Wednesday, 1 December 2010

So neurotic

"Neurotic" is one of those vague terms we sling at people, more as an insult than a description. "Natalie's so bloody neurotic, it's impossible to work with her."

It's pretty damning because it can mean all sorts of unflattering things. The person's obsessive, they worry too much, they complicate things, they dither, they're over-emotional.

It's not a word we welcome. It implies we're pretty useless at dealing with everyday life. Everything is too much for us, the tiniest thing makes us panic, we fumble our way along like a halfwit.

Once someone has attached the term to you, it's hard to shake off, even it turns out to be quite mistaken. I remember a workmate called Jane who had a deceptively ditzy style. She always looked dazed and ineffectual, with a hesitant voice, a deferential manner and a constant air of timidity.

She was instantly summed up as neurotic, yet this was far from the truth. Underneath the quavery exterior was a steely core, and she did her work brilliantly. She was actually smarter, more efficient and more reliable than many of her workmates, but the "neurotic" tag clung to her obstinately.

It doesn't help either that it's one of those common psychiatric terms that implies the person's a bit deranged and in urgent need of professional treatment.

You don't have to be as considerate and helpful as you would to any normal person because their problems are too complex, too tangled, you'll just get sucked into their hopelessly dysfunctional psyche. Best to give them a wide berth and leave them to it.

All in all, a juicy term of abuse. It isn't often aimed at me but when it is I'm startled enough to take a good hard look at myself. Am I really that loopy? Am I really out to lunch? Or was it just a throwaway remark?

16 comments:

Grannymar said...

How could anyone call you "Neurotic"? Send them to me and I'll soon sort them out!

Nick said...

Grannymar - It hasn't happened for a while, but if it does, I'll send them straight round to experience the notorious "Grannymar Procedure" (shudders).

e said...

I have relatives fitting the term as described here (shudders). I still love them, so what does that say about me?

Nick said...

e - I guess it means you're a generous and tolerant person who's prepared to make a lot of allowances for other people's weaknesses. Good for you.

kylie said...

hi nick!

Nick said...

Hi Kylie. I hereby certify that you are definitely NOT neurotic. My invoice is in the post.

kylie said...

actually babe, i can be horribly neurotic at times but i know when i am so that is a good thing, right?
most of the time i feel like Jane, not steely, but effective and capable but people think i'm ditzy and (i'm serious) i cant understand why

Nick said...

Kylie - Some people are just unfortunate enough to look ditzy when they're anything but. It sure confuses other people who expect inside and outside to match.

Val said...

I swapped out neurotic for eccentric many years ago. It works well.

Nick said...

Val - A clever move. Though eccentric doesn't seem to be quite so endearing as it used to be. Unfortunately "normal" is winning out. I think I was always eccentric from an early age and neurotic somehow passed me by. Though I can be absurdly anxious at times.

Wisewebwoman said...

I believe that neuroses of all kinds exist in everyone. Seriously.
I know I have some that wink up periodically and slay me and surprise me too.
it is easy to pass judgement on others and I have found myself doing that even recently with one man in my play who goes bouncy periodically - I could write a play on him actually.
Wellness and balance are never present all the time even in well balanced me (LOL, kidding)
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - That's true, we all have a neurosis or two even if we're not runaway neurotic. We can all be thrown by particular things we find it hard to deal with.

secret agent woman said...

As a shrink, I feel compelled to weigh in here. Neurotic isn't a very serious term, not in its proper usage. It's more of a low-grade anxiety and maladjustment. Psychotic is when people are "deranged." And the overwhelmingly vast majority of people have some degree of neuroticism in one area or another. Take the sitcom "Seinfeld," for instance. That group of friends was he picture of neurosis. The humor of the show was in their neurotic quirks. So if someone called me neurotic I'd laugh and say, "Of course! Who isn't?"

heartinsanfrancisco said...

People never seem to run out of ways to be mean to each other. This is a prime example, and a dangerous one because most of us are not qualified to throw around psychological terminology.

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Thanks for that. I think most people don't understand the psychiatric use of these terms though, so they see them as more alarming than they are. Schizophrenia being the classic example. But you're right about neurosis-ridden sitcoms. Frasier also comes to mind!

Nick said...

Heart - Indeed, we're not qualified to properly understand the terms. Another word people fling about is paranoid, but I don't think that's quite so abusive.