4 Reasons Knowing Your Personality WON'T Help You Change
The 4 Rs of Transformation, pt. 2
This is the second of a 3 part series:
On Friday I asked, Why Changing our Reactions Is So Hard?
REASON: Because of the .5-second gap between our pre-conscious reactions and our conscious thoughts about those reactions.
Specifically, I said, “Our rigid reactions spring out of us .5 seconds faster than our attempts at willpower, the implementation of education, or a shift toward mindfulness. They come too late.”
So, if the early bird gets the worm, it is your implicit memories activating reactions that is eating you up before your conscious mind even gets out of bed, causing repeated failures to change and feelings of regret.
So, what is the answer?
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Knowing Your Personality Is Not the Answer
Before getting to the last 2 Rs of Transformation we need to cover a non-starter (be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the post).
NEWSFLASH: Knowing your personality profile, your Myers–Briggs type, or Enneagram number will not lead to lasting change.
Here are four reasons focused on the psychology of personality (which I apply Myers–Briggs types and somewhat to the Enneagram).
1) Personality has become a joke
If we need a quiz to know the best personality quiz to take, personality has become meaningless (and that quiz said I would like the Enneagram…more on that below).
Which Harry Potter house are you in?
Are you an apple or a banana?
No…I’m not going to keep listing them…
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2) Personality became an “Identity”
Over the years the idea of “personalities” has shifted from something you have (and can cultivate) to something you are.
Because of this shift to being an identity that you have, finding and knowing your personality has stopped being a path of personal growth, and has become a stake in the ground to defend.
I have seen this with the Enneagram. When I was first exposed to the Enneagram it was presented as putting a finger on a besetting limitation, even a cardinal sin that my personality was formed around, with the implication that a path of growth would flow from this knowledge (i.e. that I should grow out of being a social chameleon and stop seeing my value in being productive and in how others see me).
But now, on a popular level, I see the use of personality as an excuse to NOT GROW.
Sorry (not sorry) I avoid conflict. I’m just a 9.
Sorry (not sorry) I don’t keep commitments. I’m such a 7.
Sorry (not sorry) I’m achievement oriented. It’s what 3s do.
Sorry (not sorry) I worry so much. The joys of being a 6 I guess.
(I know that those who train and teach the Enneagram say this is exactly how not to use the Enneagram…but on a more popular level this is how things are drifting. Sorry).
So, focusing on personality (whatever you might mean by that) doesn’t suggest a trajectory of growth for the average person.
3) Personality Can Change
Early on personality research thought that personality was rather permanent, once one entered adulthood. Psychologists speak of the Big 5 Personality Traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (see this for all the details, and here for more) to describe these endurable parts of personality.
Because we like to think of ourselves as stable through time—and because saying “that’s just the way I am” gets us out of the responsibility for changing—we like to think who we are is basically set. And if we can just find out our personality then we can accept reality a little better (and maybe a little self-compassion along the way too).
But now research shows that personalities shift and change throughout life. Stressful jobs (Atlantic paywall link) and bad marriages can make you more introverted and neurotic. But thankfully therapy has been shown to change personality through a process of healing. You might even be able to change aspects of your personality in as little two weeks, a study has shown.
So, knowing your personality doesn’t lead to change.
But having a goal of change might transform your personality.
4) Personality is WEIRD
Lastly, so much of personality research is based on WEIRD psychology and isn’t as “universal” as people think.
“WEIRD” stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. None of those are bad or wrong in themselves. The problem for psychological research in general, and personality research specifically, is that
the research subjects are pooled from WEIRD people
and the researchers looking at the data are likewise WEIRD people.
Basically, the “Big 5 Personality Traits” only fit into and explain people in industrially advanced, economically prosperous, and highly segmented and diversified societies.
In fact, if there are any universal aspects of personality, it might just be prosociality and industriousness (aspects that attachment research has long connected to the secure base reality of the attachment bond).
All that to say, knowing your personality can’t help you change because much of your “personality” is just you adapting to our WEIRD society.
And changing those adaptations will probably end up changing aspects of your personality.
Join us for our new Attaching to God learning cohort, and learn how to quiet an anxious and avoidant faith by attaching to God and others (starting soon).
Back to the .5 Second Gap
So if we add knowing your “personality” to willpower, mindfulness, or just hoping as failed strategies for moving reacting with protection when we want to respond with connection, then what can we do?
We have to dig deeper and go further back.
And we need to reorient ourselves to a new future.
In other words, we need to REFLECT on the past (especially our attachment survival strategies) and REORIENT to a better future (which are the last two Rs of transformation).
But all that is for Friday’s post…
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