This is an excerpt from my most recent ebook, Next Steps For Neojungian Typology.
Does Type Change?
Personality is iffy and ever changing. This makes it hard to measure consistently. We are constantly being shaped by our environment and our experiences. We are constantly changing and reinventing ourselves. Perhaps the biggest issue for models like the Enneagram and the MBTI is this belief in inherent, non-changing personality types. Type does not change, many boldly proclaim.
But as far as we know, behaviour and our actions are constantly changing. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that it is because of this humanity has been able to survive for so long. Our ability to adapt and adjust to circumstance has put us ahead. Research on cognitive flexibility and epigenetics points to the fact that, with long-term effort and training, we can even rewire much of our genetic makeup.
People don’t change quickly
Interestingly, despite of this, sociology and psychology has yet to be able to create methods to brainwash and socially engineer human behaviour in a significant way. It remains difficult to change and influence people’s values, behaviour, and psychology in direct and predictable ways. Genetics is a strong, but not complete influence on our character. And our environment on it’s own can’t control our future development, but it can impact our odds and nudge us in a certain direction.
No, often, change takes time, and it is hard to predict how any individual person will respond to the experiences they have endured. What can cause trauma in one person, can cause growth in another. Often, in the process of self-development, what we set out to do is rarely what we end up doing. Six months, or one year ago, I held completely different ambitions for what to do with my life than what I am currently doing. Many will know that conscious change, for example, to quit smoking, can be difficult and arduous. It requires us to reframe many components in our mind, and to some extent, it can feel like you are in a fight against your very instincts.
It has been found in science that will power is a finite resource, and that many don’t know how to manage this resource. Could it be that the people with the least amount of willpower are those who use too much willpower to do the wrong things in life? I believe that, to some degree, there is a deep rooted problem in the idea of tabula rasa. We all believe so much that anyone, through effort, can do anything. But we don’t ask ourselves what we truly want. Could it be that many of us are in a constant race to push ourselves to do things we do not want? Is that why so many of us go to bed each night, wondering why we don’t have more energy?
How Can Personality Psychology Explain Change?
The next step for personality psychology rests in, I believe, the acceptance of the fact that humans are ever changing, but that we all have a set of needs, interests, and values that are specific to us as individuals. These needs are extremely difficult to change. While we can change our behaviour to ignore these needs, there may actually be deep consequences on our happiness and our overall life satisfaction. If we have things we enjoy, love, and need, and we decide to develop ourselves to do things that we hate, that bore us, and that we don’t need, we may just find ourselves feeling miserable instead.
The problem of acting against our own individual interests is deep rooted in society. A clear majority of workers across the world rate their jobs as more or less meaningless. There is a clear issue here that too many are all doing things they find tedious, unnecessary, and unimportant to society. Most Americans say they are unhappy at work. Work is something we engage in to earn money, but studies show that money is a poor incentive.
In fact, the more you pay someone, the less value they tend to produce to the company. And while many politicians are working tirelessly to come up with more easy jobs for unemployed citizens, few actually want to do these jobs. This raises the question: Why do we even want these jobs to begin with? I would guess, because we are not sure what is meaningful anymore. We have been working so much, we have worked so hard, that we haven’t had time to explore our hobbies, our values, and our ideals. And the less we explore it, the more foreign to us it becomes.
Personality psychology – the research on what flow is for each unique person?
What personality psychologists should offer is a chance for people to reclaim what they find meaningful, important and valuable. Personality assessment instruments should be about what we love, what we need, and what we want, not what we are. What we are is always changing, but what we love tends to be one of the most consistent bastions of our mind. Who hasn’t tried to fight what they want, only to see it come back, and come back, and come back, no matter how hard we try to run from it? This want is our core, this is who we are, and that is what personality psychology should study. When we find it, and when we align with it, no matter how briefly, we find flow. Everything starts to come more easily to us. We start feeling more pride and satisfaction from what we do. We find more fun and fascination in what we see. And we feel balanced and positive exploring it.
Still, it is not only interesting to study what people want. It is also interesting to study what people see as work, and what people see as duty. The study of people’s flow type also opens up the possibility of the study of people’s stressors as well as their anxious tendencies. While I hope to bring more life to the idea of personality types, I do it by adding a third dimension, health.
With that in the equation, I hope that we can move beyond simple categorisation of people. Humans are not two dimensional, we are three dimensional. And the theories on how our health impacts our personality has long been lacking. The project that has come the closest to tracking this dimension is the enneagram, but it has done so at the expense of studying vital points of people’s psychology. Perhaps all we need to do to complete the works of Carl Jung and the people who believed that there were differences in psychology is to mesh their theories with the study of health and flow. Perhaps the end result of this book should be the integration of enneagram theory and personality theory. Or is there something else that I have missed?