Everything you Need to Know About Neuroticism

Everything you Need to Know About Neuroticism
Written By: Counselling Psychologist
M.Sc. Psychology - Swansea University, UK.
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 17-07-2023

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People suffering from neuroticism are torn by inner conflicts. They are at war with themselves.

One of the "Big Five" personality traits, along with openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion, is neuroticism. These are long-lasting personality traits that are often used to categorize people into personality groups.

Neuroticism in specific is often characterized as a tendency for anxiety, despair, self-doubt, and other undesirable or negative emotions. There is a range for all personality qualities, including neuroticism; some people just have higher levels of neuroticism than others.

Neuroticism is sometimes referred to as low emotional stability or negative emotionality in the context of the Big 5. People whose personalities are found under neuroticism often reflect how much a person finds the outside world to be distressing, frightening, and uncomfortable. The level of emotional stability that a person exhibits is indicated by their neuroticism.

Neuroticism Definition

"Neuroticism is described as a negative personality feature characterized by unpleasant emotions, poor self-regulation (an inability to control urges), difficulty handling stress, a strong reaction to perceived dangers, and a propensity for complaining."

Neuroticism has been defined somewhat differently by different psychologists, but at its core, it reflects a general tendency toward negative emotions i.e., neuroticism is a continuum, meaning that individuals might fall on either end of the spectrum or be somewhere in the middle. On this personality dimension, each person can be found midway between the two extreme poles of absolute emotional stability and total emotional turmoil.

Those who are highly neurotic often exhibit labile (shifting) emotions and are tense, worried, and withdrawn. Those with low neuroticism tend to be happy, secure, and stable. The latter group reports fewer psychological and physical issues as well as less stress than highly neurotic people.

Neuroticism is also linked to suffering and discontent. Those with high levels of neuroticism, or people who are neurotic, frequently feel unhappy with themselves and their lives. They are more likely to admit to having minor health issues and to experience overall pain in a variety of circumstances. Negative emotions are more likely to occur in neurotic people (such as anxiety, depression, anger, and guilt).

According to empirical research, excessively high degrees of neuroticism are linked to a protracted and pervasive state of misery in both the neurotic person and others around them.

Signs and Symptoms of Neuroticism

People towards the high end of the neuroticism continuum are often said to have a neurotic personality, and they tend to have the following traits:

  • Feelings of anxiety or anger
  • Lack of emotional stability
  • Feelings of self-doubt
  • Being self-conscious or shy 
  • Easily stressed or upset
  • Emotional rollercoaster
  • Lack of resilience
  • Worrying about various things all the time
  • Having a tendency to see neutral situations as dangerous
  • We often see small problems as big ones.
  • Easily getting jealous or envious of what other people have

Personal relationships can also be negatively impacted by this trait of neuroticism as it does impact the way an individual gets along with people in their life. For example, 

  • High level of Annoyance
  • Being critical of other people
  • Being too dependent on other people or asking for help instead of figuring things out on their own
  • Complaining a lot
  • Asking for reassurance all the time
  • Making small problems seem bigger than they really are

Cause of Neuroticism

Brain function: A smaller study found that people who scored higher in neuroticism had less oxygen in their lateral prefrontal cortex after seeing unpleasant images than those who scored lower in neuroticism. This part of the brain is involved in a lot of different ways that we think.

Childhood trauma: Going through a traumatic event later in life does not seem to make you more neurotic, but being exposed to these kinds of events when you are younger seems to do this.

Climate: If you live in a place with more extreme weather patterns, you may be more likely to have neurotic personality traits. This could be because climatic stress causes your dopamine to work less well.

Gender: A multicultural personality study looked at 22 different countries and found that women scored higher on this trait in all of them. The gap between men and women does seem to be smaller in the online world, though. People think this is because you can be more anonymous online, so you don t have to worry as much about what other people think of you.

Genetics: Some research suggests that neuroticism is passed down from parent to child, just like we get our height from our parents. So, we may be a bit more likely to have this personality trait from the start.

Survival: Some people think that neuroticism has its roots in evolution since being overly sensitive to danger or threats could be an advantage to survival in some ways.

Neuroticism Treatment

Neuroses can be helped in many ways by psychiatrists and psychologists.

The psychoanalytic approach involves helping the patient become aware of the repressed impulses, feelings, and traumatic memories that are behind the symptoms. This helps the patient grow as a person by giving a better understanding of their own selves. Desensitization can also be used to treat neuroticism to recondition the learned responses.

In cognitive and interpersonal approaches, patients talk about their thoughts and perceptions that contribute to their neurotic symptoms. Eventually, these thoughts and perceptions are replaced with more realistic ways of looking at the outside world and their own reactions to it. 

Many psychiatrists prefer physical treatments, such as psychotropic drugs (such as antianxiety, antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs). Many psychiatrists recommend any method, depending on the patient and his problem.

Therefore, Psychotherapy, psychoactive drugs, relaxation exercises like deep breathing, CBT, Desensitization, and other behavioral therapy, can all be used as treatments.


It is essential to keep in mind that if you have traits of neuroticism, this does not necessarily imply that you are an awful person. The fact that you are sensitive and aware in a way that other people possibly do not indicate a positive quality about you. You are likely the type of person that is constantly concerned about the well-being of others and tries to empathize with the experiences of others.

If you can combine these positive aspects with the inner effort necessary to learn how to manage your negative thoughts better and feelings, you will be able to use and transform your personality trait in a helpful, healthy, and beneficial manner. 

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