Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

What you need to know about Neurosis


Neurosis is a combination of anxiety, obsessive thinking, distress, and a specific level of dysfunction when completing everyday tasks. Neurosis leads to an individual’s neurotic behavior. Over the years, the meaning of neurosis has been altered.


At one time, neurosis was any mental health illness that wasn’t psychosis. Nowadays, neurosis is considered a personality trait. The term neurosis is used regularly these days. Therefore, it is vital to understand the causes, symptoms, treatment, and history of the mental health issue.


Neurosis definition


Neurosis is a term used by psychologists and psychiatrists to refer to anxious feelings, symptoms, and behaviors. Meanwhile, some doctors use neurosis to describe a spectrum of mental illnesses other than psychotic disorders.


A neurotic person has issues associated with being a worrisome individual or an over thinker, and not having a mental disorder. If a person with neurosis isn’t able to treat their issues and turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms, they may experience an anxiety disorder later on.


Neurosis disorders that an individual may experience include:


  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • A specific anxiety phobia
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Panic attack disorder
  • Substance- and/or medication-induced anxiety disorder

What is the difference between neurosis and neuroticism?


Neurosis and neuroticism are different issues. Neurosis is complex and has more causes and symptoms. The main difference between the two mental health disorders is that neurosis is an issue involving anxiety and obsessive thoughts.


Neuroticism is a personality trait and it does not present the same negative influence on everyday life to individuals suffering from an anxious condition. Modern psychologists do not use the term neurosis due to it being an outdated word.


Individuals with neurotic personalities are likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, and consume drugs. They may also exhibit eating disorders, lack social support networks, and experience divorce.


Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving chronic distress, but neither delusions nor hallucinations. The term is no longer used by the professional psychiatric community in the United States, having been eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980 with the publication of DSM III. However, it is still used in the ICD-10 Chapter V F40–48.


Neurosis should not be mistaken for psychosis, which refers to a loss of touch with reality. Nor should it be mistaken for neuroticism, a fundamental personality trait proposed in the Big Five personality traits theory.


Neurosis vs Psychosis


While neurosis refers to the inner struggles and mental and physical disturbances, psychosis is a major personality disorder marked by gross mental and emotional disturbances. Neurosis is mild mental disorder and psychosis refers to “insanity” or “madness”. If you have neurosis, your symptoms may be linked to an underlying mental disorder, but you are able to take care of yourself. If you are experiencing psychosis, your behavior is erratic and detached from reality making it difficult to care for yourself.


Transference neurosis


Transference neurosis is a term that Sigmund Freud introduced in 1914 to describe “a whole series of psychological experiences not as belonging to the past, but as applying to the person of the analyst at the present moment”. When transference neurosis develops, the relationship with the therapist becomes the most important one for the patient, who directs strong infantile feelings and conflicts towards the therapist, e.g. the patient may react as if the analyst is his/her father.

Causes and symptoms of neurosis


Two of the causes of neurosis are genetics and environment. There are some other causes and symptoms that lead to the mental health disorder, however. If you are afraid that you have developed neurosis, then there are a few things to watch out for. To determine if you have neurosis, decide whether you have experienced the following causes and symptoms:


  • Anxiety and apprehension
  • Excessive worrying and guilt
  • Focus on more negative emotions and reactions
  • Irritability and anger
  • Low self-esteem and self-consciousness
  • Poor response to stressors
  • Believing everyday situations are threatening
  • Depression
  • Emotional instability


You may be worried that a friend or family member has neurosis. Here are some things to look out for:


  • Regularly needing reassurance and validation
  • Overly dependent on others
  • Codependent in relationships
  • Making their dissatisfaction or stress known to others
  • Conflicts with others due to a lack of emotional resilience
  • A lack of ability to bounce back
  • Perfectionist tendencies and obsessing about getting things right
  • Flying off the handle during serious conversations


While these causes and symptoms are regular examples of what people with neurosis experience, just because you exhibit one or more of the issues doesn’t mean you are neurotic. To determine if you are suffering from neurosis, it is important to speak with a mental healthcare professional.

Types of neurosis


Neurosis comes in different forms. One person may not suffer from the same type of neurosis as another individual.


The types of neurosis include:


  • Anxious neurosis is an extreme form of anxiety. Individuals with anxious neurosis will exhibit panic attacks, tremors, and sweating.
  • Depressive neurosis consists of continual and profound sadness combined with losing interest in hobbies and activities.
  • Obsessive-compulsive neurosis features intrusive thoughts, behaviors, and/or mental acts that repeat. These habits can cause distress because they repeat over and over.
  • War or combat neurosis is also known as post-traumatic stress disorder. It involves excessive stress and an inability to function with daily life. War neurosis occurs following traumatic events.


Neurosis diagnosis


Healthcare professionals do not currently make neurosis diagnoses. Symptoms resembling neurosis are placed within the category of anxiety and depressive disorders.


Mental health professionals diagnose neuroticism by using personality tests. The score a person tallies on the personality test provides mental health professionals with understanding of the impact of neuroticism. An individual can score low, medium, or high on a neuroticism personality test.


A low score means a person is emotionally stable. They are able to deal with stress with more successes than individuals who score high on personality tests.


Neurosis treatments


A person with a neurosis diagnosis will receive standard psychological care for treatment. The treatment may include psychotherapy, psychoactive drugs, and relaxation exercises. Relaxation exercises may include deep breathing tasks.


Individuals may undergo neurosis treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Mental health professionals may prescribe creative therapies. Creative therapies may include art therapy or music therapy. These have been used to treat mental disturbances similar to neurosis.


Personality disorders cannot be cured naturally. The good news is that neurosis can be managed naturally. Once a person realizes what triggers their issues, they can manage them much better. Neurotic behavior can be reduced.


There is a strong link between a person’s diet and mental health. Serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a critical in emotions. To improve the production of serotonin, a person can add more fresh foods to their diet. Adding colorful foods to daily meals can improve mental health. An individual suffering from neurosis may consult with a dietician to improve their diet. In addition, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake can make a major difference in symptoms.


Just because a person exhibits neurotic behaviors doesn’t mean that there is an issue. Neurotic tendencies do not mean an individual has a mental health disorder. However, if neurosis or neurotic tendencies are beginning to take over a person’s life, then they should seek help from a mental healthcare provider. Addressing issues and behaviors early on can limit their impacts later in life. There is treatment available for individuals suffering from neurosis and ways to manage symptoms.

References: Neurosis

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