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PersonalityPersonality

Your personality is what makes you different from everyone else. What you inherit and what you experience are factors that help to mould its development.

We are often told that a person has 'lots of personality' and by this we understand that the person in question has a lively, outgoing nature which is socially appealing. Doctors, psychologists and scientists, however, equate 'personality' with what the layman would call disposition or temperament and, although everyone has his or her own unique personality, experts like to think that there are a number of broad categories into which we all fit to a greater of lesser degree.

TYPES OF PERSONALITY
Since early times, thinkers and scientists have tried to categorize people according to personality types. The ancients, for instance, believed that there were four principal 'humours' in the body and, depending on which one predominated, a person had a sanguine (cheerful, optimistic), choleric (bad-tempered, irascible), phlegmatic (calm, unexcitable) or melancholic (gloomy, inward-looking) disposition.

Astrologers, on the other hand, believe that personality is pre-determined by the time of birth and zodiac sign under which you are born. If you were born under the sign of Gemini (21 May-21 June), for example, you are said to be quick-witted, sometimes flighty, prone to changeable moods but generally talkative and sociable.

In modern times, scientists have tried to classify personality more accurately. The British psychologist Hans Eysenck, for example, has devised one of the simplest since it includes only three categories: extraversion (outward-looking) with its opposite introversion (inward-looking); emotionality and stability; and aggressive and controlled behaviour.

Everyone, of course, displays these qualities to some extent but the usefulness of Eysenck's system is that instead of saying that a person is or is not an extravert, for instance, these qualities can be estimated on a ratings scale so that it's possible to measure degree, and thus get an idea of how extravert, emotional or aggressive a person may be.

PERSONALITY TESTS
Personality tests were first devised during World War 1 to detect soldiers who were emotionally unsuited to combat, and they are still used by the armed forces of many countries for this purpose.

Employees of many large companies and government departments often have to undergo personality tests, particularly in the United States, in order to determine their suitability, in terms of temperament, for the job.

In the medical world, they are generally used in hospitals and other institutions when a person suffers from a severe mental disturbance such as schizophrenia, depression or paranoia.

INHERITED OR ACQUIRED?
It's probable that some aspects of personality are inherited. This is because studies of identical twins (with an identical genetic make-up) who have been separated at birth show that they have many similar character traits, even though they have been brought up differently.

Also, as anyone who has brought up more than one child will be aware, children from the same family can show very different personalities almost from the moment they are born - which would suggest that each sibling has a quite different mixture of its parents' genes.

A QUESTION OF UPBRINGING
However, inheritance is not the only or even the most important factor in determining an individual's personality. In fact, it is all too obvious that many aspects of our personality are influenced by the experiences we meet in life. This is especially apparent in people who appear to have 'damaged' personalities. Children who have suffered physical assault from their parents, for instance, generally have a low sense of their own worth and may even think that physical assault is normal.

THE FIRST FIVE YEARS
Psychologists believe that the first five years of a child's life are crucial in forming character. At birth, a baby is like a piece of blank blotting paper. From that moment on he or she is constantly absorbing information and is more sensitive to his environment than he will be at any time in the future.

Thus, a child who has been overprotected' in the first five years will tend to be hesitant about making contact with other people later in life. Similarly, if a child was not given enough affection in his first two years his emotional responsiveness is likely to be stunted or, at best, limited.

REPEATING PATTERNS
Studies have thrown up patterns that illustrate this. It has been shown that patterns of behaviour seem to repeat themselves over the generations. For example, mothers who were taken care of sensitively and intelligently tend to find it easier to give this kind of mothering to their children who will, in turn, apply the same sensitivity.

CHANGING PERSONALITY
By and large, your personality remains much the same throughout life. A quiet, reflective child, for instance, usually grows up to be a fairly reserved adult unless certain life events affect him so powerfully that he 'changes personality'. A devastating emotional blow such as the death of a parent could turn a happy-go-lucky youngster into a withdrawn, insecure one.

By the same token, some people are helped to alter aspects of their personality by psychotherapists whose business it is to modify the way a person acts, thinks and feels. A marital problem, for example, may be partly due to a 'clash of personalities' and in this case counsellors may assist in the setting up of new ways of behaving, thinking and feeling between the partners so that they understand each other's personalities and are able to get on better.

ABNORMALITY
Psychotherapists and psychiatrists also try to find ways of altering the personality of people with serious mental illnesses or conditions. Psychotics and psychopaths who can be a danger not only to themselves but to other people are obviously suitable cases for some kind of treatment.

People with abnormal personalities nearly always score highly on one or more of the extremes when given a range of personality tests - they may, for example, appear to be extremely introverted or extremely extraverted.

Treating abnormal personality, however, is rather more difficult than diagnosing it. It's probably not possible to radically -- and permanently -- alter a particular aspect of an individual's personality, even though the person may himself acknowledge his abnormality and want to change it. Having said that, though, psychiatric treatment can work wonders with many disturbed people and can help them to lead normal lives.

     
     

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