What does it mean to be neurotic, and what are the signs you’re a neurotic person? Is it a bad thing to be neurotic? We’re going to cover these questions in this article, but first, I’d encourage you to do some self-reflection.
Do you feel anxious quite often, about upcoming meetings or just your to-do list in general? Are you often feeling unpleasant emotions of worry or concern, or often experiencing psychological distress? Do you overthink or feel fear or sadness more than you’d like?
Neuroticism, or being neurotic, is a personality trait involving a tendency to be anxious, negative, irrational, fearful or even drastic. Aggression in response to a perceived threat, as well as fear and sadness are common for those with this personality trait.
Are you generally optimistic when you think about potential outcomes? Do you typically feel positive, optimistic, confident, and calm? If so, you’re probably not neurotic.
Being neurotic hinders your ability to be emotionally stable. It’s also often a contributing factor in the development of mental illnesses such as major depression and anxiety disorders.
This personality trait affects your cognitive thinking and behaviour.
Neuroticism VS Typical Anxious Thoughts
It’s normal to feel anxiety over an important job interview or over a major life stressor. However, when anxiety, fear or propensity to overthink is happening all the time even over minor stuff, it is known as being neurotic.
Try telling a neurotic person, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and they’ll tell you that’s easier said than done. Some people only have anxious thoughts when something major is happening in their life, and those people likely don’t possess the personality trait of neuroticism.
Remember Woody Allen from Toy Story? He had an audible narration going on as the story progressed. This happens in real life for some of us, too. If you’re neurotic, a perpetual thought bubble (often of negative thoughts) hangs over your head, and you’re often unable to burst it. When it feels like every thought and feeling is troubling or concerning you, it’s called ‘neurosis’ in clinical terms.
Neuroticism: An Unfortunate Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
Those who believe in the “Law of Attraction” believe that negative thoughts bring negative experiences into a person’s life.
There could be some truth to this. Some people worry about everything and are overly pessimistic. They worry about someone they’re dating losing interest, a relationship ending, going broke, losing friends, or getting fired from their job. Sometimes, whatever they’re spending so much time worrying about actually happens.
It turns out these neurotic individuals have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Two people can be going through the same situation with the same shot at success, and the neurotic one with a negative outlook on it will likely be the one who fails. This is just one example of how neurosis can lead to self-harm and an overall decreased satisfaction with life.
Are There Benefits of Being Neurotic?
While there are certainly many detriments and drawbacks of being neurotic, there are some benefits as well. Sigmund Freud, legendary neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis famously said, “Neurotics complain of their illness, but they make the most of it, and when it comes to taking it away from them they will defend it like a lioness her young.”
People with neurotic personalities tend to be more intelligent and pragmatic. They think ahead and prepare for negative outcomes.
What are some other upsides to being neurotic? Neurotic people tend to be highly sensitive and vulnerable. They are empathetic towards others and can easily pick up on others’ feelings. This means they’re intuitive, which can be of great quality. They want to help people whenever possible, fix issues, or settle disputes. These people often turn out to be good friends and understanding partners.
Neurosis can turn advantageous if you use negative thought patterns to improve your life. You can reach your goals easily by planning in advance for a potentially negative outcome. Self-criticism can be both a challenge and an opportunity if you know how to use it. When used for blaming, it’s a problem. When used for improving on your weaknesses, it’s a blessing in disguise.
That being said, moderation is key. If the behaviour is mild, it won’t hurt anyone. If it’s severe, then it could pose a threat to yourself as well as others.
Think of neuroticism as a potential superpower, only if you know how to wield it.
Signs You’re a Neurotic Person
What does it mean to be neurotic, and how can you find out if you are? There are some signs to watch out for. For example, you can tell if you have a tendency to be neurotic by observing how you react to small inconveniences in life. In other words, you often sweat the small stuff.
Below are some highly neurotic personality traits that you can look out for:
You’re Hypervigilant and See Situations Through a Negative Lens
Hypervigilance is a state of increased concern and alertness, where you’re extremely sensitive to your surroundings. You’re constantly aware of everything going on around you, looking for signs of trouble to watch for. You pick up people’s body language with ease. Similarly, you’re analyzing every word that comes out of people’s mouths, often hearing it with a negative lens. You are aware of possible rejection, deception, ulterior motives and true colours. That being said, you are a little volatile and respond to stress with irritability. You have trouble controlling your emotions.
Some neurotic people are highly avoidant. They may avoid conversations with their boss, their partner, or their friends out of fear that it will go badly. They tend to assume it will go badly.
Some neurotic people also say “No” to adventure sports, wild trips, or any other activity that may potentially go badly and cause concern. It’s common to prefer predictable and familiar activities with people they trust. Many neurotic people also try to avoid being the centre of attention, out of fear. It’s better to go unnoticed than receive unwanted attention that could be negative.
You’re Productive, Restless, and Have Anxiety While Sitting Still
For some neurotic people, sitting still and doing nothing causes anxiety. They try to sit still and watch a show, but they don’t feel relaxed. They’ll often spend their energy being productive instead of letting themselves be bored, or letting themselves relax.
You Believe in Murphy’s Law
If you’re neurotic, you subscribe to the notion that there’s a better chance of something going wrong than of it going according to plan. Due to this internal belief, you have a pragmatic personality. You plan for the worst-case scenario and mentally prepare for the worst outcome. When things go right, it’s like Christmas for you. When you notice yourself feeling optimistic instead of pessimistic, you might be very caught off guard – in a good way.
You Accept Your Weaknesses
Since neurotic people are not overly optimistic or very confident, they accept their limitations. Be it removing a mental health stigma, calibrating their strengths, or preparing for an event – they know their capabilities and weaknesses well. Not much can surprise you about yourself if you’re neurotic, as you’ve already analyzed your personality to death.
Is Neurosis a Diagnosis?
Neurosis is not a diagnosis per se. It’s more of an indication that there might be issues you need to work through. Neurosis could contribute to the development of Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Medical or clinical help is typically only needed when your neurotic, negative thoughts have so much power over you, that you’re significantly impaired in your daily life functioning.
What Should You Do if You’re Neurotic?
Knowing whether you can benefit from help with neurosis is a difficult decision. The first step is asking yourself how much neurosis affects your life. If this is a personality trait that drastically affects your life, your relationship with yourself, and your relationship with others, you should speak to a psychiatrist.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you often feel depressed, fearful, avoidant or anxious?
- Are you often easily irritable for no reason?
- Have you developed unhealthy addictions in order to deal with looming negative thoughts and difficult emotions?
- Do you self-medicate to calm your neurotic thoughts with substances such as drugs and alcohol?
- Are your personal relationships being affected by your neuroticism?
- Is your relationship with yourself (for example, self-love or self-esteem) being impaired?
If yes, you might need help, including counselling. This level of self-analysis can be difficult for some people but if you persist, you’ll be able to zone in on your issue.
Therapists can help you by talking about specific instances of neurotic behaviour so that they can get to its root cause. For example, the root cause of your fears, and help you discredit those irrational fears. In many cases, therapists can help you identify the source of your problem and develop coping strategies. In some supremely severe cases, a physician may prescribe medication. However, counselling and psychotherapy should be the first step.
The good news is that there’s help out there for those who need it. There are several books by experts with techniques to deal with neurosis on your own, if you can’t afford counselling. However, I’d highly suggest giving up that $6 latte or that expensive takeout sometimes, to start saving up for counselling. It’s worth the money. Try going to therapy just twice per month, which is only going to cost about $300 per month. If there’s no way you can afford it, call your local university and ask about free counselling through practicum programs.
Get to Know Your Personality
Since so many personality traits are genetic, you might be interested to know that included in a CircleDNA test, you get a personality report. If you take the DNA test, you’ll get access to over 500 reports about yourself in over 20 categories, personality reports being one of the most interesting.