Navel Gazing

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).

Personality Type
People Styles Quadrants

Meyers Briggs Wheel
Meyers-Briggs Wheel

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?

4 Responses to “Navel Gazing”

  1. Eric Says:

    If my personality was set in childhood, I’m going to get really depressed. Oh, wait. If my personality was set in childhood, I’m already depressed. But I have something to be depressed about, I guess.

    I’ll be over there with my head in the oven….

    Just kidding. It’s an electric. :)

  2. Vince Says:

    I suspect for most of us, at least some parts of our personalities are set for life, but not all. I know people that have changed little if any since they were young, and others that have changed significantly, for both good and ill.

    And while I know the tests of which you speak, I’ve never taken either of them. In fact, to my knowledge, I’ve never taken any type of psychological test.

  3. Janiece Says:

    Jeri, I think people are capable of fundamental change, but I also think it takes something pretty catastrophic as an impetus.

    I’m not going to get into what pushed me over the edge, but during my own navel-gazing experience, my only goal was: Live my life without fear. It was my goal every year, over and over, until I finally achieved it. Now that fear is no longer a driving force in my life, my priorities have changed significantly. Professional success (outside of maintaining a level of excellence that I find acceptable) no longer matters much to me. As you note, it’s pretty much all about other people.

    And Eric, that’s NOT FUNNY.

  4. Beast Mom Says:

    My personality profile comes out INFJ every single time. While I may visit another opposite aspect of personality now and then (ex. act as an extravert as needed), I never have lived there in any permanent sense. It’s always temporary – can sometimes be a LONG stay – but still temporary. When I look back on my life, the times I have felt forced somehow to have a longer visit, I wasn’t happy. It was unnatural and therefore quite draining. It made me very resentful at times. I have realized this and no longer allow anyone or anything to push me to those places long-term. It doesn’t work.

    As for life circumstances causing a personality shift, I could see that happening, but I wonder, when it happens, if it isn’t just a long (sometimes needed) visit for some. And if they’ll revert back to their former mode once that season has been processed/used/grieved/accepted/enjoyed/etc. I dunno tho. I never want to believe in my idealism that change isn’t possible. I have noticed changes in several of my friends in middle age. I asked one woman about it – always thought she was an EXTREME extravert and lately she’s not behaving as one. Her answer? “I was always an introvert. I’m surprised you thought I wasn’t.”
    That was all I could think in that moment. Either I don’t understand at all what intro/extra actually means, or SHE doesn’t. ;) OR, maybe she is correct – that she’s been intro all along and just had a very long, rather fakey visit in extra land. People do that faking/forcing thing as well, but it doesn’t mean they’re actually that thing they’re presenting…

    my 2 cents,

    P.S. Cold ovens are perfectly harmless. I stare into mine all the time. I keep hoping it is a portal.