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Is Neurotic The New Normal?

Maybe there’s hope for me…

In today’s New York Times, the lead article in the Sunday Review is titled Where Have All the Neurotics Gone? by health reporter Benedict Carey.

Where are neurotics today?

It seems they’ve become a thing of the past. An old, dying breed. According to Carey,

“For a generation of postwar middle-class Americans, being neurotic meant something more than being merely anxious, and something other than exhibiting the hysteria or other disabling moods problems for which Freud used the term. It meant being interesting (if sometimes exasperating) at a time when psychoanalysis reigned in intellectual circles and Woody Allen reigned in movie houses.

“That it means little now, to most Americans, is evidence of how strongly language drives the perception of mental struggle, both its sources and its remedies. In recent years psychiatrists have developed a more specialized medical vocabulary to describe anxiety, the core component of neurosis, and as a result the public has gained a greater appreciation of its many dimensions.

“But in the process we’ve lost entirely the romance of neurosis, as well as it’s physical embodiment – a restless, grumbling, needy presence that once functioned in the collective mind as an early warning system, an inner voice that hedged against excessive optimism.”

I would love to be simply neurotic…

Carey makes an intriguing point. With all the different psychiatric diagnoses and attendant drug treatments and the neurosciences,

“Freudian analysis lost its hold on the common consciousness,” as did Freud’s power. He fell out of favour for the newfangled stuff. And think of all the different “anxiety disorders” you can choose from, today.”

At the same time, the meaning of neuroticism has changed. In 1994, Carey reports, it was dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ~ currently and contentiously being revised.

Psychiatric historian Edward Shorter demonstrated that being neurotic has a long and surprising history that pre-dates Freud, according to Carey.

I’ve had my “nervous breakdowns” and my “psychotic breaks.” So what?

I’m still here. Between them, I was okay. Mostly. It depends on who you consult. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, socially, with all my psychiatric ups and ups (I don’t experience clinical depression) my friends, teachers and family seemed deeply disturbed. Maybe they still are. I guess it’s their problem. I prefer the present.

And wouldn’t it be nice if I was just neurotic now? After years of psychoanalytic psychotherapy?

Language is key to everything…

The way the words we use words and how our use and their meanings change with the times and context is crucial. It’s change what and the way we perceive ourselves our world. How we frame them today is totally different than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. Or just five years ago. ADHD is so commonplace today. Was that the case 10 years ago? And with adults? That’s just one example.

“I think some of the qualities we once attributed to neurotics have simply been normalized,” says Peter N. Stearns in Carey’s story today. Stearns is a historian at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and author of a forthcoming book Satisfaction Not Guaranteed: Dilemmas of Progress in Modern Society. “I don’t have any hard evidence for this, but just look around and observe how we live. We’ve become so accustomed to people with continual worries and fears that it’s made the category obsolete.”

After reading actress Diane Keaton‘s memoir Then Again I was struck with how charming, insightful and engaging this utterly neurotic woman is. A friend didn’t agree. “There’s nothing there and there’s no depth,” he kept saying. I disagreed. “She’s there, and with a lot of insight, too,” I said. She’s her own normal.

Maybe “normal” describes my psyche now…

The impact of Dr. Bob’s surprising and positive reaction last week took a bit of time to sink in. Maybe I might be approaching a time when I can bid psychotherapy good bye.

And start feeling just fine, the way I am, the way I’ve become. As I am.

All I can say is that I doubt I’ve changed much. I’m feel like the same person, with a lot more insight and knowledge. Woody’s fine, too. The most prolific film maker of our time. An Academy Award Winner. He’s adored. Who knows how he feels about his therapy, but it helped him when he needed it. Who knows how he’d be today without it? There’s no answer to that. Who really cares.

The point is “Then was then and now is now.” I like staying right here, right now, working on this stuff for now. Feeling strangely hopeful. Fresh. New. Now.

I’ll keep you posted.

Is Neurotic The New Normal?

Sandy Naiman

Sandy Naiman is a Toronto freelance journalist.

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APA Reference
Naiman, S. (2012). Is Neurotic The New Normal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Apr 2012
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