What is “Neurotic”?

One of the many definitions of the word ‘neurotic’ is ‘an impaired mental state brought about by conflicting motivations.’ In other words, a person is experiencing strong feelings about something, some of which are in conflict with one another. And, in short, it’s ‘making him (or her) crazy.’

A perfect example of this came from an email I received from a visitor to my web site. The man states that he is conflicted and upset over the fact that his wife, whom he adores, dented his car as she was backing out of their driveway. He goes on to say that his car is a source of great pride and pleasure for him, and that he keeps it in perfect condition. The car that he so loves now has a scrape and a dent’brought about by none other than the one person in the world whom he loves the most. 

He makes a point of telling me that his wife is fully aware of his distress and has apologized over and over for her momentary carelessness. She also gets pleasure from his beautiful car, and has expressed her sadness and remorse to him. He begins to feel better, but then he walks outside and’there’s that dent. Of course, repairing it will make it look better (if the new paint matches perfectly), but it will also lower the value of his car. It will be imperfect, and he simply can’t get past it. 

He feels bad that his love for his wife AND his car are both a bit tainted by his feelings of distress and annoyance, and is looking to me for some sort of ‘outlook’ or ‘mind-set’ that can help him resolve these unhappy feelings. He wants both of his ‘loves’ to be perfect again. 

I could take on the role of some of our TV and radio ‘therapists’ and belittle or deny his feelings by saying things like, ‘Of course your wife is more important than your car! Snap out of it, man! It’s just a car!’ But he knows that. It makes no sense to insult him by telling him the obvious. He needs a way to ‘work through’ this issue that doesn’t deny his appreciation for his fine car and, at the same time, doesn’t indict his wife for doing something for which she is so very sorry.

What he needs is perspective. Sometimes ‘bad things happen to good people.’ It’s perfectly OK to feel bad about the car, and to be upset that things happened the way they did. But, in order to be at peace with this, he needs to understand that very, very few things are perfect. He isn’t, his wife isn’t, and (especially after a few future parking lot dings and paint chips) his car won’t be either. Would he be happier if he didn’t have the car at all (even with the repaired fender)? Would he be happier if he had his perfect car, but was not married to his beloved wife?

Though a scratched car should not be a price to pay for being married, it is now, for better or worse, a part of his marriage. Interestingly enough, he says in his email that, in spite of his feelings, he feels closer to his wife after seeing how she suffered with him through his sadness. By keeping this perspective, he can begin to resolve his conflicting emotions. Will he still notice the fender (repaired or not) every time he sees his car? Of course he will. But instead of rekindling his anger (for which he admits there is no outlet), it will hopefully remind him that his wife, though imperfect (like us all), loves him enough to understand and share his feelings. A love like this is a lot harder to replace than a fender. Down the line, in spite of his best efforts, his fine car WILL wear out and will get its share of dings and chips. What will hopefully NEVER wear out will be their special ability to share one another’s feelings and stick together ‘for better or for worse.’ There’s the perspective. It’s fine to be proud of the car, but his marriage, and his wife’s loving approach to the situation, is something to be cherished forever.

Perspective doesn’t mean denying your appreciation for things. We work hard for our ‘things,’ and we deserve to enjoy them. But most ‘things’ are, indeed, replaceable. A true and loving bond between two people is far more rare. To develop a ‘neurosis’ over a ‘thing’ does a disservice to yourself. Why waste a wonderful relationship by feeling distress and anxiety? Accept yourself, your spouse or partner, and, yes, even your car, as the wonderful, yet imperfect things that they are.

To my web site visitor, try this: When you see the dent, or the slightly different paint color, think of how much you are loved, and how lucky you are that there’s another person out there who is happy to share your feelings and your life. Keep things in perspective. Let’s face it, if this is as bad as ‘for better or worse’ ever gets, then you are a very, very fortunate person.