Pieces of Personality

Personality influences almost every facet of our existence from who we are, our choice of occupation, to our style of interaction with family, friends and romantic partners.

By Samineh I. Shaheem (Out of Mind)

Published: Sat 24 Mar 2012, 1:15 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:44 PM

Is it possible to try and summarize a person’s personality in a few sentences? Should we box individuals into certain personality types, predicting the way they might behave in different circumstances? Drum roll please…and the most important question of them all; is it sensible to claim to have an understanding of an individual simply from their birth date? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, don’t worry, most people mistakenly do.

Grasping the nature of personality is like trying to catch a butterfly. We are often mesmerised, enthralled, astonished and intrigued by it. As soon as we think we have gained a secure understanding, other aspects of personality surprise us, sending us on further avenues of exploration. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to catch it (comprehend it better), similar to the sentiment we feel when a stunningly beautiful butterfly flutters around us.

Personality should be thought of as an incredibly complex puzzle. Imagine the most glorious picture of you and when inspected more closely, you see that it is made up of thousands of tiny different pieces that make up who we are as a whole. Each one of those intricate pieces of the puzzle is responsible for distinctive and enduring aspects of our personality.

Are you morning or evening person? Are you an optimist or pessimist? Are you an extrovert or introvert? Do you work best under pressure or leisurely? Are you motivated by power or money? These questions and hundreds more are just tiny colourful dots on the wing of this extraordinary butterfly we refer to as personality.

Another relevant and interesting question to ask is what is the connection between personality types/traits and general health? We have long been told that features of our personality can indeed affect our blood pressure, cholesterol, cardiovascular and nervous systems as well as our outlook on life and psychological ailments such as anxiety, and mood disorders.

It is acknowledged that most illnesses have an emotional and physical cause, so how do characteristics affect our health? Well, to begin with, they do so because our personality dictates how we perceive, handle, and respond to certain situations. Let’s take anger and hostility for example. According to a recent study conducted at Duke University, hostile men are twice as likely to have poor heart health, higher cholesterol, and heavier BMI’s than men with low hostility.

The same study found that negative personality traits, such as anxiety, hostility, nervousness, anger, bouts of depression, and moodiness increase the risk of coronary heart disease, but mostly in men. Apparently if a women expresses hostility and anger, it does not affect heart health as much as it does a man. Perhaps women have been evolutionary and genetically hard-wired to let off steam, expressing emotions more openly, with fewer consequences than their male counterparts. Bad news for the guys?

Now unfortunately, being nice, even tempered, accommodating and flexible does not guarantee a certificate for a longer life and better health. Individuals who exhibit these positive traits, without occasionally learning to vent out their anger or frustration, appropriately at the right time and place of course, could develop a whole host of other physical and psychological conditions.

Suppressing or ignoring negative emotions such as anger or sadness may result in building up damaging emotional toxins in our system, causing all kinds of poor health, many of which we have yet to discover.

Not all negative emotions are bad. In fact they can act as red flags or warning signs that perhaps something isn’t going right or that we are not effectively dealing with an issue in our life. Therefore the trick is to recognise those negative emotions, understand where they originate from, try and come up with possible solutions and move towards trying to remove the variables causing them. Negative emotions become toxic when we chronically and continuously ponder over them, without trying to change the root cause.

There is no doubt that personality and health are mutually embedded, starting from the onset of different conditions, to the treatment process, perception of pain as well as recovery. Both positive and negative emotions are necessary and essential building blocks of the foundation of our unique characters. However both need to be managed appropriately and carefully in order to sustain the delicate balance of how we react to the multitude of obstructions and challenges that come our way.

Remember, learning more results in living more…over to you…

Samineh I Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, currently lecturing in Dubai, as well as a cross-cultural consultant at HRI. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and the UAE. She co-hosts a radio programme (Psyched Sundays 10-12pm) every Sunday morning on Dubai Eye discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. Please forward your thoughts and suggestions for future articles to OutOfMindContact@gmail.com

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