Personality 101

“Personality” refers to how a person functions in life, including all the ways he or she perceives things and behaves. We all have a personality and our personality is something we feel is intrinsic and essential to who we are; it is one of the things we are most reluctant to change.

Later in this section on Personality, I will describe some of the basic features of some personality types. Most of us do not fit neatly into the description of any one personality type but possess a combination of features from several personality types. Also, some situational stressors can prompt some latent personality feature to appear: for example the death of a loved one can bring on our depressive side or anticipated job cuts at our place of employment can bring on our paranoid side.

Fitting more precisely into the description of one personality type to the exclusion of all others may however reflect characterological rigidity indicative of a personality disorder. Personality disorders generally denote coping mechanisms (i.e. unconscious defenses) that are few in number and are not susceptible to change. For people with personality disorders, these kinds of fixed coping responses can be observed across all domains of their lives (occupational, social, family, etc.), and they hamper psychological growth. People with personality disorder can develop a broader and more flexible range of psychological coping responses in psychotherapy. It usually entails years of work and a willingness to change some aspects of what we hold most dear: our personality.

Much of the content for the above was derived from passages of Nancy McWilliams’ book Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in Clinical Process.