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Neuroticism: A Call to Change our Multidimensional Perfectionist Mindset

As mentioned in a previous blog, psychology researchers have theorized that there are five “most essential” traits when it comes to understanding human personality.  Knowing whether someone scores high, medium, or low on each of these traits can help you predict how someone might act in the future.  For those of you that are newly joining our conversation about the Big Five Personality Traits, feel free to check out our last two blogs on extraversion and conscientiousness.  

 

Most people would describe me as a “cool, calm and collected” person that is optimistic and always smiling, which rings true most of the time.  However, there are times when I feel anxious, when my mood is low, and I cannot cope with my stress.  The personality trait that taps into emotional stability is called Neuroticism and it is the trait that helps us understand how someone responds to stressors in the environment.

 

Just like extraversion and the rest of the Big Five Personality Traits, Neuroticism falls on a spectrum that ranges from low to high. Moreover, just like other personality traits, scoring too low or two high can come with some serious consequences.  For instance, a person that scores high on neuroticism will typically be characterized as someone that is prone to feeling anxious, angry, and/or sad.  Others may describe them as emotionally reactive or even pessimistic.  In many ways, they have a stronger emotional response to events that happen in their lives.  In addition to experiencing strong negative emotions from disappointing events, these individuals may have difficulties regulating emotions, making it difficult to think clearly, make decisions, thinking positively, and cope with stressors both small and large (Srivastava, 2018).  

 

On the other end of the scale, a person that is low in neuroticism is less emotionally reactive and may experience more emotional stability and optimism.  In many ways, we may consider this end of the spectrum to be more positive, since these individuals will experience less anger, sadness, and anxiety compared to those scoring high on neuroticism. On the other hand, low levels of anxiety can keep one from having motivation to work hard and lacking a sense of sadness and disappointment can keep one from making significant and important changes in their lives.  Although most of us shy away from anger, this emotion can be a powerful vehicle for change if channeled in the right way.

 

Six components make up the Neuroticism trait, including anxiety, anger, depression, self-consciousness, immoderation, and vulnerability.  I’m sure you are wanting to know what each of these facets mean, so let me go ahead and briefly explain them to you (Srivastava, 2018):

 

  • Anxiety--Anxiety is an emotion that is easily engaged by the “fight-or-flight” system of our brain.  Therefore, people that are high in anxiety can feel tense, jittery, and nervous as a result of a specific situation, whereas a person low in anxiety feels calm.  

  • Anger--A person who scores high in the anger facet has a tendency to feel enraged when things do not go their way or if they are treated unfairly.  However, it is important to note that this facet measures a person’s tendency to feel angry; whether or not this emotion is expressed depends the individual’s level of agreeableness.  Low scorers do not get easily angered.

  • Depression--This facet is measured by the tendency to feel sad and discouraged. An individual that scores high in this facet feels a lack of energy and has difficulty initiating activities.  A person that has a low score feels free from these depressive emotions.

  • Self-Consciousness--A person that is highly self-conscious values what other people think about them.  High scorers tend to be concerned about rejection and ridicule from others, causing them to feel shy and uncomfortable around others.  Their fears of other’s criticism is often exaggerated and unrealistic, but their awkwardness may make these fears a self fulfilling prophecy.  In contrast, low scorers do not feel like everyone is watching them and do not feel nervous in social situations.    

  • Immoderation--An individual that is highly immoderate feels strong cravings/urges that are hard for them to resist.  In addition, they tend to be concerned with short-term pleasure and reward rather than long-term consequences.  In contrast, low scorers do not experience strong cravings and are not tempted to overindulge.

  • Vulnerability--An individual that scored high on vulnerability tends to experience panic, confusion and helplessness when under stress.  In contrast, a person that scores low on the scale feel more poised, confident, and clear-headed when stressed.

 

Sometimes I wonder if millennials have more of a focus on mental and emotional health compared to other generations.  I think the reason mental health has our attention is because we all know so many people our own age that suffer from anxiety and depression.  In fact, 20% of high schoolers are diagnosed with a mental illness before they graduate, and that statistic is only including the individuals that choose to seek help (Schrobsdorff, 2016).  This number only increases as kids leave home and go to college.  As an individual that is a part of this generation, I cannot help but wonder why we are plagued with so many mental concerns.  Are we genetically predisposed to having these issues? Does this mean we are more neurotic than previous generations?  Or is our decline in mental health a result of our environment?

 

I contemplate these questions often, and I personally believe that our mental health has declined as a result of our environment.  When I think about our society, we emphasize high achievement, high success, and perfection, while looking down upon mistakes, low achievement and failure.  With society instilling these values into our core beliefs, we are conditioned to strive for perfectionism and fear the possibility of not achieving success.  Philip Perry, author of “Millennials Are at Higher Risk for Mental Health Issues. This May Be Why,” expands on the concept of societal values by discussing a study conducted by Thomas Curran.  This study discovered that Millennials were striving not just for perfectionism, but for “’multidimensional perfectionism,’ meaning [we] feel pressure to measure up to an ever-growing number of criteria.  Striving to reach impossible standards [increasing] the risk of anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and even suicidal ideation” (Perry, 2018).  As we strive for perfection in all these areas of life, we are constantly under pressure and disappointed in our “failures”. This mentality does not just influence Millennials; adults of various ages also struggle with the ever-rising bar of what it means to be successful in our society.

 

I would like to challenge our readers to change their mindset about what it means to be successful.  We need to be more aware of our limitations and accepting of our failures.  Perry (2018) said it best in his article when he stated, “we learn far more from our failures than we ever do our successes…instead of trying to be perfect, it might be best to perfect how to learn from the times we come up short”.  I also want to challenge us to put our happiness first.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I need to get good grades, so I can get a good job, and then I’ll have a nice home and a family, and once that happens, I will be happy”.  We are all guilty of confusing happiness with success, which I feel is another reason we struggle with our mental health.  Happiness should not be a goal that gets to be earned at the end of your 10-year plan, it is something we should experience on a daily basis; so please take time out of each day to do an activity that makes you happy, even it is just for an hour or two.  Shawn Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage,” emphasizes how positive psychology can fuel success and performance in our lives.  I thought it was really powerful when he stated, “when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive…happiness fuels success, not the other way around” (Achor, 2011).   

 

Perhaps if we become more self-aware, we will be able to combat our neuroticism.  If you struggle with regulating your emotions, or suffer from anxiety or depression, please do not hesitate to reach out to TOPPS.  As you continue on this journey of understanding yourself better, I hope that you find more acceptance and self-compassion.  In my next blog post, we will be discussing Agreeableness.  This trait will provide insight about your behavioral actions, such as trust, altruism, cooperation, and sympathy.  


 

References

 

Achor, S. (2011). The happiness advantage: The seven principles that fuel success and performance at work. London: Virgin.

 

Perry, P. (2018, January 08). Millennials Are at Higher Risk for Mental Health Issues. This May Be Why. Retrieved from https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/millennials-are-at-higher-risk-for-mental-health-issues-this-may-be-why

 

Schrobsdorff, S. (2016, October 27).  Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids are not Alright. Retrieved from http://time.com/4547322/american-teens-anxious-depressed-overwhelmed/


Srivastava, S. ([2018]). Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors. Retrieved [July 29, 2018] from https://pages.uoregon.edu/sanjay/bigfive.html

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