Where does your personality come from? Not from IKEA. Or Mars. And not from your friends. Your personality comes from within. Let me show you.
The origins of self and of personality are highly debated. Because so many things affect your personality. Heck, even your name changes your personality. So where does this whole thing called “Personality” stem from?
Some people believe we are born with personality. Others believe we develop personality through experience. Some believe personality is a God-given thing.
It is impossible for me to say this or that is the absolute truth.
However, from a combination of personal insight, spiritual study, and scientific research, the following is perhaps the best understanding of personality.
How our sense of self and personality develops
When we are born we are born with a consciousness.
That consciousness is like a light.
We can shine our consciousness on anything we like. We have the freedom to choose where to focus.
We are the light, the consciousness. Around us is the world. And we can shine out light on any part of the world we choose. We can focus on consciousness on anything we want.
We perceive these two elements as separate. There is the light, which is us, and there is everything else.
Our existence, our life, is determined by the relationship between the light (our own consciousness) and the outside world. (Unless, of course, you believe that consciousness actually creates reality).
If, for instance, the world seems to threaten the light (us) we quickly learn that the world is a threat. This becomes one aspect of our consciousness, the belief that the world is a threat. And if we believe this to be true, we will act accordingly, perhaps becoming self-protective and introverted. At least, until we learn to change our beliefs (click the link).
Consciousness perceives reality. And a relationship develops between the individual and the outside world. That relationship leads to personality traits. A serious threat at an early age leads to the belief that the world is threatening which leads to the development of introversion and self protection. And of course the opposite can happen too.
Circumstance effects personality and self
A poor African kid who seems happy.. . A spoiled kid who, interestingly, is not smiling
Of course we are all born into different situations.
A baby who is born into a starving family in Africa is very quickly going to understand that life is a struggle. Let’s call this child Aberash (I chose that name because it means Giving off light, which is what consciousness does).
Aberash has been born into a world that cannot support her needs. Starvation is a way of life. Hunger, to Aberash, is like punishment. She develops the understanding: The world is starvation, which is pain and hunger. Because of this, she will learn to distance herself from her sense of hunger, which in turn helps her to distance herself from the pain.
Now how about a child who is born into luxury and is spoiled?
Let’s call her Princess.
Every time Princess feels hungry she cries, and crying leads to her being given all sorts of yummy food.
To Princess, crying leads to happiness, because whenever she cries she gets what they want. She learns that The world reacts to my needs and gives me what I want when I cry. She will likely grow up to be selfish, expecting everything to be given to her.
However, events In Life Continually Shape Our Personality and “Self”
Of course real life is more complex than the examples above.
One of the main reasons why real life is more complex is because there are so many events that influence the development of personality, and those events are often at odds.
So, where does your personality come from? Partly from life experiences.
Let’s return to our two kids, Aberash and Princess, and give them another life event, one that is at odds with the initial event.
Living in Africa, Aberash has learnt that the world can’t support her needs and that starvation is a way of life. But an ultra rich celebrity has visited Africa with Unicef. The celebrity chooses to adopt Aberash and flies her off to her new mansion in Southern California where she is spoilt. Aberash does not believe in acknowledging what she wants or needs. She learnt that by starving in Africa; it’s a pretty deep part of her personality. But our celebrity, let’s call her Angelina (any likeness to real people is mere coincidence J ) Angelina believes you should get whatever you want, and you should want a lot, because life is like a candy store to her.
She just can’t understand why this kid doesn’t want anything.
Angelina believes that Aberash is unhappy (because what kid doesn’t want tons of stuff) so she buys everything in the toy store.
Aberash has now been taught that when you suffer you end up getting what you want (she was suffering in Africa when she was whisked away to dreamland). This could lead Aberash to becoming brooding, showing a depressive personality because she’s learnt that that’s what gets you the good stuff. Of course, this stage won’t last forever, it will be influenced by more events.
Meanwhile, Princess was enjoying her spoilt lifestyle and believing that crying leads to being rewarded. She’s learnt to whine about everything so she gets what she wants. But uh-oh she’s now eighteen and her parents have kicked her out of her home with no money and no way to support herself. She’s trying to find a job but no one will employ her on account of the fact that she’s never had a job before and clearly doesn’t have a clue about work. Now she’s got nothing and is struggling to survive, even though she’s been brought up to believe that life gives her everything for nothing. Obviously this is going to be a very difficult time in her life. Her sense of self has been totally violated. She probably thinks, at least at first, that life is treating her very unkindly. She didn’t do anything wrong, did she?
Princess was brought up to act spoilt. Why is life now punishing her for doing that? It’s not fair. She comes to believe that life will treat you unkindly for no reason at all. Life, it turns out, is a bit of a bully. It makes you believe that everything is great and then pulls the carpet out from under your feet. The next time something really great happens to Princess she’s going to question it, asking “If I allow myself to be happy again will it just lead to abandonment and suffering?”
And so on and so on and so on. In this way, personality/ self / ego becomes the proverbial snowball rolling downhill. It really doesn’t take that long until your consciousness is covered in this sticky stuff called personality. It becomes hard to see anything in pure light, without looking at everything through your personality-tinted glasses. And oh boy does it all get so darned confusing. If only we could unravel the whole lot and see things as they truly are, outside of our personality.
Thankfully, it is possible to get back to pure consciousness, so we can see things as they truly are. And it’s also possible to remove the self, which, as the Buddha said, will free us from suffering. The way to do that is to understand the mistakes we’ve made up to now.
The Two Delusions That Hook Us On Personality And “Self”
So we’ve been answering the question “Where does your personality come from?” But oh uh, there’s just a slight nagging little error in the entire question. Because personality is only based on delusion.
Not much unites the starving African, Abarash, with the spoilt brat Princess. But there are two very clear ways in which these characters are alike. The first way is that they look to the past and the future. When Princess believed that life was treating her unfairly, it was because life had spoilt her rotten prior to her being kicked out of the house. Her idea of being treated unfairly is essentially the idea that “Things were previously better than they are now.” It’s only because Princess is focussing on the past, on how things were, that she is made to suffer. If she were to focus 100% on the present moment, she would immediately cast off the idea that “Then was better than now.” She would simply see the present moment as it is, without comparing it to the past.
(This also makes it pretty clear why changing your attitude changes your life).
The second way in which Abarash and Princess are similar is that they both saw the self as separate from the world. Abarash thought the world was unable to support her. And princess thought The world gives me everything I want. Both characters saw the world as being separate to them. This leads to the delusional idea that The world treats me in this way. The world, however, is not out to treat you in any way. The world is what it is. It’s not intent on spoiling you or starving you. But because our mind demands that we be separate from the world, we see things as a case of The world is doing this to me. There’s a conflict, between the world and ourselves, and that conflict leads to suffering.
But thankfully we can overcome both of these mistakes. We can focus on the present moment, which will remove the delusion of the past and future, and we can develop acceptance, which leads to oneness, thereby removing the delusional idea that the world is out to treat you in a certain way. The key to achieving both is through challenging your notion of your self and through developing present moment mindedness, and oneness.
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