The Roles We Play: How Does Environment Influence Personality

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Throughout one’s life a series of developmental processes occur. These happen at different stages. Many psychologists have tried to develop and explain these processes, each with their own theory on its progress. Developmental psychology may be a scientific approach that aims to explain growth, change and consistency through the lifespan. Developmental psychology looks at how thinking, feeling, and behavior change throughout a person’s life (McLeod, 2017). Most of these theories focus on the development during childhood as this is the period when most of the changes occur.

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Studying the developmental process of personality in humans helps psychologists learn more about children, understand how best to interact with children and help persons gain a greater appreciation of development throughout life (Cherry, 2018). The developmental process is a life process that can be studied scientifically across three developmental domains - physical, cognitive and psychosocial development. Physical development involves growth and changes within the body and brain, the senses, motor skills, and health and wellness. Cognitive development involves learning, attention, memory, language, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. Psychosocial development involves emotions, personality, and social relationships. The study of genetic psychology is important to understanding how humans learn, mature and adapt.

This paper will attempt to take an in-depth look into the characteristics of my personality. It would take a look at the ways my personality has changed at two distinct stages of my life. My personality has changed over the years as I developed and got older. This paper will reflect on some of these changes and how family interactions, life experiences and other related issues have been influential.

As a result of the diversities in personalities, it is difficult to have one definition. Generally stated, personality can be defined as “a unique set of characteristics within a person that work to influence their beliefs, motivations, emotions, behaviors and even their environment” ('What is Personality Psychology? – Best Masters in Psychology', 2019). The way a person thinks, develops, and behaves, their beliefs; self-perception and attitudes can also be referred to as their personality.

Psychologist Gordon Allport’s definition of personality states that personality is ‘the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychological systems that determine his unique adjustment to his environment’ (Allport, 1937). In other words, a person’s personality is formed from and as a result of his interactions with his environment. A person’s interaction with others is dependent on their personality ('The Freudian Theory of Personality | Journal Psyche', 2019). Another theorist, Sigmund Freud defined personality differently. He saw personality as a direct result of a number of childhood experiences. Freud stated that the impact of these conscious and unconscious experiences during the developmental stages, helped to shape a person’s personality.

In my life, I have had to play many roles. Even though I was the eldest girl of five children, as a child, I grew up with a very strong sense of security. My parents ensured that to the best of their abilities, my needs and sometimes my desires were met. I was ambitious, confident, outgoing, at times quiet and introverted. I was also very maternal from a young age. My position in the family did not automatically make me a leader. I was overshadowed by an older brother and closely followed by three younger sisters, who took my parents’ attention. For me it was normal to retreat into the world of books whenever I could. I have been eldest daughter, a caregiver, a babysitter, and a friend, a wife and a mother. These roles have had some influence on my behaviors at different periods of time in my life. I have had to be responsible for others that were younger than me. I have had to take charge of situations that have made me adapt to adulthood even when I was not ready. I’ve had to represent my parents which led to adapting to responsibility at an early age. Even though I had to participate in these roles at an early age, my personality did not change much.

My teenage years proved to be the first set of defining years of my life. It was at this time that I noticed a change in my personality. At the age of sixteen, my parents separated. During this time, without warning, I had to take a leadership role in my family. Through the turmoil of my family separating, I tried to make sense of it all. One of the most difficult issues I had to face was the fact that never in my wildest dreams, did I ever expect this to happen. Being the eldest girl, I had no choice but to take over some of the roles my mother would have completed in taking care of my younger sisters. I became even more introverted.

When looking at personality, one must examine the five personality traits often referred to as the Big Five ('What Are the Big 5 Personality Traits?', 2019). It is a combination of traits that cover personality in the broadest way. They are agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism and openness to experience. Psychologists have argued that personality traits structure interactions in relationships and influence the ability to deal with relationship problems (Heaven et al., 2006; Huston and Houts, 1998; Karney and Bradbury, 1995).

Freud believed that the experiences one faces as a child are directly related to their actions as an adult. He believed that the developmental process developed during early childhood. He looked at the psychosexual theory of development (Freud, S. (1896). He believed that the experiences in childhood also helped shape the personalities and behavior of adults. He viewed development as discontinuous. Discontinuous development is development that takes place in unique stages, it occurs at specific times or ages. Freud believed that each person passes through a series of stages during the childhood period and if a person lacks proper nurturance and parenting during a stage, they become fixated in that stage, which leads to an unhealthy individual.

There are five stages of Freud’s psychosexual development. The first stage is the oral stage (birth to 18 months). This stage is characterized by oral pleasures such as sucking of the finger or tongue. Difficulties at this stage could lead to an oral personality in adulthood centered on smoking, drinking alcohol, biting nails and they can be pessimistic, gullible and overly dependent on others. The anal stage (18 months to 3 years), the second stage, is characterized by the elimination and retention and learning to control this due to societal norms. Fixation here can lead to perfectionism, a need to control or alternatively the opposite; messy and disorganized. The phallic stage (ages 6 to puberty) is the stage when a child’s pleasure moves to the genitals. Freud argued that during this stage boys develop an unconscious sexual desire for their mothers and fear that because of this their fathers will punish them by castration. Fixation at the stage could lead to confusion over sexual identity or engaging in sexual deviances. The fourth stage is the latency stage (6 to puberty). At this stage sexual urges remain largely repressed. The final stage is the genital stage (puberty onwards). This final stage leads to the individual switching their interest to members of the opposite sex.

From Freud’s perspective, my introverted behavior would have stemmed from an experience during my childhood. Freud used this term to describe one of the terms associated with self-love. In Freud's view, introverts were neurotics who had taken 'a turn from reality to phantasy.' According to Freud, introversion denoted 'the turning away of the libido from the possibilities of real satisfaction” ('The Introvert Advantage | ScienceBlogs', 2019). In other words, Freud referred to introverts as persons who were emotionally stunted. He believed that an introvert was a person who was unable to defy the possibility of sex and as a result they retreated into himself “sublimating all of his libidinal urges into an unhealthy preoccupation with his own delusional inner life” ('The Introvert Advantage | ScienceBlogs', 2019).

Carl Jung had a different theory of an introvert. He believed that an introvert was generally interested in his own thoughts and feelings. He did not believe that a person was only introverted or extraverted. He believed that these traits in a person’s personality varied at different times. People were more ambiverts where both introversion and extraversion tendencies existed but on a rough scale.

My parents’ separation did affect my personality. At first my self-esteem was affected, as I wondered if their actions were as a result of something I had done. I think the way my parents handled this situation soon alleviated most my fears and concerns. I became a very serious minded person as I had to take on more responsibility than my peers. I also became very observant, not just about my surroundings, but also about the people I associated with. I took more time analyzing situations and why certain things happened. I think this was as I became a bit insecure as the parental structure that I was accustomed to, changed. There was also the insecurity about how life would now unfold. Unfortunately, insecurity became my new normal.

As difficult as this period was for me, I had to step out of my comfort zone and do what needed to be done in order to move on. My family supported each other but as we grew older and life took us in different directions, we were not as close as we were when I was a teenager. Upon reflection, I realized that as a result of the absence of my father, I looked for that fatherly support outside of the home. As a result, I got married at a young age. I guess the hope was that I would feel the security that I felt I lost when my father left. This was further from the truth. My marriage ended after a few short years. At this stage, my personality had changed even more and I had become a very strong willed individual who asserted her opinions. I also became more extraverted. One of the effects of my teenage experience was that I grew to become very distrusting of persons. This grew out of the fear that anything can be taken away without notice. I chose to keep lot things inside.

John Watson developed the behaviorist approach to personality. This approach states that behavior is learnt from interactions with a person’s environment. As a result, a person is partly a product of their environment. New behaviors are learnt through classical or operant conditioning and are more observable than internal. So behavior that affects a person is those that can be seen as opposed to what the individual may think or feel. A person’s behavior is as a result of stimulus-response. This may explain why my marriage ended similar to my parent’s. I was a witness to their actions and behaviors and that in turn had an influence on my own behavior before and during marriage.

But the end of my marriage also became a defining period of time in my life. I saw quite a few changes in my personality. I realized that I was strong under pressure. My limitations were that at times, I had a hard time keeping emotions at bay. I took things to heart. The attitudes that I now consider my strengths are being a good listener, being open-minded and having a good sense of humor.  

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