Am I stuck with the personality I was born with or is it reasonable to hope I can improve it? Are personalities just a matter of what genes we inherit or is there more to it than that?
Good question! When it comes to many of your physical traits, such as your hair, eye, and skin color, your physical genes determine what kinds of features you get and many of those features cannot be altered on a core level. While you can certainly dye your hair from blonde to black, you can’t make your head start to produce black hair strands. But when it comes to your personality, we are no longer talking about a set of physical genes, and the degree of flexibility is much greater.
Personality is a very fascinating concept. What people mean when they use this term is actually a collection of responses from the individual elements that make up their beings. Every human has four elements to his/her being, and while these four elements depend on each other in many ways, they are also four distinct entities. Your body has its own thoughts, priorities, needs, language, and responses. The same is true for soul, subconscious, and conscious.
Suppose you are a powerful political leader with who has many responsibilities to manage. Happily, you have a staff of four very capable assistants that manage all of your affairs for you. Whenever a member of the public wants to talk to you, they are intercepted by one of your assistants, all of which have the authority to speak on your behalf. Now it so happens that your four assistants have very different personalities, and different styles of dealing with your public. This results in people have very different experiences when they try to talk to you. The impression that someone gets of you depends on which assistant responds to that person’s request to talk to you. If one of your assistants is rather gruff, then the people who deal with that assistant will end up thinking that you must be a very gruff person. If another one of your assistants is a nervous, disorganized type, then the people who deal with that assistant will think that you must be the same.
In this metaphor, those four assistants represent your body, soul, conscious and subconscious. In real life, when people try to talk to you, they always end up interacting with one or more of your elements. The impression that they get of who you are is heavily influenced by which of your elements they interacted with the most, and how that element was behaving at the time.
Think about some of the terms you would use to describe the personality of someone you know. You might use terms like nervous, confident, loud, detailed, controlling, dramatic or shy. What you’re really describing here are responses that you’ve observed some of that person’s elements having at various times. For example, if someone is physically uncomfortable, they might say something like: “Is it just me, or is it hot in here?” This comment is really coming from their body. But then later on that same person might say: “There is never justification for terrorists attacking innocent people.” This statement is being made by that person’s soul. But then the same person might say, “I’ve read this paragraph three times and still don’t know what it says. I’m having so much trouble focusing today.” This is the conscious talking.
When human being talk to each other, their speaking elements change so fast and so smoothly that no one notices what is happening. You don’t have to think to yourself “I’ll let my soul answer this question.” If the question that you’re asked interests your soul, it will simply jump into the conversation and put its two cents in. But while both you and your conversation partner are rapidly rotating elements, neither of you recognizes that this is what is happening. Instead, when you go home, you might say, “I spoke to my friend Jen today.” You keep it this vague–you don’t actually specify which parts of Jen you conversed with. You don’t say , “I had an interesting talk with Jen’s soul and conscious.” You don’t think of your friend as having separate components, you just think of her as “Jen.”
So who exactly are you? Well, you are the combination of all of those elements. Just as “split pea soup” is a dish that is made up of a combination of various ingredients, you are a complex blend of your various elements. If I were to ask you to describe your personality, you would list off words that describe the “flavors” that stand out to you the most in your current blend.
Now what happens if you drastically change how much of a certain spice you put in a dish? Perhaps we both like a certain soup that our friend Jorge came up with. But when I make “Jorge’s soup,” I measure out the spices very differently. When you taste my altered version of that soup, you’re going to say, “Hey, this isn’t Jorge’s soup.” What you really mean is that what you’re tasting isn’t the same combination of flavors that you currently define as “Jorge’s soup.” Even though I used the same kinds of ingredients, by changing the quantities of them, I drastically changed how the final dish tasted.
Today, your body, soul, conscious and subconscious are each dealing with certain challenges and concerns which are causing them to behave in certain ways. It is the combination of all of those individual behaviors that makes up what you call your personality. But what happens if one of your elements starts behaving very differently? Significant changes in the behavior of any one of your elements would cause the final mix of your personality to change as well.
What causes elements to start behaving differently? Stress and beliefs are key factors here. A calm, optimistic man whose soul suddenly decides that he’s committed an “unpardonable sin” can start behaving very moody, agitated and grim. Pleasant personalities can quickly turn dark when core beliefs change. The sudden rise of stress can make calm personalities become tense. In real life, we all demonstrate significant changes in our personalities, but we tend to shrug these things off as long as they don’t last for very long.
Let’s go back to Jorge’s soup. The first time I make my own version of it, you complain that I did it wrong, so the next time I make it exactly like Jorge does. This makes you happy again, so you forget about the time I botched it. But now suppose I refuse to revert back to Jorge’s original recipe. Suppose I keep making his soup my way, which results in a flavor combination that you don’t like. Now you’re annoyed with me and you’ll probably stop coming over to my house to eat. A similar thing happens when people make major, lasting changes to their personalities.
Jack used to be fun to pal around with until he got all religious. Now he’s a judgmental stick in the mud who his friends no longer want to hang out with. Stacy used to be a very efficient and reliable employee who her boss really liked. But in the last three months she’s become sloppy, late, and snarky so her boss is planning to fire her. Such drastic, lasting changes in personality are the result of the subconscious and/or soul making significant changes to their personal beliefs and priorities.
So then, are you stuck with the personality you were born with? Not at all. Your personality has already changed quite a bit since the day you were born, because simply gathering more life experience causes your various elements to change the way that they behave. How much your personality changes in the future will depend on how your various elements change.
Now is it possible to try to influence what kind of “flavor” your personality is? Yes. Improving your personality is best achieved by developing positive core beliefs and trying to resolve any major stresses that you’re currently carrying around. Collecting more life experience can help quite a bit with both of these goals, which is why growing older should be viewed as a good thing instead of something to dread.
This is a very complicated topic which I have intentionally over-simplified in this post so that you can understand the basic mechanics at work. As you can see, humans are incredibly complex creatures with so much going on beneath the surface. When you are trying to become more self-aware, realizing that you have four distinct aspects to your being is a major step forward, but there’s no need to stress over the fact that you aren’t able to easily pinpoint which of your elements is doing what on a daily basis. In my line of work, being able to distinguish between internal elements is very important, because to give people good advice, I need to be able to identify which of their elements is distressed. But my level of understanding is too extreme and overwhelming for most people to benefit from. Just as most of us can get along just fine without ever studying calculus, most people can do just fine without being able to deeply analyze their internal mechanics. So take what helps you, and set the rest aside.
This post was written in response to S.R.
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