The terms ‘neurotic’ and ‘neuroses’ have been used interchangeably and sometimes without understanding for many years. This can give an ominous perception to a set of personality traits, but no real understanding. So, what does it mean to be neurotic?
Understanding a habitual behavior set such as neuroticism allows us to be more self-aware, self-accepting, and learn coping strategies that can enhance the quality of our lives.
These coping strategies can show us how to use our neuroticism to our benefit and limit the amount of distress it causes our mental health.
The first step to understanding what neurotic means is to know that there is a difference between ‘neurotic’ or ‘neuroticism’ and ‘neuroses’. The difference focuses on where the behavior and thought patterns stem from.
A ‘neuroses’ is more closely connected with a depressive or anxiety disorder. This means that there is a psychological diagnosis for behavior and thoughts that limit a person’s ability to function in many areas of their lives.
Being neurotic, or experiencing neuroticism is different. This is a personality type, one of five in the 5 Factor Model of Personality. This means that neurotic traits are a type of personality trait, and many people naturally experience these traits throughout their lifetime.
Now that we understand that neurotic traits are part of a personality type, we can begin to understand more about these personality traits. A neurotic personality refers to a negative and catastrophizing manner of dealing with all types of stressors (big or small). This can lower our level of mental health.
If you have a neurotic personality, you may experience fear, hostility, anger, and self-doubt when facing a situation you find stressful. These negative emotions increase the level of dissatisfaction you may experience with your surroundings and relationships.
Neuroticism operates on a range or a scale, most people experience a low level of neuroticism at points of high stress.
For example, if you are working a full-time job and studying to further your education and your exams are coming up. You may feel negatively towards the exams and constantly worry about failing them. This example of neuroticism is a normal phenomenon and could be put at the ‘One’ on our scale.
If we move up to a ‘Five’, this might be where a small stressor causes a high amount of distress. This could be if you have a normal work deadline that you constantly think about and worry about achieving. This could be part of a neurotic personality.
Moving up to an ‘Eight’, we still are looking at a personality type and not an anxiety disorder. This could be if you obsess over a dish you are going to make for the next family dinner for weeks before. You keep changing the ingredients and feel like crying when you must make the dish.
Reaching the ‘Ten’ on the scale, you might be looking at a possible mood disorder such as an anxiety disorder and it would be a good idea to visit a psychotherapist or doctor.
If you feel that you are on the scale from about Five to Nine, then your negative emotions are at the forefront of your mind and will be the way you view each new situation. This could mean you have neurotic traits that affect your mental health.
There are a range of traits or behaviors and thought patterns you can look for to suggest a neurotic personality type. You can observe yourself and reflect whether these are traits are true for you, on the other hand you could have a personality assessment and a few psychotherapy or counselling sessions done to help you understand your personality and how to manage it.
Here are some common personality traits of a neurotic personality:
These traits may vary in frequency and intensity between from person to person.
Having a neurotic personality may put you at risk for developing an anxiety type disorder as resiliency is low. The general state of your mental health is also lowered by the negative feelings. This may make you feel more negative about having a neurotic personality.
However, there are benefits that can come from a neurotic personality! It is simply a way of viewing these behaviors and ensuring that the scale of intensity is not reaching towards Ten.
People with a neurotic personality experience keen observational skills. If these skills are not only directed towards noticing the negative possibilities, then there is much room for noticing interesting details in each new situation.
These details can start to be appreciated and bring you joy.
With assistance you can learn to manage your stress. A person with neurotic personality traits can become really good at managing their stress because they are so self-aware.
Self-awareness is an important skill to have. Commonly the neurotic personality traits would couple self-awareness with self-criticism. However, if this can be reframed and the self-criticism is managed then the benefits of self-awareness for growth can be felt.
A person with neurotic tendencies has experienced a wide range of emotions at varying intensities. This allows them to be more empathetic with others, as they have a high likelihood of having experienced a similar emotion.
This can be used to develop compassion and caring, which increases mental health and strengthens social bonds. The strengthened social bonds form a good support network for the person with neurotic tendencies. A support network is a helpful intervention to manage the intensity of the neurotic traits.
Neurotic traits often mean a person is able to see risks easily. If the neurotic traits are not managed, then the potential risks might become so overwhelming that they cause acute anxiety and limit a person’s functioning.
However, if the intensity is managed then being aware of possible safety risks is helpful as it keeps you safe and out of danger.
It is also highly likely that a person with neurotic traits will be prepared for stressful situations as their thought patterns run through possible scenarios to ensure that they are prepared for negative situations.
As we can see, neuroticism is not necessarily a bad or problematic thing. The key seems to be ‘management’. This concept of management draws the line between using your neurotic traits to benefit you instead of them controlling you.
There are many things you can try to help you manage these behaviors and thought patterns. You will need to experiment with different tools and strategies to find the ones that work best for you. It may be scary at first and facing the fear may not seem possible. Take a deep breath and choose yourself – choose to work towards being emotionally stable and feel joy.
Being mindful means, you are authentically anchored in the present moment. When this occurs, it is much harder for your mind to race and catastrophize the situation you happen to be in.
Mindfulness is an active process; it is something that needs to be done consciously. One way of helping you gain perspective and support being mindful is keeping a journal.
A journal can be a useful tool as it can contain reflections on the day, notes of positive aspects you noticed and observations on how you managed your neurotic traits.
Neuroticism comes with a high sense of self-criticism. Being harsh and judgmental towards yourself can be detrimental to your self-image and self-worth.
The aim is instead to feel compassionate self-acceptance. You cannot change your personality traits, therefore criticizing yourself for having them is not helpful.
Full self-acceptance may sound very daunting, so perhaps focus on the following question:
Is this thought about myself useful to me?
If the thought is not useful, maybe because it is judgmental, then try to reframe it. For example, if you started a new style of dance and you were battling to pick up the steps, you might think:
“I’m so stupid.” This is not a useful thought. If we reframe it, the thought could look like this:
“I’m battling with these steps because I have only just started.” This thought is much more realistic and useful.
Therapeutic intervention can assist by providing a variety of strategies to manage neurotic traits and build support systems, supportive habits, and new ways to view your reality.
Strategies similar to reframing and using scales as mentioned in the article can be incorporated into daily life with the guidance of a therapeutic intervention.
Neuroticism forms one of the five main personality types and is not necessarily a disorder. It can be managed with a variety of strategies.
Many of the management strategies for neuroticism that exist will initially benefit from psychotherapy. This will give you an opportunity to learn more about what it means to experience neuroticism and how to manage it.
You can contact us at One Life Counselling and Coaching to start your journey.