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What is personality?
We tend to think of personality as something relatively stable, or even fixed. Yet who we are and how we behave changes all the time. We're not the same person day in, day out, nor do we stay the same around different people. Some people bring out sides to us that we don't like, others bring out the best in us. Who we are changes depending on the context and over time.
So much of who we are is really just who we think we are. In NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming, a type of applied psychology) there is a model referred to as 'neurological levels' which helps to remind us that there are different levels to our make-up.
At the top of the ladder of levels is pure identity - 'I am'. This is who we really are at our centre, within our core. We generally have poor identification of this, lacking a strong sense of self. We instead confuse other levels of the neurological ladder with the identity level. Because of this confusion, it shakes up our lives when something happens to shatter our illusions about who we think we are.
Located one rung down from the level of pure identity are our beliefs and values. This is where we hold ideas about who we think we are - 'I am this sort of person, I am that type of person'. What we hold important clusters with our beliefs about ourselves and about life, and so these two share a rung on the ladder.
Next down the ladder is the level of capability. There are things we can do and skills that we have - think quickly, speak foreign languages, run really fast, sing well, make beautiful furniture, play a good game of golf, manage a business, take artistic photographs, compose moving music, and so on. We often identify ourselves with our skills - usually through our jobs - but we're not those skills.
Behaviour is the lowest rung of selfhood in this model. This is the level where we express through action all of the higher levels. It's where the other levels become visible and have an effect. Environment is the lowest neurological level and is where the behaviour takes place.
According to NLP, these levels interact from the top down by informing and influencing the level beneath it. So, for instance, what you believe influences what you're capable of. It's said that problems at one level can't be solved at that level or below it; to solve them you must go to a higher level. As an example, behaviour is best modified by going up to capability, beliefs, or even identity, rather than trying to modify the behaviour directly.
As well as beliefs, values, capabilities, and behaviour, our self-definition also includes group affiliations, as shown in this diagram:
Again, these identifications are fluid. If we move to live in a different town or country, we can enlarge our sense of identity to include a new frame of reference.
One of the most important pieces of information about ourselves that our society is still not fully aware of is shown in the next diagram. This is known as the Johari Window, after the two people who formulated it, but it's drawn from standard psychological thought.
The idea is that not all of who we are is conscious, there are parts of ourselves that we are unconscious of. Whilst this sounds straight-forward, the implications are staggering. If society truly awakened to this fact, it would alter the way we bring up children, teach in schools, form partnerships, work together, and run our political lives.
The Johari Window shows that there are four basic categories of ourselves, labelled as four windows: public, hidden, blind spots, and unknown.
Our public selves consist of parts of us that are known both to ourselves and to those around us. Then there are parts of us that we are aware of, but which we hide from the people around us. We are conscious of both these two 'windows'.
The parts of us that we are unconscious of fall into two categories. First there are blind spots, those parts of us that we don't see but which are visible to others. We run into these in our projections on a daily basis, when we point the finger at other people but they laugh and say 'No, that's you that's like that!' Finally, there are the parts of us that neither we nor others are aware of - total unconsciousness. If society became aware that we have this window within us all, it'd be a social revolution.
Just like with neurological levels and the circles of self-identity, aspects of our personality move from one Johari window to another. The four windows make up the whole, but sometimes we manage to convince ourselves that we consist of only the top two windows - 'public' and 'hidden'. This is a deceit. We are always whole beings.
This last diagram shows my thoughts on personality. To me, 'personality' is fluid, not static, and is formed by clusters of thought, emotion, physical components, and energy. These four components come together to form clusters of temperament and behavioural habits. We then become known by these clusters, identifying ourselves by them and being seen by others in terms of them.
For instance, a memory of happiness that produces a feeling of optimism and positivity couples with thoughts about the event and a future outlook. These are accompanied by physical sensations and chemical changes. There is a structure of energy in the body that encompasses the cluster of thoughts, feelings, and physical characteristics, and this clustering then reveals itself through body language, facial expression, choice of words, a spring in the step, the colour of clothes we wear, our general countenance, and so on.
If this cluster is maintained - by connecting with other similar clusters, thus building a critical mass - then it seems to be a 'permanent' aspect of our expression. We then label it 'personality', but our real self actually lies beyond these clusters and is often obscured by them. It's the task of our lives to find that real self, represented in astrology by the Sun, and we do that by connecting through the sky and bringing it down to Earth.
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