You’re just being neurotic! You’re acting neurotic!
Your friends may say that to you when you worry about something that doesn’t bother them, or something that your worry really will not fix. We say it to each other jokingly or critically… but what does it really mean?
A psychologist will tell you that neurotic behavior or thinking, while distressing or painful to the individual, does not include any loss of contact with reality or behavior that is dramatically outside the social norms.
What this means in effect is that neurotic needs, wishes and behaviors are normal and necessary wishes and needs carried to a point of excess… usually because the individual is being driven by underlying fears and anxieties.
We all have a normal, healthy desire to be loved and accepted, especially by those closest to us. However, when this need is expanded into a feeling that everyone must like and approve of us at all times and if they do not that we are failing terribly as human beings, then it has crossed the line and become a neurotic attitude. Healthy effort becomes neurotic “workaholism” when you must always give 150%….not just in a crisis.
Some other abiding needs and behaviors that might be considered neurotic would be:
- The need for a partner who will solve all of lifes problems: Grows out of normal need for love, partnership and assistance.
- The tendency to restrict oneself, to be satisfied with very little or to remain inconspicuous: Grows out of normal need to move cautiously, delay gratification.
- The need to be powerful and controlling, contemptuous of weakness and irrationality: Grows out of normal need to have others behave in a reasonable rational way.
- The need to get the better of others or to exploit them: Grows out of normal need to have influence over others.
- A desperate need for admiration, recognition and prestige, or a fear of being ignored: Grows out of normal need to be recognized and appreciated by others.
- An insistence on self-sufficiency and independence which does not allow one to ask for help or commit to relationship: Grows out of a normal need for autonomy and self sufficiency.
- Striving to be perfect and unassailable: Grows out of the normal need to excel and to create order.
Being neurotic is not “mental illness” It more nearly consists of taking too extreme or insistent a position on what would otherwise be normal and appropriate human needs. It is the preoccupation and the intensity of the behavior that makes it neurotic. The individual can never rest and when the neurotic “excess” has an interpersonal component, such as intense need for attention, admiration or control of others, a person driven by neurotic needs will not allow those around them to rest either!
The neurotic person often becomes a problem for others as well as for themselves.
Becoming less neurotic… two routes
One: The “epiphany” Sometimes a person will have a life-changing experience, accident or encounter. Often the thing that the person has tried so desperately to avoid will happen anyway… and they discover that the consequences are not the cataclysm that they had secretly feared. In the aftermath they may realize that their excessive behavior was not the safeguard that they had believed it to be. In some cases, when the neurotic beliefs and behavior are not too ingrained, this may be sufficient to bring about change.
Two: Working in therapy A therapist will try hard to help a person feel safe enough that they can look at, or partially experience, what it would feel like to live without the security of “excess”. It is usually necessary to look more closely at the situation, to look past the surface justifications, for example, the straight “A’s” generated by the neurotic perfectionist behavior, to see the ways that the behavior is limiting or damaging to other important parts of life…No love, no social life, anxious eating or drinking.
Often one must look below the surface rationalizations to discover the fearful assumptions and damaging past experiences that color the persons ideas about the world and other people and drive the neurotic behavior. Once these fears and assumptions can be named, they can be thought about and reality tested.
Return to reasonable levels of striving When the individual discovers that the assumptions that they live with are not true, they can continue to strive for their natural normal needs but without the excessive neurotic edge. Life becomes more calm, the experience of self becomes less judgmental and more peaceful, skills and talents can be used intuitively and naturally, relationships with others become less strained.
Most people will behave neurotically at some times and in some situations, and sometimes it is just something that we can make a joke of, but when neurotic behavior begins to be distressing to yourself and others or when it starts to overstep the social norms of society, it may be time take aim at your neurotic impulses and find someone to help you challenge your assumptions!