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What is Neuroticism and How Can You Recognize It?



By: Marie Miguel

Neuroticism is a character trait defined by mood swings, strong emotions, anxiety, and other symptoms. However, people often use the word “neurotic” without understanding the true meaning to describe certain behaviors that are merely abnormal but do not exemplify neuroticism. In addition, there is a lot of confusion about neuroticism and the connection to neurosis. 

What Is Neuroticism?

Neuroticism is a trait that involves moodiness, anxiety, irritability, agitation, and sadness. It is one of the 5 personality traits along with openness, consciousness, agreeableness, and extraversion. 

People with high neuroticism typically have a lot of stress and worry and may be more likely to become upset easily. They may have drastic mood changes as well. People with low neuroticism are more emotionally stable and resilient toward stress without extreme emotions.

Neurosis, on the other hand, refers to a disorder, albeit one that is no longer diagnoseable as such. It involves obsessive thoughts and anxiety. Many psychologists and therapists find the term “neurosis” to be outdated, inaccurate, and vague and it is rarely used in the mental health field. 

What Causes Neuroticism?

There is no specific, single cause of neuroticism, but there are a few factors that likely contributed to the personality trait. Genetics can play a role in neuroticism as well as many of the characteristic traits like worry or mood swings. The environment can also play a role in the development of the personality trait. 

Furthermore, many different mental health conditions are associated with neurotic traits. Anxiety often causes similar symptoms as someone with a high neuroticism personality. Depression, substance use and abuse, personality disorders, obsessive disorders, and phobias are all associated with some behavior related to neuroticism. 

If you are interested in learning more about the differences between neuroticism and neurosis, or some of the contributing factors to the development of neurotic behaviors, then you can find plenty of resources at BetterHelp. You may also find their articles and advice to be helpful for understanding and coping with neuroticism. 

How To Recognize Neuroticism

People high on the spectrum of the personality trait neuroticism will display certain features that you may be able to recognize in yourself or others. However, many of the traits are often common in other disorders and conditions and may also only be a small part of your personality. 

Many of the traits associated with neuroticism are associated with worry and anxiety. Having uneasy apprehension, fear, racing thoughts, constant worry, and excessive guilt can all be signs of a neurotic personality. Neuroticism is also characterized by more negative emotions and strong emotional reactions as well as irritability and anger. 

A lot of people with high neuroticism traits also have low self-esteem and confidence and may feel shy, moody, or sad. There may also be difficulty bouncing back from challenges and a tendency to become stressed easily. Even the smallest problems can seem overwhelming or catastrophic. 

While all of these signs can potentially point to neuroticism and related personality traits, it is often easiest to recognize behavioral signs of neuroticism. In some cases, neuroticism can help someone succeed or contribute to positive traits and results. However, there are also negative aspects of neuroticism. Emotional instability, primarily with negative emotions, is often the easiest sign to identify in others. 

Neuroticism may cause some people to seem annoying or difficult to deal with. It can cause someone to complain more than others and be highly critical of other people. Some people with neurotic traits may strive for reassurance and acceptance often or be highly dependent on other people instead of being individualistic or independent. 

If you are high in neuroticism, you may also find that you pass your worrying thoughts and behaviors to others like family members or friends. For example, you may be overly worried about driving through a certain part of town and you model that fear and anxiety and pass it on to your children or spouse so that they become worried about similar or identical situations. 

People high in neuroticism may also start conflicts with other people because of the strong emotions that can occur. In addition, neurotic traits can also cause accusatory behaviors. Perfectionism is another common symptom of high neuroticism, which can lead to problems with other people or with productivity.  

Sometimes, neuroticism can make it hard to sustain healthy relationships because of the appearance of unreliability and instability. Friends may not feel like they can depend on a person who displays neuroticism and the traits that are associated with it. This may also keep someone from achieving certain goals like a promotion or necessary commitments. 

Finally, neuroticism is often associated with guilt and may contribute to excessive apologizing or obsession with mistakes. This can push others away and the guilt can get in the way of more productive and healthy thoughts as well. 

Is Neuroticism Something that Should be Treated?

If neurotic behavior and traits are becoming a problem for your well-being, then it is a good idea to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. In many cases, the signs of neuroticism lead to a diagnosis of a mental health condition like anxiety or depression. 

Since neuroticism could cause problems with work and productivity, relationships and commitment, and the ability to relax and be happy, it may be good to seek treatment options. In some cases, this could mean medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety or help with mood. Other times psychotherapy may be the best treatment option so that you can address and alter negative thought patterns or learn how to cope in healthy ways. 

There are also some techniques that you can learn yourself or with the help of a therapist that can assist with symptom management. Being able to identify and examine triggers to avoid or address can help a lot for some people. If you can identify certain things that lead to neurotic behavior that you can change, then you can change those habits for healthier ones. 

Breathing and mindfulness exercises can also be beneficial for reducing worry and relaxing the brain and body. You may also find that these types of strategies help with sleep and the enjoyment of activities and hobbies. 


Neuroticism is one of the big 5 personality traits, but if you are high in this particular trait, you may find that there are a variety of problems that the signs can contribute to. Because of this, identifying those traits and negative signs can be the first step toward addressing them and improving your well-being.

Marie Miguel Biography

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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