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If you have been reading my blog for long, then you know that each of the personality traits that I have been describing have good elements as well as bad elements associated with them. Often, the names can be misleading in that way. Today we’re going to talk about neuroticism and what it looks like in a fictional character.
Because of the negative connotations associated with the term ‘neuroticism,’ researches have now started to call it ‘emotional stability’—which sounds just as bad especially if you are low in emotional stability. For the sake of this video, however, we’re going to continue calling it neuroticism.
A person high in neuroticism experiences negative emotions more than others of the population. This often is in terms of fear, but can be associated with anger and sadness as well. A person high in neuroticism is often afraid of things that other members of the population are not, especially as it concerns the future. When presented with a bad situation, a neurotic person will often assume the worst possible outcome. For example, if they show up to a coffee shop to meet a friend and the friend is not there yet, they may assume the friend has died in a car accident or doesn’t like them anymore and forgot all about their appointment. A person who is low in neuroticism will assume their friend is running late, order some coffee, and wait.
Neurotic persons often come across as vulnerable and insecure. Often, they have heightened levels of anxiety—some of which are associated with anxiety related mental illnesses such as agoraphobia—or the fear of leaving home.
Neurotic people also express a lower satisfaction with their lives—which is not surprising. Unfortunately, this is not associated with good outcomes when it comes to jobs or marriages as they tend to be unhappy in these ventures which also leads them to fail. They also have a higher mortality rate and are more likely to get heart disease.
This topic of neuroticism is especially pertinent to my life at the moment. Last year after weaning my son from breast feeding, I started having panic and anxiety attacks due to my changing hormone levels. I am still dealing with this and struggling to come out the other side of this newfound level of neuroticism. I was always a bit neurotic, but this is on a whole other level. Thankfully, a high level of neuroticism does not have to be a constant state for someone. There are ways to change one’s thinking to better cope with negative emotions.
Some of the ways I’m trying to manage my anxiety is by eating a better, more stable diet, taking adequate supplements, and mediation. I am also currently in therapy to better enhance these practices and come up with better ways of managing anxiety.
For people with phobias such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia, there are different methods of facing one’s fears and becoming more able to cope with them. One of these are exposure therapy where, often with the help of a therapist, a person confronts their various fears until they become more comfortable with them. The important thing to consider about exposure therapy, however, is that the confrontation to these fears must be voluntary. If the person is afraid of snakes and are tossed into a snake pit, they will not get over their fear of snakes.
So what all does this have to do with building a character? This is actually a fantastic starting point for a character arc. Having a character high in anxiety face their fears is a classic hero’s story. Think about Batman. The guy’s afraid of bats, so he exposes himself willingly to them and uses them as his whole persona. Of course, this is just the obvious visual of what’s going on underneath the story. Bruce Wayne is traumatized by the criminals who gun down his parents, so as he gets older, he trains and immerses himself in the criminal underworld, overcoming his fears, and fighting the demons who traumatized him to begin with.
You can do this will all sorts of characters! A musician that is too scared to play on their own. A guy terrified of kids who has to learn to be a parent. An adult forced to go back and analyze their traumatic past. All experiencing a neurosis or a high level of negative emotions and learning to overcome them and save the kingdom, win the girl, etc.
The higher the level of neuroticism or fear, the more dramatic the transformation will be. So go wild with it! My character Jared, who I talk so much about, is so terrified his hands shake continuously causing him to be unable to write anymore. So he’s a hard-working, highly intelligent kid who can’t pursue the tasks ahead of him because his hands shake from terror. The more nervous he gets, the more his prophecy of failure become self-fulfilled. Talk about tension!
So what sort of struggles are your characters facing? What are their greatest fears and needs to overcome? Tell me about them in the comments below.
RW Hague is a registered nurse with over eight years of experience within the medical field. Using her medical expertise, she writes stories that are gritty and compelling.