By: Lisa Philippart

What is personality? The word personality itself stems from a Latin word, “persona,” which refers to a theatrical mask worn by performers in order to either project different roles or disguise their identities. At its most basic level, personality is the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make a person unique. It is believed that personality is a genetic trait, which remains fairly constant throughout a person’s life. While there are many different definitions of personality, most focus on the pattern of behaviors and characteristics that can help predict and explain a person’s behavior. Explanations for personality traits can focus on a variety of influences in addition to genetic explanations, to include the role of environment and experiences in shaping the individual. Characteristics of personality include patterns of thought and emotions, which are observed through behaviors. The fundamental characteristics of personality are consistency, psychological/physiological actions, and multiple expressions.

Consistency, as a personality characteristic, means that there is generally a recognizable order and regularity to behaviors. In other words, people act in the same ways or similar ways in a variety of situations. Actions are predictable. Personality is a psychological construct. Intelligence, motivation, anxiety, and fear are examples of psychological constructs. Research also suggests that personality is influenced by biological processes and needs. For example, even though you can’t directly observe anxiety, you can tell someone is anxious if they are trembling, sweating, or restless. Personality is not only influenced by how we respond in our environment, but it causes us to act in certain ways. Personality is observable by our behaviors. But it is also displayed through our words, our expression of feelings and thoughts, relationships, and other social interactions.

There are a number of theories about how personality develops. One of the early perspectives on personality is type theory. These theories suggest that there are a limited number of personality types, related to biological influences. You may have heard of the Type A personality, who tends to be impatient, competitive, work-obsessed, driven, and achievement-oriented. But did you know there are Types B, C, and D? Type B personality is low-stress, even-tempered, flexible, creative, patient, and has a tendency to procrastinate. Type C personality is highly conscientious, perfectionist, and struggles to express emotions (both positive and negative). Type D personality struggles with feelings of worry, sadness, irritability, a pessimistic outlook, negative self-talk, and avoidance of social situations.

Trait theory tends to view personality as the result of internal characteristics that are genetically based. These traits are: agreeable (cares about others, feels empathy), conscientiousness (thoughtfulness, goal-directed), eager-to-please (accommodating, conforming), extraversion (social, talkative, emotionally expressive), introversion (quiet, reserved), neuroticism (dramatic shifts in mood, anxious, easily upset), and openness (creative, likes to try new things). Behavioral theories suggest that personality is a result of interaction between the individual and the environment. Behavioral theorists (think B.F. Skinner) study observable and measurable behaviors, often ignoring the role of internal thoughts and feelings. Humanist theories on personality development emphasize the importance of free will and individual experience. Carl Rogers and Abraham Malow are humanist theorists.

Personality assessments are often used to help people learn more about themselves and their unique strengths, challenges, and preferences. Two of the most popular assessments are available online: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram.

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor