How To Tell If You're Neurotic

By: Mason Komay

Updated February 25, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Have you ever heard of the term "neurosis" but weren't exactly sure what it meant or who it pertained to? If so, have you ever considered whether or not you may be neurotic yourself?

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What Is Neurosis?

Neurosis is a spectrum of functional mental disorders. In order words, it is defined as a series of mental disorders in which the affected individual is still able to live a normal life. Neurosis commonly involves chronic feelings of frustration and distress. However, contrary to popular belief, a person with neurosis will not experience hallucinations. It should also be noted that, as a term, neurosis has not been used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) since 1980.

Neurosis manifests many forms, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, anxiety disorder, and a variety of phobias. As you can probably tell, many mental disorders fall under the umbrella of neurosis. Neurosis can involve excessive anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, low self-esteem, compulsive acts, unpleasant, repetitive, or disturbing thoughts, excessive fantasizing, excessive negativity, low self-worth, and quite a few other symptoms.

Carl Jung And Neurosis

Carl Jung had a popular theory of neurosis. He looked at patients that were somewhat adjusted to society but continually had existential crises and questions. He would observe people who became neurotic when they lost their faith or had unanswered questions in life that didn't have good enough answers. A person may become neurotic when they experience specific factors or powers that are not under their control. Jung's theory centered around unconscious minds, and he believed that it expressed itself through the psychological function of the inferior category.

Neurosis And Psychoanalysis

Even decades ago, the concept of being neurotic was considered to be a bit outdated. Because of this, there were many psychoanalytic interpretations of it. Some believed that neurosis was a defense mechanism from the ego itself, where it would employ neurosis to keep the superego down. However, these thoughts may not be neuroses at all, but rather legitimate defense mechanisms if they don't hinder you. Someone who is neurotic may experience many forms of emotional distress and may feel as though there is an ongoing battle taking place within their minds. This is commonly mistaken for anxiety.

Karen Horney's Theory

Karen Horney believed that neurosis was one's distorted view of themselves and the world around them. This could be determined by a compulsive need instead of one's legitimate interest in how the world is supposed to operate. She believed that neurosis involved an environment transferring feelings into a young child, and there were several ways that this could occur. For instance, a parent may feel too worked up in their personal problems to take care of their child, and this can create neurosis in the child.

The parents' needs would be what distorts the child's reality, and the child could develop anxiety. To cope with the anxiety, they may create what is known as the idealized self-image. In other words, the child may visualize themselves as a god or hero of their world. What may seem like a childhood fantasy could be a little dangerous if left untreated. A child will then learn how to identify with their "god" image.


This can influence the child to view the world within their self-image. They may try to place unrealistic expectations on themselves to conform to the standards created by their perspective. If the child has any limitations, the child will hate themselves for having them instead of realizing that they are human and have their flaws. This can quickly evolve into an unhealthy cycle. The child's self-hatred will make them perform worse, which will only serve to fuel their hatred and make things worse.

When a child grows into an adult, they will form their "solution" to these conflicts, but they will be unhealthy. They may use perfectionism or narcissism to cope with their symptoms or become too needy or compliant.

Horney believed that anxiety disorders, as well as personality disorders that are more severe, are all part of the neurosis spectrum. She also proposed the opposite of neurosis, which she dubbed as self-realization. This is when someone responds to the turmoils of the world with all their feelings instead of compulsion fueled by anxiety. A person can soon grow to learn their potential instead of hating themselves. Horney compared this to an acorn that has the potential to turn into a tree.

History of The Term

Now, let's discuss more the history of the term. The first person to coin it was William Cullen, a Scottish doctor. In 1769, he used the term to talk about a "disorder of sense and motion," and believed it to be caused by a problem in the nervous system. The term was a bit of a blanket term that could describe symptoms and disorders that had no physiological explanation. He believed that neurosis had different symptoms such as knee-jerking, no gag reflex, and other symptoms, and his definition was used until Jung and Freud decided to refine it. To this day, it has been used in psychology, as well as some philosophies.

As we mentioned before, the DSM got rid of the term "neurosis" back in 1980. This was because they wanted to give behavior descriptions instead of the hidden mechanisms of psychology. Neurosis is no longer being used by psychiatrists to diagnose someone.

As for what the term means, it comes from two Greek words meaning "nerve" and "abnormal condition."

How To Tell If You're Neurotic

Some people believe they are neurotic, and you may think there are some signs you can look at to see if you're neurotic or not. In the end, you should consult a mental health professional or a doctor to rule out any mental health problems or physical problems. With that said, there are some signs of neuroticism you can look out for, and we are here to provide you with a few signs that are worth looking out for if you're curious.

Signs That You Might Be Neurotic

You are a bit emotionally unstable. In the end, no one is completely emotionally stable, but someone who is neurotic may exhibit some unusual symptoms, such as taking a stressful situation and responding to it by being more irritable.

Alternatively, they may be more anxious or volatile when it comes to responding to certain stresses. In the end, a neurotic person may have more mood swings than they would like.

A neurotic person may be more stressed than they'd like to be. There is nothing wrong with stress at certain levels; it's the body's way of responding to a perceived threat. However, too much stress can make you not accomplish your goals as quickly, and the goal is to have a healthy amount of stress.

Someone who is neurotic may worry too much about even the most insignificant things. Again, some level of worry is fine. We all have different levels of worry, but a neurotic person worries too much about the small stuff. Instead of letting it go, they let the small things in life grab hold of them and not let go.

Someone who is neurotic may have an anxiety disorder or depression. In addition to that, there may be other disorders as well, such as substance abuse. If you're a bit neurotic, this doesn't necessarily mean you have a mental condition, but the connection is there, and it's strong.

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Someone who is neurotic may be more sensitive than others. This means that if you're faced with criticism or negative emotion, you'll react to it much worse than someone who is less neurotic.

There are some benefits to being neurotic. Some people's anxiety and worry can be used to take action and get things in their life taken care of. Other people may use their neuroticism to be a perfectionist and make sure their quality of work is up to snuff. With that said, too much perfectionism does exist, and you should try your best to strike a balance.

Seeking Help

If you want to deal with your neurotic emotions, you may believe there is no help for you. However, this is not the case whatsoever. One way you can deal with neuroticism is to speak to a counselor. A counselor is a person who has dealt with people who are unsure about themselves or are excessively stressed. They are properly trained and equipped to fix any and all your problems.

One way they may do so is with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In that therapy, a person looks at all the negative thoughts or behaviors that can fuel their problems. Once they identify them, they'll then replace them with healthier thoughts or behaviors that can make the situation much better. If you believe that you are neurotic, talk to a mental health professional. They should be able to diagnose you and see if there are any symptoms that you can learn to manage. You may be able to take the negative aspects of neuroticism and replace them with more positive ones.

Sometimes, finding the right counselor to help you cope with your neurotic emotions can be challenging. That's why BetterHelp offers all of our users discreet online counseling with a licensed professional who cares. No matter how severe you feel your issues are, our team is properly equipped to help you deal with anything and everything - all at a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You deserve to be happy - let us help. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"I worked with another counselor for over 6 months before working with Arielle Ballard. In one 30 minute session, I got more accomplished in terms of structuring goals, building coping mechanisms, and recognizing thought patterns, than I had in the 6 months working with the other counselor. I'm pleased with my progress and am very greatful to Arielle."

"I am a 42 year old female, successful entrepreneur in a loving marriage and have a bright and healthy 4 year old boy. I shouldn't have anything to complain about. I am generally happy, motivated and have ample self confidence. So why in the world would I need therapy? Because I need help with constructive ideas to control my negative attitude. I'm generally not a negative person but I'm very self aware that I have vast mood swings of anger and pessimism and I get that from my dad. I chose Douglas because he counsels using cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management - which is the kind of therapy I need.

Douglas comes up with clear solutions and I appreciate that. I didn't want a therapist to tell me to talk about my day and how does that make me feel and that it's normal to have these feelings. I know it is normal to feel angry sometimes, but I wanted to understand how to recognize it and address it. So if you need constructive conversation with fast results for everyday annoyances and (especially effective child rearing advice!) I think Douglas is your therapist."


Neurosis can be a tricky obstacle to overcome, especially if you're not thoroughly educated on the subject. If you suspect that you may be neurotic, there's no need to worry. The help that you need is right around the corner. Take the first step today.

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