Experts say that our personality type, your temperament, is ours for life. It doesn’t really change significantly after we are 5-7 years old. We may evolve, grow more focused or more caring, but we remain basically the same person.
Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle was harshly self-critical and critically depressed for much of his adult life when, in his late 20s, he did actually experience what he calls a complete dissolution and reintegration of his personality. He was transformed from a bitterly unhappy engineering student to a blissfully serene mystic and seeker.
This begs the question of cultural definition of sanity – abandoning a successful, if unrewarding, professional path for a life as a vagrant and ecstatic mystic has been defined by his critics as a mental breakdown and subsequent mental health disorder. I would disagree – who are we to define another’s reality?
But I digress…
I believe that major life events can transform our personality and temperament, at least in part: disaster, loss, addiction & recovery, childbirth, surviving life-threatening illness, even spiritual experiences like religious conversions or epiphanies. It’s happened to me, and I’ve seen it happen to others, for good or for ill. (And I am not including mental illness or medication-induced changes in this discussion.)
I have always been a fairly intense type A, a driver. My Meyers Briggs personality inventory results were “ENTJ”, the Field Marshal. I have usually been pretty good at achievements and results, but not so much so with people skills, nurturing, relaxing, having fun.
In the last year and a half, since losing Bryan, I haven’t been really sure who I am or what I want. I have been sad, foggy, melancholy, adventurous, reflective and oblivious, sometimes all at once, and have certainly felt some small part of that sense of personality dissolution that Tolle describes. I’m no longer a wife. Not a project manager. No longer a mom (at least with children at home.) I surely don’t self-identify as a widow; I choose not to define myself by loss or lack. So who am I now?
One thing that has been absolutely clear to me throughout is that no one is guaranteed tomorrow, and we need to love those in our lives to our fullest capacity today.
This has driven some changes in the way I see my world, the way I interact with those around me, the priorities in my life, and yes, my temperament.
- My family and friends are my number one priority
- My own health & sanity is number two
- My work is third. A distant third.
- Giving back in some way is fourth.
Ironically, this shift comes at a point in my life where work has been more intensely demanding than ever before, and my kids are appropriately flying the nest.
I’ve noticed that while I’m just as intense, I’m more gregarious, expressive, affectionate, and attuned to the people around me, and I’ve become less assertive and results-oriented. I’m more interested now in adventure, in experiencing life, and care a whole less about what people think and whether I’m functioning as a high achiever.
This is even reflected by changes in personality test results. My people styles personality test (which we use at work) has shifted from driver to expressive. My Meyers-Briggs has shifted from ENTJ (Field Marshal) to ENFJ (Mentor).
Has anyone else had this happen, either to themselves or those around them? Or do you believe that once we are formed, our personalities are set for life?