Sorting Myself Out

May 4, 2017 § 1 Comment

I made a deal with myself to use the next year to better understand who I am and what I want. This is a simple question with a complex answer. At least the path to the answer is complex. There’s multiple ways to better understand yourself but psychology must lie at the heart of it. I’ll start with that today.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of lectures by a psychologist named Jordan Peterson and I’ve become interested in his “self-authoring” system. It’s basically a way of evaluating your past by writing about it in order to better understand who you are and better orient your future goals. More importantly to me  perhaps, is the idea that one can’t possibly pretend to know what’s best for the world if they don’t first understand what’s best for themselves.

Psychologists agree that there are five main personality traits that describe human behavior. My own thoughts about my past and my personal “self-authoring” story is too personal to post publicly anywhere. But without writing my full “self-authoring” story, perhaps evaluating how I fit into each of these personality traits could be a worthwhile endeavor. Here we go, sluts.

OCEAN (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism).

  • Openness

“Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, open to emotion, sensitive to beauty and willing to try new things. They tend to be, when compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are also more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.”

This is the easiest of the five. This basically describes me. These are qualitative measures but if this were out of 10 I’d give myself a 9. The fact that I’m writing this from a bed in a developing county half a world away from where I grew up says a lot. That, and my at times unconventional beliefs and ideas. My interest in embracing new cultures, languages, and knowledge speaks to that as well.

I’m very open to new experience.

  • Conscientiousness

“Conscientiousness is a tendency to display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations. It is related to the way in which people control, regulate, and direct their impulses. High scores on conscientiousness indicate a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior. The average level of conscientiousness rises among young adults and then declines among older adults”

I’m incredibly unconscientious. I suck at following a schedule and I’ve always been really bad at following deadlines. There was a period from my late teens into my early twenties where I tried to force myself to become more conscientious. But my lack of attention to detail and my impulsiveness eventually came roaring back with a vengeance, like floodwaters being held back by a shoddily constructed dam. I don’t plan for specifics at all. In fact I find planning for trips to be incredibly taxing and stressful and it sucks the life out of whatever it was I wanted to do to begin with. I do like to plan very big ideas about the future, but I save the details for later and generally try to enjoy the path toward that goal rather than worry about the end result.    

  • Extraversion

“Extraversion is characterized by breadth of activities (as opposed to depth), surgency from external activity/situations, and energy creation from external means.[38] The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy interacting with people, and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals. They possess high group visibility, like to talk, and assert themselves”

Unlike the first two, I don’t think this a very clear cut answer for me. On the one hand I do tend to get caught up in too many activities or interests at once. So on the “breadth over depth” I’m certainly more extroverted. I also really enjoy talking to people, especially new people. Learning new things from people I’ve never met before brings me a lot of joy. This is a new piece of information that I learned about myself in the past couple years. In fact, as I’ve grown up I discovered that I love social interaction, and feed off it significantly. I get excited and worked up by good conversations. And sometimes I get a little too intense which can frighten people. 😉

But at the same time I don’t mind being alone at all. And I don’t feel like I’m suffering by being alone for long periods of time. I could sit down with an interesting book and a notepad and enjoy the time alone for hours. However this relates back to my personal “self-authoring” story that I talked about earlier. I spent a good chunk of my childhood alone. My siblings were much older than me and I mom worked all of the time. I was forced at a young age to find innovative ways to “play” without other people around. I eventually started socializing with the neighborhood kids by the age of seven or eight but for a good chunk of my early developing years it was just me. I believe it was at these early ages that I learned to enjoy the peace and tranquility that can come from solitude. I keep that with me today as an adult. But I recognize that this was not a proper socialization, and I should have been around more children my age when I was younger. This, combined with unhealthy relationships in my teen years helped stunt my social development. I believe this is part of the reason I didn’t realize that I was the loud, inflammatory center of attention in social situations until my mid twenties.

An interesting note: I didn’t speak much at all when I was a child in elementary school. I can remember my teachers and mother simply brushing it off as being “shy”. But as an adult I realize that, for reasons outside their control for the most part, the public education system failed to understand the causes of this behavior. Yes, I was a reserved kid. But the inability to recognize the lack of socialization occurring in my home life is mostly due to an overworked mother and a school system which was not (and is not) organized to recognize these kinds of issues. I believe given the proper environment I would have found my inner extrovert much earlier in life. Interestingly, despite socially blooming I still find it difficult to “be myself” in professional and academic settings. I was very introverted while attending classes in high school, college, and professional life. This despite being very socially active in my personal life, especially during my professional years. I believe I’m still carrying baggage from grade school, and recognize I need to break this social barrier in order to truly develop as an adult.

  • Agreeableness

“The agreeableness trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, kind, generous, trusting and trustworthy, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature.”

I’m not agreeable. I don’t sympathize with other an incredible amount. I don’t have a soft heart. I typically do not feel other people’s emotions. I’m not a particularly empathetic or overly kind person. I’m not an asshole, I just don’t sympathize much with the plight of others. I suppose this makes sense, as women typically score much higher on agreeableness than men.  The only aspect of agreeableness that I may exhibit is a generally optimistic view of human nature. But that has less to do with me sympathizing with the intentions of others and more to do with my optimistic view of human nature itself and what it means to the universe.

  • Neuroticism

“Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability, or is reversed and referred to as emotional stability. According to Eysenck’s (1967) theory of personality, neuroticism is interlinked with low tolerance for stress or aversive stimuli. Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult.”

Shit, family. I’m neurotic as fuck. I get angry easily. I find myself upset by dumb shit all the time. I feel that work impedes my ability to have fulfilling relationships and typically become angry and brood a lot about that. I’ve never seen a doctor about being clinically depressed but around August/September I hit a low point. I spent every night (12 hours) at work and on my nights off I would just sleep some of the day and spend the rest of it laying in bed brooding about work and my personal life. Larissa tried to tell me that I was depressed but I denied it. Looking back now I had all of the symptoms of depression in men.

I’m good now but I still frequently find myself up late at night thinking over insignificant details of shit that doesn’t matter. I recognize that this behavior is not healthy and I need to find ways to stabilize my emotions and prevent dark thoughts from clouding the way I look at the world. This is the only aspect of these behavioral traits that makes me concerned about my long term mental health. I’ve never once felt suicidal but I’ve certainly felt some ups and downs that make me question what’s going on in my mind.

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