Neurotic features can be found in the character of many successful people – from Albert Einstein to Woody Allen. Nervousness can lead to a search for better and more permanent work on improving oneself. But it can also transform a person into a recluse if you do not restrain it.
Living with neuroticism is difficult – trifling problems acquire dramatic coloring. Accidental skirmish on public transportation can spoil the whole day, and the missed birthday of a friend can be the pretext to never talk to him again (because of shame, of course).
Researchers into temperament define neuroticism as a sensitivity to negative emotions. It can be lowered – a person will have a good self-control, but at the same time will be rude and insubstantial. In case of high neuroticism, a person will always have some anxiety in the background. Usually, it does not cause problems, but severe shocks and constant stress can turn it into a neurosis – and this is already a disease.
The tendency to increased neuroticism is manifested already in early childhood. Such children can be easily distinguished from others: they are afraid of strangers or unusual surroundings, they do not like bright lights, loud sounds, and fuss. Over time, there appears the fear of criticism, conflicts and uncertain situations, when one needs to quickly think and improvise.
If you are prone to neuroticism, you do not tolerate energy-consuming emotions like anger and anxiety.
You try to avoid them, so you seem passive, indecisive, and colorless. Such people miss their chances, getting into the list of eternal “losers” (as they were called by psychologist Eric Berne) – people who work a lot, but cannot advance more than the head of the department. They are prevented from getting to the top by their own obsession with the negative.
Ignoring or suppressing your experiences is meaningless – you risk damaging your psyche. The obsessive-compulsive disorder arises precisely as an attempt to cope with obsessive thoughts. According to psychologist Rebecca L. Shiner, the author of Handbook of Temperament, the problem is not that we experience many negative emotions, but that we allow them to master our thoughts and actions. The best way to cope with sensitivity to negative emotions is to learn how to work with them.
Replace “negative” with “difficult”
The problem will not disappear if we just change words. But this action has a “resolving” character: we change the image of something repulsive and frightening for a more neutral one. Difficult does not mean impossible. Difficult means only that we have a road to take. Perhaps we will become stronger if we cope with this experience. Either way, we will no longer have a reason to avoid it.
Get ready for the adventures
Psychotherapist Louis Cozolino, the author of Why Therapy Works, claims that one of the biggest dangers for a neurotic is to miss the most interesting thing in life because of anxiety. Imagine what you are losing by being afraid to leave the house: communicating with beautiful people, traveling, feeling the splendor of life.
What can be done? Develop the ability to take risks
Do things that you would never do and practice them all the time. The fear of making the first step is the most difficult (not negative!) moment that needs to be overcome. Try to replace it with curiosity. As if you were an explorer and as if the world around were an unfamiliar planet, on which you were going to settle.
Learn to analyze your condition
Strangely enough, it is the close attention to one’s thoughts and emotions that can help to weaken their power over reason. The ability to accurately distinguish and identify emotions prevents them from becoming entangled in something dark and sinister. Working with a specific sense of embarrassment because of the upcoming meeting with an employer is easier than with a sense of shame before the whole world for your existence.
Express feelings with words
The very process of naming your feelings brings relief. Experiments conducted by psychologist James Pennebaker have shown that writing an expressive letter (describing one’s feelings on paper) for 20 minutes in a matter of three days helps to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Loosen your mind control
A colleague has not held the elevator door for you. Are you feverishly rallying your thoughts: maybe you failed him in the past? Didn’t you say hello to him yesterday? Was there any other reason for him to hate you? In fact, maybe he was just in a hurry. Or did not notice you. Or just was annoyed. Anyway, you have no reason to believe that he is angry with you.
In situations where you are obsessed with some interpretation, think of dispositional awareness. This is a state in which you use only the information that is available to you. You cannot know what is going on in another person’s mind – so do not worry about it. You do not have to know this. Once you feel that, you begin to fantasize, mentally separate the exact knowledge from assumptions and stick to it.