Neurosis was coined by the Scottish doctor William Cullen in 1769 to refer to “disorders of sense and motion” caused by a “general affection of the nervous system”. For him, it described various nervous disorders and symptoms that could not be explained physiologically. It derives from the Greek word “νεῦρον” (neuron, “nerve”) with the suffix -osis (diseased or abnormal condition).

Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms. It is also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, and thus those suffering from it are said to be neurotic.

There are many different specific forms of neurosis: pyromania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety neurosis, hysteria (in which anxiety may be discharged through a physical symptom), and a nearly endless variety of phobias.

According to Dr. George Boeree, effects of neurosis can involve:

  …anxiety, sadness or depression, anger, irritability, mental confusion, low sense of self-worth, etc., behavioral symptoms such as phobic avoidance, vigilance, impulsive and compulsive acts, lethargy, etc., cognitive problems such as unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, repetition of thoughts and obsession, habitual fantasizing, negativity and cynicism, etc. Interpersonally, neurosis involves dependency, aggressiveness, perfectionism, schizoid isolation, socio-culturally inappropriate behaviors, etc.

Psychoanalytical theory – As an illness, neurosis represents a variety of mental disorders in which emotional distress or unconscious conflict is expressed through various physical, physiological, and mental disturbances, which may include physical symptoms (e.g., hysteria). The definitive symptom is anxieties. Neurotic tendencies are common and may manifest themselves as depression, acute or chronic anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, specific phobias, such as social phobia, arachnophobia or any number of other phobias, and even personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. It has perhaps been most simply defined as a “poor ability to adapt to one’s environment, an inability to change one’s life patterns, and the inability to develop a richer, more complex, more satisfying personality.”Neuroses may be rooted in ego defense mechanisms, but the two concepts are not synonymous. Defense mechanisms are a normal way of developing and maintaining a consistent sense of self (i.e., an ego), while only those thought and behavior patterns that produce difficulties in living should be termed “neuroses”.

Jung’s theory of neurosis

Carl Jung found his approach particularly fitting for people who are successfully adjusted by normal social standards, but who nevertheless have issues with the meaning of their life.

  I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life (Jung, [1961] 1989:140).

The majority of my patients consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith (Jung, [1961] 1989:140).

[Contemporary man] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by “powers” that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and, above all, a large array of neuroses. (Jung, 1964:82).

Jung found that the unconscious finds expression primarily through an individual’s inferior psychological function, whether it is thinking, feeling, sensing, or intuition. The characteristic effects of a neurosis on the dominant and inferior functions are discussed in Psychological Types.

Catastrophization is a representation of something in an excessive manner. Words or expressions associated with exaggeration include:

   1. boasting and bragging by arrogant or manipulative people.
2. inflated praise in the form of flattery and puffery.
3. a type of deception.
4. amplifying achievements, obstacles and problems to seek attention.
5. magnifying small injuries or discomforts as an excuse to avoid responsibilities.
6. a form of cognitive distortion called magnification.
7. overemphasizing one issue and downplaying (minimizing) the other to divert attention from it – see also Spin.
8. inflation of the difficulty of achieving a goal after attaining it, possibly to improve self-esteem.
9. a grandiose sense of self-importance observed in narcissists.
10. “self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion” observed in those with those with histrionic personality disorder and other Cluster B personality disorders.
11. associated with depressive, neurotic or paranoid behavior – focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable.
12. observed in abusers or manipulators to amplify or fabricate faults of the victim as a component of victim blaming .

Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait in the study of psychology. It is an enduring tendency to experience negative emotional states. Individuals who score high on neuroticism are more likely than the average to experience such feelings as anxiety, anger, guilt, and depressed mood. They respond more poorly to environmental stress, and are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. They are often self-conscious and shy, and they may have trouble controlling urges and delaying gratification. Neuroticism is associated with low emotional intelligence, which involves emotional regulation, motivation, and interpersonal skills.  It is also a risk factor for “internalizing” mental disorders such as phobia, depression, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders (traditionally called neuroses).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, individuals who score low in neuroticism are more emotionally stable and less reactive to stress. They tend to be calm, even tempered, and less likely to feel tense or rattled. Although they are low in negative emotion, they are not necessarily high on positive emotion. That is an element of the independent trait of extraversion. Neurotic extraverts, for example, would experience high levels of both positive and negative emotional states, a kind of “emotional roller coaster”. Individuals who score low on neuroticism (particularly those who are also high on extraversion) generally report more happiness and satisfaction with their lives.


the Wikipedia article.