What exactly are neuroticism and neurotic behaviors?
Have you heard the terms before, but aren’t sure exactly what they mean? Are they actually different? Are they diagnosable conditions? Do they impair daily life? How do you know if you exhibit the symptoms and behaviors yourself?
The terms themselves have negative connotations–but unlike in the 20th century when they would be used as diagnoses, these terms are just descriptions.
Neurotic behaviors are how neuroticism presents, but what exactly is neuroticism? You may think (because of the –ism suffix attached to it) that it’s a medical condition, but neuroticism is actually a personality trait.
It is generally accepted that there are 5 Big Personality types. These types are:
This doesn’t mean that everyone has only one of these traits–we are all a combination of them, ranking high or low on each type to create your own unique personality.
The neuroticism type is described as: “a broad personality trait dimension representing the degree to which a person experiences the world as distressing, threatening, and unsafe. Each individual can be positioned somewhere on this personality dimension between extreme poles: perfect emotional stability versus complete emotional chaos. Highly neurotic individuals tend to be labile (that is, subject to frequently changing emotions), anxious, tense, and withdrawn.”
Neurotic behaviors, therefore, are common maladaptive or destructive coping mechanisms that develop from the unique level of neuroticism that one may experience within their personality. Those who rank high on the neuroticism type would exhibit more of these behaviors than those who scored low on the scale.
Often these behaviors can be symptoms of other disorders exasperated by the neuroticism personality trait. Neurotic behaviors leave the individual in a prolonged state of anxiety or stress, often leading to exhaustion, but do not necessarily impair everyday functioning.
According to Psychology Today, “neurotic” is a term used to describe “a broad category of conditions that were associated with poor functioning, anxiety and depression, but were clearly differentiated from “psychotic” in that in contrast to individuals in the latter category, neurotics maintained contact with reality and were rarely engaged in highly deviant, socially unacceptable behavior.”
So what are some of these neurotic behaviors?
Constant anxiety and distress that come with neuroticism can lead to an increased level of general irritability.
2). Disproportionate Distress over Daily Events
When your response to minor negative events is the same as the emotional response to big, horrible things happening, your emotional responses may be off-balance. This is often the case with those who exhibit signs of neuroticism. If minor inconveniences derail your positive emotions for the day, it is probably neuroticism.
3). Excessive Guilt
People with a high level of neuroticism often feel an excessive amount of guilt. Do you feel guilty for things that aren’t your fault, that couldn’t possibly be your fault? DO you adjust your behavior to reflect that guilt? This may be a presentation of neuroticism.
When you are overcome with anxiety over things going wrong, perfectionism becomes a natural coping mechanism. With the fear of performing poorly, people with high scoring neuroticism often spend much longer than they need too on simple projects–not wanting to say they are complete until they are sure it’s perfect.
5). Difficulty Taking Care of Everyday Needs
If you are often overwhelmed by anxiety, sadness, guilt, or other equally overpowering emotions, it is likely you will be exhausted by them. That leaves you in a hard spot–too upset or tired or mentally preoccupied to take care of your own basic needs. Things like regular meals, tidying up, bathing regularly, etc. become too difficult because of the emotional and mental state your neuroticism leaves you in.
6). Panic in Non-Threatening Situations
In life-threatening situations, fight-or-flight is a helpful tool that allows us reflexive action to ensure survival. However, in non-threatening situations, the panic that ensues is no longer a tool to be used to make a decision, but an emotional wall seemingly impossible to knock down. Instead of aiding in survival, this exaggerated response can prevent you from helpful & productive decision making.
Neurotic behaviors are nothing to be ashamed of. However, if this list reminded you of your own behaviors, it may be time to figure out some different ways to cope so you’re not so distressed. This can be a great topic to dig into with a therapist, if you feel ready to discuss it.
Are you interested in discussing neurotic behaviors with a therapist? We offer both online and in-person therapy at our Houston office. Our professional and dedicated Houston therapists and counselors are waiting to help you. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment for online counseling services if you think we can help. Contact us at (832)413-2410, or you can book an appointment online or schedule an online counseling session.