Personality & Development

A lot of evidence indicates that emotional control and focus on a greater meaning, far beyond one's own personal life and worries, are important aspects of mental balance. In this article we will continue to explore personality development and hopefully gain more insight to the question of mental equilibrium.

In Part I of this article we described the equilibrium as the strength and soundness of a person’s self-esteem. The question is what really characterizes mental equilibrium.So what constitutes equilibrium? Religious texts tell of a few people who had the capacity to hold their own on sheer strength of belief. Jesus Christ and Buddha displayed a high degree of belief in the innate goodness of man. However bad a person’s actions or lowly the background, they were accepted into the fold. Emotional control and focusing on a purpose far beyond the self are important aspects of equilibrium.

what-about-a-good-conscience-338x264If we focus on the personal qualities embedded in these people, we are better able to understand the perspective they wanted to share with mankind. A lesser mind would have baulked at bearing the wrath of the king and an entire populace or leaving the luxuries of royalty to live a life of seclusion. These great beings walked and worked among people who did not at first understand the importance of the message being shared. In times of adversity, these men retained their calm. The calm prevailed and gave them the strength of knowing to forgive the traitor who sat in their midst. There is, then, a superior mental frame at work here. Does this mean that only ‘holy’ men are blessed with the quality of equilibrium?

Inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and others who follow seemingly impossible or even stupid dreams are examples of people who possess equilibrium. The ability to believe in a dream or larger intent is not within the realm of all people and cannot be understood. The larger group of people may try to bring a person who looks too high or far away to their own level of viewing the world.

The person who retains calm in the face of angry criticism is displaying emotional control. We display equilibrium when we are in control of ourselves in a situation. A fractious child who is distracted into controllable behaviour is being managed with equilibrium. A boss who quietly apprises a team of subordinates of a bad situation is seeking to maintain equilibrium by avoiding an emotional display. A team member may display anger in an effort to get an important point of view across. An angry reaction to a sharp rebuke is an effort to bring equilibrium to a situation. Children may shout back at their angry parents in an effort to voice their view points. Through this emotional outburst, the younger person is trying to bring an internal sense of equilibrium in the face of the strength of parental wrath. The younger person fights back in order to be better equipped to face the conflict. The maintenance of equilibrium does not deter the presence of emotional reactions but equips the person with the strength to remain calm in the face of different forces working simultaneously.

To build a confident personality Part ILet us return to the case of Joanna and consider an alternate line of thought (Se previous article, To build a confident personality Part I, for the full story). Joanna is a devout Christian who has considered the tenets of her religion. She is undecided about her path and has considered becoming a nun. Her parents believe she should experience life in its fullness and want her to enjoy life and hopefully settle with down with a suitable person. They feel she is an especially talented person who will not find fulfilment by turning her back on the world. As she goes along, she finds that a lot of people are like her, on a quest of some sort, albeit at different stages of understanding. Some seem oblivious to this while others are acutely aware of it. Joanna decides to take up a job and is easily accepted as a part of the group though there are many who contest her religious leanings. Sometimes she is irritated by their obvious inability to see what is so clear to her. She is undeterred and listens and debates as they try to argue and occasionally denigrate her beliefs. At the workplace, she comes in contact with a colleague who finds ways to unsettle her. Joanna gets to know that this colleague is responsible for presenting false gossip and incorrect facts about her to her superior. She is very hurt and takes a day’s leave. She considers her options and the next day approaches her superior and clarifies the situation without bringing her colleague’s name into it. Later, when she is required to send important information to the same colleague, she does so unhesitatingly.

As time goes by, she realizes she would like to work on helping homeless and abandoned people. She starts to think of ways to make this intent come true. She is contemplating the study of social research so that she can work with agencies that help the people she wants to focus on.

Here we see the forces at work, the family, her personal beliefs and her intrinsic strength. The situations are similar but since she is working on the strength of an internal belief system, she is undeterred and unmotivated by the opinions of people around her. At times, she is rattled but this does not affect the strength of her beliefs.

To build a confident personality Part IIINow, it is possible to weigh whether Joanna is likely to get cooperation from her colleagues and the thoughts she has about their behaviour towards her. Her professional approach makes it possible for her to change the way her colleagues view her behaviour without her having to say much. Her choices are driven by what she wants to do instead of what a few others think she should do. When faced with conflict, she feels pain but finds effective ways to quickly settle the situation by calm confrontation and exhibiting her focus on a larger purpose. Her capability to consider the larger purpose of the work being done allows her to foster cooperation.

Thus, her mass (mental equilibrium) is determined not by overt signs of confidence but by way of acceptance of her strengths. Situations of conflict and harsh words will and do appear though she prefers to sort herself out before approaching these situations. Another approach could well be an immediate confrontation with the colleague without an emotional display or quietly going about work in a professional manner that displays the falsehood about the rumors that are being spread about her. Sometimes, a short burst of anger helps bring a situation to normalcy. She may choose to adopt this mode if she feels it will alter the situation without making her lose her sense of equanimity. Her choices will be determined by inner acceptance and belief of what she wants to do rather than an effort to impress or please the people in her life.

Identity and identity crises belongs to being human, and especially being human in a post-modern era. In many ways our personality is fashioned in harmony or disharmony with our interpersonal relationships. Who am I, really?

To develop or create an identity is not an easy process. It is not something you can do on your own. Personality is something that matures through social interaction and your sense of self is slowly shaped when you engage in the social games people play. In many ways our personality is fashioned in harmony or disharmony with our interpersonal relationships. When there are many demands calling for our attention, and we feel pressured in many ways, and perhaps some of the requirements are contradictory, it will be extra hard to find our place and act in a way that is most appropriate for ourselves and our social liabilities. In such cases, one must take into account ones true feelings, desires and listen to the inner voice, but again it is not certain that we actually know what we want. Who am I? How did I become me? Can I change? Do I want to change… change into what? In this article we will look at the development of personality and identity. We will also consider some difficulties that might foster a personality disorder or problems in relationships to others.

Kenneth Gergen (1991) is a prominent representative of social constructionism, and he understands the self or personality as socially conditioned. In other words, he believes that human being is entirely a product of social interaction. Professor of Philosophy Dorte Marie Søndergaard (1996) from Denmark takes on a similar approach when she talks about multiple selves. The latter means simply that personality is context dependent and thus altered in different social contexts. Most people will probably recognize themselves in this social theory of individual development. A man is never quite the same at work with his colleges as he is home with his wife, or out partying with friends for that matter. This diversity in our sense of self might sometimes create a kind of identity problem. Who am I, really?

Newton’s second law of motion tells us about the effect of net force on a body. Net force is understood as the sum of all forces acting on a body. Thus, force is equal to the acceleration produced per unit mass. The law goes on to clarify that the higher the mass of the body, the lower is the acceleration. Let us try to view this from the angle of the working of our mental frame. The mass is the core determinant of the effect of random forces that will work on us in this journey of learning. The higher the mass the less is the disturbance on the object from its path.

The object is the individual and the forces acting on the object refer to the impressions of the world at large. Mass refers to the weight of the individual’s view of the self (mental equilibrium) and acceleration is determined by the action of force on the individual.

Complex? Let us clarify this and make it more concrete.

To build a confident personality Part IIJoanna (the object) comes from a strictly Catholic background. She believes in her innate goodness and tries to live up to this image of herself. At home, Joanna’s belief in herself is reinforced as her family is openly appreciative of everything she does. Her neighbors view her as a ‘good girl’ though she doesn’t have many friends. At work, however, Joanna is seen as a little uppity, unable to get along with co-workers and difficult to get cooperation from. The last time she tried to take a copy of a paper that her boss wanted, the machine did not work. When she asked for help, a few colleagues looked at her blankly and returned to their work. She was delayed at the copier for almost a half hour and her boss was livid. She later understood that a new copier had been placed at the other end of the office and none of her colleagues had bothered to inform her. Joanna states that she doesn’t really care about her colleagues, after all she is there to work for her boss. Secretly, she feels miserable at the work place since she feels that her co-workers gang up on her every time. This is a belief that Joanna has had since the time she was in school.

Joanna has a boyfriend who wishes she would loosen up a bit and hang out with him and his social group. Joanna avoids going but believes this is against her religious tenets and decides against it. She seriously believes she should join a religious order and dedicate her life to God since other people do not relate to her.

We now have a fair idea of the pull and push forces acting on Joanna – her self-image, the expectations of her family and her drive to live up to them, the likely behaviours that she is exhibiting at the work place and with her boyfriend and the feelings generated by these interactions.

Mass is determined by the equilibrium of an individual, as in the value a person places on the self regardless of achievements, statements of acceptance or rejection by others and any other external forces that come into play. The higher the mass of the object, the lesser is the effect of the force.

We are able to gauge that some forces acting on Joanna are likely to be stronger than others. Some forces will be positive to her while some are negative. Her equilibrium will determine her reactions and the direction she moves in.

Personality part 2Now, let us consider a scenario where the forces acting upon her change. Joanna is called in by her boss and given the feedback that there has been a serious complaint about her. She failed to provide timely information to a colleague, which resulted in a customer service delay that was escalated to the head of the company. Joanna starts to explain but is told that her attitude is a cause for concern and she needs to enter a discussion with the HR Manager. Joanna is devastated; she wants to explain how she has been harassed by her colleague. Her superior does not want to know her side of the story and she expects that the HR Manager will not give her a chance to speak either. As she expects, the HR Manager explains the need for building and maintaining a rapport with colleagues and to take a larger view of her actions.

Joanna meets her boyfriend whose immediate response is, “Obviously they don’t like you! You believe you are walking a few feet above the ground, but haven’t any achievements to show for it. Huh! If you were so great you would be somewhere else, not working as a customer service flunky.”

Joanna is stung. Her boyfriend proceeds to tell her he wants some time to reconsider their relationship. “I don’t know if I can have a long term relationship with someone who wants to be a nun and believes that this makes her superior to everyone else. You ought to check what attitudes religion recommends.”

Now, we see the action of forces working on Joanna’s ‘mass’. When she returns home and recounts the events to her family, they rally around her. Her strong need for acceptance is satisfied by her family. The extent of equilibrium determines whether she analyses why she is facing unpleasantness in the workplace and choose remedies or chooses to blame her colleagues and the entire company as unfair. It determines for her whether she needs to consider changes within her behavior repertoire or continue as she has in the past and change the circumstances by finding a new job.

The stronger a person’s beliefs about the self the better able are they to adapt to new situations. One person may lose his job and turn to alcoholism while another takes it as a learning and chooses a new line of business or a new way of working. The first displays signs of low equilibrium while the latter is the opposite.

To build a confident personality Part IIIEmotional and mental equilibrium is something we earn if we dare to look at our own faults and examine the situations where we run into conflict with other people. To look for errors in others are generally not a constructive strategy, even though the counterpart may have the main responsibility for the conflict at hand. It is only our own reaction we have the possibility and ability to adjust. If we can encounter people with openness, avoid aggressive or passive aggressive behaviour, try to control our automatic defence strategies when we feel pressured and take lessons from problematic events, rather than ending up in bitterness, we can call ourselves psychologically wise or emotionally intelligent. People with this kind of abilities rarely end up in conflicts and they usually have a high degree of satisfaction in life. They also have a superior psychological equilibrium (a solid mass, i.e. solid confidence) that makes them resistant and able to handle strong forces that affect them without losing its steady course through life.

 

We will continue this discussion and the story of Joanna in Part II: To build a confident personality Part II: “A lot of evidence indicates that emotional control and focus on a greater meaning, far beyond one’s own personal life and worries, are important aspects of mental balance. In this article we will continue to explore personality development and hopefully gain more insight to the question of mental equilibrium”. Read more

 

References

Gergen, Kenneth J. (1991). The Saturated Self. Basic Books.

Søndergaard, Dorte Marie (1996). Social konstruktionisme – et grundlag for at se kroppen som tegn. I: Sociologi i dag, nr. 4, 1996.