Neurosis Vs. Psychosis: What Is The Difference?

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/28/2020

Although neurosis and psychosis may sound similar, they are very different types of issues. Neurosis is a mild disorder that can occur due to anxiety or depression, while psychosis is a serious mental illness that causes a complete break from reality.

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What Is Neurosis?

First of all, neurosis is not a condition according to the American Psychiatric Association. It is considered a part of an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To be neurotic is to be affected by neurosis, a term used since the 1700s for any kind of mental reaction due to anxiety.

According to the experts, neuroticism is a personality trait rather than a disorder and has probably affected many of us in some way or another. For example, many people may feel worried about things once in a while, but if that worry is constant or goes away for a short time just to come back in force, you may have a neurotic personality.

Symptoms of Neurosis

Because neurosis is not considered a mental disorder, the experts do not list its symptoms. Rather, neurosis can be classed as a symptom of something else, such as PTSD. But there are characteristics of neurosis that you can identify as symptoms or signs. These may include:

  • Extreme worry that will not go away
  • Negative thoughts that take over your mind
  • Obsessing about certain issues
  • Constantly asking the same things over and over again about a certain worry
  • Feelings of irritation or anger are common
  • You may exhibit signs of hostility or aggression for no obvious reason
  • A lack of self-esteem or being self-conscious is evident
  • Insomnia or trouble falling asleep is common
  • You may constantly be on edge or high-strung

Causes of Neurosis

Even though neurosis is not a mental illness, it can be a symptom of certain mental illnesses. But it may also be caused by a personality or mood disorder, a physical issue, or a traumatic event. In some cases, neurosis may be a temporary symptom of alcohol or drug abuse or traumatic brain injury. Some of the most common causes of neurosis include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • PTSD
  • Social phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Drug use
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Brain injury or disease

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WHAT IS PSYCHOSIS?

Psychosis is a serious brain disorder that is also considered a symptom. The person with psychosis typically loses their focus on reality, seeming to be living in a dream world or hallucination. In fact, that is one of the main symptoms of psychosis. However, there are two types of psychosis, which include organic and functional psychosis.

Organic psychoses are caused by some type of physical or structural defect or dysfunction in the brain. Functional psychoses are defined as those not caused by some kind of physical issue in the brain but are rather a biochemical imbalance in the brain instead.

SYMPTOMS OF PSYCHOSIS

Like neurosis, psychosis is more of a symptom than a disease, but it also has certain telltale signs and symptoms. There are early signs that you may notice, which usually start in the teen years, including:

  • Either having no emotion or having too much emotion
  • Avoiding others, including loved ones
  • Not bathing or taking care of themselves
  • Being suspicious or not trusting anyone
  • Having trouble keeping thoughts straight
  • Grades that are sharply dropping
  • Seeing and hearing things that others do not
  • Unable to pay attention
  • Having unusual beliefs that others find abnormal

If you have noticed any of the above signs, it is important to catch the problem before it gets out of control. You can take a psychosis test online to help you determine whether or not you or your loved one is suffering from psychoses. While this test can’t diagnose an issue, it can help you determine the next steps or if talking to a mental health professional would be helpful.

The main symptoms of a psychotic episode include:

  • Auditory hallucinations like hearing voices
  • Having strange sensations that you cannot explain
  • Visual hallucinations like seeing people and things that are not there
  • Delusions such as being controlled by the government or some otherworldly being
  • Believing you have special powers or are on a special mission

 

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Causes of Psychosis

Experts are still trying to determine the actual cause of psychosis, and many things are still unknown. What is known is that psychosis typically develops in the teen or early adult years and that it may have something to do with hormonal changes. However, there are other risk factors.

  • Underlying mental health disorders: Psychosis can be a sign of a mental or emotional health condition like severe depression, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.
  • Traumatic injuries or illnesses: Having a traumatic brain injury, HIV, stroke, or brain tumor can also cause psychosis. Also, some brain disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s have been known to increase the risk of psychosis.
  • Substance abuse: Like neurosis, any drug or alcohol abuse can cause changes in the brain that may cause psychosis—some of the most common drugs known to cause psychosis include amphetamines, LSD, and marijuana.
  • Traumatic experiences: Any kind of traumatic events like an assault, war, death, or a serious accident. Other issues that can bring on a psychotic break include natural disasters like a tornado or earthquake, divorce, or losing a job or home.
  • Genetics: It is always possible that genes can be the cause of psychosis. The experts have found that many of those who experience psychoses also have a common gene in others. However, just having that gene does not mean that you would develop psychosis or have a psychotic break.

Treatment for Neurosis or Psychosis

Whether it is neurotic vs. psychotic or psychotics vs. neurotic disorders, the difference between psychosis and neurosis is the severity of the symptoms. Those with neurosis would not be hearing voices, seeing things, or having delusions of being spied on or followed. And those with psychosis can lose touch with the real world in what is called a psychotic break. There are treatments for both disorders, though, that can be successful for either. 

Treating either issue is done by treating the underlying cause of the condition. For example, if your neurosis is being caused by an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, treating the disorder can effectively treat the neurosis. Similarly, if your psychosis is caused by drug or alcohol abuse, getting treatment for your addiction can help eliminate the psychosis.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

The most common treatment for neurosis or psychosis caused by an anxiety disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is also an effective treatment for many other disorders like depression and antisocial personality disorder.

CBT is psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that eliminates dysfunctional thoughts, behaviors, and emotions by tackling irrational and negative beliefs. CBT focuses on cognitive distortions, which is a way that your brain tries to trick you into thinking something that is false. Some of these include:

  • Catastrophizing: Expecting disaster or magnifying a situation.
  • Personalization: Making everything about you.
  • Emotional reasoning: Believing that whatever you believe has to be true.
  • Control fallacy: Thinking that you are controlled by something external and a victim of fate.
  • Jumping to conclusions: We have all done this, but for some, it is more constant than for others.
  • Filtering: Magnifying the bad things while filtering out the good things.

DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY

Also known as DBT, this type of psychotherapy was first used to help those with borderline personality disorder who have suicidal ideation. However, it is now used for all sorts of conditions, including neurosis and psychosis. DBT is similar to CBT, although it focuses more on dealing with negative and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts instead of avoiding them.

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The therapist helps find a balance between change and acceptance by teaching mindfulness, coping mechanisms, and new skills. DBT is also concentrated on decreasing dangerous behaviors and using positive reinforcement. Recognizing and emphasizing your strengths as well as doing assigned homework between sessions is important as well.

WHAT YOU CAN DO AT HOME

There are many things you can do at home to relieve neurosis. Anything that you would do to relax when you are stressed would help with neurosis because that is basically what it boils down to. Some of these can help with psychosis as well. Try some of these relaxing ideas:

  • Exercise: Even 15 to 30 minutes of physical activity can increase the brain's chemicals that make you feel good.
  • Take a bath: Relax in a hot bath with some calming music or a good book.
  • Eat right: Certain foods can help you relax, like dark chocolate, yogurt, salmon, nuts, eggs, and green tea.
  • Essential oils: Some of the best oils for anxiety include patchouli, sage, chamomile, basil, jasmine, lavender, and frankincense.
  • Take a nap: Making sure you get enough sleep can decrease anxiety and neuroses as well as some forms of psychosis.
  • Group therapy: Often, it helps to talk to others who are going through the same or similar issues.

Talk to A Professional

If you or someone you know has any signs or symptoms of neurosis or psychosis, it is important to talk to a professional. If you are not comfortable seeing anyone in person, thousands of therapists online are experienced in these issues—no need to leave your home or make an appointment either. Just use your phone or another electronic device.

For more information on whether or not you are experiencing symptoms of psychosis, take this online test.