THE BLOG
07/08/2010 03:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

You Are Not Your Personality

Personality is usually understood as a set of characteristics or traits that distinguishes one person from another. Personality is information about you. You are not information. You are that which this information is about. Therefore, you are not your personality. You are not your traits. You are not your characteristics. Traits are your psychological contour, your emotional and relational shape, how you present and manifest, your form.

You aren't your form. You are not your Myers-Briggs' profile. You are not your MMPI profile. Psychological parameters, specs of your cognition, motivation, behavior, and affect are merely descriptions of you. You are not a description. You are that which is being described.

Sure, you might present as an extravert or an introvert, as type A or type B, as a neurotic or a hysteric. These characteristics, of course, exist: there is no walking on the sand of form without leaving informational footprints behind. Sure, you have a style about you, a way about you, a response set, a mode of engagement, a pattern of reactivity, a presentation, a tone, a feel. Consider your personality as your informational signature.

No doubt you wear your psychology a certain way. But you are not what you wear. You are not your psychological disguise. You are not your personality mask. You might find it interesting that the word "personality" comes from the Latin word persona, which means a mask. No need to confuse the mask with the original face behind it. This mask, like all camouflage, has an adaptive function. If you have it, it must have helped you survive. If you feel safe enough now to take it off, do. If you can't, you can't. But even if this camouflage has become your second skin, even if you cannot take it off on demand, you can still know that it is but a layer, a psychological covering, a manner in which you manifest, a way others experience you, a conditioned role you play out on the stage of life. In other words, you don't have to strip all the way down to know that you have clothes on.

Case in point: say that you're using superglue as part of some home-improvement project. As tends to happen, you end up getting a little bit of it on your fingertips, and it sets. So, here you are, with a whitish layer of artificial skin on top of your natural skin. You try to wash it off. You scrub with steel wool and get a bit off. But no matter how hard you scrub, if you're going to keep the skin on that finger, some of the glue will have to remain. So, you let go.

Personality is just like that. You were working on your psychodynamic "home-improvement project," mediating between your arguing parents, negotiating with your siblings, withdrawing in reaction, pacifying others in a role-reversal, caretaking of caretakers, participating in the family system, and trying to improve your home dynamics (or, at the very least, trying to survive them), trying to glue all that psychodynamic chaos together.

You did it your way, in your particular style, you put your own signature on this work of surviving. And now this psychological modus operandi of yours is stuck on you like superglue. So be it. What matters is that you are not your inter-personal or intra-personal signature. You are not personality traits. You are the one who has them. You are not your psychological signature but the mind that initials the contractual pages of life.

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