Frequently Asked Questions

Are there benefits to having a neurotic personality?

Neuroticism continues to sometimes be used in conceptualizations of personality traits, though like neurosis, it is not an official diagnosis. The five-factor model of personality, which is used in personality evaluations across a wide range of cultures, identifies neuroticism as one of the five primary personality traits that all individuals experience on a spectrum of severity and intensity. The other four traits are extraversion, agreeability, conscientiousness, and openness, and we all experience these traits in various intensities, with the average individual being somewhere in the 'middle' range. Neuroticism is a long-term general tendency toward negative emotions and chronic distress. Unlike neurosis, which was formerly used to describe a diagnosable set of psychiatric symptoms, neuroticism is a personality trait and not a medical condition. The two terms are often confused. A person with high levels of neuroticism may be more sensitive to environmental stress, prone to sadness and depression, have a tendency towards self-doubt, experience some instability in their emotions, and generally have the experience of feeling anxious more often than others. Over time, neuroticism can make a person more prone to anxiety, mood disorders, and other negative social and emotional outcomes as they have more difficulty navigating everyday stressors and frustrations than others may. Personality traits, as understood by mental health professionals, tend to be a more chronic, long-lasting, ongoing way of feeling and experiencing the world, but that does not mean that personality traits are out of our control or cannot be changed. With insight, willingness, and therapy, it is entirely possible to make small changes, practice coping skills, and learn new ways of managing emotions and interacting with the world that can add up significant improvement in mood and satisfaction with life. -------- All feelings, even negative or distressing emotions such as anxiety and sadness (formerly called neurosis in some cases), have a distinct and important purpose that ultimately contributes to our survival and functioning. Anxiety, which corresponds most closely with neurosis, is a form of fear. Fear and our body and mind's response to fear is a very important experience as it keeps us alert to threats and danger. Fear triggers an adrenaline response, as well as our "fight or flight" response, which helps us to escape danger and threat. Without it, we long ago would've been much more likely to be prey to predators and succumb to other dangers. Nowadays, anxiety helps us to prepare for important events or tasks, alerts us to potential concerns or dangerous situations. For example, it is beneficial to feel a bit nervous the first time you learn to drive a car or before an important test, as this makes us more likely to prepare appropriately and pay attention to our surroundings. So someone with a tendency towards neuroticism may have times when their sensitivity to threat is beneficial to them. But as with any normal emotional experience, there are times when the intensity of the feeling is disproportionate to the situation, and the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with our daily functioning. It is at this point that seeking professional help is important.

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