=Born or Made?= It used to be thought that neurotics, like poets, were born, not made. Heredity was considered wholly responsible, and there seemed very little to do about it. But to-day the emphasis on heredity is steadily giving way to stress on early environment. There are, no doubt, such factors as a certain innate sensitiveness, a natural suggestibility, an intensity of emotion, a little tendency to nervous instability, which predispose a person to nerves, but unless the inborn tendency is reinforced by the reactions and training of early childhood, it is likely to die a natural death.
=Early Reactions.= Freud found that a neurotic is made before he is six years old. When by repeated explorations into the minds of his patients, he made this important discovery, he at first believed that the disturbing factor was always some single emotional experience or shock in childhood,—usually of a sexual nature. But Freud and later investigators have since found that the trouble is not so often a single experience as a long series of exaggerated emotional reactions, a too intense emotional life, a precocity in feeling tending toward fixation of childhood habits, which are thus carried over into adult life.
=Fixation of Habits.= Fixation is the word that expresses all this,—fixation of childish habits. A neurotic is a person who made such strong habits in childhood that he cannot abandon them in maturity. He is too much ruled by the past. His unconscious emotional thought-habits are the complexes which were made in childhood and therefore lack the power of adaptation to mature life.
We saw in Chapter IV that Nature takes great pains to develop in the child the psychic and physical trends which he will need later on in his mature love-life, and that this training is accomplished in a number of well-defined periods which lead from one to the other. If, however, the child reacts too intensely, lingers too long in any one of these phases, he lays for himself action lines of least resistance which he may never leave or to which he may return during the strain and stress of adult life.
In either case, the neurotic is a grown-up child. He may be a very learned, very charming person, but he is nevertheless dragging behind him a part of his childhood which he should have outgrown long ago. Part of him is suffering from an arrest of development,—not a leg or an arm but an impulse.
=Precocious Emotions.= The habits which tend to become fixed too soon seem to be of four kinds; the habit of loving, the habit of rebelling, the habit of repressing normal instincts, and the habit of dreaming. In each case it is the excess of feeling which causes the trouble,—too much love, too much hate, too much disgust, or too much pleasure in imagination. Exaggeration is always a danger-signal. An overdeveloped child is likely to be an underdeveloped man. Especially