Thoughts on Managing Neuroticism

One of the things I have been trying to work on as I've gotten older is my neuroticism.  I'm a very, well, high anxiety person and when I was a kid, I often felt like almost everything and everyone in the world was out to get me.  Obviously this was very bad for my social development, so I've tried very hard to introduce more balanced thought processes so that I can better interact with people.

On the one hand, personality is a sticky feature, and neuroticism is a personality trait.  Indeed my experience bears this out, because as an adult I still seem to have a lot of anxiety about even fairly innocuous situations and my brain still tends to focus a lot on the negatives of any given situation.  On the other hand, I also strongly feel that it's possible to devise coping strategies for the negative aspects of one's personality.  I also feel that neuroticism is not necessarily something merely to be coped with, but also can confer positive advantages if one employs good management techniques.  So I want to talk a bit about some things I think have been helpful for me.

One aspect of neuroticism is that you perceive a lot of situations in a negative and critical light.  This is not always bad.  You cannot fix problems that you do not notice in the first place, and neuroticism can help you notice those problems!  Of course, it can also cause you to perceive problems that aren't really there via various misunderstandings, and that in itself is a problem.  Which neuroticism can also help you notice, since it helps you notice problems.

Now, if we notice problems, we can work on fixing them.  At this step we may need to address runaway feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that neuroticism can contribute to.  What needs to be done here I think is to break problems down into smaller pieces or reduce their scope so that the problem of solving them will no longer seem insurmountable.  One thing to address is that overwhelming feeling that whenever you look at a really large problem like climate change or poverty and feel a sense of hopelessness at the sheer scope of it.  At times like these, it's important to remember that your actions can make a difference, but that your actions alone cannot solve these problems by themselves.  Also you will need to work with other people to magnify those actions, so it helps to think of how you can best encourage yourself to do that.

Another place where neuroticism can be bad is when confronting large personal problems.  Even though the scale of these problems is much smaller, they are still capable of causing you immense harm, so concern is warranted.  However, it can be necessary to also manage that concern since concern itself can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, which ultimately don't help us at all.

For this, one thing I personally find helpful is spite.  When I see a personal problem that seems too big for me to solve, I have a tendency to feel overwhelming despair or panic.  But I also know that there are people out there who would love to see me fail or die, and I very dearly do not want to give them the satisfaction of that outcome.  So then I feel like I must try my best even though I am not guaranteed to succeed because otherwise I am just letting those people win.  Maybe I will not succeed, but at least I will also not concede.

I am fortunate in that I have possessed a large quantity of spite for as long as I can remember.  I think people often assume that there can be no redeeming qualities for such a trait, but again I think it is all about how it is managed. 

Another problem my neuroticism causes is that it makes building trust in other people difficult.  For this I know that I have to actively exert effort to recognize the positive qualities in others that I know they have.  However, my neuroticism about my behavior has helped me to understand the scope of this problem as I've gotten older and learned more about myself and the people around me.  I think one way to help manage this aspect of neuroticism is by employing gentle self-criticism and self-examination (which neuroticism can help with) to help recognize when I am not properly considering my own tendencies and limitations.  Also helpful here is to have some external and consistent way to judge situations, like examining the facts and applying logic to such situations.  This is a problem I am still actively working on, and has been one of the major obstacles of my life, but I think I have seen some improvement here as I've gotten older.

Anyway, that's just a couple of thoughts on some things I've found helpful to manage my neuroticism.  Everyone is different, so this will not necessarily be helpful to all or even most other people who share this trait with me.  But perhaps a few may find these thoughts useful, so I thought I should write them down somewhere.

Do you have any thoughts on what may be helpful for managing this trait?  Feel free to let me know in the comments if you'd like!