How to Protect Adolescents Against Pronoia

Certain current trends in social networks promote attitudes that put young people at risk. Learn how to protect them against pronoia.
How to Protect Adolescents Against Pronoia
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 01 June, 2023

The internet and social networks are a great window to the world for teenagers. Here, they can find opinions of all kinds, but this isn’t always to their benefit. Just as there is nutritious and enriching content, there’s also the spread of dangerous concepts and information, such as drug use or eating disorders. Today we want to talk to you about how to protect your teens from pronoia, a trend that’s gaining momentum and is worth paying attention to.

Maybe this term doesn’t mean much to you, but you’ve probably heard of “the new age,” “the law of attraction,” or “manifestation”. In spaces like TikTok, there’s a proliferation of videos urging young people to adopt certain attitudes, such as toxic positivism, and to perform countless rituals to change their lives. All this under the premise that “the world is conspiring in their favor.”

In this way, what may initially seem harmless and even beneficial, can become a risk when taken to the extreme.

What is pronoia?

The term pronoia was first described in 1982 by Fred H. Goldner and is conceived as the counterpart of paranoia. In paranoia, there’s a strong and irrational belief that the world and other people are out to harm or hurt us. Although there’s no proof or evidence, the person assumes that everything and everyone is against them. Therefore, they become suspicious and mistrustful and tend to isolate themselves and react disproportionately.

On the contrary, in pronoia, it’s assumed that the universe conspires in our favor and that everything always happens for our benefit. The person always expects the best from others and the world. This thinking is apparently positive and certainly very pleasant to adopt. However, it’s dangerous because of its lack of contact with reality.

Young men greeting one another and laughing.
In pronoia, adolescents firmly believe that they’ll receive benefits and praise and that people appreciate them and seek their well-being.

A growing trend among adolescents

This trend has a large presence on social networks. From these perspectives, young people are encouraged to trust blindly in life and in others. In this way, they believe that they can obtain everything they desire solely through their intention and positive attitude. Also, by helping themselves with a series of rituals or autosuggestions to achieve it.

It’s worth mentioning that not all the elements promoted are negative. In fact, optimism is one of the most beneficial character strengths, as it has proven to help us overcome adversity and be happier and more successful. In addition, certain acts of auotsuggestion, such as positive affirmations or creative visualization, can help children feel better, increase their self-esteem, and move toward their goals.

However, pronoia poses several dangers in that it encourages certain unhealthy attitudes. We’ll tell you what they are below.

Toxic positivism

Having a good attitude is very beneficial, but this shouldn’t be misunderstood. The aforementioned currents encourage young people to maintain a constantly positive mood and to always be cheerful, calm, and optimistic. In theory, this will help them to attract what they desire, but in reality, this is utopian.

We all experience adverse situations and with them comes a wide range of emotions that we shouldn’t repress. Anger, sadness, or fear play a role and it’s important to manage them properly to keep us mentally healthy.

External locus of control

Pronia invites us to assume that the world conspires in our favor. However, this implies that we’re not in control, but are dependent on an external entity or energy to provide for us. These attitudes have been linked to the onset of disorders such as anxiety or depression.

Abandoning oneself to external factors can lead adolescents to feel helpless in the face of difficulties. Therefore, they become frustrated and feel incapable in the face of lack of success, as well as paralyzed and disempowered to design and create their own lives.

A teen girl lying on the floor, looking at her cell phone and crying.
Proneness is associated with anxiety disorders and depression, as we all need to feel in control of our own lives.

Lack of action

Pronoia can also lead to inaction. If a young person assumes that the world is moving in their favor, they understand that action isn’t necessary to achieve their purposes. However, merely wishing for something won’t make it happen. Moreover, having this belief can lead to wasting valuable time and opportunities. Initiative, effort, and perseverance are very necessary tools that can be annulled in these cases.

The absence of realism

Finally, this type of thinking leads us to disconnect from reality and ignore the facts, which are those that should really direct us. For example, the adolescent may assume that other people appreciate them and want the best for them when this isn’t the case. Or they may believe that their partner relationship, in which they suffer abuse or mistreatment, has a “why” and everything will work out in their favor. This is actually a risk, because it may prevent them from setting necessary boundaries.

Positivity shouldn’t be taken to the extreme

Ultimately, while pronoia isn’t considered a mental disorder, it does have risk components. Therefore, the logic it follows is similar to that of paranoia, in that it overlooks objective reality. This is why it’s important to pay attention to the content that young people consume on social networks and talk to them about it if we observe that they’re approaching these models of thinking. An optimistic and positive attitude is beneficial, but not when it’s taken to the extreme.

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

  • Doku Ramírez, A., Fonseca Parra, L. F., González Gil, E. J., & Gualdrón Alba, J. C. (2012). Evaluación del Locus de control y su relación con las variables ansiedad y depresión en un grupo de asistentes a atención psicológica (Bachelor’s thesis, Universidad de la Sabana).
  • Gallagher, M. W., Lopez, S. J., & Pressman, S. D. (2013). Optimism is universal: Exploring the presence and benefits of optimism in a representative sample of the world. Journal of Personality81(5), 429-440.
  • Goldner, F. H. (1982). Pronoia. Social Problems30(1), 82-91.

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