=Three Kinds of People.= Absurd as it sounds, “nerves” turn out to be a question of morals; a neurosis, an affair of conscience; a nervous symptom an unsettled ethical struggle. The ethical struggle is not unusual; it is a normal part of man’s life, the natural result of his desire to change into a more civilized being. The people in the world may be divided into three classes, according to the way they decide the conflict.
=The Primitive.= The first class merely capitulate to their primitive desires. They may not be nervous, but it is safe to say that they are rarely happy. The voice of conscience is hard to drown, even when it is not strong enough to control conduct. Happily it often succeeds in making us miserable, when we desert the ways that have proved best for our kind. The “immoral” person has not yet “arrived”; he simply disregards the collective wisdom of society and gives the victory to the primitive forces which try to keep man back on his old level. We cannot break the ideals by which man lives, and still be happy.
=The Salt of the Earth.= The second class of people decide the conflict in a way that satisfies both themselves and society. They give the victory to the higher trends and at the same time make a lasting peace by winning over the energy of the undesirable impulses. By sublimation they divert the threatening force to useful work and turn it out into real life, using its steam to make the world’s wheels go round. Their love-force, unhampered by childish habits, is free to give itself to adult relationships or to express itself symbolically in socially helpful ways.
=Nervous People.= To the third class belong the people who have not finished the fight. These are the folk with “nerves,” the people in whom the conflict is fiercest because both sides are too strong. The victory goes to neither side; the tug of war ends in a tie. Since the energy of the nervous person is divided between the effort to repress and the effort to gain expression, there is little left for the external world. There is plenty of energy wasted on emotion, physical symptoms, phantasy, or useless acts symbolizing the struggle.
A neurotic is a normal person, “only more so.” His impulses are the same impulses as those of every other person; his complexes are the same kind of complexes, only more intense. He is an exaggerated human being. He may be only slightly exaggerated, showing merely a little character-weakness or a slight physical symptom, or he may be so intensified as to make life miserable for himself and everybody near him. It is quantity, not quality, that ails him, for he differs from his steady-going neighbor not in kind but in degree. More of him is repressed and a larger part of him is fixed in a childish mold.
=Tricking Ourselves.= A neurosis is a confidence game that we play on ourselves. It is an attempt to get stolen fruit and to look pious at the same time,—not in order to fool somebody else but to fool ourselves.