20 Examples Of Neurotic Behavior

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Those who experience neurosis may find themselves overthinking, frequently worrying, unable to let things go, or preoccupied with their overall health, their job, or the opinions of others. Neurotic tendencies can interfere with work, relationships, and your overall state of mind. Although the term “neurotic” may be used in an unflattering way, it can also be employed as a mental health descriptor. Having neurotic tendencies may be challenging, but there can be ways to manage neurotic thoughts and behaviors, such as building self-esteem and taking care of your physical and emotional health. One of the most important strategies to manage neuroticism may be seeing a therapist to gain emotional insight.

What is neuroticism?

Neuroticism and neurotic disorders do not have the same meaning, nor do they entirely relate when it comes to the field of psychiatric epidemiology. Neuroticism may no longer be an official diagnosis, but it can still be used as a descriptor for specific symptoms of a mental illness, including some depressive disorders. It is also one of the “big five personality traits,” which can be found in the five-factor model of personality traits. Neuroticism can also be distinct from the term “neurosis,” which can reference a possibly-outdated Freudian disorder related to neurotic traits. 

In some cases, neurotic behavior and higher neuroticism scores may indicate broader concerns. Some common examples of neurotic behavior can include obsessing over what others think and exhibiting an anxious temperament. Someone who lives with neuroses may have trouble when they make mistakes at school or work. They may also be overly critical of themselves and others. 

Neuroticism and anxious behaviors

Are you wondering how to tell if you're neurotic? One behavior neurotic personalities may exhibit is chronic worrying, which can be a symptom of many anxiety disorders. While neuroticism and a diagnosed anxiety disorder (like generalized anxiety disorder) are different, a neurotic person may feel worried about their behavior and how others see them. They may feel fearful that others dislike them, so they might frequently ask for reassurance. It can be distressing to those around them when they frequently ask, “Did I do something wrong? Is everything okay?” While everyone tends to worry sometimes, when someone’s work or relationships are negatively impacted by worry, it can be a sign that neuroticism has reached a harmful level.

American psychologist and researcher Richard Zinbarg discovered that people living with neurotic tendencies may also be highly sensitive and empathetic. While they might be vulnerable to negative traits or behaviors because of this, they may also exhibit positive ones like more emotional intelligence, easily picking up on friends’ feelings, and wanting to help them. 

Other research into the benefits of neuroticism has been done, including a study done by the University of Rochester Medical Center. Their research suggests that neuroticism was associated with lower levels of Interleukin 6, a biomarker that can serve as one of the main risk factors for inflammation and chronic disease. 

Examples of neurotic behavior

A man wearing a blue collared shirt is standing in front of the kitchen counter and chopping tomatoes with a focused expression.
Experiencing neurotic tendencies?

The common characteristics in the list below can indicate neuroticism in some cases, especially if many of the behaviors are displayed on a consistent basis. However, it may be normal and healthy to experience some of these behaviors occasionally, while others could carry some public health significance and require intervention. 

1. Constantly feeling irritable

Irritability can manifest in numerous ways. For example, a neighbor may display neurotic behavior when they routinely complain about minor issues or negative stimuli. If they constantly ask you to be quiet, stay away from their property line, or keep your kids off their sidewalk, they may be exhibiting neurotic behavior. It’s also possible that this behavior can be explained in another way such as the person feeling highly defensive of their property or peace.

2. Complaining about physical symptoms without a medical reason

Some neurotic behavior comes in the form of complaints about legitimate physical symptoms that have no physical medical cause, but stem from mental health conditions like anxiety. Stress, coping with major life changes, and other shorter-term events may cause health anxiety to happen temporarily. However, consistently worrying about one’s health without cause may indicate someone has a neurotic personality.

3. Road rage and anger over small mistakes

Those who experience road rage can display neurotic behavior. They may be aware that everyone makes mistakes, but they may still exhibit heightened reactivity and rage while driving. Over-the-top anger at minor mistakes may be a sign of a neurotic personality type.

4. Constant anxiety about your child’s safety and health

Parental neuroses over the common risks children take can result in “helicopter parenting.” Although they may be well-intentioned, the extreme worry these parents exhibit may not be creating the conditions for a normal childhood. The parents’ neuroticism may increase the presence of negative emotionality or thoughts in their own children, causing them to be more self-conscious in the long run.

5. Being overly aware of psychological symptoms

In some cases, individuals may know that they’re displaying neurotic symptoms and fixate on what these symptoms could mean and whether they will reduce their quality of life. An obsession with potential mental illnesses can result in worsened symptoms and become a vicious cycle of overlapping mental disturbances. 

6. Feeling distressed over everyday events

Some people may exhibit neurotic behavior by experiencing stress in relation to minor events. This is sometimes referred to as “trait anxiety”, or fear in response to regular experiences that wouldn’t typically cause excessive stress. For example, they may become upset when they spill their breakfast cereal or arrive ten minutes late to meet a friend.

7. Guilty behavior

People who have the traits of a neurotic personality variation may constantly feel guilty over things that aren’t their fault. They may also behave guiltily when what they’ve done is so minor that no one even noticed it or thought anything of it. In addition, they display other traits relating to guilt, like excessive apologies or the avoidance of eye contact.

8. Obsessive thinking or ruminating

Those with neurotic behavior may experience obsessive thoughts or frequent rumination, in which they play back situations in their mind and analyze them over and over. They may also ruminate about mental health conditions like a panic disorder or the associated issues, like panic attacks. 

9. Perfectionism and difficulty attaining career aspirations

People who are perfectionists may spend more time than necessary completing tasks because they’re determined to avoid making a mistake, and this can be a neurotic behavior. Sometimes, the fear of not being perfect may lead them to procrastinate or avoid tasks that they need to complete. This could make it challenging for them to complete projects or progress in their career.

10. Dependency

Those living with neurotic tendencies may be particularly dependent on others to meet their needs, rather than taking action to fulfill their needs themselves.

11. Trouble getting along at work or attaining financial aspirations

People with neurotic tendencies may have trouble getting along with others at work. Social psychiatry can shed light on these neurotic behaviors, which can include neediness, complaining, or being argumentative. Left unchecked, these behaviors can take a toll on work relationships and keep people from succeeding at work in the way they should. This may also cause them to have difficulty making a steady income or reaching their financial goals.

12. Difficulty taking care of basic needs

Neuroticism can keep someone from taking care of their basic needs, such as bathing and grooming, due to feelings of stress and anxiety. It’s possible for these people to have trouble sticking to a healthy eating plan or getting enough sleep because minor disturbances can lead to them being overwhelmed. Research also suggests neuroticism may also be a risk factor for the development of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

13. Relationship problems


Relationship problems may be common for people who live with neurotic tendencies. They may experience self-doubt, low self-esteem, and other personality or mental health concerns. This could lead to doubts about their partner being faithful or other concerns that may affect their relationship.

14. Being dramatic

Someone displaying neurotic behavior may seem easily disturbed and stir up controversy among their friends. They might experience intense emotion and strong reactions in response to minor frustrations or incidents. 

15. Excessive sadness over minor events

While being sad over a major loss is generally healthy, excessive sadness or crying over small setbacks may indicate neurotic behavior. For example, if someone lost the pen they used to sign the mortgage on their first house and got upset to the point that it affected their functioning, that could indicate neurotic behavior.

16. Envious behavior or unreasonable aspirations

People who display neuroticism may have feelings of envy toward others or want what they can’t have. They may want the possessions, opportunities, or advantages others have; in some cases, they may even want to be them. They may express these desires with behaviors such as sabotaging, stealing, or begging others to give them what they have.

17. Reacting negatively to neutral events

Sometimes, an event that upsets a person with neurotic tendencies may be neutral in actuality. For instance, a mail carrier might place a package on your doorstep rather than knocking first to get your attention. If you get upset anyway, even though you ultimately received the package without any issues, this could be a neurotic behavior.

18. Panicking in relatively non-threatening situations

It can be common to panic in threatening situations as part of your ingrained fight-or-flight response. However, panicking when nothing in the environment is threatening could be driven by neuroticism.

19. Displaying emotional instability

Those who are easily thrown off-balance by minor events and circumstances or demonstrate emotional volatility may be experiencing neurotic tendencies. Emotional instability can be an example of neurotic behavior.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Experiencing neurotic tendencies?

20. Inability to function in everyday life after an unrelated trauma

People who react strongly to something non-traumatic in the present can be responding to a past trauma. Sometimes, this can be an example of a neurotic tendency.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

What does neurotic behavior indicate?

As stated above, neuroticism is no longer a diagnosis, nor is it officially used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, neuroticism t is often considered a type of behavior that may require further analysis. Neuroticism can exist on a spectrum, and some people may show higher levels than others. Additionally, you may be emotionally stable and still have days where you show some neurotic behaviors.

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.

How to improve neurotic behavior

Some ways to manage neurotic behavior may include:

  • Building your self-esteem
  • Making an effort to do things for yourself rather than relying on others
  • Establishing and fulfilling clear responsibilities
  • Positive thinking and changing your mindset
  • Learning to stay calm in everyday situations
  • Cultivating a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for what you have
  • Taking good care of yourself mentally and physically
  • Avoid risky behaviors or unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Reminding yourself that it may not be worth getting upset over minor negative events

Neurotic behaviors may be difficult to change by yourself, and you may wish to get help to overcome them. Treatment for neurotic behaviors might include anything from meditation to cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavior therapy that includes instruction and reinforcement can change neurotic behavior as well.

You can talk to a licensed therapist for help with neurotic behavior in person or through online therapy, which has been shown to be effective for anxiety, depression, and various other mental health concerns or mental disorders. Online therapy can happen at your convenience, when and where it works best for you. You may also gain privilege to a live chat feature so that you can reach out to your therapist in between sessions.


Neurotic behaviors can include preoccupations with work or school, health, and others’ opinions, as well as frequent worrying, overthinking, and seemingly over-the-top emotional reactions to everyday events. In some cases, these neurotic tendencies may negatively impact various parts of your life. Personality development techniques, cultivating gratitude and satisfaction, working on your self-esteem, and caring for yourself physically and emotionally may help you manage neuroticism. Online therapy can be another way to address any mental health concerns related to neurotic behaviors. 

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