What Psychologists Mean by Personality
There are numerous quizzes on the internet that claim to determine your personality, simply by selecting your favourite food or leisure activity. Many people are drawn to pop quizzes like these in an attempt to more fully understand their behaviour. But have you stopped to consider what psychologists are actually referring to when they use the term “personality”?
Personality is the pattern of thoughts, behaviour and feelings that make up an individual, and are considered to be relatively stable over time. While this pattern may indeed determine which leisure activity you like to engage in, it also influences many unseen parts of our lives such as our values and attitudes. Considering how an individual’s personality can have a big impact on how a person experiences the world, it is understandable that this has long been a topic of interest.
Philosophers and scientists have sought to discover what determines someone’s personality for centuries. Hippocrates was the first to suggest a theory in 370 BCE. He believed that the way a person acted consisted of a balance of ‘humors’, or bodily fluids. Depending on the balance of humors that a person possessed, they would show a tendency towards particular traits (yellow bile would make a person grumpy, black bile would lead someone to be melancholy, phlegm would result in a calm nature and someone with a greater balance of blood would show more cheer).
Several others have also put forth various theories in relatively modern times. Suggestions include that personality is influenced by early developmental experiences, responses to reward and punishment, one’s social environment, or by genetics and heredity. Another school of thought is that people there are different characteristics, or traits, that individuals possess to a greater or lesser degree (e.g. openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism etc). While each of these theories have merits and limitations, it is largely accepted that personality is likely to be influenced by a combination of factors.
There are times when an individual’s personality can be so rigid and inflexible that it results in significant issues in relationships and difficulty functioning. In these cases, psychological distress may often be present. Possessing these signs or symptoms may indicate a personality disorder.
There are several personality disorders which psychologists are trained to detect and provide therapy for. Depending on the disorder, displayed behaviour can include extreme reliance on others, fear of abandonment, narcissism, or eccentricities or “oddness”, among others. Personality disorders often arise in adolescence or young adulthood, and can be present along with other psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
Although personality disorders have previously been considered “difficult to treat”, please be assured that there is hope. Our psychologists use evidence-based therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) to reduce maladaptive symptoms for those with a personality disorder. If you feel that yourself or a close family member may need psychological therapy for a personality disorder, or to make an enquiry regarding our services, please call 98091000.
- American Psychological Association. (2019). Personality. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/personality/
Healthdirect. (2018). Personality disorders: An overview. Retrieved from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/personality-disorders
- Lumen: Boundless Psychology. (n.d.). Introduction to personality. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-psychology/chapter/introduction-to-personality/
- May, J. S., Richardi, T. M., & Barth, K. S. (2016) Dialectical behavior therapy as treatment for borderline personality disorder. Mental Health Clinician, 6(2), 62-67. doi: 10.9740/mhc.2016.03.62