Although you rarely hear the expression anymore, mental health professionals traditionally used the term neurotic to refer to conditions associated with poor functioning, anxiety, and depression.

Diagnosing mental health conditions, such as personality disorders, is generally not as straightforward as it is with many illnesses. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which most mental health professionals use, categorizes mental illnesses into discrete groups defined by symptoms.

Other classifying methods are more fluid. Otto Kernberg, MD, an expert on personality disorders, views mental conditions along continuums, rather than as distinct categories. One continuum describes mental illness by severity. It's anchored at one end by neurosis, which Kernberg considers reasonably healthy, and at the other by psychosis. The continuum allows for a wide range of personality variations in between.

Kernberg uses three factors to determine where an individual falls on this continuum: can he distinguish between what's real and what's not (reality testing); does she have an integrated sense of self and can distinguish between herself and others; and, how mature is he in coping with stressful and emotional circumstances. Psychotics score poorly on these three factors.

In Psychology Today, the publication of the American Psychological Association, Gregg Henriques, Ph.D., writes that we are all neurotic some of the time. He says the term neurotic can refer to personality traits, such as long-standing patterns in our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Neurotics tend to become easily upset, are often down or irritable, and react emotionally to stress, for example. Neurotics may also describe the ways people adjust or adapt to situation-specific events. Adaptive behaviors can be healthy or they can be unproductive.

Henriques suggests that when you're feeling a little out of control, pause and consider what situations are making you feel insecure. Can you change long-standing patterns in your habits, emotions, relationships, beliefs, or the way you manage tension when faced with conflicting goals? If you need help, consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches individuals how to catch themselves engaging in non-constructive habits and then how to change maladaptive beliefs to reduce insecurities.

Debra Warner, PsyD, reviewed this article.




Henriques, Gregg, Ph.D. "(When) Are You Neurotic?" Psychology Today. Web. 23 November 2012.

Univerzity Karlovy. "Neurotic Disorders." Powerpoint. Web.

Hoermann, Simone, Ph.D., Zupanick, Corinne E. Psy.D. and Dombeck, Mark, Ph.D. "Introduction to Personality Disorders." Community Counseling Services. Web.