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Neuroticism causes unhappiness and reduces lifespan

Updated on September 26, 2015

The first article in this series presented the Five Factor Personality model, one of a long series of theories that attempt to reduce human personality to the interaction of a small number of factors partly inherited and partly shaped by experience and conscious effort.

Neuroticism is the first trait to discuss as it causes the most misery

Neuroticism is basically an exaggerated response to threat and a tendency to worry.

When extreme this can shade into paranoia but has a definite survival value: Not worrying about potential problems is pretty much a recipe for disaster, but worrying too much can result in becoming paralysed by fear.

The bad

Those high in Neuroticism react more to threats and stress than those with low Neuroticism. This means they are more likely to suffer anxiety attacks, worry whether they left the gas on when they left the house, and are more prone to depression: more precisely the high scorer needs less stress to push them into depression, and, if married are more likely to get divorced. Other problems include eating disorders, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and headaches generally poor health and in rare cases it can result in clinically significant disorders.

High Neuroticism scorers tend to create their own problems to a greater extent then low and medium scorers. Someone worried about their partner leaving them or losing their job may act in a way that makes the feared result more likely and the low self esteem that tends to accompany high scoring (because negative emotions tend to be directed at the self) may result in a tendency to pursue the wrong job, career or type of partner, perhaps from an unconscious conviction that they deserve no better and chronic self doubt about who they are and what they want.

The good

On the positive side being aware of potential problems is a good thing: negative emotions are there, like pain, to warn and protect. The rare inability to feel pain, congenital, unless you contract Leprosy, usually means a short life. Similarly in a dangerous environment like a jungle or a rough pub, not worrying can shorten life expectancy. Low scorers on Neuroticism are likely to pursue risky hobbies like mountaineering, parachute jumping or stuffing ferrets inside their trousers, engage in unsafe sex, have extra marital affairs and pursue high risk professions like motor racing and law enforcement.

Many successful artists ( and comedians) have suffered from depression indicating high levels of Neuroticism and their success may be a result of their following Socrates' dictum that “The unexamined life is not worth living” and using their art to examine their life. The high scorer is often plagued by the feeling something is not right, and if they can overcome the problems caused by the resulting tendency to perfectionism they tend to manage life better than the carefree extravert. Indeed a good partnership would be an extravert who delegates the worrying to a high neuroticism scorer and LISTENS to the problems that the designated worrier reveals.

Social control

Religions, particularly the authoritarian major religions that base their claims on Holy Scriptures” probably foster Neuroticism beyond the level inheritance decrees. Constantly being told “We are all unworthy sinners” or “This is God's Punishment ” when something like a Tsunami happens probably lower self esteem and other traits that would help combat Neuroticism. Low self esteem in the congregation benefits the people running the religion, (I recall a minister from the American Bible belt opposing moves to boost the self esteem of school children because “That would make them think they don't need Jesus”) who have, historically ,persecuted and murdered those with the self confidence to think for themselves, calling the latter heretics and worse thus making those with low self esteem more likely to have children and swell the congregation with future sheep.

Similarly politicians find it easier to control the population if the population have low self esteem.

Note also that the very ones using low self esteem as a weapon for social control also tend to be over comensating for theor own low self esteem

Using Neuroticism

On average people tend to be over optimistic about plans, indeed the recession of 2007-2009 was partly the result of gung-ho optimism that ignored risks and fed on itself. Perhaps all boardrooms (and departments) should appoint a few high Neuroticism scorers charged with playing devils advocate to the schemes of the more optimistic members. Since no one loves a killjoy the job of official wet blanket, killjoy and party pooper should be rotated so no one is associated with pessimism for too long.

The high Neuroticism scorer will tend to do well in professions that involve thinking and analysis: Law, Science and Accountancy come to mind. They will tend not to do well in areas like sales and marketing except possibly as back room people. In their relationships, whether domestic or professional, the tendency to worry should be accompanied by rational assessment of the situation, carefully considered communication, and actions to build up self esteem. I recall some clerics saying self esteem was bad as it left people feeling they did not need Jesus but think they should be ignored.

High Neuroticism can be a blessing or a curse. In some niches it can be very valuable. The pain caused by the attendant low self esteem may need remedial action but seeing the world as it is, which is the strength of the high scorer, is not only valuable, but something long regarded as essential to spiritual development. Unluckily it also seems, to reduce happiness, but happiness should be based on what is, not illusion. With increased ability to see what really is: good as well as bad, you get self confidence thrown in.

Next Extraversion Death by Enjoyment


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