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Lynda Gantt: What do neurotic, psychotic and sociopathic mean?
Maintaining Mental Fitness

Lynda Gantt: What do neurotic, psychotic and sociopathic mean?

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Human emotions and behaviors have always been and still are a mystery, especially when it comes to defining a cluster of behaviors that can progressively lead to serious mental disorders.

In the case of neurosis, there does not appear to be a consensus as to the definition and it is not used in psychological nomenclature. The term neurosis was originally used in the 1700s to describe personality styles in which a person demonstrates a significant lack of emotional stability. People who experience distressing thoughts that are unacceptable and ego-dystonic may suffer from a neurosis (ego dystonic means any destructive to our sense of self). There are no hallucinations or delusions.

It is believed that a neurosis is an attempt to gain resolution of the non-conscious mental conflicts with which we struggle, but in a way that impairs a person’s ability to live a normal life.

A neurosis affects the personality and is a non-conscious process that is intended to be a defense against the external stimulus causing the distress. These individuals are more likely to have problems with mood control, and suffer from anxiety and they tend to respond more negatively to unpleasant situations.

Neurosis must not be confused with a psychosis which is a serious mental disorder that occurs due to a distortion of reality. People with psychosis do not recognize that their emotional feelings are unreal because their feelings are based on hallucinations and delusions.

Therefore, a psychosis is a severe departure from normal patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. There is a loss of reality, distortion and inappropriate emotions, emotional regression and loss of control of impulses. There are delusions, hallucinations, and lack of insight. Moreover, a psychosis can take the form of paranoia, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

A sociopathic personality (better referred to as an antisocial disorder) tends to be narcissistic and gravitate to antisocial behaviors that involve the violation of rules of society because they believe rules do not apply to them. Their behavior is manipulative and there is persistent lying, stealing and aggressive sexual behavior.

Alcohol and drug abuse are common and there is a tendency to engage in deviant behavior. They believe others are plotting against them and seek retaliation as a justification for their own aggressive behavior. Antisocial personality disorders may have a dynamic and narcissistic personality and are easily able to bend the minds of others into believing their illogical concepts and lies. There is an absence of remorse or guilt, even in cases where people become physically, financially or emotionally hurt.

While these personality styles may present in disturbing or alarming ways, we must always remember to treat them fairly and humanely for the suffering they may be experiencing. Our compassion can serve others by providing them some comfort and understanding that may help them to obtain the professional help they need to develop coping skills for a better life.

With proper medical and psychological treatment by well-trained clinicians, people with a psychosis can live more normal lives. A person suffering from a neurosis is more treatable than a person living with a psychosis, but a psychosis can be treatable. A person who has an antisocial personality may find some recovery in treatment, but generally their personality style stays the same.

These personality styles have a basis in genetics and brain studies have found deviations in brain development. We should all be alert to individuals who espouse gross exaggerations and misinformation. Look at the facts and watch what people do, not what they say. Then you will know the truth.

Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.

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