It started with the good, old Greeks. I imagine them spending time on park benches under large olive trees, finder shelter from the sun, while philosophizing about distinctions between people and self-knowledge. Probably not knowing that psychologists would develop theories and interpretations of personality types centuries later. Personality – the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character – has been a topic of discussion since the existence of mankind.
Our fascination probably comes from the fact that we are a group-specie. In daily life, we continuously look at each other’s role and position. It’s an essential part of life together. We try to understand each other at work, in our communities, within families, and the better we become at it, the better our chances for survival.
Why you’d want to know
One reason why you’d want to understand your own personality, and the behavior that derives from it, is because it provides you with insights on how you deal with different kind of situations and people. Handy? Yes! Because it makes you understand how your personality is helping you – or not helping you – in realizing goals and dreams. Plus, insights on other people’s personality enable you to better understand their behavior, especially in relation to you.
What it boils down to? Two-level personality-awareness widens your playing field in life. You obtain insights that enlarge your range of possibilities.
Also, research has proven that people who have a clear and realistic self-image tend to live healthier and are more successful than others. Simply because they have more realistic expectations of themselves and the people around them. And they have a larger toolbox at their disposal.
How to understand it
You could reflect. That is always a good start. (How would I describe myself? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What drives me?) You could take a test. The big five is an overall accepted test. Test-makers often warn test-takers that tests results are never an exact representation of who you are. And that they are a description biased by your own judgement.
Ironically, self-knowledge can’t be obtained in isolation. Most of us have a blind spot when it comes to our behavior, because a lot of our behavior happens unconsciously. Obtaining a reliable personality picture can not only be achieved by reflection within, but – more importantly – by the collection of input from outside. A way to do this, is to ask friends and relatives for feedback (How do you see me? How would you describe me? What do think my talents are? What are my areas for development?). If you’d like to deepen your understanding you can always work with someone who specializes in human behavior, like a psychologist or coach.
You can also apply the method of ratio emotive therapy (RET) to reveal unconsious behavior caused by your believes. Picture Perfect describes an example.
To make matters more complicated; different parts of our personality can be contrary. To make matters easier; we all have this. Like to know more? The Voice Dialogue bus article bus goes into subpersonalities.
Static or elastic
Can you change your personality? Yes and no: Personality is pretty solid, behavior is more flexible.
Imagine Debra, a woman with a temper (personality). Debra can’t change this part of her personality, but she cán change her reaction to the rise of her temper (behavior). Which leads to less destructive behavior. John, who is very reserved (personality), will always have a tendency to react reserved, but when John is conscious of his behavior, he can make a conscious decision to act more outgoing (behavior).
Sensitivity is definitely part of my personality, and for some time I thought I had to man up. Right after the decision ‘from now on I’m going to be less sensitive’, a critical comment from a colleague went straight through the heart. I was disappointed. No success there. Why? Because this is personality. What I can change is my reaction to feelings that arise. Let them pass by. Today I wouldn’t want to change my sensitivity, because it allows me to work with people the way I do.
To change or not to change. That is the question.
I’d like to ask you this question first: What is it you do not want to change about yourself? Keep it, celebrate it, cherish it. And for the rest, you may ask yourself; what is part of my personality and what is behavior? Focus on the latter. And be picky, as it takes concentration and determination to realize behavioral change. But also because the world would be so boring if we’d all acted the same.
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