Pop psychology has a lot to say about personality! I’m sure you’ve come across online quizzes claiming to identify what your personality is; what kind of cookie are you? What SATC character are you? Which pizza topping describes your personality? I absolutely have indulged in these quizzes because they’re fun!
Our cultural interest in this phenomenon is indicative of a key facet of our humanity; our desire to understand ourselves. A majority of clients come to therapy with a specific issue; recurring fights with partner/s, anxieties relating to work/family, grief, or the like. However, as they progress through therapy, many clients find they go down paths they “never thought they would”. You might find yourself wondering why your psychologist is talking to you about what you do over the weekend, or how you prepare for a meeting. They’re trying to gain an understanding of your personality.
Personality is defined as a combination of characteristics, qualities, or traits that form an individual’s distinctive “character”. The key feature of personality is that it is relatively stable over time. That is why a sudden change is likely to be attributed to causes, whereas long-standing patterns in behaviours or beliefs are more likely to be understood as relating to personality.
Who am I?!
Let’s get one thing straight; you know yourself better than anyone else. We form our sense of personality through a combination of our relationships, our personal experiences, and our belief system. However, much of our personality runs backstage, so to speak, meaning it is outside of our conscious awareness. This is exactly why answering questions about yourself can often feel quite challenging; what do I like to do for fun?
So, as much as you know yourself better than anyone else, you’re not necessarily always aware of the combination of factors that drive your unique way of thinking, decision making, and behaviours.
Your personality embraces everything from your moods, to your attitudes and opinions. It is most clearly expressed in your interactions with other people. This is where therapy proves to be useful.
You may know people, or may well be someone, who is self-aware. Colloquially used, this term is one that lets people signal that they have a conscious knowledge of their own individuality and/or feelings. Self-awareness is key to objectively evaluating yourself, your behaviours, and emotions, and noting the impact these can have on others around you. Additionally, self-awareness can also aid in identifying your own values and being able to direct behaviour in alignment with your values.
However, what most self-aware people find is that they will inevitably find themselves against their blind spots or facets of themselves that they are unaware even exist. These can create barriers to long term change. This is where direction from a trained professional can help!
How did I get here?
The most common enquiry around personality is how?; how does it develop the way it does?, how does it cement itself so well without necessarily having played a part in it and how, if at all, can it be changed?
There are a handful of long-standing theories that explore the formation of personality along with the seemingly unending debate around nature vs nurture. At its core; personality is a combination of genetic temperament and character interacting with their environmental factors.
There are other factors at play such as birth order.
Personality also starts to emerge in the truest sense during the early teen and later adolescence stage. As the teenager develops into an adult, more of their traits start to behaviourally show, and the life experiences they gather reinforce some of these traits, further cementing their personality.