What It Means To Be Neurotic & The Contributing Factors

By: Ashley Brown

Updated November 18, 2019

Medically Reviewed By: Kay Adkins, LPC

There is a negative connotation to being labeled neurotic. However, more of the population is neurotic than you may think. In fact, a high percentage of people throughout the world have mild to moderate neuroticism, although because doctors no longer diagnose it as a discrete condition, accurate statistics on neuroticism are hard to find. Keep reading to learn more about neuroticism and its contributing factors.

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What Does Neurotic Mean?

A simple definition of a "neurotic" is a person with a neurosis. So what is a neurosis? Essentially, it is a mental health disorder that is generally less severe than psychosis and is characterized by symptoms of stress. People with neurosis do not lose touch with reality. They are firmly based in the here and now; however, they have some maladaptive behaviors that stem from stressors, such as anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, and hypochondria. It is helpful to understand the four main types of neuroticism and how neurotic behaviors form. However, it is more important to understand when these behaviors can be considered essentially normal and when you should seek help to cope with a disorder.

Unlike many other mental health disorders, neuroticism is not necessarily caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Instead, neurotic behaviors are usually developed in childhood and adolescence as a direct result of environmental stressors. Many people with neurosis never seek psychiatric treatment, but others talk to professionals and take advantage of various therapies.

Four Types of Neuroticism

There are four main types of neuroticism as defined by a 1965 study. Through ongoing research, the understanding of the "neurotic disorders" has evolved. For example, obsessive compulsiveness, while technically a neurosis, is now considered a mental health disorder of its own.

  1. Obsessive Compulsive

Obsessive-compulsive neurosis exists when an individual has obsessive thoughts or impulses that they cannot ignore no matter how hard they try. Typically, the obsessive thoughts lead to actions that may seem meaningless but which the individual feels compelled to repeat again and again. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience persistent upsetting thoughts or worries (obsessions) and use rituals or repetitive behaviors (compulsions) to relieve their anxiety.

A subset of obsessive-compulsive neurosis is known as perfectionism. A moderate to severe amount of perfectionism can be considered a mild form of obsessive-compulsive neurosis. Severely neurotic perfectionists demand of themselves an unattainable level of performance. They never feel that their efforts are satisfactory, and they are unable to relax their standards. One study suggests that severe perfectionism is caused by unreasonably high expectations set by parents in childhood.

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  1. Paranoid

While severe paranoia can be a symptom of serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, mild paranoia can be a neurosis. As a neurotic disorder, paranoia presents itself as unreasonable suspicion and mistrust. The suspicion and mistrust are usually about strangers encountered on a daily basis, and it can cause difficulties in forming relationships. People with paranoia tend to misinterpret reality to indicate that someone out there is always out to harm them.

  1. Hysterical

The hysterical neurosis category has more recently been redefined as conversion disorder or dissociative disorder. Conversion disorder is where the individual converts stress and anxiety into physical symptoms such as pain or loss of sight or hearing. Dissociative disorder is where the individual compartmentalizes stressors or memories and withdraws from the present moment. However, in mild neurosis, hysterical neuroticism could simply be a lack of control over one's emotions, causing outbursts that seem irrational or "over the top." People who become hysterical over stressful situations fall into this category. Excessive worry that leads to emotional outbreaks can also be defined as hysterical neurosis.

  1. Impulsive

Impulsive neurosis is when individuals act on impulse without considering the consequences. The impulses can be mild or seemingly normal and not negatively affect their lives. On the other hand, they could have severe consequences (for example, acting on an impulse to take a road trip to another state could cause someone to lose his or her job).

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Drug addiction and overeating are subsets of impulsive neurosis. Studies have shown that impulsiveness and neuroticism are very closely associated with drug addiction. Almost all drug addicts are neurotic, and the impulsiveness of their condition causes them to constantly return to their drug of choice even if they recognize that it is bad for them to do so.

Studies have also shown that neurosis can contribute to obesity. The impulsiveness of neuroticism can cause people to turn to food for comfort or because they have a craving, even when they recognize that they are not hungry or shouldn't have that type of food.

Contributing Factors

Several factors contribute to someone becoming neurotic. It has been found that neuroticism develops in childhood and usually shows itself first in adolescence or early adulthood. In some cases, symptoms decrease as the individual ages, but in other cases, symptoms can linger or become worse with time.

  • Stressors in Childhood and Adolescence. Research has shown that stressors in childhood and adolescence are typically responsible for neuroticism. The stressors can be severe, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. However, they may also be more common occurrences, such as having an overbearing parent, having had unrealistic expectations placed on oneself as a child, or having a parent who did not spend much time with the child or show much affection.
  • High Present Stress Index. Current level of stress also plays a role in neurosis. Individuals may be predisposed to neurosis but never show symptoms until they find themselves under a large amount of stress. At the same time, when stressors are lower, symptoms can naturally disappear.
  • Heritability. Neuroticism can be inherited. Many studies have found that if you have a neurotic parent, you are more likely to become neurotic as well. Of course, this involves not only genetics but also environmental factors. When a neurotic parent raises a child, the parent's behaviors can be learned through modeling. However, there is also some indication that certain genes may cause a predisposition for neuroticism.

Implications of Neuroticism

Recently the NIH launched an investigation and a call for additional research into neuroticism and its overall impact on public health. There have been many links found between neurotic symptoms and physical health problems.

Most notably, neuroticism has been linked to heart disease. People who are neurotic frequently have health conditions that are related to high stress, such as high cortisol leading to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Neuroticism has also been linked to other behaviors and health conditions that can lower life expectancy. Moreover, severe cases of neuroticism are associated with a higher rate of suicide.

What Can Be Done About Neuroticism

There are approaches you can take in your everyday life to lessen the symptoms of this condition. One is giving yourself a mantra to get you through challenging times. This can remind you that you don't have to be perfect.

In addition, you can become more aware of patterns that fuel your neurosis. If you always get stressed when a certain situation comes up, do your best to avoid that situation. For instance, if you get anxious at the grocery store, opt for curbside pickup or grocery delivery.

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Finally, pay close attention to how much time you spend alone. When you surround yourself with people you love and trust, you are less likely to feel the symptoms of neurosis.

Most importantly, don't be afraid to get help when you need it. Many people with neurotic tendencies benefit from medication, so you may want to visit a doctor. It is always beneficial to talk to a mental health professional as well.

How BetterHelp Can Help You

Many individuals can be said to have neurotic behavior. For example, consider how many perfectionists you know. A lot of people are mildly neurotic and do not need any assessment or intervention. However, there are times when neuroticism does require treatment.

If you have neurotic symptoms that adversely affect your life, it is essential that you seek out treatment. If your neurotic behavior is keeping you from having fulfilling relationships, holding down a job, or healthily interacting with others, you may need some help from a therapist to get your symptoms under control.

Seeking assessment and/or treatment for your condition does not make you any less valuable as a person and has the potential to make your life better. Our counselors are qualified to help you at any time, and you can contact them right on your phone or computer. Here are a couple of relevant counselor reviews:

Counselor Reviews

"Joshua is extremely insightful and helpful. He communicates in a style that I can truly relate to and I appreciate that very much. His questions help me dig deep and think about my concerns and behaviors. I've been very comfortable talking with him and his continued attention to my concerns and reminders to stay in touch with him have been reassuring. I've been very pleased with our interactions and have made progress. I am grateful for him and his expertise."

"Tara gives great advice, listens to your concerns and really helps you to reflect on your thoughts and behaviors. I think she's awesome!"


Although neurosis may be common in the general population, it is still a condition that can benefit from treatment. A fulfilling life free of neurotic emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is within reach-all you need are the right tools. Take the first step.

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