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What is Neuroticism? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Much has been written about personality and all the variables that influence its development. Each theoretical proposal emphasizes different elements to describe personality. One of them has to do with neuroticism.

After all, besides experience, personality is also what makes it possible for someone to see a number 6 and another to see a number 9. Personality is a complex construct and of great interest to psychology. It was and is approached from different models: dynamic, factorial, and biological, among others.

Neuroticism and Personality

To talk about neuroticism, we should start with a general idea about personality. Personality is understood as a mixture of temperamental factors (i.e., linked to biology) and characterological factors (related to the environment) that influence the way we behave.

Regarding temperamental variables, the theory of the big five (5 big personality factors) mentions the following:

  • Neuroticism is the tendency to discomfort and impulsive behavior.
  • Extroversion refers to participation in social situations.
  • Openness to experience, i.e., being curious or motivated by new ideas.
  • Kindness refers to the degree to which we feel compassion and show empathy towards others.
  • Responsibility refers to a person’s commitment to goals.

From these characteristics, we can conclude that neuroticism involves a duality: it’s a tendency to instability, but also quite stable. That is, it’s actually considered to be a fixed personality characteristic.

What is neuroticism, and what are its symptoms?

Neuroticism is characterized by a tendency to emotional instability, which can be expressed in frequent mood swings, anxiety, conflict orientation, emotions of anger, a pessimistic view of situations, guilt, and a constant experience of nervousness.

Another common sign has to do with drama or complication. That is, it’s the tendency to see situations that aren’t complex as complex. In the same way, there may also be more sensitivity or susceptibility.

In this sense, many times, it’s also easily expressed in a psychosomatic way, with spots or rashes on the skin, hair loss, or gastrointestinal discomfort.

How to deal with neuroticism

Knowing that we have traits of neuroticism should encourage us to find (and provide) resources to cope with stress. Some of the recommendations to take into account are the following.

Work on your thoughts

Many of them may be tinged with cognitive biases, which lead us to interpret reality in a distorted way. Thus, we may overemphasize something that’s insignificant or take something personally when it really had nothing to do with us.

It’s important to form a healthy dialogue with our own thoughts and to question their truth in order to create other alternative versions and avoid getting trapped in a vicious circle.

Learn to manage your emotions

With neuroticism, emotions often go over our heads. That is to say, they overflow, collapse, and easily overwhelm us.

Sometimes, everything seems life or death, with no solution. There’s also a tendency to think of catastrophes.

That’s why it’s crucial to start working with your emotions and learn to identify them when they appear. We have to understand the signal or message they bring and look for a response to channel them.

Use self-control and relaxation techniques

In this way, it’s about learning to put a brake on a stressful situation to give more functional and adaptive responses. For example, breathe deeply before acting.

Develop resources for coping with stress

Sometimes, people with a tendency toward neuroticism leave the solution to a conflict in the hands of others. For example, someone who has an illness may continually call his or her doctor.

In this sense, the response becomes more passive, rather than trying to be proactive first. This is why it’s a matter of creating resources and tools that allow responses to be adapted to the circumstances instead of always trying to apply the same rule.

Empowering the person (or yourself) and reinforcing a sense of self-confidence and efficacy can even allow the person to feel better and reduce his or her discomfort. This is crucial instead of feeling dependent on others.

Remember that nothing is set in stone

Finally, it’s important to point out that knowing aspects of our personal should work as a starting point to improve, change our quality of life, work on ourselves, understand ourselves, and to grow and progress. In no way does this have to be a label or a limitation.

Identifying temperamental factors about our personality doesn’t mean that we’re a puzzle that fits its pieces together perfectly. On the contrary, we have access to a small portion of the enormous complexity that we are as human beings. The environment then does its thing.

In that sense, it’s key to find out the protective factors that can allow us to develop healthy coping mechanisms and the risk factors involved in that context. Neuroticism can lead to unhealthy behaviors and comorbidities, so if you’ve been identified as having a neurotic personality, it’s important to learn to cope with stress in a healthy way.

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