Who Am I Today?
How often have you encountered someone who makes a comment or asserts something about you that dates back years, even decades? Or perhaps you find yourself speaking about someone as if time and life haven't changed them, affirming qualities and taking for granted that you know them well.
We tend to think that both our own and others' personalities are fixed and stagnant. From this idea stem phrases like "That's just the way I am" or "That person is like that." But, just as our bodies regenerate and we don't have a single cell identical to the one we originated from, our personalities also constantly remodel and update themselves. We are permeable to life events, changes in our way of thinking, experiences we go through, and mistakes that help us correct our paths. Thus, the person we were may no longer be here... And the person we confidently talk about may no longer be the same as we knew.
Essence and Personality
To delve into this subject, it's necessary to consider two aspects differentiated by Transpersonal Psychology: Essence and Personality.
The Essence is our unconditioned part, the core that remains unchanged. It's our Self, our true 'I', our innermost Soul, as ancient pearls of wisdom describe it. This Essence comes to experience human life to evolve and learn. It's our deepest, most authentic part that "knows us," and if we connect with it, it guides us to live a meaningful life.
Personality is the attire worn by the vulnerable Essence to navigate human life. It includes our defense mechanisms, strategies to get what we want. Essentially, it's the character we create over the course of life, containing all the self and externally attributed traits of who we believe we are: "I am active." "I am critical." "I am troublesome." "I am shy." "I am organized." "I am a mess." As we grow and interact, we add characteristics and form a solid mosaic we call Personality.
This Personality is important because it provides us with a sense of identity, but it's just the shell, just "a small part" of who we truly are. Our true Essence lies deep within the personality. And every so often, it claims its voice when not heard among the noises echoing in our Personality.
Our true Essence is found deep within the personality. And from time to time it demands her voice when it is not heard among the noises echoing in our Personality.
Metaphorically, for clarity, we can say that Personality is the character, and Essence is the real actor. Sometimes the character "swallows" the actor. Thus, we often find ourselves dominated by our personality's automatic mechanisms. Reconnecting with the actor means trascending the "character" we've embodied, lightening its mask so that some of that deep Essence can seep through and let us truly see who we are.
The word persona derives from the Latin "personare," meaning "mask used in ancient Greek theater to represent a character." When we say "That's just the way I am," we fix the mask. The more we fix the mask, the more rigid the personality becomes.
Just as an actor can remove their mask and garments after their role, each of us needs to "work on ourselves" throughout our lives to shed those masks that suffocate more than they facilitate the expression of our innermost self.
From "That's Just the Way I Am" to "I Want to Be"
From this psychological perspective, personality is not "IS" but "IS BECOMING..." It's a process of constant movement and re-actualization. As craftsmen of, we can shape this vessel called Personality like clay to be a channel for expressing our deepest Essence. Of course, the personality doesn't regenerate itself... The craft of the artisan is learned and practised. If we neglect this non-transferable work, we might leave this world still complaining about the same old things, alienated from who we truly are, and distracted by the whims of our personality's ego. When we forget that personality is the vehicle for our true Essence, we believe we are only the external garb of our ego. This ego, fond of labelling, names itself by saying, "I am this way," from this rigid stance, it assumes nothing can be done to change things it no longer likes. Once the label is placed, we buy into it. Life scenarios change, years pass, and we remain "fond" of that old suit put on us by our parents and which we later embodied... We never ask ourselves again: Who am I really? Am I what I was told I was? Am I still the same person?
Who am I really? Am I what I was told I was? Am I still the same person?
Our personality is not formed by chance
It is important to recognize that nothing in our personality is formed by chance. Each feature had its reason and purpose, although today it might need revision. A personality trait we now reject once served us well and might even have saved our lives. For example, one girl may have learned to be demanding to earn praise from a critical father, another boy may have learned to be overly accommodating to please a mother who suffered from depression. In those moments of childhood it was necessary to adapt to our environment and respond to what we perceived our caregivers wanted from us. Getting their recognition was crucial to ensuring the love and attention we needed to survive due to our very real vulnerability. But what happens now? That vulnerable child has grown up. Why do we continue with the same pattern? The adult girl can choose to relax, just as the boy, now a man, can now say no to others and ask himself what he wants. When the same traits that were once resources today limit our lives... it is time to leave them behind and adapt to new circumstances.
When the same traits that were once resources today limit our lives... it is time to leave them behind and adapt to new circumstances.
What do I mean by this? It's not about fighting against our personality traits, as they were valuable at some point. Instead, it's about updating and balancing them with their complement, the opposite we've pushed into the shadow. For instance, the grown-up girl doesn't have to stop striving for improvement, but it's good for her to learn to also relax, unwind, and pamper herself. In the same way, the once complacent child, now as an adult, must develop courage to set boundaries to someone doesn't like.
Therefore, accepting ourselves is the first step towards transformation. It's not about fighting against who we were until this moment. Transformation does not have to be a battle, it has to be a harmonious process, integrating new qualities into our personality. Traits that adapt to the context in which we find ourselves today. The more flexible and adaptable the personality is, the healthier and more functional it becomes in interactions with others and in the way we treat ourselves.
The Personality we were taught can now be relearned by ourselves
It's clear that what we call Personality is the sum of traits we've learned according to the life experiences we've had and the mandates we've received. We learned to be distrustful because our trust was betrayed, to be obsessive because we were expected to be perfect, to not show affection because love wasn't openly demonstrated to us, to be dependent because someone else always did it better than us... And the list can go on indefinitely. However, childhood is not destiny, and everything learned can be unlearned if we set out to learn new ways of being and doing.
Childhood is not destiny, and everything learned can be unlearned if we set out to learn new ways of being and doing.
A good strategy to achieve this is by becoming aware of the most prominent characteristics of our personality, those we tend to affirm with "I am this way." We can start by making a kind of itinerary through our different roles and functions: How am I as a friend? As a mother? As a woman? As a worker? Aa a sister? As a daughter? This step is necessary because a trait can function well in one role and be dysfunctional in another. I cannot treat my child with the same distance and formality as I do my boss, right? A fixed Personality treats everything the same. An apt phrase would be: "To a person with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
To a person with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail
After this honest self-assessment, we must take each of these qualities and, from a place of full consciousness and honesty, reflect: What part of my provisional personality no longer serves me or is excessive? What do I lack today and need to develop? Patience? Tolerance? Responsibility? Autonomy? Consideration? Affection? What part of me do I like in a certain role and can implement in another to make it more functional?
Those who discover this capacity for self-modeling have immense potential to reinvent themselves into better versions each time.
People who work on themselves become wiser and more integrated over the years. Those who don't become stubborn and inflexible. Why? Because the same mask worn all life, over the years, becomes hardened and rusty. That is, the unworked traits that have become embedded in us, instead of "having them," "they have us." They dominate us through the mechanics of maintaining the same routines of being. They've taken on a life of their own! We end up showing a face we don't want to, saying things we don't mean to, doing what we said we wouldn't, etc. We act possessed by what we've learned!
The proposal is: to shake off our garments, empty the closet of those old habits that no longer serve us, and update the parts that require recycling. On our own if possible, or with help if necessary. But it's essential to let go of the "That's just the way I am" and embrace the "How I want to be". We can see ourselves as a flowing river or stagnant water. The latter condemns us to remain in the same place without the ability to move forward.
When we start to see ourselves as mighty rivers, we can see in others that same quality and recognize the possibility that they can be different from how they might have been once. If we see ourselves always in the same place, always dealing with the same blunders, we'll think that everyone around us follows this same law of inertia, stuck in the same traits. This assertion about others is actually a projection of our own personal stagnation. With a frozen gaze, we observe our surroundings and continue to see: 'the same lazy person', 'the one who never settles down', 'the addict', 'the foolish one', 'the shy one', 'the swindler', 'the unfaithful one'. From there arise the well-known 'prejudices', where we make a prior judgment according to the past without stopping to re-update or question those truths we treat as unassailable. But neither a mistake is a sentence nor a phase of life defines us. So let's not be quick to pass judgments on others, nor abandon the precious possibility of updating and enhancing our personality.
We can see ourselves as a flowing river or stagnant water. The latter condemns us to remain in the same place without the ability to move forward.
This article is an invitation not to take oneself 'for granted' or to take others for granted. When you find yourself saying, 'That's just the way I am,' or about others, 'That's just the way they are,' remember that as long as there is a breath of life, a hint of respiration, it's always time to be the person you want to be.
How to begin? By letting go of victimhood, withdrawing excuses, stopping to focus on the external, and abandoning both our own and others' prejudices. There is no task more arduous and glorious than to carve one's own wood, no occupation more honorable than being one's own sculptor.