinking about, and we do not know why things happen the way they do. We have to accept that uncertainty and live with it.

We must live with ambiguity and not pretend to know many things. The paranoid person is unable to live with not knowing, so he speculates and believes that his speculations are true and act on their basis.

Thus the paranoid brother speculated on my motives, reached false conclusions as to why he thinks that I do what I do…boss him around and demean him…all false ideations and to rehabilitate his injured vanity attacked me, to show me that he is powerful and is my boss.

For our present purposes, whereas it would seem that neurotics are more insane than normal persons, they are not. Normal persons are masked insane persons. A normal person could exhibit the symptoms of most of the mental disorders if subjected to stress: he could show paranoia, depression, mania, delusion even hallucination.

A normal person is an insane person who is sheltered by his group. As Eric Fromm (see Escape from Freedom) sees it, the adjusted normal person is not yet given birth to full individuation.
The neurotic is struggling to become truly individuated: separation from God and the human group.

Alas, separation and individuation is a problem. The world is a place where we live in the fantasy that separation and individuation is possible.

The psychotic optimizes the fantasy of individuation and lives in his own world without reference to other people.
Mystics point out that our spiritual reality is union, not separation. (See Meister Eckhart, St John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila; Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism; Helen Schucman, A Course in Miracles.)


In his book, Autonomy and the Rigid Character, David Shapiro wrote that the paranoid neurotic (what we now call the paranoid personality) desires autonomy. As Shapiro sees it, the paranoid is a person who desires excessive independence from the group. He desires extreme individuation (Carl Jung wrote extensively about individuation.)

This person sees the group as squelching his individuality and does not want to be swallowed by the group. He strives to seem individuated.

The paranoid character is seeking autonomy from the whole (God and human society). He does not want any one, God or man, to tell him what to do. He wants to do his own thing. In social and work organizations, he resents authority figures telling him what to do.
To tell him what to do makes him feel powerless. He wants to be the boss or else he is not a member of the group. If he stays in the group, he finds ways to do things his own way.

In work organizations, he is generally perceived as loose cannon, for he does not accept authority readily. Experienced managers understand this aspect of the paranoid employee and tolerate it. They cannot change him; they can, however, delegate to him those things that require individual efforts, such as technical jobs; it is a mistake to make a paranoid character a leader, supervisor, manager etc; this is because he does not know how to smoothly relate to people; to relate to people requires subordinating ones own ego to group needs.

You must leave the paranoid alone to live in his world of individual power. If you do not respect his need for autonomy and do things that make him feel imposed on, he may indulge in passive aggressive efforts to destroy the organization’s goals or engage in overt aggression.

Like all egotists, the paranoid believes in power and violence. He believes that problems can be solved by attacking, even killing people. He sees violence and attack on people as making him seem powerful. In fact, he sees killing other people as making him seem powerful. He is the quintessential egotists, a confused human being.

He has not evolved to a level where he understands that peace, love and forgiveness are the true signs of power. Jesus was a peaceful, loving man and never resorted to anger and violence to solve problems, as such, he was the most powerful human being that lived on earth.

Hitler used violence to solve conflicts, he killed people to seem powerful; in reality he was the most powerless man to live on earth.

Do not bother trying to change the paranoid. He is who he is in evolution. He is who he is from about age six on wards. At best, you can understand him and learn to handle him with care but you cannot change him. Only he can change him self, if he so desires, when he learns to give up his pursuit of imaginary egotism and accept his real self, a weak self, and, ultimately, accept our shared unified spirit self.

I must emphasize that one should never aim at changing the paranoid personality. If one tried, he is most likely to see himself as the healthy one and one as the sick one. Paranoids do not go to therapy because in their pseudo rationality they fancy therapists useless and see themselves as more informed than therapists. They usually believe in their supercilious knowledge.

Paranoids are mentally disturbed persons. They have been so from their childhood. You cannot ask persons who have been sick most of their lives to suddenly change and become healthy. It would take a lot of work for them to change (to change ones pattern of thinking, from egoistic to loving and forgiving is to heal). All that one should do is learn how to get along with these sick brothers. They are not going to become healthy overnight.

Let me dispel the notion that just because paranoids are sick that they cannot hold down jobs. Paranoia is an interesting mental illness; it affects only a part of the intellect, not all of it. The paranoid has systematic delusion in certain areas, not all areas of his thinking. He can be as paranoid as a mad dog and see the entire world as out to kill him and is defensive and yet can be a successful medical doctor, engineer and lawyer. Indeed, he can be the president of his country. Richard Nixon, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin and many African heads of States were and are paranoid personalities. In fact, your colleague at work, a successful professional, for all you know, may be a paranoid personality. You might even be one! Paranoia is an interesting human psychological disorder; we all have to understand it and work to heal it, as much as it is possible to heal it.

In as much as all human beings have a bit of paranoia, we should never make fun of those people that have the problem in exaggerated forms. We should understand and help them, as much as we could. I am trying to help my paranoid brothers in my own way, by sharing information on the phenomenon.

Whereas the paranoid person seeks autonomy, on the other hand, he has not developed the courage to accept his individuation without social reference. He still wants other people to like and accept him. He does everything he does to get other people to like and approve him. Therein lays his problem. He wants to be individuated and at the same time wants to be part of the group. You cannot have it both ways. To be part of the group one must reduce ones indivualism and conform to the group’s conception of reality.
The paranoid person lives in perpetual psychological conflict: to be truly independent and or to be part of the group? He is unable to make up his mind on this critical existential question.

The paranoid wears the mask of social and existential importance because he thinks that that is the person that society would accept. Igbos accept successful persons, so the Igbo paranoid tries to seem successful and important, so as to be accepted by the Igbos. On the other hand, he wants to be individuated. Obviously, he has to resolve the conflict by resolving to be his true self. If he does so, he becomes free, freed from the shackles of the group. He becomes relaxed, peaceful, happy and mentally healthy.


For the sake of fuller understanding, I will briefly mention the other accepted personality disorders.

Personality is the individual’s habitual pattern of relating to other people and to his world. It is usually formed before age twelve and once formed is very difficult to change except if the individual has organic brain injuries or underwent religious conversion (like Paul did on his way to Damascus).

Most human beings have normal personalities, that is, they successfully adapted to the mode people in their cultural group adapt to their world. I would say that more than ninety percent of the people have normal personality structures and that about six percent has serious personality disorders, that two percent has serious mental disorders and two percent has mental retardation (IQ under 70).

The mental health field’s nomenclature accepts ten or eleven personality disorders: paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, narcissistic, histrionic, antisocial, borderline, avoidant, and dependent, obsessive compulsive and passive aggressive. Most human beings have traits of all these personalities but some have more of each hence have such personality disorder.

Briefly, the paranoid personality wants to seem very important and fears not being important; he is sensitive to being demeaned. The schizoid personality does not care whether other people like him or not, he just lives his life regardless of what other people say about him. The schizotypal personality tends to be interested in pseudo spiritual matters and may believe that she has supernatural powers and claim psychic abilities and is odd and eccentric. The narcissistic personality fancies himself superior to other people, thinks that he is special and that other people ought to admire him; he tends to exploit other people, use them for his goals and discard them when they are no longer useful to him; he does so because he believes that other people are inferior to him. The histrionic personality tends to seek attention through drama, the drama queen and tends to gravitate to men who pay her attention but seems not to pay them attention; she has shallow affect. The borderline personality has many dysfunctional areas in her life; she is confused in many areas and wants other people to take care of her and may cut on herself if others ignore her; she does not seem capable of giving love and attention to other people but craves it from them. The antisocial personality steals and kills and does not feel remorse or guilty; he has a sense of entitlement; he is the typical Nigerian politician, a criminal. The avoidant personality feels inferior and believes that if other people come close to him that they would reject him, so he keeps away from people, while hoping that they take the initiative to accept him. The dependent personality wants other people to take care of him and is a follower and lacks initiative. The obsessive compulsive personality thinks obsessively and acts compulsively and wants to seem perfect. The passive-aggressive personality pleases every body, goes along with all people’s demands on him but resents being imposed on and often finds indirect means to get back at those he feels are imposing their will on him.
I am not going to elaborate on theses personality disorders. You can read up on them. Each of them is an area of specialization in itself.


In his analysis of Judge Shreber’s autobiography, Sigmund Freud hypothesized that there is latent homosexuality in paranoia. Generally, paranoid persons feel weak and restitute with desire to seem tough. Any thing that reminds them of their weakness tends to make them angry.

In our society, homosexuality is equated with weakness. Paranoid persons, therefore, tend to resent homosexuals. If you called a paranoid person a fag, he could kill you. Let me illustrate how this works from a situation I was involved in.

During my first year at the University of Oregon, there was another Igbo chap there. On weekends, both of us went around looking for girls. One Saturday evening, we were in downtown Eugene and heard music coming out of a joint and went in to check it out. We did not know that the joint was a gay bar. We sat down and immediately this middle aged white man sauntered towards us and sat down with us. He said: “boys, (both of us were under twenty) can I buy you drinks”. We said yes. He ordered us two beers. We talked. Then he said: “boys, do you want to have a little fun tonight?’ We asked him how. He said, and I quote: “How about coming to my house for a little sex?” My friend asked him: “Do you have some chicks in your shack?”

The man said: “Don’t be silly, I mean with me”. Before he was done with saying what he said, my friend had slapped him.

Apparently, my friend felt demeaned that this old gizzard saw him as his sex object and hit him real hard. I literally had to drag him out of the gay establishment.

Being approached by a queer for sex made my friend feel small and he tried to restitute, to feel big, with anger and physical violence. If you sexualize a paranoid personality, you make him feel belittled and he could attack you. Paranoid persons can, and do, in fact, kill gay men who approach them for sex.

Freud said that paranoid persons do what they do because, deep down, they are latent homosexuals who repressed their attraction to same gender persons. In the case of the judge he was analyzing, he said that the man, who liked to cross dress, dress as a woman, was a homosexual.

I am not a Freudian and do not accept Freud’s often tortured explanations of human behavior. I think that the more likely explanation is that paranoids feel weak and being seen as homosexual makes them feel weaker and to restitute they attack who ever saw them as homosexual.

My friend attacked the idiot who asked us for a little sex not because he had latent homosexuality, but because, like most overachieving Igbos, he feels inadequate and restitute with desire for superiority and the gay man sexualizing him made him feel like he was weak.

It is interesting how I responded to this incident. It was my first encounter with real life gays and did not know what homosexual people actually do. I went to the library and read up on what the phenomenon is all about. I could not believe what I read, that gay men place their penises into other men’s anuses and that lesbians placed their tongues into other women’s vagina! This is sexual activity? This is absurd.

My attitude towards gay and lesbians is that there is something wrong with them, what it is I do not pretend to know. It is wide world and I do not have to understand everything. I can live with differences provided if you want to practice this form of human depravity you are not around me. I would vomit if I actually see folks doing this sort of thing.

I am an Igbo African; Freud was a German Jew; he probably had different experiences and his experiences led him to his conclusions.

I do not have to accept any idea that does not make sense to me. I do not accept the whole psychoanalytic concept of id, ego and superego, the deal on the unconscious and oedipal complex. Freud hypothesized that we are born with Id instincts (for sex and aggression), that those motivate all our behaviors and that the superego, that is, internalized social norms, tries to restrict the id; that the ego, a sort of referee, mediates between our id (animal nature) and our superego (socialized nature).

Freud further hypothesized that boy children want to have sex with their mothers and that girl children want to have sex with their fathers (oedipal complex). He believed that these desires are not approved by society and are punished should they be given rein to; hence people repress them into their unconscious mind. From the unconscious they still exercise pull on people hence people behave irrationally no matter how rational they hope to behave. Freud would all people came to him and his apostles for psychoanalysis, come lay on his couch and free associate, say whatever comes to their minds without blocking them with reason and that way cathected, bring what is buried deeply in their unconscious to the conscious for him to analyze. Freud believed that it is only after such analysis that people become somewhat normal, otherwise they are hopelessly confused.

On the whole, I do not care much for Freudian speculations. I am an Adlerian, better still; I am me, an Osujian. So, let us move on.

William Meissner (The Paranoid Process) believes that the paranoid person is really a depressed person. He sees paranoid bravados, boastings and quest for power as mask over the individual’s sense of inferiority and personal worthlessness.

Moreover, since the paranoid insists on pure rationality, he appreciates the meaninglessness and purposelessness of being and experiences existential depression. But instead of accepting his depressed view of himself and the world, he uses several ego defense mechanisms (See Anna Freud, The Ego and its Defense Mechanisms) to deal with them. He DENIES what he knows to be true; he DISSOCIATES from his weak real self; he RATIONALIZES his weaknesses, he PROJECTS what he sees in himself that he does not like to other people; he BLAMES other people for his faults; he INTELLECTUALIZES instead of deal with his issues, and engages in REACTION FORMATION, SUBLIMATION, FANTASY, REPRESSION, ACTING OUT, and so on.

My experience with paranoid persons teaches me that they are existentially depressed but deny it and mask that depression with their paranoid efforts to seem powerful. When finally they face their existential reality they must deal with their underlying depression.
(Depression is characterized by loss of interests in activities of daily living, lack of interest in food, sex, sports, interpersonal relationships, work, a feeling of tiredness and lethargy and lack of personal grooming and eventually a wish to kill ones self, and if untreated suicide. Depressed persons, these days, are treated with the various anti depressant medications. I am interested in existential depression, not clinical depression; this aspect of it requires cognitive restructuring and reorientation so that the individual accepts his reality as it and stops seeing him as no good or seeing him as all good. COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY ala Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck helps depressed persons to accept their real selves as is and not put on masks of being who they are not.)


As I see it, the paranoid person wants to seem powerful and independent of others control. He seeks autonomy. Unfortunately, we live in social groups where society controls us. (See Swanson et al, The Paranoid, also see American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, latest edition, sections on paranoia).

The paranoid person is a human being who feels powerless and wants to seem powerful. I think that his inherited biological weaknesses and existential realities make him feel little.

We are born and we shall die. We are mere food for worms. This reality makes us feel vulnerable and powerless.

If we think about it, we are really nothing special. We are nothing. We are valueless and worthless.

But we do not like these existential facts and compensate with imaginary pursuit of importance and worth.

I see human beings trying to seem very important. I know that they are not important; after all, any one of us can kill any one of us. If you want to, you can kill me and if I want to, I can kill you. That is how unimportant our lives are. (Some people use religion to find worth. As Freud pointed out in the Future of an Illusion, some people postulate a father figure who seems to protect them from the precarious world they live in; more importantly, they believe that when they die that they would go to that father figure’s house, heaven, and live there forever and ever and that gives their apparent meaningless existence seeming meaning.)

If I am important how come any human being can kill me? My life is in every human being’s hands. I am very vulnerable, so are you.
I accept my impotence and vulnerability and am at peace with that reality.

My Igbo brothers, like human begins everywhere, refuse to accept their existential reality. Instead, they juxtapose an imaginary important self and want to become it. In pursuit of their various fictional ideal selves, they develop the various mental and personality disorders.

To not have a personality, mental and anxiety disorder, the individual must desist from seeking to be an ideal self that he is not. Unfortunately, people think that they must approximate the ideal selves their cultures bid them to be otherwise they would be nothing.

My Igbo brother called me a failure because I voluntarily took myself out of the social rat race to become somebody important and he is still in that race. He fancies himself struggling to become somebody important and indeed fancies himself already important. He lives in tremendous anxiety and paranoia. He is a miserable man but does not know it.

The paranoid does not know what happiness means; happiness is just being who you are, without pretending to be somebody else.

My goal in this paper is to help my paranoid brothers, those who hate their real selves, reject their existential and biological reality and attempt to become the imaginary ideal selves that their minds constructed to give up their pursuit of chimera. The ideal self is a mental construct, a product of imagination, ideation and cognition. It does not exist in the real world and it isn’t going to exist in the empirical world.

The self concept, real or imaginary, exists only in wishful thinking, in the mind. Ideas leave not their source. The ideal self concept is an idea and is always in the mind that thinks it real. It is not real.

Use your thinking to deconstruct your already constructed self concept and reconstruct it on a better footing. Now construct a healthy self, one that sees you as the same and equal with all people. Use your thinking, mind, to construct a self concept that sees you as unified with all human beings. Go further and see all creation as one.

Oneness can only exist in non-physical form, for the physical must be separated. Matter, space and time are means of separation. We can only unify in formlessness; we can only be in unified state where there is no matter, space and time. Folks call that world the world of God, the polar opposite of our world.

I am not going to allow myself to escape into wooly metaphysics. I just want to describe paranoia and point out the contribution of conditional social acceptance to its genesis.

Of course, other factors, such as inherited individual biology and existential matters play a role in the etiology of paranoia, as they play in most mental, that is, thinking disorders.

In as much as mental disorders are thinking disorders, we can change our thinking so that they are now ordered. When the individual stops desiring unrealistic importance and sees himself as the same with all people and works for our common social interests, he tends to be in peace and is happy. What else can you ask for beside peace and joy?

Peace and happiness is good enough for me. As for material wealth, if it can be obtained while one is at peace, I want it, too, but it is not worth the disturbance of my mind and body.

Igbo society must change and accept all its citizens and all human beings in a non- conditional, positive manner. It must do so if it intends to stop producing paranoids, albeit functional ones. If people are accepted as they are, they become peaceful and happy.

A healthy society gives people peace and happiness. Igbo society must become healthy and give its people peace and happiness.

I dedicate myself to healing the social pathology I see in Alaigbo, Nigeria, Africa and the world.

Posted by Administrator at March 1, 2006 10:04 AM


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