How Human Personality is Formed and How It Shapes Our Identities
Who are you really? I know this may seem to be a strange question, but do you really know who you are? Let me explain. Much of our identities are not all what we think are our identities. Our identities are mixed up with what other people want us to be. This is an area of psychology, which has been extensively studied and can lead to both good and bad results, depending upon the situation.
There are several theories of personality. Some are based on biology stating that our genes form personality. We are good people, bad people, happy people, sad people and so on, based on the composition of our genes. For the most part, as a counselor I have to agree that much of what we are in terms of personality has been passed down through our genes, but that is only half the story. The other half of the story is that we are also a product of our environment.
The term product of our environment has been tossed around quite a bit and has become a buzz phrase that has been used to explain away responsibility in many situations, but nevertheless there is a lot of truth to this statement and this is the core theme of this article.
First let’s dispel the myths that people should not be accountable for their actions. People are accountable for their actions and that is why we have a legal system to make sure that people follow the rules of society and do the things they have to do to be good citizens and good people in general. Rules are applied everywhere in a society from rules pertaining to legal matters, rules that apply to school, work, family, and societal norms. Rules are incorporated to make a society run smoothly. Of course we know that is not always true, but that is idea behind having rules. Most people follow these rules, and sometimes we bend them. We can also say that is conforming to rule, bending them or breaking them are a part of human nature and the human personality.
In certain cases people break the rules, and they are not responsible in the ethical and moral sense of the word. We can see that in the case of an insane person who has committed murder, but if so mentally ill that he or she is not accountable for his or her actions. However, the issue of being accountable for our actions is at the core of our legal system and has also been a defense against legal consequences.
Defense attorneys have used the nature (or genes) or the nurture (the environment) as their defense essentially arguing this is our personality, our nature, and we cannot change that. We could not have done anything differently. We had to play the hand we were dealt. This applies to our genes, our lot in life, how we live, what we learned, and the social issues such as poverty and high crime rate in our neighborhood, These are just a few examples of how our nature and our environment form our personalities and makes us into the people that we are.
The questions that are argued in court remain; were we born this way and therefore we couldn’t help our actions or did society make us into the people we are? Is a killer born or made? Is a thug born or made and so on? These are the basic questions that personality theorists try to answer.
Okay so we looked at how our personality is formed because our genes dictate that we will be that way. Now let’s look more deeply at how nurture not nature plays a role in the development of our personalities.
The psychologists who believed the opposite in the great psychology debate of nurture versus nature said that our genes had very little to do with our personalities it was our environment that played a key roll in fashioning our personalities.
John Locke a political theorist and philosopher (1632-1702) was one of the first people to define the tubular rasa theory, otherwise known as the blank slate. He proposed that every baby is born into this world with a blank slate meaning there is nothing in the brain that would be at the basis of personality. Everything that the baby learned from the outside world would be what would fashion personality.
Combing nature versus nurture
Sigmund Freud and other psychologists also elaborated on this notion some of these psychologists like Freud added a biological element to the blank slate idea while other kept it pure.
Sigmund Freud’s theory of the structure of personality
First let me say that Dr. Freud’s work will be covered in more detail in a later article, but for now we just need to know a few things about what he believed about how personality is formed.
The child is born with the most basic instincts, which Freud called the id in his three-prong structure of personality. The id is a very self-centered preserving human condition. The id regulates hunger, thirst, the need to be diaper changed and to be comfortable and so on. Basically the only thing that interests a baby is that he or she is well feed, and has a clean diaper. The baby only cares about his or her own needs. This is true of all babies and it is the most basic human need according to Dr. Freud. Freud believed that our core personalities were actually developed by the age of five.