Let’s face it, not everyone out there is logical, rational, emotionally stable and predictable. And if you’re not one of those, you know it. You’re the “feisty”, “emotional”, “unstable” or heavens forbid, the “emotionally volatile” one.

So, What Is Neuroticism?

Neuroticism, is one of the big five personality traits, together with Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. Being neurotic means that your brain is more sensitive to perceived threats than others. You are also more likely to experience intense emotions like anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness compared to the general population. Emotional instability or emotional sensitive are some other terms that we could use to describe neuroticism.

Are you neurotic? Try this little checklist! Please answer YES/NO to the following questions according to your preference.

1. I often feel nervous.

2. I often worry about things.

3. I experience panic quite easily.

4. I get irritated easily.

5. There are many things that scares me.

6. My mood changes quickly.

7. I often feel lonely.

8. I often feel blue.

9. Important events can overwhelm me.

10. I often feel that I am unable to deal with things.

If you said yes to most or the majority of the above questions, it is quite likely that you are a neurotic person. This is only a checklist, to be sure, you’ll have to complete a full psychological assessment. But it should give you an idea of where you stand.

The Psychological Perspective On Neuroticism?

Some psychologists consider this category of behaviour to be a personality disorder and different psychological assessments reinforces this label. If you’re lucky, they refer to these behaviours as “emotionality”, “low adjustability”, “excitable” but some are less subtle, going painfully to, “neurotic”. Straight out of a horror movie and ready to mow down a local village of innocent women and children.

Coaches, trainers and psychologists thrive on making people like you manage, contain or “channel” their emotions. There does not seem to be much positive about this personality trait, not if you label it as a personality disorder, anyway. It appears that the best you can do is to contain these traits and hope for the best. And try not to cause too much damage when you fail to do so.

Any Help From Google?

Type “how to coach a neurotic” on Google and you find nearly no helpful information. Instead, you will find articles describing the deficits and the risks of being a neurotic. It appears to be the only personality orientation that is a permanent “deficit”. One with rather few benefits or strengths stipulated on the positive side of the spectrum compared to the other four personality types.

But let me tell you, that is NOT true. Before I prove that, let me tell you something about myself.

A Personal Confession

I have a confession to make. I am neurotic too. And I have worked with many leaders and professionals at very senior corporate levels who made it to the top despite being neurotic. Some of my coachees end up with me exactly because of their emotionality (I’ll choose the less painful of the labels) and over the past years I’ve learnt a lot about the inner lives of people like them and me.

Neurotics are passionate people. We don’t work on perspiration, they work on inspiration. we need to feel passionate about what they do. We need inspiration. We need freedom to express both positive and negative emotions. Yes, at our worst we can be volatile, erratic, emotional, difficult to live with… even unreasonable and unpredictable. We experience things intensely. But at our best we love deeply, we act with passion, we are inspired and we can be inspirational, we are vigilant and responsive. To unleash it, we just have to learn how to harness this superpower.

The good news is that there is a massive group of us out there in the population – at least as many neurotics as non-neurotics. And more good news is that we do have positive strengths and we do have a lot to offer to people, teams, organisations and societies. After all, what would the world be like without the likes of Isaac Newton, Vincent Van Gogh, Woody Allen and Steve Jobs, just to name a few?

Whereto From Here?

How do we train this dragon instead of trying to slay it? How do we embrace and unleash it, instead of hiding or suppressing it? In this series of blogs, I will share a few thoughts and ideas based on my personal journey as psychologist, coach and fellow neurotic. I’ll share tips and insights for neurotics and even advice on “how to love a neurotic”. I may not present the final solution to life the universe and everything, but I will provide insights and suggestions that will help neurotics celebrate their gifts and live more fulfilled lives.

The first step is to acknowledge and own the positive elements of this personality trait. You are blessed with it, whether you like it not. Why not embrace it? Let it work for you?


Henry Chamberlain is a Hong Kong based organisational psychologist specialising in executive coaching and psychological assessments.

Neuroticism: The Ugly Duckling of Personality
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One thought on “Neuroticism: The Ugly Duckling of Personality

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