Although the term neurotic has fallen out of favor with mental health professionals, it’s quite common to hear someone who struggles with excessive anxiety or moodiness described in that way. Dealing with someone facing these challenges can be difficult and frustrating. Having a bit of perspective and some reliable tools can help you better manage the situation.
What Is Neurotic?
When the term neurotic is used, it can be referring either to personality traits, which are longstanding patterns of thought and behavior that become more stable over time, or character adaptations, which are the ways that people react to specific situations, says Gregg Henriques on the "Psychology Today" website. In either case, neurotic behavior is the result of sensitivity to negative circumstances prompting a person to worry, get easily upset, become despondent or irritable, or overreact to stress.
One of the first ways to combat neurotic behavior in another person is to stay out of her inertia, or spin. When someone is highly emotional, it’s very easy to get pulled into her drama. Staying out of that drama means choosing to respond, rather than simply react, suggests Leslie Becker-Phelps on "Psychology Today." One way to do this is to create some space between the source of your frustration and your reaction. By taking a moment and considering a response, rather than simply immediately reacting, you give yourself an opportunity to choose which direction the conversation may go. One way to do this might be to avoid defensive or accusatory remarks and ask a question that focuses on the other person's feelings. For example, a question like, "What do you think we can do to change that?" will have a greater positive impact than saying, "You are never satisfied with anything I say or do!"
Don’t Try to Fix It
When encountering someone in pain, it's natural to want to help in some way. Although your first instinct may be to somehow interject yourself into the situation, that can sometimes be fruitless or even make matters worse, notes Linda Bloom in a PsychCentral article. Like Becker-Phelps, Bloom refers to Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and how the power to choose -- in this case to simply be with another’s pain, rather than exercising the need to fix it -- is one of your most powerful and useful tools.
Learn to Listen
Just because you don’t engage in another person’s emotional upheaval, or help in some concrete way, doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive. Actively listening to someone express his feelings and emotions demonstrates a genuine interest in what he is experiencing, asserts retired clinical psychologist Larry Alan Nadig in his article “Tips on Effective Listening.” Some techniques of active listening include maintaining eye contact with the person speaking, not interrupting, and reflecting or rephrasing the other person's dialogue with phrases like, "So, what I'm hearing you say is..." or "Help me to understand..." Avoid naming the other person's emotions for him, or telling him what he's thinking. Active listening gives you the space needed to come up with a response that is effectively helpful.
Active listening is one of the skills contributing to developing emotional intelligence. Compassion is the aspect of emotional intelligence allowing you to see things from another person’s perspective, no matter how disruptive, suggests Dan Goleman, author of the book "Emotional Intelligence," in his TED Talk, “Why Aren’t We More Compassionate?” Creating space, not interjecting yourself and actively listening all contribute to developing the compassion to allow another person to be anxious or moody in the face of negative circumstances without her behavior having a negative effect on you.
Jackson Fields holds three master’s degrees in psychology, has contributed to and edited several books, and published more than 250 articles on psychology and related topics. His work appears in a number of national publications, including Psychology Today and Huffington Post.