Mental Health - Becoming an individual: personality, individuality, and temperament






All people have completely unique behavioral traits, likes and dislikes, and habits that make them who they are. This uniqueness comes not only from biological factors, such as temperament, but is also developed from experiences, such as a person's sense of individuality, or a combination of both environmental and biological factors, such as personality.

Personality

Personality refers to all of the traits and characteristics individuals show the world, and which make them different from others. In fact, the word personality comes from a Latin term meaning "mask." As stated in Chapter 12 on Mental Illness, people who have extreme personalities often have personality disorders. However, most people have a personality type that does not prevent them from functioning effectively within society. For example,

Even among siblings, different personalities make everyone unique. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Even among siblings, different personalities make everyone unique. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

some people may be naturally more self-involved than others. These people may have a narcissistic personality type, meaning they are driven more by their own needs and desires than others are; however, this does not mean that they are dysfunctional in any way. Some people may desire close relationships with others and base much of what they do on the opinions of those other people. These individuals may have a dependent personality type; again, though, this is not necessarily an indication of dysfunction.

Some people are extroverted (outgoing) while others are introverted (shy, reserved). Some people are optimistic (positive) while others tend to be more negative, seeing the downside of situations rather than the upside. The type of personality a person has can, according to certain mental health professionals, cause him or her to seek out certain situations that agree with his view of the world and personality. This results in a certain consistency, in which the personality drives decisions that reinforce a person's personality.

Individuality

As personality begins to develop, it is reinforced and solidified during adolescence when young people begin to ask the question, "Who am I?". This quest for and achievement of individuality is perhaps best illustrated by looking at the work of renowned psychoanalytic theorist Erik Erikson (1902–1994), who mapped out an eight-stage process that covered all stages of development, with the stages in adolescence focusing on identity and individuality.

Erikson's stages include stage one, "basic trust versus mistrust," which takes place in infancy and usually centers on an infant learning trust through being cared for properly. In the toddler years, stage two, the "autonomy (independence) versus shame and doubt" stage, is resolved by allowing a child to assert independence and not feel bad for misbehaving or failing at his attempts at independence (toilet training, etc.). Stage three consists of a conflict related to "initiative versus guilt" in early childhood; at this time children begin to act on curiosities and explore new things, and the conflict is resolved if children are encouraged in their new interests and curiosities. In middle childhood stage four emerges, involving "industry versus inferiority"; and during this stage a child must achieve things (do homework, acquire skills) in order to avoid feeling inferior (less worthy than others).

BABIES AND TEMPERAMENT

People often make statements about others such as, "He was born happy," or "She's always been moody; she's been that way since birth." This may seem like an exaggeration, but, according to many theorists, this is explained by temperament. Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, pioneers in the field of temperament, describe temperament as how people behave. How active is a child naturally? How does the child adapt to change? How energetic is a child? How responsive? All of these things, according to researchers, are genetically programmed for the most part.

Temperament could account for the dramatic differences in siblings' behaviors from infancy. Some infants are naturally "easy babies," with positive dispositions and who adapt and adjust easily, while other infants are categorized as "difficult babies" who are moody and easily irritated.

Researchers have put forth that, generally, temperament remains constant throughout the span of an individual's life.

Stage five, a pivotal stage in terms of this discussion, involves "identity versus role confusion" in the teen years. During this time, adolescents attempt to form their own personal identity based on who they were in childhood and where they wish to go personally and professionally in the future. What can happen at this stage, though, is that a teen who prematurely sets himself in a certain identity is at risk for having grasped onto a persona that is based on the approval of friends. Thus, this teen may be less autonomous (independent) and inquisitive (eager to learn) than others. All of this can lead to the formation of an individual who is not open to change and new experiences.

Another problem that can arise in Erikson's fifth stage of development is identity confusion. Erikson is referring to teens who simply are never certain of who they are. When this happens, a young person runs the risk of being unable to forge meaningful relationships and possibly alienating others with immature behavior and reasoning.

For all of these reasons, it is imperative that children and young adults be encouraged to figure out their likes and dislikes, talents and natural inclinations, and to try new things during the development process so that they will develop a sense of identity.

Stage six is concerned with the conflict of "intimacy versus isolation" stage during early adulthood. During this time, people seek out deep, meaningful intimate relationships or choose to isolate themselves, possibly with

Individuals with positive self-esteem believe that they measure up to others sufficiently. They are more likely to have the confidence to pursue different accomplishments, such as taking up a musical instrument. (Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.)
Individuals with positive self-esteem believe that they measure up to others sufficiently. They are more likely to have the confidence to pursue different accomplishments, such as taking up a musical instrument. (Photograph by
Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications
. Reproduced by permission.)

very negative consequences later in life. Stage seven presents itself in a conflict of "generativity versus stagnation," meaning that people should feel that they have contributed to the development of other people, particularly young people, or they will be left feeling the effects of stagnation (not changing or growing), which is the opposite of generativity (growth or creativity).

The last stage, stage eight, plays out in late adulthood in the way of "ego integrity versus despair." At this stage, adults reflect on the lives they have led, evaluating whether they have accomplished something with their lives and choices and whether they have contributed to the betterment of society.

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