This question came to my mind based on someone’s recent post where he listed things that were just “luck of the draw”, including his personality.
This got me to thinking. Here’s a longish story, but please bear with it. There is a guy where I work who has, I think, the best personality of anyone I have ever met. He exudes warmth, kindness, humor, goodwill, never seems to have any strong negative emotions, and even when someone ticks him off he is not strident or bitter about it, mostly just takes it in stride with a laughing comment. Add to this the fact that he is a dedicated and seemingly tireless hard worker, and intelligent. I often speculated to myself that he must have had wonderful parents or some other beneficial influence in his early life to be that way. I don’t know if that is true. I also envy his recently-born child for having this man as his father.
I, on the other hand, while not despicable, am often thought to be brittle, critical, socially awkward, prone to angry responses under stress, and at best the source of a certain dry humor that is an acquired taste. I know pretty well that these things are true, although they are not the whole story by a long way. I am pretty sure that I am following the lead of my parents in many of these respects, but I also have the sense that there are things I might do or have done to mitigate my flaws and enhance my good points.
So here are some questions I would like you all to noodle about.
Do you think your personality is mostly a result of your early-life influences (parents or similar role models)?
Have you ever taken steps to (attempt to) improve your personality, whatever that might mean to you?
Have you ever met anyone who has really impressed you with the excellence of their personality, as my co-worker has impressed me? Do you have any idea how they got that way?
After my wife died I was left with an opportunity to reshape my personality. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say this was less an opportunity and more of an immediate burden. I had always toted myself as her mutual supporter and protector, and as we grew older we took on aspects of each other’s personalities that resonated with us. We were surprisingly close, approaching the “Sam n’ Eric” level of Lord of the Flies, minus the creepy bits.
In her absence, I realized I had lost approximately half of myself. I was left to answer the question: “Who am I?”
It was a wild, mostly shitty ride to find the answer, but I’m a significantly different person these days, and as far as I can tell the changes are permanent. While a few things manifested themselves in her absence, I was left to make most of the changes myself.
Sure. Your personality is an amalgam of numerous influences and experiences, but ultimately we as humans can change our spots, unlike leopards. People change over the years as they accrue more knowledge, experience, and scars. But our formative years are, I suspect, called so for good reason.
this thread is based on the assumption that free will exists and we do not live in a deterministic universe. who knows if even our effective efforts are under our conscious control
assuming free will exists, a big hunk of personality is genetic, about 40-70%.other big factors are the first 6 years of life, peer groups, society, etc. a person can’t really control those.
however epigenetics shows we can alter which genes get expressed, that is partly under our control.
I have done things for my moods. a mix of nutrients, mind exercises and meditation. do they work? yes, but I can’t say how much. as neuroscience advances we will have better tools to write and rewrite our personalities.
the people I met who truly impressed me seemed like they were full of bitterness and hate for years before they let forgiveness heal the wounds. I only saw them when they were loving people, but when younger they were angry and defensive.
I don’t know if people are born exuding peace and calm. to me at least, the ones who do do so because of years of struggling to achieve forgiveness for self and others.
Wow. I was going to post the same first two lines of your great post about myself except perhaps with less elan.
Yeah. We remake ourselves everyday.
It’s definitely a combination of both. Parenting is definitely a huge part of it, and generally kind, loving parents will have kind, loving kids, and same for nasty parents. But, at the same time, possibly the worst person I’ve ever met had two amazing parents, and his brother was a very kind person. Similarly, I’ve met plenty who have had miserable upbringings and turned out as wonderful people, so there’s definitely more to it.
For me, I have definitely taken steps to change aspects of my personality. It’s as simple as realizing that there are things in my life that I didn’t like, realizing that a huge part of that was my own perception of, or reaction to, other things that I probably don’t have control over, then adjusting my perceptions or reactions, and things change.
But at the same time, I think there are certain personality aspects that are difficult or impossible to change. For instance, I’m an introvert, and one of the things I’ve worked on has been to do better in social situations, and I’m generally pretty good in most, but still not very comfortable in, like, a party where I don’t know anyone. I have difficulty changing that, but I think a lot of that is because I’m not particularly motivated since it’s not something I enjoy or really feel would make my life better.
But, when you get down to it, our personality is pretty much one of the few things we really have control over. Some people are unfortunate enough to start off behind or whatever, but we can still change much of it.
It’s a little like losing weight: it takes a hell of a lot of serious, dedicated work.
But, yes, definitely, it can be done. It’s an ongoing process that never ends (nor should it.) As there’s always room for improvement, there is always an effort to be made.
Just ask yourself: what sort of person do you want to be? Then…since we don’t have the absolute empowered will simply to be that kind of person…take a step in that direction…and keep on going, a little every day.
A lot of my kids friends were adopted. Wonderful adoptive parents alas did not produce wonderful kids in all cases - or even in most. These kids make me think that parental genetic influence had a lot more to do with their personalities than adoptive parental influence, and they were adopted at a very young age.
One of my kids is scarily like me, and the other is scarily like her mother. They started like this very young, and they both had the same level of contact with us.
Now, as you mature you can intellectually smooth out some of the rougher aspects of your personality, based on feedback from the world, but I don’t think this actually changes your personality very much.
Welcome to the club
I think the moment of liberation was realizing that I had no one in my life to tell me “NO.” So long as I avoided incarceration and held on to my job, all seemed well. While I didn’t have any incidents involving fast cars, hookers, and an 8-ball of blow, I participated in some profoundly odd activities. I wore a toothbrush mustache for five months just to observe the reactions it provoked. I went shopping in my bathrobe, Dude style. I replaced all my clothes. There was also the time I contemplated becoming a connoisseur of tentacle porn (still debating that one). It was a strange five years or so.
Once you experience that level of freedom, you might start to think of all the things you’ve been doing just because people expected it of you.
I think this is an effective technique for some. Old habits are hard to break, but no one said anything about making new ones, right? If the results are positive, you get yourself a nice feedback loop going!
I think there is a strong genetic baseline. Anyone with a family can usually see deep similarities from ancestors to descendants. So, if you are a strong introvert you are probably never going to be the life of the party, no matter how hard you try. But I do agree that one can learn and mold personal behavior, and behavior can beget attitude. It is like exercise, though. You don’t just do it once and then your done…it’s constant work.
I don’t think I’ve changed my basic personality, but I’ve learned to make the most of what I have.
For example, I’m naturally introverted. I will never be extroverted, but I’ve learned to be an extremely effective public speaker, to be a valuable contributor to meetings, and to be engaging during social events. I’ve learned how to work with what I have. I’ll never be an “off the cuff” kind of speaker. I need time to prepare my thoughts and practice. I need time to prep myself for meetings and to get my thoughts together. I can’t go from social event to social event without a break. I need time to get myself together before and then to decompress afterwards.
Ever since I was diagnosed as having a disordered personality about five years ago, I have tried to reshape myself into a healthier, happier person. It is hard being told that you don’t have a disease–you ARE a disease. You don’t know whether to feel hopeless about it and just give up living. Or do you throw up your hands at a world that thinks it’s okay to pathologize you for just being you and scream “fuck ya’ll”, just to preserve your ego?
I have come to accept that my personality is probably never going to change fundamentally. I’m always going to like doing things my way. I’m always going to have higher-than-normal personal boundaries. I’m never going to love socializing. I’m always going to be wary (and secretly suspicious) of people. I’m always going to be eccentric in mind and body. I’m probably never going to be very expressive or emotive. Accepting that these things are who I am is not me being defeatist or stubborn or any other nonsense. It’s me acknowledging that while these are qualities about myself that I may not always like, I’m not willing to risk wasting precious time and energy on trying to change them. Just like I’m not willing to risk wasting time and energy on becoming an astronaut, even though I’ve always admired astronauts and theoretically it is possible for me to become one, if I tried hard enough.
One thing I’ve learned, though, is that you can maintain your “youness” and grow just by being amenable to new experiences. For instance, I am learning that life is not just about enduring and suffering through. For years I operated as if I were a robot. I did not seek out pleasures, comfort, or anything that could be remotely described as “fun”. I don’t think I’m an innately miserable person; it’s just that when you aren’t sensual, you don’t seek out sources of pleasure. It’s like pleasure doesn’t even exist and the concept of it seems ridiculous and trivial. At my core I am still like this. I am very very practical, and I think I will always have a hard time letting my hair down. But as I’ve gotten older and bolder, I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and do something just because it feels good.
I think my parents had a role in who I am–both the good and the bad–but I’m going to point the finger at my genetics+prenatal environment as the ultimate cause. In some of my relatives, this combo has manifested itself in debilitating schizophrenia. In me, it churned out a schizoid personality in a dyspraxic, Tourettic body. But please note that it’s a smoking hot body. The genes should get credit for that too.
Too limiting; tentacle monsters rarely have any personality. (There was the much-missed “Ghastly’s Ghastly Comic” but that was a rare exception.) Try Futa instead. Highly stereotyped, but with lots of character.
I believe that you have the power to shape your personality within the confines of genetics and upbringing. Probably the most important decision I made was to practice introspection. I realized there are aspects of myself I can get rid of and ones I can’t; I try to get rid of the unpleasant get-riddables, and develop a sense of humor about the ones that are here to stay.
When you talk about reshaping your personality, there’s different degrees.
You can’t fundamentally change how you’re wired but you can learn different behaviours.
Also, what you present to others isn’t necessarily your real personality. The “Mask” I wear at work isn’t the real me. There’s bits of it but there’s also lots of learned behaviour and adapting to the situation.
Internally, several years ago I was seeing a psychologist for some personal issues. I was going away interstate by myself for a weeks holiday and she gave me homework to keep a journal and every day while I was away, do something I would not ever normally do.
I didn’t keep the journal but I did follow the gist which was to break routines. So I challenged myself frequently, whenever I found myself doing something automatically I’d pull up and examine other options and 2-3 times a day made different decisions. Worthwhile exercise to do.
I changed myself from a pessimist (though I swore I was a realist at the time ) to an optimist.
It took a long time. Reshaping your thoughts is not quick or easy work.
While leaders have stressed that we should look to Asia economically, I always thought it was more important to look to them pornographically.
Thank you all for the very thoughtful and thought-provoking replies. I have been doing a lot of introspecting myself, and I think that I see one path that can work for me. Here’s an example.
Often when walking down the street I will see other people “behaving badly”, by which I mean things like not following traffic laws, or littering, or just generally being a jerk in some minor way. My gut reaction is to express strong disapproval (internally, of course). But this is something I don’t particularly like about myself; even though they are internal, those disapprovals don’t just go away, they find their way into my facial expression and to other parts of my life. Last night I realized that when I am doing this I am expressing my mother (a sweet and generous lady in many ways, but very rule-bound). Just realizing that much made it easier to for me to shrug and ignore those minor infractions, at least for a while. So there’s one small way I can work on improving myself. I’ll be looking for more of those (I’ve already identified a lot of the anger and defensiveness with my father, and made many improvements in that area).
I hope others will continue to share their thoughts and stories, I find them very helpful.