Who doesn’t love council chuck-out day? The trash, the treasure; the strategy and stealth; the steely resolve required to avoid jumping the gun and putting your stuff out too early, lest people add to it overnight, making you look like some sort of crazy hoarder. Oh, how you can be judged, your life on the lawn for all to see.
The problem I have, being of Scottish ancestry, is not only that it’s impossible for me to chuck stuff out, it’s even more difficult for me not to stop and check out other people’s junk. It’s part of my DNA, a trait that I’ve inadvertently passed on to my son.
Last chuck-out day, we came across the complete set of the Mr Men books. You know, Mr Happy, Mr Strong, Mr Grumpy… We flicked through them, working out which ones best described us. My son’s pile included Mr Happy, Mr Cheerful, Mr Tickle and characters of that ilk. Mine, well I might keep that to myself. In essence though, what the Mr Men books do is present little ‘vignettes’ on traits that make up one’s personality.
So, what is personality? Well, it can actually be quite hard to clearly define. Technically, it’s the behavioural and mental characteristics or qualities, if you like, that are distinctive to an individual. Basically, we all have different character traits or behavioural propensities that would lead us to say we have a particular kind of personality. These are personal qualities that, in an informal sense, could be seen to make one socially popular. If we look to someone like ‘The Rock’ Dwayne Johnson, Princess Dianna or anyone who cracks it big time on Instagram we might say they have a big personality, but in reality to actually define what personality is can be something of an elusive construct.
Before I get too bogged down in psychological jargon I’d like to say right off the bat that our personality is sort of something we are born with, mostly set in stone from a fairly young age. That’s not to say it can’t vary or morph as we develop and get older, but as a rule, by the age of ten the framework of one’s personality is pretty much set. It’s that classic combo of genetics and environment, or ‘nature and nurture’, that shapes personality. Things like parenting style, social environment and siblings, just to name a few, all help shape the personality we end up having.
In the psychological arena the word personality is used to convey a sense of consistency or continuity about a person. It is this consistency over time that is looked at when assessing someone’s personality, i.e. consistency over time across similar situations. For example, an extrovert, an enigma, a Pollyanna, or even an axe murderer, will show consistencies in behaviour regardless of when or where they are. Further, the term personality helps indicate a sense that whatever the person is doing, thinking or feeling is originating from within them.
From this perspective you can see how looking at or trying to understand someone’s personality can help us to try and predict or understand their behaviour. This is the key if, for example, we are wanting to employ someone, choose a roommate or even a romantic partner. It’s worth stressing though that no two people will have the same personality; there might be similarities but ultimately they will be different, even for identical twins.
What does this mean if someone is said to have a personality disorder? Does it mean their personality is better or worse than anyone else’s? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that their patterns of thinking and behaviour might possibly be seen to deviate from what is considered a cultural norm, ultimately leading to distress and impaired functioning of that individual – think Ivan Milat or Amy Winehouse.
The take-home message is that, despite there being some overarching concepts and consistent theories on what personality is or isn’t, it’s worth remembering that each person’s perspective on personality, including your own, will be different. Oh, and next time you meet someone for the first time, try and come up with a set of words that describe that person, Mr Men-style, then ask yourself, what are the chances that your words will apply in all situations? You might be surprised.
Have you got a question? Please contact Jeremy at bondicounsellingservices.com.