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[Posts] - March 23, 2024 - Neuroticism

"The neurotic sets to work to mold himself into a supreme being of his own making. He holds before his soul his image of perfection and unconsciously tells himself: "Forget about the disgraceful creature you actually are; this is how you should be; and to be this idealized self is all that matters. You should be able to endure everything, to understand everything, to like everybody, to be always productive."

This is from a book that my mildly insane friend recommended me about neuroticism, which is Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Horney. (What a horrible last name). I read it very slowly, but I did read it.

I recorded and quoted extremely large chunks of the book as I read it, because the whole book was an incredibly well written personal attack. I was reading it hoping to change this in myself as soon as possible, of course, which it also proceeded to call me out on:

"Similarly, the realization of any present shortcoming is unbearable for anybody harassed by dictatorial shoulds. Whatever the difficulty, it must be removed quickly... The more a person lives in imagination, the more likely it is that he will simply spirit away the difficulty. Thus a patient who discovered in herself a colossal drive for being the power behind the throne, and who saw how this drive had operated in her life, was convinced by the next day that this drive was now entirely a matter of the past. She should not be power ridden; so she was not."

The overall premise of neuroticism is that it alienates yourself from who you truly are. You do what you think you should do instead of what you genuinely want to do. Unsurprisingly, it has this lovely way to fuck up every part of your life, including work, hobbies, and relationships. Especially romantic relationships. Neuroticism is relationship poison.

There are several kinds of neurotics. The book goes into detail about two. The one I resonated with was the self-effacing neurotic.

"If we wanted to characterize him crudely and glibly in a few words, we would say that he is a person who craves affection and feels abused most of the time."

They feel lesser to other people. They are people pleasers, and usually have at least a few doormat qualities. They always feel like they are failing in some way, and tend to kill off any feelings of pride they have. This kind can't even succeed and be happy about it. They feel like a bystander to their own success. Direct compliments are never acknowledged and internalized. This kind of neurotic is FUCKED UP. It is so hard to do anything like this at all. They accept guilt for things without a thought, and can't distinguish what they are and aren't responsible for. They feel abused because they spend so much time essentially abusing themselves and externalizing that abuse.

There is a sort of anti-type of neurotic too! I mention it because after being made aware of my self-effacing tendencies, this seemed like a great alternative in my head. Thank god there was a chapter on it that caught me. This type deals with their neuroticism by not caring about it and ignoring it. This is a very healthy and effective way to deal with their problems, and has never backfired on them once. By not caring about anything, they become a spectator to their own life. They struggle to put consistent work into anything, and lack the ability to exert effort.

All neurotics are formed by bad childhoods. This wasn't very surprising.

Overall, the book did help, and I would recommend it. I needed lots of time to recognize the broken thought patterns that the book exposed in myself. I needed even more time to figure out how to change distorted thought patterns without simply wishing them away. I read this directly after reading Meditations, which is about Marcus Aurelius' practice of Stoicism. That did help the process a lot - I guess I see Stoicism as sort of the end game of healing neuroticism, but I am sure this butchers the definition of both of them in many ways.

If you do choose to read this, keep in mind that it is extremely wordy, and Karen seems to have a certain talent for making everything take 3 times longer to explain than necessary. I was bored reading at times, but it was worth it.