Thoughts on Personality Types

Ask yourself: do you believe that people come in types? Or do you believe that every person is fundamentally, non-trivially unique?

Imagine yourself at a party. You see people standing in circles, engaged in conversation. Others are moving through the empty spaces, or are gazing out the windows. Do you attempt to understand them all as they, uniquely, are? Or do you place them in buckets, label them with types, apply your finely-tuned heuristics to the task of social categorization?

Say you do the latter. Certainly, there’s some error. But how much?

Entertain a thought: a “personality” is a combination, a constellation, of many traits. These traits represent fundamental atoms of character, and every person contains them all, in varying degrees.

Now, one might ask whether all combinations, all constellations, are equally viable. Can there be such a thing as an “unstable” combination of personality traits? Note that “unstable” is not being used to refer to a person who is quick to anger, or any of the external behaviors associated with the term. Unstable here means that the combination of traits will not stay constant over time, but will inevitably shift into a new, more stable pattern.

For example, could high levels of honesty and envy co-exist in the same person for an extended period of time? Or would one of these traits eventually diminish in strength? Could a person be both quick to anger, and have high levels of empathy? Or would this person’s temper eventually cool, or their empathy fade away? It’s a curious question.

If it is true that personality traits coalesce and settle into stable patterns, then there may be some validity to our heuristics, to our putting people into categories. These categories might not be random, but in fact reflect some more fundamental truths about our brains, bodies, and minds. Some fundamental truths about our world.

If is true that personality traits are interdependent, each on the others, it naturally leads to the question of whether it is possible to establish principles of these movements, and learn to harness them for the better. Cognitive dissonance is likely a mover, as are the forces of socialization into a peer group. But that argument by itself begs the question — why have the norms of these groups assumed the form that they have?

If it is true that unstable arrangements inevitably settle into stable forms, then it starts to make sense that children are more capable of change than adults. It also raises the question of whether it is possible to develop new therapies to intentionally destabilize a personality, and control its reformation, allowing for deep and positive change.

Perhaps this is all nonsense. Perhaps every human is fundamentally unique, similar only in difference. Perhaps this is a Rorschach exercise, seeing patterns in ink.

Perhaps not.


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