We are often asked to describe ourselves in a few words. As if our being can be summarized so simply.
I can, like anyone else, describe myself in only a few words. Take delightful, droll, and devoted as a few. But these limited descriptions can be deceiving, for I can also be described as disturbed, despondent, and delinquent.
Do you feel like you know me yet?
It is commonly believed that one’s personality is comprised of two parts: temperament and character. With temperament being our innate, biological make-up and character being our learned traits as a result of experiences.
As Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, describes it:
“I am, plus my circumstances.”
Naturally, this leads into the nature vs. nurture debate.
In learning more about my own personality and using this knowledge to reflect on my past, I have managed to identify particular experiences that have effectively altered my personality. Personally, I find this both fascinating and terrifying. I have also been able to identify a number of “whys” from my past. Coming from a larger family of six girls, I see my sisters and I as ideal sample subjects for my own personal analysis. I now look back on certain experiences that I encountered alongside my siblings and use this reflection to identify “why” I often reacted differently from them.
In terms of temperament, read ‘genetic inheritance’, I am a fair bit more sensitive than my siblings. While I can identify different sensitivities in each of us, and another whom I believe to be HSP, my sensitivities seem to reach farther and deeper than the others. This belief has been supported by the recognition of my parents that I was, without a doubt, their most excitable, cautious, and gentle youngster of the bunch. I am also very introverted in nature, with a strong preference for isolated time of reflection and contemplation. I am less certain where my siblings would each lie on the introvert-extrovert continuum, but I do seem to have always been the quiet one at the dinner table – one of the more eventful rituals of my life.
The general idea is that we are born into our first identity based on our temperament and gradually adapt into new personalities or identities as our life experiences modify our character. For me, my first identity consisted of a highly sensitivity nature, then my environment nurtured my experiences and developed my character to make me patient, caring, independent, etc.
I remember getting in trouble when I was five-years-old. I was attending a public kindergarten at the time and the teacher was upset with me because I hadn’t tied my shoes. Even as a grownup, I get uncomfortable thinking about how upsetting this experience was for me. For sensitive little me, getting in trouble was punishment enough, but this was followed with a trip to the thinking chair. I felt scared and intimidated for getting in trouble and I felt embarrassed for being punished. I was frustrated and annoyed with my teacher, because she didn’t understand the situation. I was five-years-old, sent to the thinking chair because I didn’t tie my shoes. I’m sure I did plenty of thinking, but it wasn’t about my wrongdoing. I hadn’t tied my shoes because I didn’t know how to. If I knew what pissed was when I was five, then that is what I felt.
I imagine that this experience would seem insignificant to many people, but it was a significant event in my life. I was a pretty easy-going kid, because I hated getting into trouble. So this interaction made me feel sick. Truthfully, interactions like this still do. And getting into trouble for seemingly no fault of my own, is something that I’ve never been able to accept as just. But I’ve developed a defense for it. That day, while morosely sitting on that thinking chair, I tied my own shoes for the first time. I had gotten in trouble for something I couldn’t control, but I decided right then and there that I would not fall victim to it again.
How did this experience change my personality? It reinforced my sense of discomfort surrounding conflict and disobedience, it encouraged me to establish a spectrum-view of right and wrong, because this situation was certainly all grey, and it gave me a desire to be independent.
Isn’t the psyche a fascinating thing?
There is no doubt in my mind that our personality is a dynamic thing. As I have witnessed these changes in myself, and others, over the years.
There is a poem I am fond of, by Christopher Poindexter, that reflects this:
nothing drives me more mad
than someone telling me,
“goodness, you’ve changed.”
i feel so awful for them.
i want to say,
“in this great, big, intricate world,
yes i have.
i change everyday.
I do believe that each day carries the potential for change. Maybe that’s the idealistic dreamer in me, but I do. I’ve read that, as an INFJ, this is my nature.
For others, this view may be temporarily developed following a significant life event. But for me, it is in each and every day.
Of course, after 28 years of life, my personality is much more developed than it was on that fateful kindergarten day, but it will never be static. And I am more likely, than some, to actually experience this change, because I am open and willing to.
Like Christopher, I am often accused of having changed, and I experience a similar reaction. I am baffled by how much people are the same. And I feel sorry for them, because they seem afraid to change.
Although, I will admit that significant change is often unpleasant.
But when you emerge from the fog, the world seems so much more vivid and bright than before.
And this change doesn’t have to be dramatic or traumatic, although, admittedly, it may seem like it at the time. But that’s okay.
We have the choice every day to participate in our own growth and development. I just wish more people were willing to play.
My isolated, introverted personality and social views leave me feeling lonely sometimes. I can be a bit selective, and I often push people away for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I just don’t care to socialize if I do not feel that I will be stimulated, and I prefer to forgo socialization for solitary contemplation. But I also become frustrated and impatient when I experience interactions that I perceived to be shallow or inauthentic. As a result, I understandably, am not most people’s ideal companion. And often, this doesn’t pose much of a problem for me. But when I’m struggling, as I have been, and it feels as if everyone’s backs are turned, that’s when the loneliness sets in. So then, I grab my pen (or laptop) and open myself up to change again. Through this approach, I have found a way to manage my loneliness and preoccupy my mind with wonder. I presume this resiliency is just yet another character trait developed through the years as a result of my experiences.
I suppose if I truly were to describe myself in three words, they would be “anxious, curious, and introvert” because these seem to be the underlying factors of what makes me “me”.
But we must always remember that, at the end of the day, we are so much more than we can describe or understand.
Could you describe your personality in three words?
What are your thoughts on the development of personality from temperament and character?