Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who are you?

Henley Morgan
The Jamaica Observer
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Over the long history of humankind there have been breakthroughs in thinking, the genius of which is astounding. Consider for instance some of the 19th century scientific ideas that continue to influence social, cultural and intellectual practices today. The cell theory of life, the germ theory of disease and the gene theory of inheritance are perceived to be active dimensions of reality; as if they are laws established by God himself.

The groundbreaking work in the field of psychology dealing with the origins and development of human personality is especially profound. Some of the names whose contributions have entered the common vocabulary are Carl Gustav Jung (introversion and extroversion), Alfred Adler (inferiority and superiority complexes), and Sigmund Freud (id, ego and superego).

Personality is intriguing because unlike skin colour, height or facial features it is not obvious to the eyes. As one journeys through life, one is attracted to a variety of personalities. Often it is only upon living with, working for or in some other intimate way relating to an individual that one comes to know or get a measure of the true personality. Since people do not wear a label identifying themselves by their personality type, it is helpful to at least be aware of the "truths" revealed by the work of geniuses who spent a
lifetime studying the relationship between a person's inward psychological makeup and his or her outward behaviour.
While Freud recognised that there are an almost infinite number of personality types, he identified three main ones. These are the erotic, the obsessive and the narcissistic personality.

In identifying the erotic personality, Freud did not generally mean a sexual personality, but rather one for whom loving and being loved is most important. The behaviour and feelings of people with this type of personality are to a degree dependent on those they fear may stop loving them. As leaders (whether in the home, in business or in government), they are caring and supportive but they tend to avoid conflict. At their most productive they are developers of those who would not otherwise make it; and are enablers and helpers at work. At their least productive, they tolerate "foolishness" with the resulting drift towards mediocrity. Freud classified such people as being outer-directed.

By contrast, people with an obsessive personality are inner-directed. They make sure instructions and standards are followed, and may become agitated by people who will not adapt to change or circumstances that are allowed to drift aimlessly. The most productive obsessives set high standards, communicate in a direct fashion, and are therefore strong mentors and team players. The least productive and uncooperative may lack the passion and charisma it takes to turn a good idea into a great one or to give people a "mountain-top" experience. These tend to become narrow experts and rule-bound bureaucrats.

Narcissists have big personalities, are egotistical and driven by personal (some would say selfish) ambition. These characteristics make them passionate achievers and good at breaking new ground, even if unable to hold territory once taken. Narcissism has a dark side. People with this personality type tend to be insecure and emotionally isolated, even at the point of success. Perceived threats can trigger rage. Often bordering on paranoia, the narcissist is continually on the lookout for enemies even when there is none. Achievements can fuel feelings of grandiosity and self-adulation. They want to be admired even more than to be loved. Freud named this personality type after the mythical figure Narcissus who died because of his preoccupation with himself.
It is unlikely anyone reading this will see himself or herself as a narcissist although we can each readily identify someone who is. For people in leadership positions, one of the tell-tale signs is the individual who surrounds himself or herself with a small band of sycophants, wimps and lackeys who in turn feed off the narcissist's insecurities, like maggots feeding off a rotting corpse. To people looking on, the mutual and often fatal attraction is embarrassingly evident.

People do not fit neatly into the categories. We all have demons, the exorcism of which must be part of a deliberate improvement plan. It is important that in assessing and coming to a reality of who we really are, we be guided by the admonition: "To thine own self be true".