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Jun 14

What Is Neuroticism? What Causes Neurosis?


Neuroticism is a long-term tendency to be in a negative emotional state. People with neuroticism tend to have more depressed moods – they suffer from feelings of guilt, envy, anger and anxiety, more frequently and more severely than other individuals. Neuroticism is the state of being neurotic.

Those who score highly on neuroticism tend to be particularly sensitive to environmental stress and respond poorly to it. They may perceive every day, run-of-the-mill situations as menacing and major; trivial frustrations are problematic and may lead to despair.

An individual with neuroticism is typically self-conscious and shy. There is a tendency to internalize phobias and other neuroses, such as panic disorders, aggression, negativity, and depression. Neuroses (singular: neurosis) refers to a mental disorder involving distress, but not hallucinations nor delusions – they are not outside socially acceptable norms. The individual is still in touch with reality.

When talking about neuroticism, it is common to read about high, medium or low scores. People with low scores are more emotionally stable and manage to deal with stress more successfully than those with high scores. Individuals with low scores are usually even-tempered, calm, and less likely to become upset and tense, compared to people with high scores.
What is the difference between neurosis and neuroticism
Basically, neurosis is an actual disorder, such as obsessive thoughts or anxiety, while neuroticism is the state of having the disorder. In modern non-medical texts the two are often used with the same meaning. For psychologists and psychiatrists today, these terms are rarely used (outdated terms).
How did famous figures define neurosis?
Emotional instability – according to Hans Jürgen Eysenck (1916 – 1997), a German-British psychologist, neurosis is a term for emotional instability.

A general affection of the nervous system – neurosis was first used by Dr. William Kullen, from Scotland, in 1769 – he said the term referred to “disorders of sense and motion” caused by “a general affection of the nervous system”.

Does not interfere with rational thought or ability to function – more recently, neurosis, as well as neurotic disorder or psychoneurosis refer to mental disorders which do not interfere with rational thought or the individual’s ability to function, even though they do cause distress. Psychosis, on the other hand, does interfere with a person’s ability to function.

Caused by an unpleasant past experience – according to Sigmund Freud (1956-1939), a famous Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis, neurosis as an ineffectual coping strategy caused by emotions from past experience which overwhelm or interfere with current experience. He once gave, as an example, an overwhelming fear of dogs, which may have resulted from a dog-attack earlier in life.

Conflict between two psychic events – Carl Gustav Jung 1875 – 1961) a Swiss psychiatrist, the founder of analytical psychology, believed that neurosis is the result of a conflict between two psychic contents; a conscious and unconscious content.
Health Professionals No Longer Use The Terms Neurosis or Neuroticism
As mentioned earlier, “neurosis” is no longer a currently-used term among health care professionals. These days, neuroses type references are described under the areas of depressive disorders or anxiety.

According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, Neurosis is:

“1. A psychological or behavioral disorder in which anxiety is the primary characteristic; defense mechanisms or any phobias are the adjustive techniques that a person learns to cope with this underlying anxiety. In contrast to the psychoses, people with a neurosis do not exhibit gross distortion of reality or gross disorganization of personality but in severe cases, those affected may be as disabled as those with a psychosis.
2. A functional nervous disease, or one in which there is no evident lesion.

3. A peculiar state of tension or irritability of the nervous system; any form of nervousness.”

And Neuroticism is:

“The condition or psychological trait of being neurotic.”

In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statitstical Manual of Mental Disorders (third publication) removed the term neurosis.
Neurosis and personality disorder are very different
A person who is neurotic is different from one with a personality disorder.

A personality disorder refers to a more severe personality pathology. A person with neurosis is still relatively well in touch with reality, has a consolidated identity, and still uses defense mechanisms like other “mentally healthy” people do.

Neurotics (people with neurosis) are believed to benefit from psychoanalysis.

Those with personality disorders require more ego-supportive techniques.

Written by Christian Nordqvist

One Response to “What Is Neuroticism? What Causes Neurosis?”

  1. Very good post, this is information I was looking for

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