We’ve been focusing on celebrating individuality and highlighting each and everyone of our inherent uniqueness, which begs the question: how did we all get so unique? Is our personality hardwired into our genetic code, like eye color or hair type? Does our sense of style or taste in music stem more from where we grew up or who raised us? The nature versus nurture debate has been around since the dawn of well, debates, and everyone has their own opinion. Considering that so much of who we are is made up of our outside influences, it’s an interesting question: how much of who we are is a natural occurrence and how much of it is simply the result of taking in and processing what happens around us?
Our personalities affect every decision that we make, from who we associate with to what career we choose. While it is possible to develop new interests and tastes, there are certain factors that we have come to associate with shaping us as people. By examining some of these factors, maybe it’s possible to do a little self-assessment and see what we are satisfied with and what we aren’t. After all, the hardest part of determining which way we want to go is examining where we’ve been and how those places and things have affected our lives today.
Researchers have long been divided on how many distinct personality traits actually exist. Gordon Allport, who was known in his day (late 1800s) as the“trait theorist” proposed that there were as many as 4,500 different personality traits, while later researchers like Raymond Cattell (who came later in the early 1900s) argued that there were as few as 16. Today, most psychology researchers have whittled down the number of distinct personality traits into five major categories:
The Big Five
- Extraversion (your level of sociability and enthusiasm)
- Agreeableness (your level of friendliness and kindness)
- Conscientiousness (your level of organization and work ethic)
- Emotional Stability (your level of calmness and tranquility)
- Intellect (your level of creativity and curiosity)
While there is still some debate amongst the scientific community as to whether these traits are different enough to warrant their own categories (H.J. Eysenck, a renowned psychologist stated in 1991 that there are truly only three main traits: psychoticism, extraversion, neuroticism or “PEN”), the “Big Five” remain the standard today. It’s important to note that the Big Five are not personality types, but rather facets of personalities that researchers have determined that we all possess to a certain degree. Having a better understanding of ourselves and our personality traits can help us understand what is working for us in our current lives and what isn’t. For instance, a person with dominate extraversion and intellect traits would do well in a creative occupation with lots of socialization (like hairdressing), whereas a person with a high level of conscientiousness and low level of emotional stability, would most likely not. By being really honest with ourselves as we are, not just how we want to be, we can begin to identify these important parts of our lives and decide whether changes need to be made.
A common theory is that we can see ourselves the clearest when looking at others that we have strong feelings about. For example, if there is someone that we really and truly can’t stand, who the moment we get around them or spot them across a room makes our blood boil and that pesky vein in our foreheads pop out almost on cue, it could say more about us than it does about them. Is the real reason that we have such a hard time with that person because they are an amplified personification of something that we recognize and are not proud of in ourselves? The same can be said about the people that we love the most (don’t worry, it’s not all bad!). We tend to identify with those who exhibit traits that we admire or identify with. So that amazing best friend who always knows just what to say or do and is loyal to the end, it turns out, that we love them as much as we do because they remind us, in some small way, of ourselves.
So what is it, then, that makes us unique? Well, scientifically speaking it’s the distinct levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and intellect that we all possess in some combination or another. Non-scientifically, it’s a little harder to define. If someone were to ask you: “who are you?” How would you respond? Most of us tend to automatically respond with a role that we serve like: “I’m a mother/father/wife/husband etc. etc.” or an occupation, “I’m a brick-layer/artist/international jewel thief” (well, maybe you wouldn’t admit to that last one, but you get the gist), but those things don’t define who we are, they are merely things that we do. Before we can begin to take pride in our individuality, it’s sort of a natural first step to have a really good handle on who we are, and that can be a difficult and life-long pursuit. Maybe the best way to respond is simply, “I am a living, breathing, ever-evolving mass of awesome.” In the meantime, at least we have a solid foundation of five personality traits to watch out for in ourselves and the knowledge that what we surround ourselves with reflects us, so we can navigate that evolution a bit more smoothly.