Personality and Self-awareness

Updated: May 22, 2021


Growing up in Pittsburgh

My earliest memories of my ‘Personality’ go back all the way to my childhood years aged 3-7. I was born in Uganda in east Africa, however, I spent my early childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. I have long lost my American accent but I have great memories of growing up in Pittsburgh, ‘the Steel City’, a working class city known for its historic manufacturing of steel. I remember my obsession with American Football and the local football team ‘The Pittsburgh Steelers’, the bitterly cold winters and inches deep snow, the frozen icicles hanging from the roof of our house, the ‘yellow’ school bus that stopped outside our street to take me, my sisters and brother to Pittsburgh Elementary School, the sounds of classic 70’s disco music, movies and TV, especially The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman. I loved the sounds of 70’s soul and disco music, and vividly experienced what life was like under the one-term liberal presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter. I still marvel at my family photos that have survived time; the flared trousers everyone wore at that time, both children and adults, captured by our treasured family Kodak instant camera.


The emergence of my 'Personality’

Between the ages of 3-7, I have distinct memories of my ‘Personality’ emerging from what I can only describe as a boundary-less state of being. In other words, I came to a realisation of there being a ‘me’ and others. I returned home from school one day, hungry and wandered into the kitchen to find myself something to eat. I found my mother in the kitchen cooking dinner. I asked her what she was making for dinner, I remember feeling very excited about the evening’s meal. To my disappointment, she said ‘meatloaf’. Meatloaf is a common US 70’s dish of ground meat that has been combined with other ingredients and formed into the shape of a loaf, then baked. It is usually made with ground beef and can be sliced like a loaf of bread to make individual portions. It can easily become dry, therefore, it requires various sophisticated cooking techniques to keep it moist. My mother is, admittedly, not the world’s greatest cook, and she made this dish often, because it doesn’t take a lot of culinary skills to make, and she made it nearly every day or at least went through a phase of making it nearly every day. I absolutely hated meatloaf. My first reaction to her response to my question was to roll my eyes and secondly, I sighed ‘Oh brother’, an American as apple pie comment expressing my total disappointment at the thought of meatloaf for dinner. My mother was not impressed. I was sent to my bedroom to ‘consider’ what I had said to her, a small punishment for my judgement of her cooking skills.


I also remember going out with my family on a picnic to celebrate July 4th American Independence Day, an important annual tradition in the US. We went to a public park to watch the fireworks in the city centre and I remember being absolutely terrified by the sights and sounds of the fireworks. I hid under the picnic blanket for the entire evening.


The winter in Pittsburgh was particularly harsh. I often laugh at British people complaining about the cold in the UK. Yes it is cold but it is nothing compared to some of the harsh winters in the US. The temperature would dip well below zero, the water pipes in our house would often freeze and 20-30inches of snow would regularly fall when a snowstorm hit the city. I remember staring out of the window, marvelling at the beauty and ferociousness of winter storms.


We often had relatives and family friends from Uganda visit us on many occasions. One of my dad’s friends turned up one day wearing the most powerful aftershave I have ever smelt in my entire life. It made me feel sick to my stomach, I could hardly stand being around him for any length of time. I would retreat to my bedroom every time he appeared in the living room. I was glad he left when he did.


We also made many American friends. My dad seemed quite taken by an elderly American couple who lived out in the leafy suburbs of Pittsburgh. We visited them one Sunday afternoon for a barbeque. I have always loved the outdoors. It was a welcome break from the monotony of our inner city life. I remember I started to explore their huge garden as soon as we arrived at their house set on large grounds. There was a large shed at the front of their house. Right next to it was an axe and several logs of wood. My dad’s friend was clearly into logging trees for burning his own fires for heat and barbeques. I thought I would give it a go. So I grabbed the axe and clumsily started to chop the logs of wood. I put my hand on one of the logs of wood to steady it and promptly nearly chopped off one of my fingers. I cut a deep wound into my left index finger, the blood flowed out of me like a river, but despite the pain, I was fascinated by my own blood, in particular its beautiful ruby red colour. I managed to run back to the house to join my family, my finger covered in blood. I was given first aid treatment straight away but luckily, it was easily bandaged and I recovered quickly.


Personality

All these experiences I have described happened between the ages of 3-7 and I remember them so vividly, like it happened yesterday. Looking back, with a Jungian psychological mind, I can see how features or aspects of my ‘Personality’ began to emerge. Clearly, I was a very extraverted as a child. I was more focused on the world at large or what is called ‘outer objects’ in Jungian terms.


The term ‘outer object’ is equivalent to the term ‘object’ used in philosophical dialogue. It refers to the manifold world at large, everything that is outside of the experiencing person; other people, things, objects, the concrete world ‘out here’. It is used to distinguish it from the object on the other side of the psyche, the ‘inner object’. Both inner and outer objects are orienting objects of consciousness. The outer object is oriented to the outer world and the inner object is oriented to the inner world, the world ‘in here’, the indefinable place within our-selves that isn’t concrete but it is still very real to us. These are the defining features of introversion and extraversion. Individuals oriented to the outer world or outer objects are known as ‘extraverts’ whereas individuals oriented to the inner world or inner objects are known as ‘introverts’.


I or my ‘ego’ oriented at a very young age to the outer world and therefore my Personality has developed an extraverted ‘attitude’. An attitude is a readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way. Introversion and extraversion are each attitudes. Everyone can orient to each attitude yet each individual is typically drawn to one orientation more than the other. The other orientation remains undeveloped, repressed, untrained or unused. It is a bit like our right and left hands, one hand will become dominant and the other remains in a less dominant position but it still has physiological utility.


Individuals with a preference for the external world or ‘outer objects’ will place greater trust in facts, traditions, concrete experiences and practical issues. An individual with a preference for the ‘inner world’ will place greater trust in dreams, possibilities, imagination and inspiration. My early childhood rapport with the outer world has always been more engaging. I have virtually no recollection of my inner world or ‘inner objects’ at age 3-7. My personality at that age was particularly fascinated with concrete ‘sensory’ experiences such as sights, sounds, touch and smell. The psychological function of ‘Sensation’ was clearly the primary function associated with my extraversion. When an attitude joins a function in the Personality of an individual, we speak, in Jungian terms, of a functional attitude, mine being Extraverted Sensation. Sensation is one of four functions of the psyche, the others being Thinking, Feeling and Intuition. The two Attitudes and four Functions combine to create 8 different psychological types.


1. Extraverted Sensation

2. Introverted Sensation

3. Extraverted Thinking

4. Introverted Thinking

5. Extraverted Feeling

6. Introverted Feeling

7. Extraverted Intuition

8. Introverted Intuition

Through my own memories and studying the psyche as an adult, I became aware of my own preference for Extraversion-Sensation from a young age. It is only through studying the psyche, I am now aware of the terminology of attitudes, functions and their dynamics within an individual’s Personality.


Extraverted Sensation

Extraverted Sensation gives a very detailed and accurate understanding of the outer world. Every fact, every feature, every fine point in the outer object is of interest yet some perceptions can be more highly valued than others. Jung argues that the sole criterion of their value is ‘the intensity of the sensation produced by the outer object’s qualities’. As a child I viewed the world like a scanning radar. My senses are forever at work on behalf of the sensation attitude to detect some new fact or perception. Extraverted sensation is functionally oriented to the outer object and is directed by the extraverted attitude; it is keenly poised to perceive objective facts. The taste, smell, sight, sound and touch of the outer object perceived may vary enormously. I notice every nuance in the outer object which enables me to perceive the reality of the outer object.


I provide some recommended reading on my website. James Johnston’s book ‘Jung’s Indispensable Compass’ is particularly helpful if you would like to learn more about the Jungian theory of Personality. Johnston gives a good description of extraverted sensation. He states ‘Extraverted sensation has its own predetermined mental structures to frame and makes sense of what has been detected in the outer world. Time, space, duration, sequence, context, form - these are among the pre-existing perceptual frameworks necessary for extraverted sensation to interpret what has been perceived. Without them perception would be an overwhelmingly jumbled and confused mass of colours, forms, textures, tastes and sound. Extraverted sensation is predisposed to interpret the outer object, just as it's predisposed to detect it. It hears a distance train and registers it as distant. It feels a rough object and registers it as not smooth. It tastes something bitter and registers it in contrast to sweet. It feels rock and knows that it is hard not soft. People who favour extraverted sensation have no time for philosophical meanderings, for abstract thinking is not real life. Thinking philosophically that a rock is not actually hard, or a train distant, or surface rough or smooth would be irrelevant. Detecting and affirming real objective facts is the role of extraverted sensation. If something cannot be perceived as being concretely real, then it simply does not exist.’


The Origins of Personality

Although the term ‘Personality’ is widely used in everyday conversation, defining its meaning is not a simple task. Even typing in ‘Personality’ into a thesaurus brings up several other words; charisma, identity, makeup, nature, psyche, self, temperament, disposition, individuality, emotions, likableness, selfhood, magnetism etc. People often talk about television ‘personalities’ or describe someone as ‘being a personality’, or as ‘having a lot of personality’. These descriptions suggest the kind of person who is typically lively, talkative and tends not to be ignored. We also use the term ‘Personality’ in relation to a person’s most striking characteristics, for example, we may describe someone as having a jovial personality, or an aggressive personality, meaning that these are their most salient characteristics and that they tend to respond to a variety of situations in that particular way. It is difficult to imagine, for example, someone who is usually shy suddenly becoming the life and soul of the party, or someone who is easily angered, not rising to the occasion where insulted. Therefore when we describe the personality of someone we know, we assume their characteristics to be fairly stable, not only in different situations, but also over time. Although the term ‘Personality’ has different meanings in different contexts, it is a term that is generally well understood in everyday language. It may seem surprising, therefore that psychologists cannot agree on a definition. Here are few of the many that have been put forward.


'Almost adequate conceptualisation of a person's behaviour in all its detail' 'A persons unique pattern of traits' 'The dynamic organisation within the individual of those psycho physical systems that determine his characteristic behaviour and thought'

'Those structural and dynamic properties of an individual, as the reflect themselves and characteristic responses to situations'

'The distinctive patterns of behaviour, including thoughts and emotions that characterise each individuals adaptation to the situations in his or her life'

'A constant set of intrapsychic or internal characteristics and predispositions that directly determine psychological behaviour'


With respect to psychological testing, the following definition of personality functions well'


'Those relatively stable and enduring aspects of individuals which distinguish them from other people, making them unique, but which at the same time allow people to be compared with each other'


The Jungian approach to a theory of personality is set out in Jung’s seminal book, Psychological Types, published in 1921. Jung considers ‘Personality’ as resulting from a dynamic interaction between the conscious and unconscious mind, the totality of which is known as the Psyche. Psyche is the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as consciousness. Jung delineated the two realms as an area of interest for Analytical Psychology, arguing that the Personality can develop as an individual matures, however, the transformation can only take place when the individual develops an awareness of their conscious and unconscious mind and the emergent dynamics between both realms. Is Personality genetically or environmentally determined? This remains an unresolved question that continues to be hotly debated by psychologists.


I don’t know for sure whether my personality emerged from nature or nurture, however, I do think Personality is an evolved solution by humankind to address the complexity of life. Jung argued that children often exhibit a typical attitude quite unmistakably even in the earliest years, which leads us to assume that it cannot be the struggle for existence in the ordinary sense that determines a particular attitude. He concluded that the decisive factor must be looked for in the disposition of the child. Ultimately, he considered the individual’s disposition decides whether the child will be extraverted or introverted, despite the constancy of external conditions. Furthermore, Jung argues that a falsification of attitude can also take place as a result of parental or other environmental influences. The individual then goes on to become a neurotic Personality and can be cured only by developing the attitude consonant with his or her nature. An individual expressing a functional attitude that is not consonant with their nature may find they experience acute exhaustion whenever the express that particular functional attitude. Greater self-awareness helps you to discern this acute exhaustion, a potential clue that your Personality might not be resonating with your true nature.

Self-awareness

Our Personality shapes our perception of the world and can explain why others see the world differently. For example, individuals with a preference for, or oriented towards, introversion and extraversion see the world very differently. The individual oriented to introversion will see the outer world from the perspective of their inner world or ‘inner objects’, compared to the individual oriented to extraversion who will see the world from the perspective of the outer world or ‘outer objects’, a perception of the outer world ‘as it is’ rather than from their own internal introspection.


A great definition of Personality by Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist, states ‘Personality functions by influencing our perceptions, motivations, emotions and actions such that people of different personalities actually experience and perceive the world differently”. I think this is a great description of Personality. I am often struck at the idiosyncrasies of others, but those qualities are necessary for us to resolve life’s complex problems and realities. When a complex problem arises in the workplace, it is often better to have a diverse cohort of people to examine the problem. Their individual idiosyncrasies or perspectives can place the problem in a different light and even resolve it. Whereas the idiosyncrasies or perspectives of other individuals might not be helpful or even conducive to resolving the problem. We live in a social world and we must contend with the personalities of other people. It is definitely an advantage to have an awareness of personality, learning about it, how it functions, because it can help you understand yourself and those around you. Understanding personality can help you interact more harmoniously with others and to excel in your individual and group endeavours.


Human beings have limited cognitive resources, we are limited by the attitudes of introversion and extraversion and the functions of sensation, intuition, thinking and feeling. We are unable to process and pay attention to all the objective facts in the world and instead we focus on our perceptions which maximise our limited cognitive resources. Our personalities prime our perceptual system to pay attention to certain kinds of things that then influence our motivations, emotions, actions and cognition. We view the world differently and those differences emphasize our difference. Personality differences contribute to the most diversity among people. We need different personalities to deal with the complexity of the world. There is no single solution to the world’s problems, one type of personality is not going to solve all the world’s problems but a combination of different personalities might just do so.


While I reflected on the contents of this blog, I came across the latest edition of New Scientist magazine in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket.

The title ‘Know Thyself’ followed by ‘how better self-awareness is the secret to success’ immediately captured my attention. The title seemed to reflect the essence of what I wanted to say in my blog about Personality. I grabbed a copy and sat down with a cup of coffee to hear what the author, Stephen Fleming, has to say about greater self-awareness. Fleming is a cognitive neuroscientist who argues that greater self-awareness could be the secret to success. I couldn’t agree more. I created #JungianBitsofInformation for exactly the same reasons, to help you get to know yourself better and to reap the unexpected benefits that come with such a realisation. My own self-awareness began at a very young age but it wasn’t until adulthood, that I began to look at myself from an objective position. It is an attempt to see ourselves through the eyes of others by taking a sort of third-person view of our personality. Imagine yourself at the top of a mountain staring down at a town at the foot of the mountain you’ve just climbed. It is a bit like that, becoming objective means being able to look at yourself, to observe, see, watch and reflect upon what you do, say, think and feel, without judgement and then to apply some analysis to your behaviour.


Fleming argues that the importance of good self-awareness can seem less obvious than say the ability to make mathematical calculations or remember facts. Research from his lab and others is pulling back the veil of self-awareness, giving us what he says is a newly found respect for the power of the reflective mind. He argues that boosting self-awareness can improve our decisions, open our eyes to fake news and help us think clearly under pressure. I agree with Fleming that self-awareness can be a bit mysterious, indefinable, and off limits to science. His article suggests the most useful way of improving self-awareness is by recognising the situations in which you become impaired in our metacognition - literally, the ability to think about our own thinking - enabling you to recognise errors or realise when you need to ask for help or change strategy. This is a similar to the acute exhaustion described by Jung earlier in this blog. The ability to discern whether thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition, introversion or extraversion ‘fatigues’ you is a possible clue that you are expressing a function or attitude which is weakly developed or is not consonant with your true nature.


Self-awareness from a Jungian perspective is an understanding of how the 8 functional attitudes in of your psyche interact to create your Personality. Those functions which are weakly developed remain dormant in the unconscious. The functional attitudes hidden within the depths of the unconscious is an untapped potential source of personal transformation. Accessing them can help you to improve your resilience, better understand yourself and others, develop more effective, personal and work based relationships, find creative solutions to longstanding problems and a source of inspiration, knowledge and wisdom. Self-awareness, from a Jungian perspective, is an ability to see your entire self, your psyche, the unconscious and unconscious processes operating in a dynamic way to create your Personality. However, most of rarely consider the impact of our unconscious in our day-to-day interaction with others and the outer and inner world. This means we are often not aware of the other part of us that contributes to what others see as our Personality.


As an individual, we are capable of expressing all 8 functional attitudes. However, we know from personality testing studies that some of the functions will be conscious whereas others will be in the unconscious, i.e. undeveloped, untrained, unused or repressed. When a complex problem presents itself to you, having access to the 8 functional-attitudes can be of huge help. It might well be the functional-attitudes in the unconscious are the precisely the ones that you need to bring out in your Personality to find a viable solution to a complex problem or to achieve personal success. We tend to reach out to others who express our dormant functional attitudes because those functional attitudes are not dormant in the other individual. There is nothing wrong with this approach, however, we then fail to transform ourselves and to enable a more mature individual to emerge from what is a problematic situation. Greater self-awareness helps us to see the unconscious side of ourselves and to put into action ways of developing underused parts of ourselves that hold the key to personal success.


Conclusion

To conclude, Personality is a necessary feature of being a human. Our personalities help us to connect with others and to address the complex realities of life. The jury is out whether our personalities emerge from nature or nurture, however, we know that our ‘Personality’ emerges during childhood and continues to develop into adulthood. Development of the personality can stop at any time, the individual may even cultivate a false personality inconsistent with their true nature. This can lead to a neurotic personality type or a sense of ‘acute exhaustion’ whenever the individual expresses the attitudes of introversion or extraversion or the functions of sensation, thinking, intuition and feeling. The fundamental reason why you should understand your personality is because you are a person who is situated in a social world. You have a personality and you must contend with the personalities of others in the workplace, at home and in your personal life. You must also contend with the totality of your personality, conscious and unconscious, which leads to greater self-awareness. Hidden within the depths of the unconscious is the key to personal transformation. Having an awareness of your unconscious is a necessary precursor to greater self-awareness. The unconscious is an untapped potential source of personal transformation, it can help you to improve your resilience, better understand yourself and others develop more effective, personal and work based relationships, find creative solutions to longstanding problems and a source of inspiration, knowledge and wisdom. Take a plunge into the unknown and discover the hidden treasures in your personality.


Do you have any questions about Personality? Would you like to join me in a podcast discussion about Personality? Perhaps you would like to explore your own personality and unconscious to discover your hidden talents? Feel free to contact me using the chat function or contact form on my website. You can also explore my personality transformation services available to book at https://www.nicholastoko.com/pricing-plans


I'll sign off with a beautiful panoramic image of Pittsburgh, my childhood home and a place that played a significant part in the development of my 'Personality'.






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