The Big Five Super Trait: Neuroticism
Why are you being so Negative?
Of all the Big Five Super Traits, Neuroticism is the only one with a negative connotation. People hate using the word, so it is often replaced with its counterpart Emotional Stability.
You would want to be on the low end of this dimension. Take this test and find out how neurotic you are: Are You Neurotic?
Neuroticism in Psychology is described as being anxious, moody, fearful, depressed, frustrated, envious, guilty, jealous, etc. – behaviors that signify a lack of emotional stability. As you can see, there’s a whole line-up of negative words attached to it. No wonder people don’t like being called neurotic.
Thankfully, just like all other personality traits, Neuroticism exists on a continuum. It is measured by how neurotic or how stable you are. It’s not a fixed judgement on you. At times, you may behave like a neurotic, at times you may be calm and collected like James Bond.
The other "Super Traits" of the Big Five theory of personality are:
Neuroticism in a Nutshell
Neuroticism is a tendency to exist in a negative emotional state. They respond poorly and negatively to stressors. Those who score high on the scale, tend to blow things out of proportion, more so than other people. They see the bad side more easily. The silver lining is far and few. What may be a regular situation to you, may be perceived as major and threatening by a neurotic.
However, it doesn’t mean that they are not in touch with reality. They are not delusional, just easily distressed and overwhelmed by life’s challenges due to their low emotional stability.
Neuroticism, which is the state of being neurotic, is NOT the same as Neurosis, which is a personality disorder.
However, it has the strongest connection to a wide variety of severe psychopathological conditions such as anti-social personality, schizophrenia, obsessiveness, depression, physical abuse and family problems. Studies have also shown that neurotics are more prone to heart attacks and high blood pressure, since their nervous system is often activated to a higher degree.
“Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.” – Thomas S. Szasz, Hungarian Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse
The 6 Facets of Neuroticism
Within the Big Five dimension, Neuroticism, are 6 facets that further specifies the traits that make a person neurotic. It helps identify people who are prone to psychological distress.
1. Anxiety – Your level of Anxiety. How frequent and how easily you feel anxious.
2. Angry Hostility – Your tendency to feel anger, frustration or bitterness.
3. Depression – Your tendency to feel guilt, loneliness, depression and despondency.
4. Self-Consciousness – How easily you experience Social Anxiety. Measures Shyness.
5. Impulsiveness - Your tendency to give in to cravings and ability to delay gratification.
6. Vulnerability – How you handle stress.
What your score means
People who score high on Neuroticism usually exhibit the following behaviors:
- Emotionally reactive.
- Generally unhappy.
- Reacts more intensely than normal.
- Pessimistic. Sees the negative more than the positive.
- Often in a bad mood.
- Inability to control emotions.
- Easily gets upset and stressed.
- Prone to addictions.
- Gets easily frustrated by anxiety-inducing situations.
- Poor coping ability.
- Difficulty in sustaining healthy or long-term relationships.
- Often blames themselves. Guilt-ridden.
- Prone to psychological disorders.
- Has low self-efficacy and self-esteem. Sees stressors are too big for them to cope with.
- Poor job performance.
People who score low on Neuroticism have all or some of the following traits:
- Calm under pressure.
- Has stronger control on emotions and urges. Less reactive.
- Has a strong coping mechanism.
- Free from persistent negative feelings.
- Comfortable in most social situations.
- Is not easily angered or upset. Even-tempered.
It is important to note that even though those who score low on Neuroticism have low negative emotions, it does not follow that they are high on positive emotions. Frequency of positive emotions is a factor of the other super trait, Extraversion.
How to overcome the negative effects of Neuroticism
Before we totally condemn Neuroticism, many neurotics are intelligent, creative, reflective and sensitive. Being neurotic does not interfere with a person’s motor functions or their ability to think rationally. They’re just difficult to get along with!
But kidding aside, it depends on where you are on the scale. As we mentioned before, anything that is excessive is bad. But a little worry and anxiety are necessary to our survival mechanism. We are all neurotic in different degrees.
Since many studies have shown that Neuroticism may have a genetic / biological cause, is there a way for people to overcome neuroticism in order to achieve happiness and success?
There’s always a way! Again, don’t be so negative.
- Before you react, consciously ask yourself how you can look at something differently. (Topol does this often in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.” He debates with himself and says, “On the other hand….”)
- Believe that if other people can cope with their stressful lives, you can do it too!
- Give yourself daily affirmations such as: “I am in control of my life.” “It’s ok. Everything will be ok.” “It’s not the end of the world.” “Things will be better tomorrow.”
It’s a form of self-hypnosis which replaces the negative emotions with more positive ones.
- When you start feeling anxious, distance yourself from the situation and clear your head.
- Deep breathings helps calm the mind and the body. Take 10 slow and deep breathes when you start panicking.
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
- Burn off the negative emotions through physical activity or exercise.
- Do more rewarding activities. It will help you feel good about yourself.
- Understand what you’re going through. Read about it. Learn. This will make you feel more in control.
- Seek professional help. A therapist can work with you to resolve internal conflicts.
You can find more posts about personality theory here.
- US National Library of Medicine: Public Health Significance of Neuroticism
- Medical News Today: What is Neuroticism? What causes Neurosis?
- NEO Personality Inventory: Description of the domain and facet scales
- Wikipedia: Neuroticism
- HealthLine: 5 Things to Say to Help Your Neurotic Friend
Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are
Want to learn more about your personality? Read more about “Neuroticism” and the other major dimensions of human personality in the book "Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are" by Harvard graduate Shawn Achor.
Get the Book today