What It Means To Be Neurotic & The Contributing Factors

By: Ashley Brown

Updated October 14, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Kay Adkins, LPC

More of the population experience neurotic symptoms than you may think. A large percentage of people worldwide have mild to moderate neuroticism, although because doctors no longer diagnose it as a discrete condition, accurate statistics on neuroticism are hard to find. Please 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 neurosis. So, what is neurosis? Essentially, it is a mental health disorder generally less severe than psychosis and characterized by stress symptoms. People with a neurosis do not lose touch with reality. On the contrary, they are firmly based in the here and now—perhaps too much, because they possess 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 you should seek help for these behaviors.

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, our understanding of "neurotic disorders" has evolved. For example, while technically a neurosis, obsessive-compulsiveness 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 that the individual feels compelled to enact repeatedly. 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 daily, which can cause difficulties in forming relationships. People with paranoia tend to misinterpret reality to indicate that someone 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 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, someone acting on an impulse to take an extended road trip even though it could cause them to lose their 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 substance use disorder.  Many individuals facing substance use disorder 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 harmful to 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 neuroticism. It has been found that neuroticism develops in childhood and usually appears in adolescence or early adulthood. In some cases, symptoms decrease as the individual ages, but in other cases, symptoms can linger or worsen 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.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text “START” to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

 

  • High Present Stress Index. The 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 much stress. At the same time, when stressors are lower, symptoms may 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. Of course, this involves not only genetics but also environmental factors. When a neurotic parent raises a child, the parent's behaviors will often be learned through modeling. There is also some indication, however, 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.

Most notably, neuroticism has been linked to heart disease. People experiencing neurosis frequently have health conditions 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.

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 symptoms of neuroticism.

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, you must seek treatment. Suppose your neurotic behavior keeps you from fulfilling relationships, holding down a job, or healthily interacting with others. In that case, you may benefit from speaking with a therapist to get your symptoms under control.

Online therapy is an affordable alternative to costly and time-consuming in-office therapy. Research shows that electronically delivered therapy is as effective as traditional face-to-face counseling, which makes it an incredibly convenient option. This study, conducted by Brigham Young University researchers, found that remote therapy provides other added benefits, too, including “lower cost, no travel time, easy access, no waitlists, and trackable progress.”

Seeking assessment and treatment for your condition does not make you any less valuable as a person and has the potential to make your life better. BetterHelp counselors are qualified to help you at any time, and you can contact them right on your phone or computer. BetterHelp also offers affordable pricing options typically comparable with the co-pays of most insurance plans. Here are a couple of recent counselor reviews from people like you.

“Jessica always asks good questions and has a big heart. I find her ability to balance exploring my maladaptive coping mechanisms with a good sympathetic ear manages my anxiety while fostering growth. I highly recommend her.”

“Elsa Quintanilla has been an amazing help to me mentally and emotionally. I was always hesitant to get a therapist or get some help again as my experience with another therapist wasn’t great, but once BetterHelp matched me with Elsa, I knew right away that she was a perfect match for me. I felt right away a good connection with Elsa and felt comfortable in being able to share my troubles with her; her willingness to listening and giving great advice makes her a great therapist that I would recommend to many.”

Conclusion

Although neurosis may be common among 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.


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