Seven personality traits meme

July 18, 2009

We’ve had some good weather here in the midst of winter so I’ve been enjoying that rather than blogging. Last night was perhaps the most social I’ve been in a while. D, a friend of P’s, had a birthday get-together and we had a good few glasses of champagne. It was fun to see P get a bit drunk for the first time since I’ve known her. She was singing along to The Committments and getting all nostalgic about her trip to Ireland and her Irish roots. And then it was Jimi Hendrix and all the oldies, and more champagne.

I had a rather surreal conversation with D’s boyfriend J about Granny V, who I assumed was an old lady who lived upstairs and who didn’t like the puppy’s barking. At one point I asked, “So does Granny V own the house?” J replied about how Granny V mostly keeps to her room and tries to ignore the puppy. I thought it was a bit odd that this woman mostly stayed in her room while there was a big party going on downstairs. And then I discovered of course that Granny V is their cat!

This morning P woke up with a sore head but I think it was worth it. Tonight we have another birthday do at the restaurant where one of my exes does some singing. I’m sure it will be fine, and good to hear her sing again.

On to today’s meme (thanks to Charlotte and Doctordi for the tags). I originally did this as a blogging-under-the-influence (BUI) post but I had the good sense not to post that. Very revealing no doubt but I think a sober approach is probably better.

In the BUI post I listed my seven personality traits as: 1) not handling my liquor well 2) a tendency to anger 3) general anxiety 4) social anxiety 5) being critical 6) not sure what this one was but it was about working for various journalistic publications; and 7) curiosity.

But I’m not in a critical mood today and so I think I’ll just mention a few things that come to mind, and also refer to three personality tests (16PF, the Myers-Briggs and the MMPI). I see from the discussion of Personality at Wikipedia that the word traits refers to “habitual patterns of behaviour, thought and emotion”. I would put it the other way round: “emotion, thought and behaviour” but I guess that the point here is that the three are intimately connected.

Quick quote here from Wikipedia on the “Big Five” theory of personality factors:

The Big Five factors and their constituent traits can be summarized as follows:
• Openness – appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.

• Conscientiousness – a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.

• Extraversion – energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation and the company of others.

• Agreeableness – a tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.

• Neuroticism – a tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability; sometimes called emotional instability.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the details but I think I’d definitely score five out of five here! I definitely have a tendency to experience the unpleasant emotions easily but I also seek out and enjoy the more pleasant aspects of life. And I also think that empathy (for ourselves and others) is a big factor in determining how we connect with people.

Another aspect to consider, especially today since it’s Mandela Day (in which we’re encouraged to spend 67 minutes helping out in the community) is how Nelson Mandela would score on a personality test and how useful (or not useful) such a test would be in describing this extraordinary man and the huge influence he has had both in South Africa and internationally. My sense is that we would need to pay far greater attention to the broader social context rather than locating factors within his personality.

Returning to those three tests above, the 16PF test (designed by Raymond Cattell in 1946) measures 16 personality variables: warmth, reasoning, emotional stability, dominance, liveliness, rule-consciousness, social boldness, sensitivity, vigilance, abstractedness, privateness, apprehension, openness to change, self-reliance, perfectionism and tension.

The Myers-Briggs test was derived from the work of Carl Jung. There are four scales: Extraversion / Intraversion (E/I); Sensing / Intuiting (S/N); Thinking / Feeling (T/F); Judging / Perceiving (J/P). Last time I did the test I was an ENFJ (although the E has probably changed into an I).

The MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) tests for personality structure and psychopathology. I’m not going to go into that here.

For today I’ll stay with the big five: open, conscientious, extraverted, agreeable and neurotic.

In the interests of spreading this meme around I’ll tag the following seven bloggers:

Sarah at Devoted Reader
Sandy from Blogging Behavioural
Novalis from Blue to Blue
Phd in Yogurty
Bee Drunken

Update: The rules of this meme are simple: Describe seven personality traits you have and tag seven other bloggers.

Diary Monday (on a Tuesday)

October 21, 2008

The nice way of saying this is that younger me (of four years ago) had “anger issues”. (My original comment was that younger me was a jerk.) Prompted by Courtney’s delightful Diary Monday, I went looking back over my old journals to see what I was doing this time four years ago.

I have about 12 to 15 old journals in my cupboard and I keep thinking I should mine them for gems. Then when I actually read them I realise that the gems are few and far between and that there’s a lot of stuff that’s just not that readable anymore. Maybe I used my journal as a sort of punching bag to let out my frustrations of the time. A few entries:

Mon 1st Nov (2004)
Song: ‘Luca’ stuck in my head.
Dream: Hawk chasing a canary. Canary died.

Weds 4th Nov (2004)
Watched US pres election – really depressing. Was depressed all day and really struggled to get any work done. Mood rating = 3/10. … Angry with E for being such a heartless bitch.

[Yes well the rest of this entry doesn’t get much better. My ex-girlfriend had recently broken up with me for the last time and I was feeling quite sore about it. A bit further down I try and cheer myself up with a list of things to feel good about.]

10 things to feel good about:
1. Choc dessert
2. Mashed potato with cream
3. J paid me rent
4. Dog’s leg a bit better today and she didn’t bite the vet
5. Papaya in fridge
6. Seeing friend on Friday – might even get some
7. Made some progress with empowerment stuff today
8. Varicose vein a bit better today – might even cancel op
9. Sitn with P (work colleague) not much worse – stable
10. Rugby test on Sat
11. Saw some beautiful girls at gym

(There you have it – food, girls, my dog’s leg, rugby etc. What a sad life I was leading then. Admittedly I was in a slump which really doesn’t bring out the best in people. But no wonder I didn’t have many friends back then. The relationship trouble with the ex, the work difficulties, the vein problem – the one seems to compound the other and create a spiral of misery. Reading this today I suppose I should be grateful that my life is so different now. Perhaps this time of my life was a bottoming-out which made me realise that I had to make a change. I applied for (and was accepted into) a Clinical Psychology Master’s programme, I resigned my job, moved cities, and spent 18 months in therapy with a good-enough therapist who was able to help me to change for the better. I really did a lot of soul-searching and did a radical overhaul of, well, my personality. Today I look back on that time and I’m anxious about how real that change is. When I’m feeling really cynical I wonder if people can really change. Sure, the best proof I have for that is my own change but I wonder how much of that angry man is still around. One of the best things I learned in my psychology training is that underneath all that anger (and depression) there is anxiety. Address the anxiety and a lot of the anger becomes less important.)

Embracing anxiety

May 10, 2008

“Since anxiety is a natural, even a sacred part of life, we need to learn how to become anxious about the right things in the right way, one that leads to personal and spiritual growth. Unfortunately, many current therapies are directed towards merely reducing stress and anxiety. But if, as the existentialists observe, anxiety is life being aware of its own aliveness, then the only way to reduce our anxiety is to become less alive, to numb ourselves to life. In fact, our problem as individuals and as a society may not be that we are too anxious, but that we are not anxious enough, and we are not anxious about the right things.” — Robert Gurzon, Finding serenity in the age of anxiety

For the past while I’ve been thinking quite a bit about anxiety. Anxiety at starting a new job, making new friends and generally making small and big changes such as moving house etc. Getting to the anxiety that underlies a secondary emotion such as anger was quite a revelation for since it took much of the sting out of my anger. And what Gurzon writes about anxiety being the key to personal change has certainly been true for me. Becoming aware of my own anxiety, and the ways in which I react to it, has helped me to respond to it in a more healthy way, and to also understand others better.

Gurzon, a Massachusetts-based psychotherapist and author, says that the way we react to anxiety determines our personalities and our characters. Do we try and control it, desperately avoid it, numb it with excessive alcohol and reckless living, internalise it? I think I tried a combination of all of the above. Attending an all boys private school I got the message that boys don’t show fear (and don’t cry, although they could perhaps get a bit misty-eyed at a brilliant try in rugby). Part of the teasing at any boys school runs along the lines of: Don’t be a whuss, a girl, a moffie. Be a man. So I drifted through my school career, blindly unaware that I was even anxious. By the time I got to university I went through the usual drinking phase and then became mildly depressed. Counselling helped, I studied psychology and, after Honours, I went into teaching to get some life experience.

As a young teacher, anxiety is a daily occurrence but I learned to tough it out, partly through preparing thoroughly enough to try and be in control of the situation. But it was only when I actually studied Masters several years later that I really understood the significance of the anxiety that I was experiencing. This isn’t just something you grow out of as you become more experienced — this is a fundamental and important part of life.

One of the things I have noticed in my short time as a psychologist is that people who suffer from anxiety just want it to go away. But repressing it has the adverse effect of making it come back, often stronger and in a different guise. Anxiety can take the form of recurring worries, disturbing dreams, panic attacks, stomach complaints, sweating, dizziness and palpitations (to name just a few symptoms). But what happens, if as Gurzon suggests, you acknowledge the anxiety and try to understand its riddle? If you embark on a conversation with your anxious thoughts? Hopefully you learn to dance with anxiety, to interact with it in a way that leads to greater awareness and a more meaningful personal life.

The personality-forming side of anxiety is also an interesting one. Gurzon says that our reaction to anxiety determines our personalities. I often wonder if I would have progressed more quickly in therapy if my therapist had spelled this out for me, and given me the benefit of her psychological knowledge regarding personality traits. I think in my mid-to-late twenties when I was in real therapy for the first time I would have appreciated knowing about some of the different personality traits and disorders (e.g. Borderline, Narcissistic, Avoidant, Histrionic, Anti-social, Dependent). Since everyone has a personality, everyone has traits which can be understood in terms of psychological diagnoses. For someone who’s intelligent and who already has a good grasp of psychology I think it can be empowering to be given tools (labels, knowledge, patterns) with which to re-examine their own personal development.

Of course the counter-argument to this is that imposing a label on someone who could be vulnerable and distressed is likely to push them away. Bion says that therapists should sit on their wisdom rather than offering their interpretations too readily. And I know from my own experience that often the most helpful thing a therapist can do is to listen, to understand and just to sit with what the client brings and then reflect that back to them. Allowing people to come up with their own solutions and insights can be more meaningful and rewarding than being given the answer. But, since knowlegde is power, learning about maladaptive reactions to stress and anxiety can actually help people to learn more effective coping strategies. This education function is one of the aims of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which is a treatment of choice for Borderline Personality Disorder.