In this paper we seek to offer an essentially sociological explanation of paranoia by way of a detailed examination of the case of an unmarried, ex-school-teacher who for the past 30 years has clung stubbornly to the belief that she is the victim of an ill-defined group of conspirators with the power to control her thoughts and actions. Taking as our starting point Lemert's seminal 1962 paper, we argue that paranoia is best understood, not as a disease in the accepted medical sense, but rather as a desperate attempt on the part of the sufferer to protect self from the consequences of a public identity at odds with self-image, and that its origins are to be sought in a combination of frustrated ambition, persistent failure and emotional isolation

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