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Neuroticism: Setting Your Mind Free

A Black Cloud

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was famous for his pessimistic outlook on life. He once stated, “If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering then our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world.” Schopenhauer portrayed life as a dark cloud looming over us in a field of sunshine. In his opinion, doubts, anxieties, and other negative emotions constantly bring us suffering in an otherwise peaceful existence. In modern psychology, we call that black cloud Neuroticism. How well you manage your negative thoughts can change how large that cloud is and how it affects you.

What Is Neuroticism?

Neuroticism is defined as a personality trait measuring one’s tendency towards anxiety, depression, self-doubt, anger mood-changes, and all negative emotions. Neuroticism exists on a spectrum, with some people having minimal neuroticism and stable lives and others having immense neuroticism and chaotic lives. It’s important to know that neuroticism isn’t a mental illness, that everyone has it to some degree, and that small amounts of negative emotions are natural and shouldn’t be feared.

However, being excessively neurotic can implicate many undesirable effects. People with high neuroticism are at greater risk of mental illness, substance abuse, mood disorder, and depression. They are also more anxious because of small problems and more sad because of small losses. This proclivity towards negative emotions can lead to a huge difference in severity between the situation itself and the reaction. Essentially, neuroticism is considered more severe when you experience excessively negative emotions as a result of trivial situations.

What Causes Neuroticism?

Neuroticism has no definitive cause because it is a personality trait, not a diagnosed mental illness. However, high neuroticism can be influenced by childhood experiences, peers, the environment, and possibly genetics. There is a theory that all negative emotions are derived from evolution. The idea is that the more negative you are about a circumstance, the more likely you will change to survive, meaning that negative emotions can serve as a catalyst for change. However, too many negative emotions can be detrimental to your mental health and happiness.

How Can It Be Fixed?

Neuroticism tends to mellow out in adulthood. Teenagers are typically more neurotic due to the circumstances of puberty. Commonly, growing maturity through age resolves excessive neuroticism. However, age doesn’t always solve the issue. It’s best to check your excessive negative emotions early to prevent reinforcing them.

This means catching your thoughts before doing something. The more we think negatively of a circumstance, the more we reinforce the habit of negative thinking. Recognizing what triggers our emotional response, adjusting how we think about it, and reacting positively is key to fixing it.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a line of psychological treatment that is all about this philosophy. CBT fixes unhelpful thought patterns that feed negative emotions and destructive actions. For instance, let’s say that when applying for jobs you think, “I’ll never be accepted.” This drives you to feel angry, sad, and anxious. In the same situation, when you use CBT, you catch yourself thinking negatively. You realize that thinking that you’ll never be accepted is illogical and unhelpful. Then you make an effort to think positively. You say to yourself, “I will eventually be accepted so long I continue searching.” Eventually, you find a job, bring home a steady income, and lead a more comfortable lifestyle. Because you caught your depressing thoughts and replaced them with optimistic ones, you felt calmer and acted more effectively.

Keeping a CBT journal on what triggers your negative emotions, what you feel, and what you react can change everything. You can start removing harmful scripts in your behavior and replacing them with beneficial ones. By catching yourself and changing your perspective, you can adopt positive emotions and limit neuroticism.

Neuroticism Is Good

Neuroticism isn’t entirely harmful. There is a reason why we feel angry, sad, or anxious about a situation. Your anxiety compels you to finish your work. Your anger drives you to take action against those who disrespect you. Your sadness can drive you to value and protect what you possess. However, when you feel these emotions in inappropriate situations, exaggerate them beyond what’s needed, or engage in destructive behavior, you need to take a step back. What made you anxious? Why are you anxious? Should you really be that anxious about the situation? What needs to be done to fix your anxiety? Answering these questions in our day-to-day lives can make us happier and more fulfilled individuals.

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