What Is A Neurotic Personality?

  • Stella Tsolka MSc, Health Psychology, University of Surrey, UK
  • Chandana Raccha MSc in Pharmacology and Drug Discovery, Coventry University
  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative

Neuroticism stands as a fundamental aspect of personality marked by emotional instability, irritability, anxiety, self-doubt, and feelings of depression. As with other personality traits, neuroticism operates on a continuum, allowing individuals to fall on a spectrum ranging from high to low or somewhere in between. The impact of neuroticism on relationships can manifest in diverse ways, occasionally leading to friction. Understanding how neurotic tendencies influence relationships is crucial.

What is neuroticism? 

Neuroticism is a personality trait that measures the emotional stability of an individual. It is typically characterised as a negative aspect of personality, encompassing negative emotions, inadequate self-regulation (difficulty managing urges), challenges in coping with stress, strong reactions to perceived threats, and a propensity to complain. The concept of neuroticism, explored initially in Freudian times, was further developed by psychologists such as Hans Eysenck.1

In the realm of personality psychology, neuroticism holds a prominent position as one of the "Big Five" personality traits. These traits, including extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, form enduring characteristics that serve as common ways to categorise individuals. 

Neurotic personality traits 

Individuals characterised by neuroticism typically exhibit a predisposition towards negative emotions. If you suspect that either yourself or someone you care about may have a neurotic personality, watch out for the following indicators:1

  1. Persistent Worrying or Anxiety
  2. Emotional Instability
  3. Self-Consciousness
  4. Feelings of Self-Doubt
  5. Frequent Mood Swings or Episodes of Sadness and Depression
  6. Tendency to Easily Become Irritated or Angered
  7. Difficulty Handling Stress; Easily Stressed or Upset
  8. Dramatic Changes in Feelings
  9. Lack of Resilience or Difficulty Bouncing Back After Adversity
  10. Tendency to Interpret Neutral Situations as Threatening
  11. Viewing Minor Problems as Overwhelming
  12. Difficulty Controlling Urges or Emotions in the Moment
  13. Easily Becoming Jealous or Feeling Envy About Others

It's crucial to understand that the manifestation of neurotic behaviour varies among individuals, and its intensity can range from mild to extreme. While everyone may experience some degree of neurotic behaviour, individuals with a neurotic personality often find themselves on the higher end of the neuroticism spectrum.

Causes of neuroticism

Understanding the causes of individual variations in neuroticism involves considering several contributing factors:

  1. Brain Function: According to a smaller-scale study, individuals with higher neuroticism scores exhibited lower oxygen levels in their lateral prefrontal cortex after exposure to unpleasant images. This brain region is involved in various cognitive processes.2
  2. Childhood Trauma: Experiencing trauma during childhood appears to have a more significant impact on neuroticism than trauma later in life. Early exposure to such events may contribute to heightened neurotic tendencies.3
  3. Gender: Multicultural studies indicate that people assigned female at birth tend to score higher in neuroticism across 22 countries. However, the gender gap appears narrower in online environments, where increased anonymity may reduce concerns about social judgment.4
  4. Genetics: Research suggests a hereditary component to neuroticism, similar to inheriting other traits like height.5
  5. Survival:  Some argue that neuroticism may have evolutionary roots, suggesting that being hypersensitive to danger or threats could confer a survival advantage in certain contexts. Being alert to potential risks might have provided an adaptive advantage in terms of survival.

How neuroticism influences relationships

Neuroticism, as a personality trait, can exert detrimental effects on personal relationships. Below are several ways in which individuals high in neuroticism may encounter challenges in their interactions with others:

  1. Heightened irritability:

People exhibiting neurotic behaviours may come across as irritating due to their tendencies such as:

  • Being overly critical of others
  • Dependence on others for solutions instead of problem-solving independently
  • Frequent complaints
  • Constantly seeking reassurance
  • Magnifying minor issues into larger problems
  • Increased conflict:

Neuroticism often contributes to heightened conflict in relationships.6 For instance, reacting strongly to minor issues, like getting upset over minor inconveniences, may lead to confrontations. Accusations based on unfounded worries, such as suspecting a partner of infidelity without evidence, can strain relationships. Additionally, an obsessive pursuit of perfectionism may hinder the completion of tasks, leading to tensions and conflicts.

  • Perceived unreliability:

The emotional instability associated with neuroticism may cause others to perceive individuals with this trait as unreliable. Reacting impulsively or panicking in stressful situations may create doubts about one's ability to handle adversity calmly. This perception of unreliability can impact professional opportunities, as colleagues may question the ability to handle job responsibilities or jeopardise personal relationships by appearing unreliable in times of need.

  • Excessive guilt:

High levels of neuroticism may lead to excessive feelings of guilt, even for things beyond one's control. Apologising excessively for minor mistakes and fixating on past actions can drive people away. Despite the belief that such guilt is constructive, it can actually harm relationships and contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

  • Impacts on parenting:

Neurotic individuals, particularly as parents, may exhibit overprotective tendencies.7 Restricting children from normal activities due to perceived risks or making decisions on their behalf can hinder a child's development. Overprotective parenting may result in dependence, fear of taking risks, and inadequate coping skills, potentially leading to psychological issues and heightened anxiety in children.

Managing neuroticism

Having neuroticism doesn't imply a flaw in your personality, as many individuals with this trait lead stable and fulfilling lives. However, persistent negative emotions and emotional instability can impact your well-being. Effectively coping with neuroticism involves learning to navigate your feelings with appropriate support and a constructive mindset.

Here are some daily strategies to cope with neuroticism:

  1. Practising mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness to acknowledge and accept your emotions, steering away from a fixation on problems. This practice aids in recognizing neurotic behaviours and shifting negative feelings. Consider activities like maintaining a gratitude journal or practising mindfulness meditation.8
  2. Improving emotional intelligence: Elevate your emotional intelligence to better balance your emotions. Research suggests that enhancing emotional intelligence contributes to increased resilience and emotional stability. Explore online courses or self-help books to delve deeper into this aspect.8
  3. Restructuring thoughts: Replace negative thoughts with positive ones to mitigate the effects of neuroticism, improving anxiety and worry. Implement positive thinking through activities like jotting down affirmations or envisioning positive images when faced with concerns.9
  4. Reducing stress: Stress exacerbates negative thought patterns and worsens neuroticism symptoms. Identify stress reduction methods to enhance positive thinking. Experiment with activities such as regular exercise, meditation, yoga, reading, painting, or spending time with loved ones. The key is finding enjoyable activities that effectively help you de-stress.10 

Seeking professional help

If neuroticism significantly impacts your daily life, your healthcare provider may suggest consulting a mental health professional for additional support. Typically, you will collaborate with a licensed practitioner, such as a psychologist, social worker, or therapist. They may recommend psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, to assist you in managing neurotic behaviours. Common therapeutic approaches include:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapeutic method focuses on reframing negative and distorted thoughts, transforming them into more positive perspectives. CBT is designed to help you mitigate the intensity of negative emotions and urges.8
  2. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): This mindfulness-based therapy equips you with the skills to acknowledge and accept your thoughts and feelings in the present moment. ACT also aims to foster a mindset that allows you to release the need for excessive control in handling situations, contributing to the management of negative emotions.11


Neurotic personality refers to a psychological trait characterised by excessive worry, anxiety, and emotional instability in response to everyday stressors. People with neurotic tendencies often experience heightened levels of self-doubt and insecurity, leading to difficulties in managing their emotions effectively. They may frequently dwell on past mistakes or anticipate negative outcomes, impacting their overall well-being and relationships. Seeking support from mental health professionals can help individuals better understand and cope with their neurotic tendencies, fostering improved emotional resilience and a more balanced outlook on life.

In summary, neuroticism, a core aspect of personality characterised by emotional instability and negative emotions, operates on a continuum with individuals falling somewhere between high and low levels. This trait significantly impacts personal relationships, often leading to challenges and friction. Neurotic tendencies, explored through various indicators, can vary in intensity, with individuals at the higher end of the spectrum experiencing more pronounced effects. Multiple factors contribute to neuroticism, including brain function, childhood trauma, gender, genetics, and potential evolutionary roots tied to survival advantages. 

Understanding these influences is crucial in comprehending the diversity of neurotic behaviours among individuals. Neuroticism's influence on relationships is evident in heightened irritability, increased conflicts, perceived unreliability, excessive guilt, and impacts on parenting. The emotional instability associated with neuroticism can strain both personal and professional connections, affecting the overall well-being of individuals and their families.

Managing neuroticism involves daily strategies such as practising mindfulness, improving emotional intelligence, restructuring negative thoughts, and reducing stress. Seeking professional help through psychotherapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), is recommended for those significantly affected by neurotic behaviours.


  1. Widiger TA, Oltmanns JR. Neuroticism is a fundamental domain of personality with enormous public health implications. World Psychiatry [Internet]. 2017 Jun [cited 2024 Jan 6];16(2):144–5. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wps.20411
  2. Balada F, Lucas I, Blanch Á, Blanco E, Aluja A. Neuroticism is associated with reduced oxygenation levels in the lateral prefrontal cortex following exposure to unpleasant images. Physiology & Behavior [Internet]. 2019 Feb 1 [cited 2024 Jan 6];199:66–72. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938418305006
  3. Ogle CM, Rubin DC, Siegler IC. Changes in neuroticism following trauma exposure. Journal of Personality [Internet]. 2014 Apr [cited 2024 Jan 6];82(2):93–102. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jopy.12037
  4. Bunker CJ, Saysavanh SE, Kwan VSY. Are gender differences in the Big Five the same on social media as offline? Computers in Human Behavior Reports [Internet]. 2021 Jan 1 [cited 2024 Jan 6];3:100085. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2451958821000336
  5. Hill WD, Weiss A, Liewald DC, Davies G, Porteous DJ, Hayward C, et al. Genetic contributions to two special factors of neuroticism are associated with affluence, higher intelligence, better health, and longer life. Mol Psychiatry [Internet]. 2020 Nov [cited 2024 Jan 6];25(11):3034–52. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-019-0387-3
  6. Borghuis J, Bleidorn W, Sijtsma K, Branje S, Meeus WHJ, Denissen JJA. Longitudinal associations between trait neuroticism and negative daily experiences in adolescence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [Internet]. 2020 Feb [cited 2024 Jan 6];118(2):348–63. Available from: http://doi.apa.org/getdoi.cfm?doi=10.1037/pspp0000233
  7. Moreira H, Caiado B, Canavarro MC. Is mindful parenting a mechanism that links parents’ and children’s tendency to experience negative affect to overprotective and supportive behaviours? Mindfulness [Internet]. 2021 Feb 1 [cited 2024 Jan 6];12(2):319–33. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01468-6
  8. Chen L, Liu X, Weng X, Huang M, Weng Y, Zeng H, et al. The emotion regulation mechanism in neurotic individuals: the potential role of mindfulness and cognitive bias. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet]. 2023 Jan [cited 2024 Jan 6];20(2):896. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/20/2/896
  9. Eagleson C, Hayes S, Mathews A, Perman G, Hirsch CR. The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy [Internet]. 2016 Mar 1 [cited 2024 Jan 6];78:13–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796715300814
  10. Braund TA, Palmer DM, Tillman G, Hanna H, Gordon E. Increased chronic stress predicts greater emotional negativity bias and poorer social skills but not cognitive functioning in healthy adults. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping [Internet]. 2019 July 4 [cited 2024 Jan 6];32(4):399–411. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full///10.1080/10615806.2019.1598555
  11. Gloster AT, Walder N, Levin ME, Twohig MP, Karekla M. The empirical status of acceptance and commitment therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science [Internet]. 2020 Oct 1 [cited 2024 Jan 6];18:181–92. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212144720301940

Get health & wellness advice into your inbox

Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to us via this website may be placed by us on servers. If you do not agree to these placements, please do not provide the information.

Best Milk Alternative
[optin-monster-inline slug="yw0fgpzdy6fjeb0bbekx"]
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Styliani Tsolka

MSc, Health Psychology, University of Surrey, UK
BSc, Psychology, University of Surrey, UK

Stella is dedicated to promoting Mental Health Awareness, among people of all backgrounds and knowledgeable in applying theoretical concepts with real-life scenarios. In the future, Stella aspires to qualify as a Counselling Psychologist, focusing on individualized holistic care.

my.klarity.health presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818