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What is Neuroticism? And is this Your Personality?

what is neuroticism

photo by: Verena Yunita

Have you been called neurotic? And are left wondering, “what is neuroticism, really?”

What is neuroticism?

Imagine a line. On one end of the line is a perfectly balanced person. Always emotionally calm and centred, they feel safe and confident in the world. On the other end is someone who is so overwhelmed by their emotions they can’t function, and are convinced everything and everyone is a threat to their wellbeing.

Defining neuroticism has been a longstanding debate in psychology. But this line could be seen as a spectrum that best describes it.

In general, neuroticism means we have a negative response to frustration, perceived loss, or feeling threatened. 

We can all have a degree of neuroticism. Nobody is really that perfectly balanced person on one end of the line, or the maniac on the other.

But if we are highly neurotic, we’ll be emotionally sensitive, more  prone to react or withdraw when stressed, and more vulnerable to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Signs you are neurotic

So what might be some signs of neuroticism?  You might:

The ‘Big Five” personality traits

Neuroticism is also known for being part of the ‘Big Five’ classification system for personality traits. (And personality traits are our habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving).

This system is also called the “OCEAN model”: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These are the five basic building blocks it suggests form all our characters (although other researchers suggest this is too limited in scope).

Related mental health disorders

Neuroticism has been connected to:

Some studies also connect neuroticism to general health problems, such as a study that found a correlation with asthma. Thankfully, despite the suggestion being put forth, British researchers did a large-scale review of prior studies and concluded that the statistics simply aren’t there to link neuroticism to cancer risk.

Why am I so neurotic?

The exact medical workings of neuroticism are still misunderstood. Researchers suspect that people with high neuroticism have an overactive  limbic system, the part of the brain that deals with our emotions and memories. And a small American study suggests that it’s connected to serotonin levels. But more research needs to be done.

But most people with neurotic tendencies have a parent who also was neurotic.

And studies of twins reared separately suggest that around 50 to 60 per cent of neuroticism is in fact genetic. 

The rest would be down to environment. Your life experiences would have triggered and solidified your tendency to be neurotic.

The positives of being neurotic

It can all seem very negative if you read the above and recognise yourself.

But like all things, there are also positives to being emotionally sensitive.

You are more likely to be creative if you are neurotic. Remember all that escaping to your head when reality feels too much? It can lead to a well developed imagination.

You might know yourself better than your less sensitive friends. Neurotic types are introspective, often analysing their thoughts and feelings, or wanting to understand their experiences.

Yes, you might experience more sadness, but you might also experience a greater sense of joy. Stable sorts who rank very low on the scale don’t experience as much upset, but are also less likely to have emotional highs.

Research has also suggested people with neuroticism take better care of their health, as they are more worried about health symptoms and more likely to seek a doctor.

It all feels so depressing…

It’s important to remember that psychological terms are not exact medical illnesses you can look at under the microscope. They are terms created by mental health professionals to describe groups of individuals with similar symptoms.

And psychological diagnoses aren’t foolproof. These terms change over time, with old research challenged and replaced. It shows how flexible and uncertain many such terms actually are. 

The takeaway is that you are not a word, you are an individual, and always will be. Regardless of what labels you currently fit under. What matters is recognising if your symptoms are making it hard to cope. And if so, then getting support to navigate and manage better and find your way back to feeling good being you.

Sick of always feeling unsafe and unsettled? We link you with a highly regarded and rated team of London therapists. Or use our booking platform to find a UK-wide registered therapist now. 


Still have a question about what is neuroticism? Post below. Note we are unable to offer free counselling or diagnosis by comments. 

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