What is personality?

That sounds like an easy question, but it isn’t. We sort of understand that everybody is different, but we tend to understand that at a superficial level. The reason is that we see the world through the lens of our own personality. We think that the way we perceive the world is rational, accurate and objective. I know that I am a reasonable, rational and averagely intelligent person and so my understanding of the world must be pretty accurate; I see the world os it is. The big problem with that statement is, it just isn’t true. If it were true, everybody would see the world in more or less the same way. There would be no disagreement about whom to vote for, Brexit or which football team to support. I mean, how is it that two intelligent, well-educated and generally decent people can tear each other apart and express real hatred for each other when discussing something like Brexit? Of course, there are lots of reasons, but one of the factors is that we don’t experience reality as it is, but instead experience a perception of reality that is distorted by the lens of our personality.

A good way to understand personality is to think of it as being a bit like the psychological equivalent of our immune system. Our immune system protects us from all the nasty bacteria, viruses and infectious agents in our environment. If we have a strong immune system, it is easily able to fight off these pathogens. However, if our immune system is weakened, these infectious agents can invade the body, take hold and make us ill. Our immune system exists to protect our physical health.

In the same way, our personality serves to protect our mental and emotional health. We all live in a world full of stress, challenges and pressure. It is our personality, which includes coping skills and the ability to adapt, that determines whether we respond constructively to these challenges or succumb to them. When we succumb to the challenges in the work environment, we call this burnout.

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