THE PERSONALITY SUPERMARKET

"Look at that stone-face. He must be a great poker player. No, he just lacks a personality."
"Stay away from him, Nancy. He has a rotten personality."
"What's she look like, Bob? Well...she has a nice personality."
People often relate to a personality as if it were a bodily entity. Then "causality" is assigned. For example, the reason someone did "X" is because he has a rotten personality. Can you imagine a sonogram of the body showing the heart, liver, spleen, intestines; and the personality? Can you imagine a personality transplant? Those with rotten ones might be mandated to do so by law! Actually, the word, "personality" is a description-- not a cause-- of the internal and external experiences which comprise someone's model-of-the-world. It refers to the reinforcement history in which a variety of beliefs and subsequent behaviors were selectively sanctioned, thus, influencing the future probability of their occurrence.
Human beings seem most comfortable when some personal aspect can be compared with that of other people. Thus, several common reinforcement histories have been classified and labeled for their most outstanding characteristic and called, "personality styles." Since no single classification encompasses all that we are, everyone is a combination of many personality styles. Many of these traits developed at an early age through parental teachings and selective reinforcement-- a sort of personality supermarket in which styles were adopted that best whet their appetites. You responded according to what was on the table. But preferences change and therefore can be modified.
As a child, you may have been taught that finishing dreaded canned peas is necessary to avoid feeling guilty about all the "poor starving people in Europe." Now an adult, you may have decided to allow those starving Europeans to fend for themselves in favor of your preference for fresh peas in the pod. In a similar way, those personality styles developed as a child can be modified to suit your tastes or needs. Here are a few common personality styles, found on shelves everywhere:


  1. The "007" style. Frequently found among males, it relates to a relentless thirst for adventure, quenched only by constant stimulation and lust ("shaken, not stirred"). Change is the only constant for individuals with this style, as settling down (marriage, job, repetitive experiences, etc.) are difficult. Life is moment by moment exhilaration-- a present state phenom- enon. This person would do well to consider the future, too. If this is you, learn to use your resources (strengths from previous successes) to develop goals and objectives that will be useful...beyond twenty minutes from now.
  2. The "Universal Donor" style. This is the quintessential caregiver. Most often female, this person puts others' needs before her own, and devotes herself to giving, giving and more giving. Unfortunately what gets lost in the process is "getting"-- her own feelings, preferences, needs and ability to make useful independent decisions. To become more effective, universal donors need to modify what drives them: Their self- esteem is often a function of the approval gleaned from others whom they serve. They need to find resourceful ways of enhancing their self-esteem through their own expressions and decisions.
  3. The Marquis de Sade Style. Aggression! Dominant among those who dominate others, these people are most comfortable exercising power and authority in a variety of contexts. Though they are highly disciplined and function well in difficult situations, their domineering qualities often cause problems in intimate relationships. It is useful for such individuals to target themselves for imposing control. Allowing others at home to make mistakes in the absence of advice or criticism, and offering assistance rather than instruction are illustrations.
  4. The "Mr. Data" style. Almost inhuman, android-like, this is the never-ending workaholic. Seeking perfection, this individual loves order and detail. Life is a cerebral expression; rarely an emotional one. But unlike a robot, such an individual is alas only human and therefore subject to stress- related health risks. Better learn to relax and let somebody love you, desperado...before it's too late.
  5. The "California" style. It's always "Miller Time." This individual lives for leisure. Though working, he often procrastinates. Personal priorities come first. A priority overhaul would seem in order. The operant belief is that work and helping others is hard and not fun. Reframing this belief might lead to unexpected rewards...and more leisure time.