Understanding the Cores of Neuroticism

neurotic aesthetic

By: Cordelia Bloom

Before jumping into the article, please enjoy an original poem written by Sky Rivera, a debut author and ABA therapist, titled Neurotic (2023):

I feel so much

I feel immensely 

I feel every thing

All at once, 

So intensely 

Because of this

I scream

I yell, 

Please get me 

Out of this hell

Irritability 

Emotional instability

All these things

Will be the death 

Of me

I criticize

I over analyze 

I’m really

Crying for help

On the inside

So volatile

Trapped 

Unable to breathe

I promise

I’ll be a better me

So what I guess

I’m trying to say is

I know I need help

But I can’t win this Battle all by myself

What It Means to Actually Be Neurotic 

Picture this:

You’re sitting in your favorite coffee or tea shop, and you’re either enjoying a cup of happiness, writing a short story, or texting a friend to join. Suddenly you look up from your space (your laptop or journal or phone if it fits you better) because you instantly hear or feel an angsty-energy radiating like a nuclear bomb—you see them coming from a mile away! 

That family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker who obsessively analyzes every single ounce of thought, feeling, and action. And then, of course, proceed to analyze their analysis. And if there isn’t an audible narration playing about the daily life or mapping out every possible negative outcome to future actions, you can be sure to hear it whether it’s being directed to you or not. 

We certainly know them, we definitely love-hate them, the Nietzsches or Woody Allens of the world, better known in clinical terms as neurotics.

Neuroticism is defined by a propensity toward anxiety, negativity, and self-doubt (Chung, 2023). It is often experienced by constantly rehashing worst–case scenarios in our heads, and can be linked to a high level of guilt, worry, fear, and depression. Neuroticism is one of the Big Five Personality Traits recognized by psychologists, along with extroversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness (Psychology Today, n.d.). 

As with all personality traits, neuroticism exists on a spectrum, so all of us are at least a little bit neurotic.

The common characteristics in the list below can indicate neurotic tendencies in most cases, especially if many of the behaviors are displayed on a regular basis (BetterHelp, 2023):

  • constantly feeling irritable
  • road rage and anger over small mistakes
  • constant anxiety about your child’s safety and health (or others’)
  • being overly aware of psychological symptoms
  • feeling distressed over everyday events
  • trouble getting along at work or having relationship problems
  • panicking in relatively non-threatening situations or reacting negatively to neutral events

Other neurotic behaviors include expressing guilty or envious behavior, obsessive thinking or ruminating, perfectionism, dependency, displaying emotional instability, being dramatic, among others (BetterHelp, 2023).

The Upside of Being Neurotic  

A little neuroticism though, can be good for the soul. These personality types tend to be intelligent, humorous, have more realistic (if cynical) expectations, a greater self-awareness, drive and conscientiousness, they take fewer risks, and have a strong need to provide for others (Tzeses, 2021). 

Neurotics also possess emotional depth. Some of the world’s famous thinkers and most creative minds had neurotic personalities! For instance-

  • Albert Einstein
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Frida Kahlo 
  • Elizabeth Blackburn
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Steve Jobs
  • Larry Davids

What do all of these prodigies have in common? They exemplify the complex relationship between neuroticism and creativity. Their experiences shed light on the intricate connection between emotional turmoil, the search for meaning, and the creative process, inspiring us to appreciate the unique perspectives and artistic achievements born from neurotic minds (Sensebridge, 2023a).

Many other brilliant minds have swept this earth with their unconventional, intense and bold, anxiety-driven neurotic personalities. This is a debated personality trait since it may be considered a double-edged sword—since on one side, it can lead to anxiety and emotional instability and on the other, it can also fuel creativity and lead to iconic works of art—and so the best we’re able to do is to find healthy ways to cope, handle our stress and keep our frantic in check. 

Journaling for Neurotics

Ever thought about journaling as a coping mechanism? 

Neurotics have the tendency to suppress emotions and to avoid them, which makes addressing the source of distress more difficult. Writing serves as a healthy outlet to confront, release, and manage our emotions. Positive affect journaling has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve well-being (Guest Author, 2023). The act of writing thoughts and feelings helps people understand themselves more and recognize what they need to improve.

The key here is to self-reflect through journaling. This may potentially shed light on what is at the core of our struggles. Here are some tips for using journaling as a self-reflection practice for managing neuroticism (Sensebridge, 2023b):

  • Write openly: one can begin to mend and to work through a situation by being honest and acknowledging what’s being felt, and essentially learn and develop to cope.
  • Identify triggers: when journaling, it’s important to be conscious about the moments that provoke worry or tend to trigger anxiety. By identifying those, we’re able to develop coping strategies.
  • Practice mindfulness: being present with our thoughts or feelings while journaling, we become more aware of our emotions, and therefore able to manage them effectively.
  • Set goals: by also setting specific goals to manage our negative emotions, we keep track of our real progress (the big picture) and divert from an “I give up” path.
  • Reflect on positive experiences. 
  • Write gratitude lists.
  • Use affirmations: affirmations help shift our mindset (negative to positive). When journaling, we’re encouraged to write resonating affirmations and to read them regularly. This can help us develop a more positive outlook on life and reduce anxiety and worry.
  • Seek support: looking for a mental health professional is always an option. They’re able to provide us with strategies and tools for managing our emotions and improving your mental well-being.

Journaling is a powerful tool for our overall well-being. With this particular exercise, if practiced on a daily basis, we eventually learn how to cope more easily between the mix of our thoughts, ideas, feelings, and behaviors (and others) with the hectic everyday demands. In doing so, we’d eventually develop a more positive outlook on life. And that, my dear reader, is a grand thing we mustn’t forget. 

BetterHelp, the world’s largest therapy online service, offers the following ways to manage neurotic behaviors (2023):

  • building our self-esteem
  • making an effort to do things ourselves rather than relying on others
  • establishing and fulfilling clear responsibilities
  • learning to stay calm in everyday situations
  • cultivating a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for what we have
  • taking good care of ourselves mentally and physically
  • reminding ourselves that it may not be worth getting upset over minor negative events

Neuroticism can be difficult to overcome, but if there’s one thing we can all say we’ve learned is that there are effective ways to reduce its intensity and help us cope better. Being neurotic is nothing to be ashamed of; we must address our struggles head on by seeking therapy, making lifestyle adjustments, and/or fortifying our support system.

Use this opportunity to journal with The Love Story and share what you’re feeling at this moment. The Love Story is a safe space that welcomes everyone to write freely, while participating in workshops, where journal prompts are often used to inspire. Journal with The Love Story by clicking the link below.

Begin Journaling Here

Disclaimer: If you habitually behave in neurotic ways, then you might be experiencing a mental health condition and may wish to reach out for support from a professional. Neurotic behaviors may be difficult to change alone. Treatment might include anything from meditation to cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavior therapy that includes instruction and reinforcement can change neurotic behavior as well.

References

BetterHelp Editorial Team. (2023, September 26). 20 Examples of neurotic behavior. BetterHelp. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/neuroticism/20-examples-of-neurotic-behavior/

Chung, M. (2019, March 23). What it means to be “neurotic”. Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/what-it-means-to-be-neurotic/#:~:text=Neuroticism%20is%20defined%20by%20a,worry%2C%20fear%2C%20and%20depression

Guest Author. (2023, January 9). 4 Journaling techniques for better mental health. rtor.org. https://www.rtor.org/2023/01/09/4-journaling-techniques-for-better-mental-health/#:~:text=Positive%20affect%20journaling%20is%20another,mental%20distress%2C%20especially%20anxiety%20symptoms

Psychology Today Staff. (n.d.). Neuroticism. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/neuroticism#:~:text=Neuroticism%2C%20one%20of%20the%20Big,much%20more%20neurotic%20than%20others.

Rivera, S. (2023). Neurotic. Unpublished collection of poems.

Sensebridge. (2023a, March 28). Famous thinkers on neuroticism: Insights into the minds of creatives. Sensebridge School. https://sensebridge.school/taxonomy/neuroticism/famous-thinkers-on-neuroticism-insights-into-the-minds-of-creatives/

Sensebridge. (2023b, March 28). Journaling for neuroticism: A self-reflection practice for understanding and coping with negative emotions. Sensebridge School. https://sensebridge.school/articles/step-by-step-practices/journaling-for-neuroticism-a-self-reflection-practice-for-understanding-and-coping-with-negative-emo/

Tzeses, J. (2021, August 31). What being neurotic really means. Psycom. https://www.psycom.net/neuroticism

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