How our Core Personality Develops – Part Two
Our Core Self Has Three Developmental Stages/Levels
Here and elsewhere I have posited that there are three determinants that make us do what we do.
1. The “Me” that is my System (the most powerful determinant because it makes “everybody do what they do; everyone stops at the red light and so forth).
2. The “Me” that is my Situation, which makes most people do what they do most of the time (team and social situations and so forth).
3. The “Me” that is my Self (our core personality).
In part one we explored how the core personality, the “Me” that is my Self develops.
I suggested that there are three layers.
We also discussed a general theory, based on twins separated at birth for how our personalities develop.
In this section, we will analyze how the three stages we described in part one, that make up our specific or core personality type and preference, actually happen.
In other words, how and why we are the way we are and why and how we function, feel and interact with people the way we do.
My Core Self: The Self Interested Me – the Three Developmental Stages/Levels – An Overview
In the diagram below, you might recall the three convergent but sequential and systemic developmental stages which determine people’s Self or Core Personality; how and why we are the way we are and why and how we function, feel and interact with people the way we do.
1. The Biological You:
The Rough First Draft. This is the lifelong, prewired (not hard wired), genetic, biological, predispositional biases and traits with which we are born that we naturally and unconsciously use to experience, filter, interpret and guide our life.
2. The Psychological You:
The Edited Version. This is the pattern of psychological adaptations that emerges based on our biological preferences and biases in response to the specific environments and challenges we happen to face in the course of our early, adolescent and adult life.
3. The Biographical You:
The Final version: This is the story or narrative we develop and use from the first two stages to make sense of our lives. They are not necessarily true stories, but simplified and selective reconstructions of the past, often forged by or connected to an idealized version of the future.
Now let’s look at how these three stages actually happen.
Stage One: The Biological You – The Rough First Draft
Our genes guide the construction of the brain in the uterus, but that’s only the rough first draft, so to speak of what will be become our life “story”.
The biological self is the innate self.
But innate does not mean unmalleable.
It means organized in advance of experience.
In other words, we are prewired, not hard-wired.
This initial stage of an individual’s personality, their dis-positional traits, are the sorts of broad dimensions of personality that show themselves in many different situations and are fairly consistent from childhood through old age.
These are traits such as the basic functions posited in the Jungian personality model of Type, how we like to gather information, tend to make decisions and prefer to organize our life and work as posited the Extraversion – Introversion, Sensing – Intuiting, Thinking – Feeling and Judging – Perceiving styles.
Stage Two: The Psychological You – The Edited Version
But our neurological traits are only the first stage of a three tiered process.
The second stage is more psychological; how we affect our environment and how our environment affects us.
Our first rough draft, the inborn bias in our genes, gets revised by our childhood experiences.
The traits that emerge in this stage are adaptations because people develop them in response to the specific environments and challenges that they happen to face.
In other words, these the traits and preferences guide children along different paths.
How Does Stage Two the Psychological You Happen?
Jonathon Haidt gives a very helpful illustration of how the Psychological You (Stage) happens.
Let’s imagine a pair of fraternal twins, a brother and sister raised together in the same home.
During their nine months together in their mother’s womb, the brother’s genes were busy constructing a brain that was a bit higher than average in its sensitivity to threats, a bit lower than average in its tendency to feel pleasure when exposed to radically new experiences.
The sister’s genes were busy making a brain with the opposite settings.
The two siblings grow up in the same house and attend the same schools, however, by virtue of their prewired genetic coding; they gradually create different worlds for themselves.
Even in nursery school, their behavior causes adults to treat them differently.
So if we could observe our fraternal twins in their first years of schooling, we’d find teachers responding differently to them.
Some teachers might be drawn to the creative but rebellious little girl; others would crack down on her as an unruly brat, while praising her brother as a model student.
In Other Words, We Are Prewired, Not Hard-Wired To Be What We Are
This initial stage of an individual’s personality, their dispositional traits, are the sorts of broad dimensions of personality that show themselves in many different situations and are fairly consistent from childhood through old age.
These are traits such as the basic functions posited in many modern day personality indicators. These are very useful ways to understand basic human behaviors.
As we follow our twins into adolescence, let’s suppose they attend a fairly strict and well-ordered school.
The brother fits in well, but the sister engages in constant battles with the teachers.
She becomes angry and socially disengaged.
These are now parts of her personality, her characteristic adaptations, but they would not have developed had she gone to a more progressive and less structured school.
By the time they reach high school and begin to take an interest in politics, the two siblings have chosen different activities (the sister joins the debate team in part for the opportunity to travel.
The brother gets more involved with his family’s church) and amassed different friends.
The sister joins the goths; the brother joins the jocks.
The sister chooses to go to college in New York City, where she majors in Latin American studies and finds her calling as an advocate for the children of illegal immigrants.
Because her social circle is entirely composed of liberals, she is enmeshed in a moral matrix based primarily on the Care/harm foundation.
2008 Barack Obama
In 2008, she is electrified by Barack Obama’s concern for the poor and his promise of change.
The brother, in contrast, has no interest in moving far away to a big, dirty, and threatening city.
He chooses to stay close to family and friends by attending the local branch of the state university.
He earns a degree in business and then works for a local bank, gradually rising to a high position.
He becomes a pillar of his church and his community.
Things Didn’t Have to Work Out This Way
On the day they were born, the sister was not predestined to vote for Obama.
The brother was not guaranteed to become a Republican.
But their different sets of genes gave them different first drafts of their minds, which led them down different paths, through different life experiences, and into different moral subcultures.
By the time they reach adulthood they have become very different people whose one point of political agreement is that they must not talk about politics when the sister comes home for the holidays.
Stage Three: The Biographical Self – The Final Version
The human mind appears to be a story processor; even more than a logic processor.
Everyone loves a good story. Every culture bathes its children in stories.
Among the most important stories we know are stories about ourselves, and these life narratives are the third level of personality.
These narratives are not necessarily true stories; they are simplified and selective reconstructions of the past, often connected to an idealized vision of the future.
But even though life narratives are to some degree post-hoc fabrications, they still influence people’s behavior, relationships, and mental health.
The three organizational systems we spoke of earlier in “Get Unstuck…”, Football, Basketball and Baseball are really three different business stories, each with a different theme.
The moral or theme of the Football story is we need to “Comply”; Basketball, we need to “Cooperate”; Baseball, we need to “Compete.”
This is certainly true for us in the personal sense as well.
Our (core) personality is our filter and our filter is our story.
This is a very good thing to know for ourselves but it also will help us determine the mindset and the language that we can use to break the logjam with someone whose cooperation you might need.
In other words, if we (take the time to) understand a difficult person’s narrative, their story, their filter, then we can then use language to connect with them and evoke a better (more collaborative) reaction from them than is currently the case.
This attention to communication detail is the mark of a superior leader.
You might retort, “Are you out of your mind, why should I even think of going to all the trouble of doing that. What do you think I am, a psychologist?”
“Yes, I do actually.”
You do work with people, do you not?
For more on this topic, we recommend the following
Get Unstuck, Stay Unstuck