What makes you-you? Are you damaged, broken, abnormal? How do you make yourself right? Who decides what type of person is normal? As far as that goes, are you sure you even want to be “normal”?
A personality is comprised of an individual’s temperament and overall character. Some dispositions we are born with, other habits we develop over the course of a lifetime. Personality can be changed by life’s experiences, personal roles and relational interactions. Deep set, stable and persistent over time, the personality is the central core that makes up a person’s very essence.
We adapt our personalities in response to life’s changing circumstances. The personality can be hard to change. Old habits are hard to break. To really alter your personality, your basic self, would be to completely redesign yourself. You would have to not only change your identity, the true you, but also your image, the way others perceive you. Of course this can be done and frequently is done slowly over time in response to external demands and internal desires. Barring a major calamity or intense life changing event, a person typically does not and cannot change overnight.
The Perfect Personality
Psychological gurus have managed to narrow all seven and a half billion of us down into five personality types. Called the “Big Five,” their system describes each of us as “extraverted,” “agreeable,” “open,” “conscientious” or “neurotic.” Although neat and tidy, this compact and standardized view of person-hood is black and white and seemingly all or nothing. Not only does it leave little room for any in-between, it also suggests that anything opposite of the first four traits is somehow wrong. (Maybe I’m just being neurotic, but it seems like the last option awkwardly does not fit with the other four).
If you allow one “Big Five” trait too much dominance, you could easily end up in a mess. Are you “extroverted” or irritating. Are you “agreeable” or gullible? Are you truly “open” or are you overly explicit? Are you “conscientious” or an ADHD/Type A/OCD control freak? Are you “neurotic” or is it just that all of the above mentioned types manage to grate on your nerves?
Are You Thinking Wrong? Acting Wrong? Or…Are You Just… All Wrong?
The most frequently diagnosed mental disorders are those revolving around unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior. The most common ones are depression and anxiety which both fall into the mood disorder category.
A mood is a feeling or a perception and is temporary, often changing from day to day or even minute by minute, based on situation or circumstance. Even though the way you feel is often involuntary, mood can still be controlled, at least to some extent, which can make these types of disorders hard to detect. Although your mood is capable of impacting those around you, whether good or bad, you are still the primary recipient of the effects of your mood. For this reason, mood disorders are termed “internalizing” disorders.
On the other hand, conduct disorder, aggression, impulsiveness and substance abuse are all considered behavioral in nature. Changing in reaction to an external pressure, a behavior is conduct thought to be within the realm of personal control. Behavioral disorders are based on under-controlled actions so they are overt and easily detected. Unlike a mood, your behavior and your actions directly impact those around you, so they are considered to be “externalizing” disorders.
A personality disorder can fall into either a mood or behavioral category and can be subjected to a wide array of tags and labels. A person can be too self-assured, in which case they’d be labeled “narcissistic” or “histrionic.” On the other hand, maybe they aren’t sufficiently self-aware, meaning they could be suffering from a “dissociative” disorder. In addition, any of these folks could display characteristics such as antisocial, obsessive/compulsive, avoidant, dependent or paranoid. These defects can be even further refined by specific clusters- odd/eccentric, dramatic/erratic, anxious/fearful, so on and so forth.
A personality is a character, a belief system, a moral code and is steady, persistent, persevering and very hard to change. A personality disorder can lead to unhappiness, sometimes resulting in problems with relationships, substance abuse, and ironically enough, a host of other mood and behavioral disorders. It’s like a never-ending circle, one disorder leading to another.
But, do these character defects stem from the personality in and of itself or something a person is just born with? Are they a result of societal labeling? As far as that goes, aside from criminal and unethical (controllable) behaviors, who should decide what character attributes are normal or harmful?
Can You Be Fixed?
- Mood- internalized feelings often rapidly changing, automatic but somewhat controllable
- Behavioral- externalized controllable actions changing due to response to environment
- Personality- internalized and externalized hard to change character traits which tend to remain steady over time
Mood disorders can typically be treated with anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications. A behavioral disorder can sometimes be controlled with stimulant medication. Both mood and behavior can be improved with cognitive or behavioral therapy. But, again, a personality is constant, steady, stubborn and deep rooted. It cannot be easily be altered at whim. This suggests that an individual with a personality disorder is defective to the very core, and the only way to treat would be to change this very core.
Therapy and medicine can improve moods and behavior, but they can’t remake a person. That can only be done by the person if they are willing and able and actually wanting change. Therefore, to “treat” a “personality disorder” would be to convince the owner of the disordered personality to gain new ideas and perspectives and replace the incorrect ones. This of course is fine and dandy, unless, for example, the person likes being an introverted opinionated cautious worry wart.
If there was a pill to make me more outgoing, less gullible, more daring and less critical, I’d at least consider taking it. But seriously, who wants a designer personality anyway?
Personality: Who Creates? Who Decides?
The collective psyche has evolved over millennia, instructing future personas on what is considered normal and what is thought to be abnormal. As individuals, endowed with freedom of action, we each create and customize our own unique personality, utilizing self-chosen and self-identifying elements of the collective human psyche. Ultimately, it is this free-will, the rational mind, the soul, which makes up an individual, that is, a singular component. So, in this sense, personality is indeed “internalized.”
Although certainly a person is usually part of a group, and arguably functioning much better within the confines of a group, he or she can exist apart from others. Therefore, with its distinctiveness and its exclusiveness, personality equals individuality. So, if a person is a personality, then a “deviance” from the “norm” is a somewhat ironic juxtaposition of terms. To look at it another way, if we were all the same, there would be no deviance from the norm. There would be no individual and no personality, only an orderly standardized human race leaving no one to “fix.”
A diagnosis is simply a label, a manner by which to categorize people and explain away differences. People begin to see themselves as “neurotic,” “ADHD,” “OCD,” “depressed,” “anxious,” etc.
Whatever personality “tag” happens to fit you, just keep in mind that maybe you are already designed to be just the way you need to be. Rather than using your “label” as an excuse for poor functioning, try using your deficits to your advantage. These labels are what make you unique and valuable to society.
Learn from your mistakes. Take corrective action as necessary. Don’t be ashamed of your weaknesses. When at all possible, leverage your disabilities to your advantage.
Author Your Own Life
So, who ultimately decides whether or not you are normal? Along with you, the people who you are around and who you associate with decide whether you meet their criteria for “normal.” The people in your life help to shape who you are.
Since the personality is both internalized, in the form of your identity, and externalized, in the form of your image, it is important to be with people who respect and value you for who you are. Enter into relationships, professions and business alignments conducive to your personality. Build and maintain relationships with people who desire your input, appreciate your efforts and respect your views. Look to form ties with those who are willing and capable of overlooking your deficits in order to reap the benefits of your attributes.
Put yourself into situations where you are the asset, not the liability. Write your own script. Design your own setting. Be the character you want to be.