Thursday, March 11, 2010

Applying Psychology (Inner Life-Personality)

Applying Psychology (Inner Life-Personality)

Scenes from life

John and Jean are brother and sister. They get on very well and even though one is 19 and the other 18, they spend a fair amount of time together. They both attend the same university, Jean studying History and John studying French Literature. Several times a week, they meet for coffee or lunch and generally catch up with how things are going for each of them. But they are very different from each other.
Jean is outgoing and loves anything new. It is not as if she cannot settle to routine – she can, but nevertheless there is nothing she likes more than a new experience, social, physical or intellectual. When she is bored, she seeks out new things to do. Already she has been on several overseas trips and has tried her hand at numerous activities. She worries about none of this, but remains equitable and balanced all the time. She sleeps well, doesn’t have a hang-up about her weight or her appearance and, generally
speaking, is thought by most people to be reliably good company, an interesting person with whom to spend time. By contrast, John is moody. He likes a fi xed routine in his life, with as much as possible being certain. He becomes highly anxious when things
get out of kilter or seem unpredictable. He nods politely to many people but has few friends, unlike his sister who has many. The friends he makes tend to last for only a limited time. They never know quite where they are with him because he frequently says so little or makes conversation that is full of innuendo rather than direct. He sleeps poorly and often wakes in the night covered in sweat and then worries about not getting back to sleep and how tired he might be on the next day. Unlike Jean, he has never been
overseas and although he thinks that he should go, he never quite gets round to it.
Jean and John are sitting having a good conversation over coffee, with John for once being quite animated; he feels very secure with Jean. One of Jean’s friends comes up to them, a man than John knows a little as well, and invites them both to a retro party (everyone is to dress in 1960s style) in a few days. Jean quickly accepts, already thinking of what she will make or scrounge to wear. In the heat of the moment, John accepts as well and even discusses it all with Jean, starting to think of what he might wear. During the few days before the party, Jean barely gives it a thought, simply finding the clothes to wear and then forgetting about it until the night. The same evening of the invitation, John starts to worry; he worries about his clothes, who else will be there, whether he will have anything to say to anyone, whether anyone will speak to him, whether he should have accepted; what he will feel like afterwards; whether Jean will think less of him if he pulls out; and so it goes on.
They both go to the party. Jean has a fairly good time – it was not the best party she has ever been to, but she had some good fun and even had one or two memorable conversations. She very much enjoyed seeing one or two people make fools of themselves. Afterwards, she barely thought of the party again. John had a completely dreary time, anxious throughout. He spoke to very few people, felt out of place, even though his 1960s clothes were authentic. He smoked and drank too much, mostly by himself. The few conversations he had preyed on his mind for several days afterwards mainly in terms of what he might have said but did not, or that he might have said something better. He barely slept at all that night even though he left the party early.
Richard is 30 and works in a car sales yard. Or at least he has done for a few months, but he is thinking about moving on. There is not enough excitement in the job for him and he seems to be getting off-sides with many of the people he works with. He lives alone, having had a series of disastrous relationships with women, many of whom have left him because of his unpredictable violence. Most of them feel lucky to have escaped. He has
had nothing to do with his parents for years, even though they are still alive. They don’t mind the lack of contact because they had always found him a diffi cult child and an even more diffi cult adolescent. He stole and lied, cheated at school and was cruel to animals.
He has quite enjoyed the car sales job (even though it is time to move on) because he has usually managed to take home a good car on most evenings. He has used it to impress friends and to pick up women. Of course, he passes it off as his own. He has also managed to find a way into the petty cash at work and has quietly managed to keep himself going in daily expenses rifl ed in this way.

Not surprisingly, Richard has been before the courts on a few occasions although he has not yet been caught for anything major. On some of these occasions, he has had to see a social worker and in one case a clinical psychologist. They have all attempted to talk to him about what they and the rest of society see as his problems, or more properly have him talk to them about what he does and what he thinks and feels. But he finds this
extraordinarily diffi cult, not really understanding what they are getting at. In fact, all he could think of was what a waste of time – he could see no possibility of gaining anything for himself out of what was going on. In one case he did try to chat up the social worker, but even he was able to see that she wasn’t interested, or at least, if she was, she wasn’t letting on. The night before, he was idling around at work, wondering when to disappear for good; he had been in an accident. So far, he had managed
to hide the damage to the front of the car but wondered how long it would be before someone noticed. Not paying attention after a few drinks, he had suddenly found a cyclist in his way and could not brake in time. The damned old fool’s bike had broken one of the headlights and dented the front wing. He had checked after he had arrived at his fl at, not having stopped to see at the time. His only thought was to accelerate away before the police arrived. He had no idea what had happened to the cyclist.

Think about these questions:
-To what extent do you see your own behaviour as being under your own control or determined by your circumstances or the people around you?
- You know that you behave differently when you are at home or when you are out at a party, when you are in church or sitting in a library or when you are playing sport. What is your true personality?
- Have you changed much since you were a child? In what way? How did the changes come about? Are there some things abut you that haven’t changed at all?
- How good are you at describing other people? Can you judge character? How accurate are you? Do you project your own personal issues onto the person you are thinking about?
- Are you predictable? To what extent do you change unpredictably?  Is there an inner core to you that remains unchanging?
- What would you describe as your style of personality?

These are some of the basic everyday questions that have led psychologists to be interested in personality. Each of us is unique and there are patterns to our behavior as individuals. Much of psychology is concerned with similarities between people, but personality is about individual differences, what it is that makes us unique. What makes one person mentally ill and another not, even though they are from the same family and from the same environment? What makes Jean, in the example above, a calm extravert and her brother John an anxious introvert? What makes a young woman highly motivated to have a high flying career and her sister settle down at a young age to a life of domesticity?
Why are some people like Richard, in the second example above, a sociopathic or anti-social personality?

What, then, is personality? In the everyday sense of the word, personality is something that we all possess to some degree, or to put it more extremely, something that we either have or do not have. ‘Well, she’s certainly got personality.’ ‘He’s got no personality at all.’ By contrast, in psychology, the word denotes an area of study that is concerned with the differences between people. This is a huge topic and so, not surprisingly, there have been very many defi nitions of personality put forward. They vary from the very general to the highly inclusive. Here are two recent examples that demonstrate the two types:
Those characteristics of the person or of people generally that account for consistent patterns of behaviour. (Pervin, 1989)
 Personality is the set of psychological traits and mechanisms within the individual that are organised and relatively enduring and that influence his or her interactions with, and adaptations to, the environment (including the intrapsychic, physical and social environments). (Larsen & Buss, 2002)
It is clear that we are here dealing with a person’s make-up, whatever characteristics they have that make them what they are. It seems equally clear that although each of us is unique, as humans, we have general characteristics that set us apart from other species and some of the complexities involved in these characteristics are buried quite deeply and have causes that are frequently difficult to pin down. Pervin (1989), one of the pre-eminent personality researchers, puts it well when he suggests that the study of personality seeks to answer:   
-What are people is like what are their characteristics?
-How do people become as they are? In particular, the question here is how do nature and nurture (heredity and environment) play their part?
- Why do people do what they do? This question about motivation.
*So, if you know that a friend or member of your family is more anxious than most people, you might want to fi nd out if the anxiety is typical of that person.How it came about, why it is being experienced now, and how and why the person behaves as he or she does when they are anxious*


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