Neuroses can be a blessing and a curse. Many successful people, from philosophers to filmmakers, have harnessed their neuroses to help them achieve great things. While some professionals in the behavioral health field suggest that certain neurotic personality traits can be beneficial, the reality remains that neurotic anxiety can cast a shadow of distress over an individual’s life and lead to self-destructive behaviors.
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud divided anxiety into three categories. Objective anxiety is that which arises as the result of a real, tangible threat, such as an intruder in the home. Freud categorized neurotic anxiety as that which occurs out of fear that the subconscious, irrational and impulsive part of the human personality, called the id, will surface. Moral anxiety relates to the conscience and typically produces feelings of guilt or dishonor. Of these three, neurotic anxiety is the most likely to be a personality trait rather than a response or adaptation to a threat.
Neurotic personalities typically struggle with decision-making and other basic behaviors required on a daily basis. Gregg Henriques, Ph.D., of James Madison University, explains that neurotic anxiety “…generally corresponds to the sensitivity of the negative affect system, where a person high in Neuroticism is someone who is a worrier, easily upset, often down or irritable and demonstrates high emotional reactivity to stress.” Dr. Henriques elaborates that this can also be employed as a coping mechanism, noting that substance abuse, eating disorders and impulse control disorders, such as trichotillomania, are common among those with neurotic anxiety. Self-awareness and self-regulation can be implemented to reduce the intensity of neuroses when they arise.
Brain scans of those with neurotic tendencies display that the region of the brain that processes threats, real or perceived, is highly active in these individuals. Adam Perkins of King’s College London suggests this is because people coping with neurotic anxiety create their own threats. He explains, “It seems like these people have spontaneous brain activity that’s firing off, there’s a trickle-down effect and it feeds into their more basic threat-processing systems.” This theory is based on Perkins’ review of work by Jonathan Smallwood, Ph.D., of University of York.
Perkins believes that some level of neuroses can present benefits. Those with neurotic personalities are skilled at planning both short-term and long-term, since they typically think and rethink every possible outcome before making a decision. In addition, since neurotic anxiety hinges on fear of the id becoming dominant, those with neuroses often overcompensate by delaying gratification. This is a rarity in a culture that generally prefers instant gratification at any cost. These and other traits can make people with neurotic personalities ideal for high-pressure careers.
Despite the peripheral benefits of neurotic personality traits, neurotic anxiety can be debilitating. If you or a loved one is grappling with anxiety or related issues, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer