One of the myths in the New Age culture is that people are unlimited, that they can be anything they want. This just isn't true. IQ, for example, is largely genetic. Decades of research shows that personality is largely genetic, too. Ditto body type. Maybe I can acquire an inch by working on my posture, but I can't make myself 6 inches taller than I am. I may not be unlimited, but I like to say that there are unlimited ways of improving life and solving life problems.
I recently took a course on the Big Five Personality Test, which is often called OCEAN, an acronym for the traits it measures: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. I learned that, while personality does shift somewhat over time (older people become more conscientious, for example), trying purposefully to change personality results in only minor shifts.
In other studies, I have learned that subconscious programming shapes the personality. And therefore, trauma and life events also shape the personality.
What is personality?
So, what is personality? And is it fixed or can we change it? And why do so many new age gurus promote the idea that we are unlimited?
Personality is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual's distinctive character. It’s best to think of those characteristics in a broad abstract sense, as in the Big Five, rather than in a concrete sense reflected in actions or tastes. Decorating my bedroom in pastels, for example, reflects my personality only indirectly via personal taste.
In my experience as a hypnotherapist, people have a set, core personality, which results in core values. A conscientious person, for example, might value hard work and would become depressed if unable to work. Similarly, an open person with a strong subcategory of intellect would love learning and talking about abstract concepts. This person might feel at home in a liberal arts college and would feel isolated without a community of people interested in those intellectual ideas. Basically, if people are not living those innate values, they feel miserable. That feeling of limitlessness comes when people fully embrace who they really are. When they feel totally integrated in their core personality, they feel like they can do anything.
Many years ago, when I owned a tutoring business, I had a high school student whose immigrant parents wanted him to be a pharmacist. They were down on the young man because he didn't have good enough grades to get into pharmacy school. But he was not a scientist; he probably had an average IQ. If he could have somehow become a pharmacist, he would’ve hated it. Yet, he was a caring individual with many friends. He had terrific people skills. His parents were afraid he wouldn't make money if he didn't become a pharmacist, when, in fact, if he became a realtor or some other people-oriented job and was successful at that, he might’ve made much more money. This young man was miserable because his parents didn't see him for who he really was - and because he was not honoring his core self.
This high school student valued people and family. He was conscientious and agreeable. He was not naturally detail oriented, and he didn't have a high IQ. Though he was not naturally neurotic, meaning fearful, his parents were trying to get him to be fearful. They didn't trust his ability to make it on his own. They had moved across the world for him to be a success - but their idea of that was very narrow.
What is subconscious programming?
The parents’ ambitions for their son as well as the values of their immigrant community would impress themselves on this young man’s subconscious. Subconscious programming means ideas or belief systems that are accepted or decided due to various influences - like authority figures or peer pressure. Ten years later, it would be no surprise to learn if this now grown man had issues with money, or that he didn't take pride in whatever job he wound up having. He might have the impression that he could never make enough money to satisfy his parents. He might feel guilty following a career that satisfied him or be miserable in a career he had no talent for. The limiting beliefs his parents imposed on him, therefore, would affect his personality – or at least others’ perceptions of him, and his own perception of himself.
How can I discover my core personality?
You can get a vague idea of your personality by taking an online personality test - like the Big Five or Myers-Briggs, or even something a little more New Age, like the Enneagram - and then reading up on the meaning of your results. There are many ways to think of personality. And I find all of them provide some useful insight.
As for discovering your core values, you can start by thinking of values differently than they are presented in the culture right now. Currently, people tend to think of values as their political or religious views. However, if you were transported to another time, your innate personality would remain the same while it navigated political and religious views that would be much different than today’s. 150 years ago, for example, women rarely worked outside the home. Although some women might’ve run a small business, most women did not dream of careers. A conscientious woman in 1875 would express that through raising healthy, moral children and keeping a clean home. Her conscientiousness would feel satisfied because making a meal and cleaning house back then required much hard work. So again, it’s not so much how you live your values as it is feeling comfortable in your own skin.
One fun fact about the Big Five test is that it can predict how individuals are likely to vote. FYI, I score high in traits that indicate I could be either liberal or conservative. I do have my own beliefs, but I think that's why in my profession, I'm happy to guide people to engage in activities and belief systems that support their core being. Seeing all sides is simply part of who I am.
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