I’ve often thought to myself, “Man, I have a frustrating personality.” My combative nature negatively impacted my personal relationships. For a long time, I wanted to change my personality, but I believed when I was told that personality is fixed. If I was a pushy person, then I would always be assertive and no deviating from that behavior.
I am discussing personality because it’s one of those things that I highlighted as a dislike in moments of self-reflection. I can imagine some introverts wish they were more outgoing while some extroverts wish they were more introverted.
Since becoming more self-reflective, I found my personality shifted without realizing it. It’s not a significant shift, but I am noticing that life is a little easier than it once was, despite the chronic illness. I would fight certain aspects of my personality, but now I accept them. I’ve found this openness levels me less stressed and more personally satisfied.
So is the personality inflexible? The answer is yes and no.
Often major life experiences can shift our personality one way or another, but there are core things about ourselves we cannot easily change. An introvert cannot become an extrovert overnight. They might be able to have more extroverted moments, but they may never reach the same levels of extroversion as someone else.
There are five traits to our personalities. These are the dimensions that help define and shape who we are:
Each of these aspects is flexible in of themselves, but the degree of flexibility will vary from person-to-person. As I go through each trait, you may notice that you were once curious about a new venture that you are now extremely cautious. This is where the personality shift comes in and why they can be more flexible than you expect.
As I go through each type, I place no value judgment on the examples I provide.
This is our curiosity or our willingness to take a risk. If you are more cautious at the beginning of a new project or life event, then you are perhaps less open to new experiences. If you jump into something head-first without thinking, you are open to all new opportunities.
If you are super organized and duty-driven, then you have higher levels of conscientiousness in your personality. Type A’s will fit in here, as if you are conscientious, you are achievement orientated. People who are spontaneous in their nature have lower levels of conscientiousness in their personality.
Fairly recognizable personality trait, an extrovert is someone who is extremely outgoing and gains energy in social situations. An introvert also can be social, but prefer their settings to be more intimate.
This relates to how kind and empathetic a person is: the higher your empathy, the more agreeable you are. If you are cold and stand-offish, then you are less agreeable in nature.
Another recognizable personality trait, someone who has high neuroses tends to be worried about a lot of things and given to anxiety or depression. A person low in neuroses will be less stressed and feel emotionally stable.
There are many other elements to our personalities than these five, but these are the most recognizable and possibly the most prominent. I am not going to bother going into Myers-Briggs since it’s controversial and so expansive. I am INFP, mediator if anyone is asking.
Let’s look at our personalities using the top five listed above. From that list, what are the top three things you would start focusing on if you could?
My top three:
- Agreeableness: I have become more agreeable as I’ve gotten older, but in the past, I was more stand-offish with an “us-versus-them” mentality. This led me to be rather combative with others and therefore feeling a lot of stress after these interactions.
- Openness: I used to be open to adventure and trying different things, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more reserved. I consider my judgmental nature part of my openness: I judge something or something attached to a person I don’t like and I close myself off from experiencing it. This means I miss out on a lot of things.
- Extroversion: I love social settings, so this is less of an issue for me, but I do wish I would be less awkward within those social settings and take it easy on myself when I am awkward. I think this is less of something I want to change and more of something I want to accept and not worry about anymore. Everyone is awkward and that’s okay.
I never kept my previous MBTI results, but I believe I was ISFP at one point. Taking the test now, with as scientific as it is, I can see that aspects of my personality shifted. I believe the top three aspects to my personality are the final holdouts that I want to shift so I will be more in line with my personal goals.
With your top three, ask yourself: are these personality aspects actual frustrating or do I believe they are frustrating? You may find that other people love that part of your personality and you need to take a few minutes to accept and embrace that part of yourself. Or you realize you’ve grown a lot and these aspects to your personality do not matter in the big picture.
The Emotional Toll
A few years ago, I found when I allowed certain parts of my personality run amok, I was stressed out. When I am less open to experiences, I don’t move forward in a manner that leaves me feeling satisfied. In the moments I reject change due to my closed personality, I allow myself to stay stagnant or stuck in my life.
If I allow my agreeability or my neuroses to take control, again, more places for me to be stressed. When I am combative with a stranger, I feel terrible about myself afterward spending a lot of emotional energy thinking about the incident. If it was with someone I knew, I would work myself into an emotional state if I had to see them again or just avoiding the social scenario altogether.
When dealing with a chronic illness, allowing our personalities to take control over our lives can create an emotional toll we don’t have the resources to handle. We might use the same excuse I had: I can’t change my personality, so why bother? We can make changes, but like any part of our person, those changes take a long time.
Refocusing the Personality
If you are interested in making life changes, actively working on your personality may not be the next step for you. You may be like me and notice the changes happening in spite of yourself, which is what I personally recommend. When it happens more naturally, it feels less forced and less frustrating because you don’t notice potential roadblocks.
But if you find that your personality is getting in the way of your goals, i.e., you want to be more open to opportunities remember this: if you are asking yourself these questions or contemplating taking these steps, you are already beginning the process.
There are programs out there that can help guide you towards changing your personality, but many will start with self-reflection and advise self-compassion. You can make the changes, you just have to figure out what they are, how you want to make the changes, and be kind to yourself when you stumble.
Personalities can be frustrating and they can take a heavy emotional toll on us, but they are changeable. Remember that change is always possible to make no matter who you are, what is going on in your life, or how old you are in this moment.
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