20 Examples of Neurotic Behavior

By Nadia Khan

Updated July 29, 2019

Reviewer Aaron Horn

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According to the American Psychological Association, the word "neurotic is defined as:

"n. Any one of a variety of mental disorders characterized by significant anxiety or other distressing emotional symptoms, such as persistent and irrational fears, obsessive thoughts, compulsive acts, dissociative states, and somatic and depressive reactions. The symptoms do not involve gross personality disorganization, total lack of insight, or loss of contact with reality (compare psychosis). In psychoanalysis, neuroses are generally viewed as exaggerated, unconscious methods of coping with internal conflicts and the anxiety they produce. Most of the disorders that used to be called neuroses are now classified as anxiety disorders. Also called psychoneurosis. -neurotic adj., n."

"You're Neurotic!"

When a person is called "neurotic", it may sound like an insult, but it's a descriptor. Many people find themselves over thinking or worrying to the point of distress. Neurotic people are those who find it difficult to let go of things that make you anxious. You find yourself preoccupied with your health, job, or the opinions of your friends and loved ones. Everyone has quirks, but people who have neuroses have a lot of little eccentricities. They're not trying to appear different from those around them; they happen to worry more than the average person. Yes, they are different, and there's nothing wrong with that. Being neurotic isn't easy, but there are ways to manage it, and part of that is seeing a therapist to gain emotional insight. But before we get there, let's explore what it means to have neuroses. What does it mean to be neurotic?

Personality Traits Include Neuroticism

According to psychological research, there are five core aspects to an individual's personality an individual's personality. These attributes are referred to as "the big five." The traits are an openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion-introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Sometimes they are referred to using the acronym OCEAN or CANOE. Psychologists use assessments and evaluations to determine which of these traits an individual has. They also determine how much the person expresses the feature.

Psychologists use this five-factor model to help understand people's relationships in a social setting as well as how they will behave on the job. When a person is determined to be neurotic, they might obsess about what others think about them and have a more anxious temperament than others. Someone who struggles with neuroses may have difficulty when they make mistakes at school or work. They might be critical of themselves and others on the job or at school.

Sigmund Freud Defines Neuroses.

Freud is known for talking about neuroses and what makes a person neurotic. He wrote a lot about neuroses. And, the idea of what it means to be neurotic was integral to the psychoanalytic writings of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud talked a lot about psychoneuroses. Freud believed that psychoneuroses happened due to unconscious conflicts of a sexual nature. He also concluded that psychoneuroses dated back to a person's childhood. When Freud talked about neuroses, he felt that these were caused by current factors in a person's life. One thing is for sure: Freud believed that neuroses were derived from unconscious beliefs. A person didn't realize that they were neurotic. Freud thought that a person wanted to resolve an inner-conflict within themselves with their neurotic symptoms. They displayed these behaviors to start solving these issues. Years after Freud's death, we continue to use the term "neurotic" and aim to understand what causes neuroses.

What Does it Mean to be Neurotic?

One of the hallmark signs of neuroses is when a person chronically worries. Worrying can be a sign of anxiety, but it also indicates neuroses. A person who is neurotic worries about their behavior and how others see them. They are fearful that others dislike them. And they might ask for reassurance a lot. It can be distressing to those around them when they constantly are asking if they did something wrong, or if everything is okay. It's normal to worry, but when you notice that anxiety is overwhelming you to the point of not being able to detach or function, that can be a sign of neuroticism.

Although psychiatrists no longer diagnose people as having neurosis, neurotic behavior is still a prevalent but mild mental health issue. Neuroticism is a personality trait that causes people to feel and behave with anxiety, depression, or anger. Neurosis was considered a psychiatric disorder characterized by neurotic feelings and behaviors. Here are some common examples of neurotic behavior.sd

Neuroticism and Sensitivity

Researcher Richard Zinbarg discovered that neurotic people are also highly sensitive and empathetic. They might be vulnerable to anxiety and depression, but they also pick up on their friend's feelings and want to help. Being anxious or neurotic doesn't make you "bad," it's a way of operating. You worry about the feelings of others, and you want to help them feel better. Sensitivity is a positive trait. There are some advantages to being neurotic, including being highly sensitive to the feelings of others.

Neurotic Behavior

Many people are neurotic and don't recognize it. You might have an anxious temperament and not know it. Each person might have a particular neuroses, but some people behave more neurotically than others. What does it mean to be neurotic? You might not understand what neuroses are, or how people display them. You may be wondering, what's so bad about being neurotic? When you behave in a neurotic way, you might frustrate those around you without realizing it. Maybe you're neurotic and you don't know it. Are you neurotic? Before you decide the answer to that question, let's examine some common neurotic behaviors and see if you identify with any of them.

Examples of Neurotic Behavior

The following examples of neurotic behavior may sound quite familiar to you since they are very common and widespread.

  1. General Irritability

The proverbial crabby neighbor is displaying neurotic behavior when they complain routinely about minor issues. When they're constantly nagging you to be quiet, stay away from their property line, or keep your kids off their sidewalk, they may be showing you their neurotic side.

  1. Complaining About Physical Symptoms Without A Medical Cause

A lot of neurotic behavior comes in the form of mysterious complaints about physical symptoms that have no medical cause. When someone talks a lot about their bodily symptoms but has no diagnosable illness, they can become annoying to others. So, their relationships may suffer from their neuroticism.

  1. Road Rage

People with road rage are displaying neurotic behavior. After all, people make mistakes while driving. Some of them end in wrecks, but more often, they correct themselves and get back to driving good enough. To get upset and display over-the-top anger over every small mistake someone makes is a clear sign of neurotic behavior.

  1. Anxiety About Your Child's Safety

Parental anxiety over the common risks children takes often results in people becoming "helicopter parents." These parents go so far as to protect their children that they don't allow them to have a normal childhood. Their obsession with their child's safety makes their child's life miserable and produces anxious, self-conscious children.

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  1. Being Overly Aware Of Psychological Problems

Ironically, people can know full well that they're displaying neurotic symptoms but still behave that way anyway. Being obsessed with their mental health can make their problems even worse. Of course, if you are troubled by serious symptoms of a disorder, it's important to seek help. Even then, you don't have to analyze yourself at every turn.

  1. Emotional Distress Over Everyday Events

It's perfectly normal to be upset when bad things happen. If the bad thing is something very minor, though, getting upset is unreasonable. Breaking a fingernail, spilling your breakfast cereal, or being 10 minutes later than you expected to meet a friend is something you may need to do something about, but there's no need for it to ruin your day.

  1. Guilty Behavior

People who are prone to neurotic behavior often show signs that they're feeling excessively guilty over things that aren't their fault. Or, they behave guiltily when what they've done is so minor no one even noticed it. They may apologize profusely or avoid eye contact because of these guilt feelings.

  1. Obsessive Thinking Or Ruminating

Obsessive thinking is not only neurotic behavior, but it can also lead to depression. When you often ruminate about things you should have done differently or about minor problems in your life, other types of neurotic behavior often follow.

  1. Perfectionism

Most people want to do well in whatever they do. There's a difference between that and feeling you have to do everything perfectly. People who are perfectionists usually spend more time than necessary to complete tasks, because they're too attached to never making a mistake.

  1. Dependency

Being too dependent on others to meet your daily needs can cause a variety of neurotic behaviors. For example, rather than doing something for yourself, you whine about your problems hoping someone else will solve them. You wait for others to do things for you when you could be taking care of your own needs. You become clingy and at the same time, irresponsible.

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  1. Trouble Getting Along At Work

People who behave in neurotic ways typically have trouble getting along with others at work. Social neurotic behaviors like being needy, whiny, dependent, or argumentative can take a toll on your business relationships and keep you from succeeding at work.

  1. Difficulty Taking Care Of Basic Needs

Neuroticism can even keep you from taking care of your basic needs. If you feel unwarranted sadness or anxiousness, you may have trouble focusing on doing small personal care tasks like bathing and grooming. You may also have trouble sticking to a healthy eating plan or getting enough sleep as every little disturbance in your routine makes you feel anxious and overwhelmed.

  1. Relationship Problems

Relationship problems are common for people who behave in neurotic ways. They might nag, whine, and expect their partner to do things they could do for themselves. They may try to control their partner. They may accuse them of being unfaithful without any evidence that they're cheating.

  1. Being a "Drama Queen."

The term "drama queen" is very popular, especially on social media. A drama queen can be anyone, male or female, who stirs up controversy among their friends or makes a big show of emotion about minor incidents. When you make everything a big, dramatic production, you not only make yourself miserable, but you disrupt others' ability to have a peaceful day.

  1. Excessive Sadness Over Minor Events

There's nothing mentally unhealthy about being sad over a major loss. Sadness, crying or staying in bed too much indicate neurotic behavior when you do them because some small thing hasn't gone the way you wanted it to go. Maybe you lost the pen you used to sign the mortgage on your first house. Maybe your child showed a new sign of maturity. A moment of sadness might come, but when you foster it and let it grow, that's neurotic behavior.

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  1. Envious Behavior

People who display neuroticism are often very envious of others. You want to have the possessions that others have. You want to have their opportunities or advantages. You want to be them. You show these desires by neurotic behaviors like sabotaging them, begging them to give you what they have, or even stealing it.

  1. Reacting Negatively To Neutral Events

Sometimes, the event that upsets you is actually neither good nor bad. Yet, you react with a habitual negative response. For instance, if the mail carrier places your package on your doorstep rather than knocking first to get your attention, getting upset about it doesn't make sense if you heard them out there anyway and got the package with no incidents.

  1. Panicking In Relatively Non-Threatening Situations

It's natural to panic in threatening situations. It's part of the fight-or-flight response. However, if that response system kicks in when nothing is threatening in your environment at all, your exaggerated symptoms of panic are tied to your neuroticism.

  1. Displaying Emotional Instability

Because you're so easily thrown off balance by even the smallest events and circumstances, you behave in unstable ways. You may seem to be doing fine one minute and then get angry the next and sad the next. No one can count on you, and all your relationships suffer.

  1. Inability To Function In Everyday Life After An Unrelated Trauma

PTSD could be considered a type of neurotic behavior. You may have had terrifying experiences in war, and if the sound of fireworks going off triggers a relapse, you have experienced a neurotic episode. You may have been abused by a parent when you were a child, and if you feel scared when you are alone around another adult, you might be experiencing neuroticism.

What Does Neurotic Behavior Indicate?

So, if neurosis is no longer considered a valid diagnosis, what does it mean to have neurotic behavior, anyway? If you habitually behave in neurotic ways, you might have a serious mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, or rage disorder, to name a few. Doctors no longer talk much about neurosis, but they can help you if your neurotic behavior is habitual and extreme.

How To Stop Your Neurotic Behavior

Some ways to stop your neurotic behavior include:

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  • Building your self-esteem
  • Making an effort to do things for yourself
  • Getting clear about where your responsibilities begin and end
  • Learning to be satisfied with what you have
  • Taking good care of yourself even when you don't feel like it
  • Reminding yourself that minor negative events aren't worth getting upset over

If you can't change your neurotic behavior on your own, you may need to get help in overcoming it. This is especially important in light of a 2002 study that concluded that people who engage in neurotic behaviors are more likely to develop psychotic symptoms than others.


Treatment for neurotic behaviors might include medications, cognitive behavior therapy, and learning relaxation techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing. Behavior therapy that includes instruction and reinforcement has been shown to change neurotic behavior as well.
You can talk to a licensed counselor for help with neurotic behavior and other mental health issues by contacting BetterHelp.com for online therapy. Counseling happens at your convenience, when and where works best for you. Even if you can't stop your neurotic behavior on your own, you can get help and overcome it.


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