NERVOUSNESS IN OLDER CHILDREN
In older children the line which separates naughtiness, fractiousness, and restlessness from definite neuropathy begins to be more marked. The nature of the young child, taking its colour from its surroundings, is sensitive, mobile, and inconstant. With every year that passes, the normal child loses something of this impressionable and fluid quality. With increasing experience and with a growing power to argue from ascertained facts, character becomes formed, and if tempered by discipline will come to present a more and more unyielding surface to environment, until finally it becomes set into the stability of adult age.
We may perhaps, with some approach to truth, look upon the adult neurotic as one whose character retains something of the impressionable quality of childhood throughout life, so that, to the last, environment influences conduct more than is natural.
All the emotions of neurotic persons are exaggerated. Disappointments over trifles cause serious upsets; grief becomes overmastering. Violent and perhaps ill-conceived affection for individuals is apt to be followed by bitter dislike and angry quarrelling. On the physical side, sense perception is abnormally acute, and many sensations which do not usually rise up into consciousness at all become a source of almost intolerable suffering. To these most unhappy people summer is too hot and winter too cold; fresh air is an uncomfortable draught, while too close an atmosphere produces symptoms of impending suffocation.
In some neurotics there is an excessive interest in all the processes of the life of the body, and when attention is once attracted to that which usually proceeds unconsciously, symptoms of discomfort are apt to arise. Thus so simple an act as swallowing may become difficult, or for the time being impossible. To breathe properly and without a sense of suffocation may seem to require the sustained attention of the patient; or again, the voice may be suddenly lost.
More commonly, perhaps, neuropathy exhibits itself in an undue tendency to show signs of fatigue upon exertion of any sort, mental or physical. Sustained interest in any pursuit or task becomes impossible. Nameless fears and unaccountable sensations of dread establish themselves suddenly and without warning, and may be accompanied on the physical side by palpitation, flushing, headache, or acute digestive disturbances.
All these manifestations are best controlled by selecting a suitable environment, and as a rule the character of the environment is determined by the temperament and disposition of those who live in close contact with the patient. Like the tiny children with whom we have dealt so far, the behaviour of neuropathic persons is subject wholly to the direction of stronger and more dominant natures. With faulty management at the hands of those around them, no matter how loving and patient these may be, the conduct of the neurotic tends to become abnormal.