A Modest Theory of Personality

Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.” (Erich Fromm)

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” (C.G. Jung)

 

Personality is that relatively consistent way of thinking, perceiving, acting, reacting and communication which other’s associate with “who you are”. Defining a theory of personality is certainly a challenging endeavour and one which I personally do not feel qualified even to attempt given the complexity and diversity of human beings and human psychology. Nevertheless I am going to make an attempt which will be based on some of our current readings, past readings and education in psychology, some familiarity with Eastern approaches to psychology and spiritually, and of course my own personal perspective. Before I begin, I believe it is important for me propose a working definition of personality. Fortunately my definition of personality is short and simple:

Personality is the outward expression of the self. One’s “personality” is the genetic, biological, environmental, social and spiritually “coloured” collection of memories, experiences, values and other representations of the self, which we present to the world in our relationships and interactions.”

In my opinion, any attempt at deriving a “theory of personality” would be incomplete without considering the role of the popular “Five Factor Model”(FFM) of personality. Having demonstrated a fair amount of consistency across time, age and culture the FFM proposes that most people can be characterized along a scale of these 5 traits (“Big Five personality traits”, 2013):

  • Extraversion: Characteristics such as excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness and high amounts of emotional expressiveness.
  • Agreeableness: Attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other prosocial behaviors.
  • Conscientiousness: High levels of thoughtfulness, good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. Those high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details.
  • Neuroticism: Individuals high in this trait tend to experience emotional instability, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, and sadness.
  • Openness: This trait features characteristics such as imagination, insight, appreciation for art and people high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests.

So now what? Assuming this popular and well-supported Five Factor Model of personality reliable accounts for most of the variability in human personalities (which it does), how does one develop a tendency towards being more or less “extroverted”, more or less “agreeable”, more or less “conscientious” and so on? I believe there are at least 6 major contributors to the development of one’s personality that combine, interact and ultimately influence the “self” which, based on my definition above, ultimately leads to the social or outward expression of that “self”, what we call “personality”. These six factors include: Biology & Genetics, Environment, Socialization, Emotional Intelligence, Moral Reasoning and Transpersonal Awareness.

 

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Six-Factor Personality Development Model

Biology & Genetics

Regardless of what sort of model one proposes for the development of self or personality, all models or theories will ultimately be bounded by, or interact with, the limitations or potential of one’s genetics and neurological predisposition. Numerous brain structures have been associated with different aspects of personality development and of course inherited limitations in brain function, or predisposition towards any number of mild or severe mental illnesses will have a profound effect on the development of self and personality. Ultimately one’s biological and genetic makeup will set the limits, and the potential, for how one’s sense of self and their expressed personality.

Environment

Few would question the role of environmental factors in the development of self and the expression of personality. If a child is raised in an impoverished or abusive environment, they may be more likely to develop stress or anxiety-based disorders, emotional/psychological issues or struggles with socialization and trust. Depending on the child’s genetic and biological pre-disposition, combined with their own unique strengths or tenacity, any positive or negative early environmental factors may carry on into adulthood and influence long-term psychological health, sense of self and ultimately, the expression of their self through personality.

However, environmental influences on self and personality do not end after childhood. As we become adults and make choices around where we live, the schools we attend, the careers we choose, the social-networks we align with and of course our contact with media, are all going to have an impact on the development of self and how we present our selves, our personality, to the world. And just like with the early childhood environmental factors, our adult environmental influences on self and personality will interact with, and be influenced by, one’s biological and genetic makeup, early childhood experiences and one’s own unique strengths to shape and mould the self and it’s outward expression as personality.

Socialization

Although we often behave in different ways, make choices or judgements in our life which are often inconsistent with what we feel are our core beliefs or values, a relatively healthy person still believes that they are the same person, the same “self” and that they present the same “personality” to others. However, most people also vary the public-facing aspects of their personalities depending on who they are communicating with, who may be in the vicinity, or whose approval they may be seeking. Social factors play a powerful role on what aspects of our “social self” we are willing to express to others and which is ultimately perceived by others as our “personality” (Fadiman & Frager, 2005, p. 206). However, our “social self” and personality do not operate in isolation. Our emotional strengths or weaknesses, our level of moral reasoning, the particular environment (work, family, social) and of course any genetic or biological predispositions are going to interact with, and influence, the presentation of our “social self” and personality.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is defined as “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups” (“Emotional Intelligence,” 2013). EI reflects how one experiences, interprets and responds to their own, and others emotional states and high measures of EI are often associated with pro-social and cooperative behaviors. EI has also been demonstrated to be a significant predictor of four of the Big Five personality types as well as being strongly associated with Moral Reasoning (Athota, V.S., O’Connor, P.J., & Jackson, C., 2009). With the strong relationship found between EI and personality, how one recognizes and manages the emotions of others and themselves, is going to have a significant impact not only on the self, but on the expression of self through personality.

Moral Reasoning

I have always been fascinated with the interaction between moral reasoning, personality and behavior. When faced with a moral or ethical decision, how one conducts and presents themselves socially, is at least partially determined by one’s value system and how they reason morally. Based on earlier work by Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg proposed six stages of moral reasoning, which can be grouped into the three primary stages of pre-conventional morality, conventional morality and post-conventional morality (Barry, 1998, p. 368). According to Kohlberg, ones’ social and moral choices will be influenced by whether their behavior (and values) are based on a desire to avoid punishment and seek rewards (pre-conventional), whether they align their values with authority and seek to gain the approval of society (conventional), or whether their behavior (and values) are based on internalized or universal ethical principles (post-conventional). Ones’ sense of self and outward expression of personality will be reflected by their capacity to reason morally, and whether they value self-interest, social conformity or universal ethics as the motivating factor in their behavior.

Transpersonal Aspects

Since my model is predicated on the assumption that personality is the “representation of the self, which we present to the world in our relationships and interactions”, I also believe there are spiritual or transpersonal aspects to personality, since there are spiritual and transpersonal aspects of self. Given the complexity and breadth of transpersonal and spiritual psychology, this section could easily stand alone as a paper or thesis topic. Therefore I can only briefly describe some of the ways in which I believe spiritual and/or transpersonal aspects of self, may contribute to the development, and expression, of personality.

First and foremost, I believe in our physical as well as psychological and spiritual interconnectedness. Whether you consider this proposition from the position of quantum physics, or thousands of years of spiritual, mythological and spiritual teachings, the message is the same – Unity, we are all One.

We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

Carl Jung also believed there is a “…collective, transpersonal or unconscious…” aspect of the self which is “…not derived from personal experience” (Fadiman & Frager, 2005). I believe that this collective unconscious is another example of our fundamental interconnectedness to all things, all life, and most of all, to each other. Consciousness studies have been a part of my own academic work for nearly two decades and although there are many scholars, philosophers and scientists whose views or models on consciousness I can identify with, it is Jung’s foundational concept of the collective unconscious which forms the core of my own views on human consciousness. If it is the case that such a collective unconscious influences and shapes aspects of our own personal consciousness through dreams, mythological symbols or archetypes, then clearly our sense of self, and corresponding personalities, will be shaped by this transpersonal and collective aspect of consciousness, self and personality.

One’s religious or spiritual beliefs are also going to play a significant role in the development, form and expression of one’s self as personality. In some cases, for those who may have been following a specific religious and spiritual system their entire lives, with various forms of ritual, ethical precepts, social rules, prayers or teachings, their entire sense of self, their identities, will be fundamentally shaped by those religious or spiritual beliefs. This “religious or spiritual self” will of course shape or influence the expression of that person’s self through personality. In a recent blog article I also proposed that “…being a ‘spiritual person’ is simply to be a ‘responsible person’…” (Stork, 2013). Therefore, if you also accept that we are fundamentally interconnected both physically and metaphysically, and being “spiritual” is simply being “responsible” then clearly the characteristic of “responsibility” is another trait of one’s expressed personality.

In writing this very short paper on my own theory of personality, I had hoped to find more material which supported transpersonal aspects of personality development and formation. Although my research was certainly not extensive, part of the problem may simply be due to the fact that there is a “…absence of the transpersonal dimension in mainstream theories of personality” (MacDonald et al., 1994). Therefore, although I believe there is much more to be said about the role of the transpersonal in self and personality development, I only touched briefly on the relationship in this paper.

Discussion

One of the difficulties with trying to formulate a theory of personality is that it is such an extremely complex psychological construct which is dynamic (non-linear) in its nature and development. What this means is like the weather or the stock market, there are so many small and large factors which interact in non-linear ways, both short-term and long-term, to create cumulative, cascading and in some cases, logarithmic effects. One small change in a child’s life, such as a move from a rural setting to an urban neighbourhood  may introduce an entirely different set of social, cultural and environmental standards than what she may experience in the city, each of which can have an impact on the development of self and the expression of personality..

Growing up in the city where overcrowding, crime, violence and aggression are more common, if our child or young person is prone to social influences (conventional moral reasoning), she may develop a personality based on suspicion or trepidation towards strangers including those in need, possibly limiting her capacity to show sympathy or act in compassionate ways. But let’s imagine as this young girl is growing up, she is also blessed with a powerful sense of personal and moral responsibility towards all of humanity and she not only recognizes such concepts as Universal Responsibility, but she also LIVES them by showing compassion towards all person’s and is less effected by cultural or social rules. In this case, her tendency towards post-conventional moral reasoning is likely to mitigate the social and cultural pressures which foster the fear and suspicion we often develop in a crowded urban environment, and may lead to more sympathy and acts of compassion towards strangers in need, in spite of the urban and social pressures to do otherwise.

We could come up with any number of interrelated, interacting factors in any person’s life which may have a small, or large impact on the development of self, and subsequent development and expression of personality. And each potential factor or influence on the development of self and personality acts in combination with all other factors, which then reflect back on the rest. In this way, the process of self and personality development is not unlike the Net of Indra which is described as a “…universe where infinitely repeated mutual relations exist among all members of the universe” (“Indra’s net”, 2013).

There is no doubt that the core foundation of our development of self and personality begins with the brain, the “hardware” of the mind. Although I agree that the self and expression of personality is initially dependent on the neurobiology of the brain, it may not necessarily be its only source. Self, like consciousness, is an epiphenomenon or emergent property of the brain making it irreducible to brain chemistry and neurology alone. In other words, a brain is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the development of “self” or personality. I also believe in the concept of a collective unconscious and the fundamental interconnectedness of both our physical and metaphysical states. So although I believe we possess a “personal” self which is dependent on genetics and biology (the machine) for its realization, at least some aspect of “self” and personality are co-created and influenced by interrelated physical, metaphysical and collective consciousness factors.

My model began with the proposition that personality is simply the outward or social expression of the self, the True Nature of one’s personal identity. I then proposed six core factors which interacted with and build upon each other in the formulation of the self and personality. I began by acknowledging that the “hardware” of self and personality development (Biology and Genetics) is ultimately going to set (some of) the limits and potential for self and personality development. As a person develops psychologically, socially, emotionally, morally and spiritually, each of these co-factors (environment, socialization, emotional intelligence, moral reasoning and transpersonal awareness) are going to impact the development of self and personality both individually and collectively, while also interacting with and reflecting back on each of those co-factors. A wonderfully dynamic, evolving and interrelated system where some aspects may play a larger role than others, depending on biology, environment, psychological/intellectual/moral development, spiritually leanings and of course one’s will.

I would like to end with an attempt at describing metaphor for my model of personality. Imagine if you will, that one’s True Nature, True Self as a pure white sphere emanating a pure white light of Self. If all there was, was this Self, then its expression out into the world as personality would also be pure white, Pure Self, Authentic Self. However, biology, environment, socialization, emotional intelligence, moral reasoning and transpersonal awareness are like colored filters overlaying the pure white light of the Authentic Self. Let’s now imagine that the strength of each color filter (say blue for environment) is dependent on how far one deviates from their True Self. If their environment has had no effect on their sense or expression of Self, then that filter remains white. The same goes for all of the other “self/personality filters”. If none of them have impacted one’s awareness of, and alignment with, True Self, then True Self emanates a pure white light as their expressed personality. If one or more “filters” has a large impact on suppressing or “coloring” one’s self, then the pure white nature of the True Self will be expressed in a “tinted” form of personality, not fully reflective of the True Self, not truly Authentic. My model of personality implies a simple message, be true to your Self, be Authentic since this IS the essence of your personality.

“…personality is the vehicle through which the self (the spiritual self, the soul) operates in the world, particularly in social interactions.” (“What is personality” 2013)

References

Athota, V. S., O’Connor, P. J., & Jackson, C. (2009). The role of emotional intelligence and personality in moral reasoning. In R. E. Hicks (ed.), Personality and individual differences: Current directions. Bowen Hills, QLD, Australian Academic Press.

Big Five personality traits. (n. d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 18th 2013, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits.

Emotional Intelligence. (n. d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 19th, 2013 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence.

Fadiman, J., & Frager, R., (2005). Personality and personal growth (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

MacDonald, D., Tsagarakis, C. & Holland, C. (1994). Validation of a Measure of Transpersonal Self-Concept and Its Relationship to Jungian and Five-Factor Model of Conceptions of Personality. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 26, No.2.

Indra’s net. (n. d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 20th, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra%27s_net.

Stork, J. (2013, May 11). What does it mean to be “Spiritual”. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from http://evolutionarylandscapes.net/2013/05/11/what-does-it-mean-to-be-spiritual.

What is personality?. (n.d.). In Personality & Spirituality. Retrieved May 18th, 2013 from http://personalityspirituality.net/articles/what-is-personality.

 

 

 

An Old Hippie and Jolly Mystic Dude with a background (or interests) in psychology, sexuality, philosophy, spirituality, consciousness, contemplative practices and technology. In a few different previous lives/careers I have been a youth-care worker and program developer; statistician; database developer; web developer; WordPress developer; Linux administrator and open-source consultant; network/website security administrator; social-media and web marketing specialist; male waiter on Ladies Nights and a pourer of molten steel.

I currently hang out in Gibson’s BC while attending Alef Trust (Middlesex University) as a Master’s student in Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology. When I am not reading, studying, writing, blogging, listening to music or contemplating my navel, I like to spend time taking photos, hiking, 4x4ing, camping, kayaking or challenging social, sexual, gender and intellectual stereotypes.

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