Emotional reactivity is not just another name for psychopathology, though. It's a basic dimension of normal personality. You can score fairly high on neuroticism without having a psychiatric disorder. A person high on emotional reactivity will have a more sensitive emotional system. Smaller stimuli will provoke a greater reaction that lasts longer (in terms of measurable physiological signs). An emotionally reactive person tends, as the name implies, react to their environment and may simply accept their emotional volatility as an unavoidable response to overwhelming external forces. They may oscillate between different moods as events in their life affect them positively or negatively. They may be irritable, sullen, angry, depressed, or anxious. They are at risk of developing low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, or a sense of self-worth dependent upon shifting external factors. Stress causes them to worry, brood, withdraw, or act out their emotions impulsively (depending on other personality factors).
The opposite of neuroticism is emotional stability. Emotionally stable people remain calm under stress, are not prone to lingering self-doubt and rumination, and bounce back from setbacks quickly. They are also not as easily excited about positive things. I suspect another tradeoff may be reduced ability to understand other people's distressed reactions since they may not have as much personal experience with it.
A moderate level of neuroticism may be useful for making a person more interpersonally sensitive yet with enough emotional control to enable them to manage their own reactions and predict others' as well.
Now here's what is neurotic about me (please describe your emotional reactivity/neuroticism too):
- Fears: I am a bit afraid of heights (diving boards at swimming pools and amusement park rides, which make me a nervous wreck). Other than that, I can't think of any fears off the top of my head; my fear of heights is not active in that it does not disturb my thinking or behavior unless I'm actually on a diving board or asked to ride on an amusement park ride.
- Anxiety: I can be quite shy and reserved around people I don't know, but people soon realize how talkative I can be once I get to know them! I can also be apprehensive about making a phone call or having a job interview, but I work past it.
- Hypochondriasis: I occasionally get the idea that I may have some cancer, heart problems, or some other health problem; but I try to ignore this. Actually, the more severe the illness, the less likely I am to want to see a doctor because that could confirm it! I have this health-related anxiety somewhat less than I used to, and such worries usually come when I'm trying to fall asleep.
- Feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem: I am currently too apathetic to have any significant self-doubt most of the time, but I've had quite crushing feelings of worthlessness when depressed.
- Vacillation of mood: For roughly the past year, I have been in an apathetic mood with intermittent spikes of depressed mood. Positive affect is harder for me to achieve than negative affect, but I'm trying to reorient myself towards the positive now.
- Compulsiveness: I have a few mild compulsions nowadays. I rip up credit card offers before throwing them away, am thorough with washing my hands after touching "dirty" things, and a few other things.
- Obsessions and rumination: Under severe stress and frustration, I occasionally get distressing images of violence (like against that former roommate who violently assaulted me). Like most aspies, I tend to analyze or ruminate over social interactions that are important to me (which are few and far between these days).
- Feelings of guilt or shame: Occasionally, I feel a bit guilty for asserting myself. Last Thursday I was at a Mexican-food restaurant with my dad and brother, and I complained about the bad service since we hadn't gotten our drinks yet but I didn't realize our waiter was walking by until afterwards. Needless to say, I felt guilty about complaining although I did notice an improvement in service. I made sure to thank him when my drink was refilled and my food was brought and even make eye contact (which is hard for me to do) since eye contact adds genuineness. One time, at Panera/St. Louis Bread Co., I was speaking too softly, and I guess the cashier misheard my order. I told them that wasn't what I wanted when I went up to the counter when my order was ready. They remade it (first as a Caesar salad sandwich and then as an actual Caesar salad when they finally got it right). My real order was actually more expensive than what I had been charged, so I saved a couple of dollars. I felt a bit guilty, but I tried to assuage my guilt by reminding myself that I had been a regular customer and they had made plenty of profit off me before and I was only trying to get what I actually ordered anyway. Generally, though, lingering feelings of guilt or shame don't dominate my psyche.
- Resilience: (This is a trait of emotional stability.) I tend to bounce back from stress pretty quickly even if it does affect me severely in the moment. The only exceptions are stressors that I cannot readily avoid (such as an annoying boss or an egocentric roommate). I do have a bit of a tendency to complain (i.e., "whine") about these things, unfortunately, but again, I'm trying to become more oriented towards the positive and less negativistic. If I am fixed on achieving some goal, frustration or obstacles only harden my resolve and sharpen my choices (i.e., make it clearer what I really want in life and who and what are most important in my life).
- Frustration tolerance: (High frustration tolerance is a sign of emotional stability.) For things that aren't very important or desirable to me (things that I am obligated to do without an actual desire to do them), I can be somewhat impatient and give up too easily. Sometimes minor setbacks do get me down (like not finding work), and perhaps I don't persist quite enough. However, when I truly and definitely desire something, I can persevere for years to achieve my goal (e.g., saving money to buy my own computer or continuing to meet new people to improve my social life). In these cases, I can reason away the frustration more easily by recognizing that it only makes it less likely I will achieve my goals (I should restrategize or try harder instead).
- Impulsivity: I don't have that exciting, spontaneous personality that tends to make people popular. For much of my life, I was overly inhibited (especially socially) and too cautious, and now I'm trying to reverse that. I'm trying to find the happy medium. I have a few symptoms of impulsivity that are less socially desirable, though: binge-eating and somewhat erratic work habits (unless it's something required of me like for school or a job; in my personal life, I tend to be fairly undisciplined and sporadic). However, in the past week or so, a big theme of mine has been improving self-control by getting my eating habits and sleep pattern under control (the basics); I'm also keeping up with my online classes.