Neurotic People Prefer Inaction

Neurotic People Prefer Inaction

A recent study published in the April edition of The Journal of Personality suggests that people who are neurotic avoid making decisions that can improve their lives and accomplish their goals. Why do they avoid these decisions? Well, based on the study, they don’t accomplish acting towards their goals because they don’t want to. or don’t like to. and not because they are unable to. Neurotic people prefer inaction.

The study involved nearly 4,000 college students in 19 countries and provided details about why neurotic people prefer inaction. Investigators learned that when they are asked if action is positive, favorable, good, they just don’t like it as much as non-neurotics.

First, I wasn’t even sure what the definition of neurotic is. I always thought it was one of those words that get tossed around like “crazy” or “wacko”. According to the study, It is

a personality trait defined by the experience of chronic negative affect – including sadness, anxiety, irritability, and self-consciousness – that is easily triggered and difficult to control. Neurotic people tend to avoid acting when confronted with major and minor life stressors, leading to negative life consequences.

Based on this definition, I am totally neurotic, and so are many people I know. The report goes on to say,

People who are less emotionally stable have less positive attitudes towards action and more positive attitudes toward inaction. Furthermore, anxiety was primarily responsible for neurotic individuals less positive attitudes toward action. The link between neuroticism and less positive attitudes toward action was strongest among individuals who endorsed more collectivistic than individualistic beliefs.

Now it may be the wording, or maybe my interpretation of the study (which is most likely), but I take slight offense to some of what is being said here. It just doesn’t seem accurate, at least not in my case. It reminds me of the statement, “Suicide is a selfish act,” which, in my opinion comes from those who have no comprehension of what it means to be seriously suicidal. Sure it’s going to cause pain and grief to the loved ones left behind, but when you reach that deep, dark pit of despair, it’s very easy to convince yourself that everyone would be better off without you. Sure, it’s illogical. Certainly it’s not true. But, if you are in that state, logic and truth have little bearing on your decision. That’s the way I feel about being paralyzed by fear and anxiety when I make a decision and take action. For years Nike has said, “Just do it”, but if I could “Just do it”, I would be more successful in many aspects of my life.

My pdoc and I have discussed this issue several times. I told him that I know inaction will not get me the results I want. I know if I behave and act differently then I will be more successful in my life. I know this with all my heart, yet, fear and anxiety push me back in the corner where I feel helpless and unable to fight my way forward. This has been my way of dealing with things my entire life. If I could stop feeling depressed, I would; If I could stop feeling manic, I would; and, if I could stop feeling paralyzed by fear, I would. His answer to me was to, “Just do it.” Grrrrrr

People who are interested in reducing the harmful consequences of neuroticism in their own lives should think about how their attitudes toward action might be affecting their behavior. By learning to value action, they may be able to change many of the negative behaviors associated with neuroticism and anxiety – such as freezing when they should act, or withdrawing from stress instead of dealing proactively with it.

AAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Once again, they are telling me to think my way out of it.

I know that inaction is not going to get me anywhere. Isn’t that what I’ve been saying? I see the value of action. I’ve seen many people take action in their lives and became extremely successful (based on whatever their definition of success is). Here I am! I see great value in action, but that doesn’t help me. I know there are people reading this who don’t understand what I’m talking about. Maybe they think I’m lazy. Certainly, they think I’m crazy. Why can’t I get myself up off the floor and push myself, and my life, forward?

I admit, the study doesn’t claim to have all the answers. They believe they are asking the right questions that could, someday, improve therapeutic methods to get people to take action in their lives. That shouldn’t bother me. In fact, it should make me happy that more research is being done to improve the lives of those of us with mental illness. And that it does. I just don’t see how pointing fingers and saying “You need to value action”, is going to get me there.

9 comments on Neurotic People Prefer Inaction

  1. Woody Allen is my yard stick for neuroticism. If a person makes me feel like I’m sitting with Woody Allen, then I figure he or she is probably pretty neurotic. There’s also a weird circularity that goes with neurotic thinking. “I hate my crazy dog. I can’t train my dog because I don’t have enough time. I can’t pay someone else to train my dog because they’ll rip me off. I hate my crazy dog. Did I mention I hate my crazy dog I can’t train because I don’t have enough time?” Depressed thinking is more helpless and hopeless. “My crazy dog is making me crazy. I don’t know why I picked such a crazy dog. It’s just like me to pick such a crazy dog. Now my life will be a circus until the damn thing dies in 10 years. Other people can figure this out. I’m such a loser for having such a crazy dog. My life sucks.” I’ve also observed that neurotic people really like an audience. Typically depressed people would rather go hide in a dark room and be miserable quietly.

    As for suicide and the sentiment by the Walking Well that it’s a selfish act, I’d suggest that anyone who can’t work up a little sympathy for someone who is in so much pain he or she takes his or her own life is pretty GD self absorbed. Yes, it makes us all miserable when a friend or loved one takes his or her own life. But, seriously, that’s your main take away – that Joe’s killing himself made you miserable and mad? If that’s not self absorbed I don’t know what is.

    1. I love the idea of using Woody Allen as a measure.I’d guess its pretty accurate. I’ve never heard the crazy dog analogy either. Great comments. Thank you

  2. By their definition I am neurotic as well. And I have forced myself into action many times only to make myself sick with panic attacks and most recently (currently) in my doctor’s own words: “stress-induced depression” from trying to do too much. So, screw that study would be my oh so eloquent response! 🙂

  3. By definition, I’m semi-neurotic. I sure do identify with inaction, to say the least. Wanted to also take a second to thank you for bringing scholarly articles to the forefront of your blog, spinning your own take on it. It works for you. Good job!!

    1. Thank you, Rose. As I’ve become more balanced (far from fixed), it became a natural direction to take.

  4. Well, this is surely an eye opener. I thought it was just me and felt bad about myself.
    Some of the ways bipolar has affected me are that I have a hard time dealing with change and noise. During mood swings I have a hard time with focus and some cognitive issues — loss of what used to be a pretty good vocabulary, slowed thinking, etc. I have difficulty putting myself into social situations, especially if I don’t know many of the people very well — and even when I am with a group of friends or people I know well, when I leave I am drained. I have used all my energy to keep up with and make sense of all the conversation around me. I don’t read faces well so I have to work hard at that and it’s exhausting and I don’t always get it right. If I’m “swinging” faces sometimes morph into distorted angry faces and their voices don’t coincide so it’s very confusing. I have to ask my husband whether or not that person was really angry or was I hallucinating again.

    So, yeah. I have avoidance issues because to put myself out there is very confusing–I have only 1 or 2 weeks of “normal” a month. I have to work very hard to “be a normal person” to the rest of the world no matter what state I’m in. I am involved with church groups 2 nights a week, I go to a gym 2 or 3 mornings a week, I volunteer one day a week (I’m retired), and interact with my neighbors. Most of the time I don’t want to go to any of these things but I force myself. But don’t ask me to do anything different or new, unless I’m really hypomanic and when I come back down it’s back to avoiding all the new stressors again. Stress is my enemy — it usually sets off deadly depressions. I have to plan for and limit the stress in my life.

    Avoidance? No. It may look that way to some people. For me it is a matter of my survival. My husband understands and is proud of the extreme efforts I make to live as normal a life as possible no matter what I am feeling. His is the only opinion that matters.

    1. How wonderful to read that you have a spouse who is so supportive. I do too. My experience through support groups and online comments is there are far too many people who don’t. I hope you are proud of yourself as well. You deserve to be.

      Thanking for your comment.

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