The Abuse of “Personality”

This is about the word “personality”, not the natural tendencies and gifts people are born with, although those might in some cases also be abused.

What concerns me here is the ease with which the word “personality” is used by medical and other ‘experts’ when they refer to a group of characteristics they detect in people – especially problematic characteristics – for which they cannot give an explanation. This is where we get the recent increase in “personality disorders”.

Throughout history there have been disagreements about whether “personality” only refers to the outward behaviour (from Jung’s “persona”) or whether it includes the inner motivations, emotions and unconscious functioning (psychological type) that cause this outward behaviour. The dictionary describes it as “the complex of characteristics that distinguishes a person” or “the totality of an individual’s behavioural and emotional characteristics”.

Half a century ago, in the west, it was largely accepted that personality formed as a result of the environment (behaviourism) and that children came into the world as “empty slates”. That view has been replaced by the idea that children inherit their disposition in part from their parents (DNA) and that the environment has much less of a role to play, while Jung’s psychological type theory, that is almost a century old, states that most of a person’s personality is predisposed and the environment only influences how happy a person learns to be with his inborn self depending on how tolerant it is.

In any case, what we refer to when we are talking about somebody’s personality  is something that is more or less permanent – not as changeable as moods or a stage of life and not as superficial as habits or manners – and includes their inner motivations and natural tendencies.

Implicit in any of the definitions – since they refer to “distinguishable” and “individual” – is the acknowledgement that not every person has the same personality. For both the behaviourist and the DNA-based view, this means that the amount of personalities could be unlimited, while in the Jungian view there are sixteen different types.

So what are personality disorders if inner motivations and tendencies are individual? How do ‘experts’ come to talk about “borderline personality disorder” when they have yet to define the “healthy” personality, since each personality is different – where is the border if there is no territory to circumscribe it?

How do they justify taking a group of behaviours, such as murder and sexual assault, and excuse it as “antisocial personality disorder”?

How do they explain saying that people who present with excessive mood swings are having “bipolar personality disorder”? – And let’s face it, most people who today claim having this disorder, because their doctor or therapist said so, are perfectly normal functioning individuals, who sometimes feel a bit down and at other times a bit happy. I wonder if these doctors or therapists have ever encountered a person with true manic-depressive psychosis, since if they did, they’d not so easily throw those labels around.

And since when do people who develop anxiety due to stress in their life and try to compensate for that with sometimes rigid routines suddenly have “obsessive-compulsive personality disorder”?

Not too long ago, these were called psychiatric disorders, such as psychopathy, psychoses and neuroses, which suggested that a person’s behaviour was ‘abnormal’ due to a certain problem.  What this new terminology suggests is that people who do not behave according to the norm have something wrong with the very core of their person.

If people present with a collection of symptoms that are physical, we call it a syndrome and consider it a temporary state of physical unwellbeing. So why do syndromes of behaviour refer to a permanent personality?

Since when is a temporary emotional problem due to stress and the very demanding life style we have imposed upon ourselves suddenly a personality related problem if a personality is largely inborn?

This misuse of the word “personality” destroys the acknowledgment of the healthy and natural differences (called personalities) in people that can explain our different life styles, moods, coping mechanisms and stress responses without forcing everybody who does not fit the template to start swallowing Ritalin or other behavioural drugs in order to be accepted. This is no different than putting non-conformists in mental institutions so they won’t trouble your social order.

I would like to know how psychologists who say that DNA and environment create different personalities so that “we are all individuals”, justify measuring each person to one psychological standard?

It is so common to meet people who claim having a personality disorder nowadays that the norm has become this tiny little fraction of the population that does not rely on labels to excuse their dissatisfaction with life. In other words the norm has become being “abnormal” – you figure it out.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. andythehomelessguy
    Oct 11, 2012 @ 08:54:58

    Great post. As an intelligent, functional, self-aware and reflective sentient human being, I am appalled at our profoundly dysfunctional and dying Western culture, where people cling to their disorder labels and use them to excuse every outrage they commit; every moral failing they gleefully embrace–to excuse their wasted life and soulless conduct. Perhaps we are meant to live short, difficult, and yet purposeful lives as hunter-gathers in a small clan-based band of 10s–as we have for almost all of our 250,000 years as homo sapiens–and not the way we have lived since the discovery of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, first in extended tribes and large city-states, to now in mega-nations of hundreds of millions to over a billion, most crammed into cities with populations in the 100s of thousands to millions. In the West in general and America in particular, most people “live” as fat, stupid, helpless, hateful, materialistic, gluttonous and greedy empty sitcom characters today. At age 62, I have met maybe 100 to 200 actual functional human beings, on a crowded Home World of billions. The modern re-make of The Day the Earth Stood Still is a hopeful fantasy–that advanced aliens are watching us and might exterminate us to save the precious planet we are destroying. If only it were so. Gene Roddenberry’s naïve vision of a benign technology-based Star Trek future mocks us as we speed toward our extinction.


    • nonentiti
      Oct 11, 2012 @ 19:49:05

      My science fiction series is not yet available on ebook and as such not yet visible on Amnazon. I am in the process of having all my books converted, but it takes time. Since I live in New Zealand it is difficult to sell books overseas due to the postage costs.
      I am also in the process of writing a philosophy book that deals with the same issue (only in a non-fiction way).
      Thanks for your reply. It is good to find people being so passionate about the future.


  2. nonentiti
    Oct 11, 2012 @ 09:43:24

    Thanks Andy.
    I actually explore that idea (of going back to living like we used) in my science fiction series, because I do believe that it becomes increasingly difficult to have peaceful lives once a community becomes too big to know everybody by name.


  3. andythehomelessguy
    Oct 11, 2012 @ 13:25:11

    I’ll enjoy checking your sci-fi series out. In my soon to be self-published book, Why Women Are So Problematic: A Memoir and Whimsical Polemic, I make the same argument. Modern technology removes us from reality and is by its nature de-humanizing. Our social and material “progress” has produced a toxic and at the same time benign environment, where people live for nine decades but with little self-awareness or connection to their fellow human beings, instead sleep walking as they acquire and consume meaningless material things and live as if on television. Dysfunction flourishes as the weak and defective infect the rest of us with their values and live long enough to procreate, passing on their genes. This culture is dying; it must die if we are to survive. My views are admittedly extreme, but our situation is perilous and time is running out…


  4. Mildred
    Mar 16, 2017 @ 01:17:24

    A perfect reply! Thanks for taking the trleobu.


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