A few weeks ago a Spo-fan asked me to answer  ‘What does being neurotic mean?”.  I sense the question wasn’t so much about getting a definition, but what to do about it.  I will do my best to summarize this lofty topic into a few take home points.

“Neurosis” is an old-fashioned term no longer used in modern psychology. It is a hangover term from the analytical days. Once upon a time being neurotic meant having an anxious thought or action resulting from unconscious conflicts.
If you were out of touch with reality, you had ‘psychosis’; if you had some screws loose but could still discern reality from delusion, you had ‘neurosis’.

I define “being neurotic” as the tendency to view the world or a situation in an unpleasant, threatening way.

How do you rid yourself of neuroticism? Ironically it is NOT about wallowing around in childhood issues like that time when you were six years old and didn’t get enough brownies. Intellectual neurotics can do this until the moon goes blue with cold and they remain as neurotic as usual. Intellectual insight cures ignorance, not neurosis.  Although this approach does follows the motto there is nothing wrong with you that an expensive analysis can’t prolong, and it does enhance a neurotic’s vocabulary with some eloquent psychobabble.

The other mistake dealing with neurotics is getting them to learn “coping skills” which are really avoidance techniques.

A more useful treatment is teaching people to be with their neurotic discomforts, and not run away from them.  What allows problems to take hold are all the desperate attempts made to protect yourself from emotions that make you feel bad.  For treating a neurosis, this means fixing the patient’s attention on what’s actually happening and not on the scary or threatening things they are imagining. You feel it and ride it out. The discomfort ends. You survive.

This is the treatment of neurosis, greatly summarized.   It feels like telling you the plot of “Madama Butterfly” is:

Madame Butterfly is set in Japan. An American sailor named Pinkerton buys a Japanese bride named Butterfly. He takes off, she has his child, and nobody has the guts to tell her he’s remarried in the States. She finally finds out and  kills herself”. 

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