Personality Problem
April 6, 2013 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How can a person be more aware of their personality flaws?

I know if I have behaved rudely (most of the time0. A family member recently told me that sometimes I talk with my mouth full when I get excited. This made me want to die.

I think I have a good deal of awareness when it comes to my behavior toward others. I am aware if I behave badly. For instance, I know if I've been curt or sarcastic or condescending. I think I know if I sound phony or speak too loudly.

What I don't know is if my regular personality is annoying or not genuine or "cool" enough.

Sometimes I feel like I wish I had a different personality or I could improve it somehow. This comes at a age where I'm feeling most confident. I'm basically loving life most of the time but there are times when I feel like my personality is lacking.

I would consider myself a polite, kind person. I think I'm caring. I don't complain a lot. I find that I'm interested in others and am a good listener. I'm cheerful but I'm not Pollyanna.

There are times when I've been thrown off guard. One example is when a coworker and I were chatting (we chat a lot, we're very friendly and can say anything) and I said the word, "fuck", and she started laughing. She told me that I was like a "sweet Sunday School teacher" and it was funny to hear me saying this particular word. Granted, I don't cuss a lot, especially at work, but this was surprising to hear. In my mind, I can be cynical and somewhat sarcastic. More than one person has told me that I remind them of a Sunday school teacher.

Just today my sister told me that it's annoying that I call kids sweetheart and sweet pea and honey. There is a little girl next door and she was over today. I call her sweetheart and sweet pea. My sister said something under her breath. I caught her, asked her about it, and she said that it was annoying. At this moment I felt terrible and my feelings were hurt. Not because I blame my sister for feeling annoyed. I guess it could sound a little saccharine calling a kid sweetheart and such, but mostly it makes me feel so self-conscious of how I'm coming across. I thought I was aware but really, I have no idea of how I sound most of the time. At that moment I told myself that I was going to stop calling the kids pet names and then I said "honey" about five more times in a span of two or so hours.

I would appreciate advice on how to lose my sunday school teacher personality. I would like to come off as more "cool" or "dry" or just friendly but not too friendly. Not sure what to do about it or what I can eliminate or try to do differently. I know this is a difficult question. I would like to come across a kind and polite but not "sunday school" not fake, not overcompensating, not so agreeable, etc. I think I'm very agreeable and this is why I can just cringe at my personality. Any advice appreciated.
posted by Fairchild to Human Relations (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
How can a person be more aware of their personality flaws?

I would encourage you to think about this, but not too much. Self improvement is always a good thing. Obsessing about it though because other people are pointing out your faults may not be the best thing. Just keep in mind that the intentions of other people are not always pure when it comes to pointing out our idiosyncrasies, and society isn't always a good standard for what is "cool" enough.

What I would do is focus on what it means to be right in your relationships with others, how to be happy in your own skin, how to pursue things that provide you genuine life satisfaction, and let the self-reflection come as a natural byproduct of that journey. My own journey has included a spiritual component to this, as well. It has not only allowed me to focus on what it means to do/be good, but also what a journey of personal development looks like within a broader context of life purpose. So, it has included involving a community of people within which I can serve and enjoy life, but also trust to give me honest feedback, as well. Almost as a rule, though, grace precedes judgment by a large margin, and that is a pretty freeing thing that seems to work well for self-improvement. If your life includes too much judgment right now, the first step might be to flip that perception on its head.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:10 PM on April 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


I would like to come off as more "cool" or "dry" or just friendly but not too friendly.

Completely contradicts this:

What I don't know is if my regular personality is annoying or not genuine or "cool" enough.

So, on one hand you want people to see you differently, yes? But on the other, you are clearly worried about authenticity, and coming across as fake.

See, you can't have it both ways. The whole idea of "changing one's personality" -- which is completely ridiculous, mind you -- is predicated on one's ability to put on an "act." You can try all you want to behave a certain way, but in my experience people can, and will, see through it.

Rather than talking about overhauling parts of your personality, take your sister's advice -- focus on specific behavioral problems, and fix those. I think that people will value authenticity -- even if it's not necessarily how you want to be "seen" -- over "coolness" any day.
posted by Whitall Tatum at 2:13 PM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

When you say, "This made me want to die," and "I felt terrible and my feelings were hurt," and " I can just cringe at my personality," can you expand on what you mean by that? Because despite you saying that you're "at a age where [you're] feeling most confident," and "basically loving life most of the time," it sounds as though the real issue here is a sort of self-criticism or lack of confidence that is causing you to doubt yourself and feel bad about yourself.

If someone told me I talked with my mouth full, I'd say, "oh, thanks," and try to remember not to do it again, at least not in front of that person. But I wouldn't really feel bad about it, and I certainly wouldn't feel like I wanted to die. And if someone got annoyed that I was calling a little kid sweetheart, I'd be thinking, "fuck you" and be annoyed at her for being passive aggressive, not blame myself for being too saccharine. It sounds as though whenever someone tells you that you're doing something wrong or that you come across a certain way, you're assuming that they're right, and that you've been doing something wrong. Neither of those things is actually true.

The fundamental issue isn't that there's anything wrong with your personality. It's that you're full of self-doubt. So that's the place to start in feeling better.
posted by decathecting at 2:25 PM on April 6, 2013 [35 favorites]

She told me that I was like a "sweet Sunday School teacher"

In my experience there's very little you can do about stuff like this, and it's just as likely (if not more so) to stem from something arbitrary like your looks, than from the way you act. Sometimes you get to know the person better and then they realize you're not how they first assumed and it's all good. If not, mostly it's just sort of amusing. Could you learn to be amused by it? Like instead of being upset that she interpreted you incorrectly, just say, "Oh how funny, I'm not like that at all!"

As for the other things, well, for everyone who thinks it's annoying that you say "sweetie," there will be someone else who thinks it's adorable. I just think you can't worry about stuff like that, because what can you do, act differently all the time depending on who you're with? The only behavior you mentioned that is worth changing, IMHO, is the eating thing. Everything else is a matter of personal preference.

It may sound obvious, but if you want to seem less fake, overcompensating and agreeable, stop caring so much what people think of every little thing you do.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:31 PM on April 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

just be true to yourself. i think what is causing you distress is all the worrying about what everyone else thinks. try not to be a people pleaser. the incident with your sister is telling and probably why you try so hard--to avoid being criticized. live your life and let the chips fall. and stand up to your sister when she criticizes you.
posted by wildflower at 2:37 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the replies so far.

When you say, "This made me want to die," and "I felt terrible and my feelings were hurt," and " I can just cringe at my personality," can you expand on what you mean by that?

I think it's because the eating with my mouth full comment came after I had new friends over for dinner a couple of weekends ago. My sister was at this dinner and these new friends are also friends with my sister. The next day I asked her how she thought the evening went. I also asked her how my behavior was and that's when she told me about the speaking with my mouth full. I wanted to "die" because I didn't realize I was doing this and I want these new friends to like me. I think it all stems around wanting to be liked.

It may sound obvious, but if you want to seem less fake, overcompensating and agreeable, stop caring so much what people think of every little thing you do.

Yes. I probably shouldn't have asked my sister about how I was coming across at the dinner.
posted by Fairchild at 2:46 PM on April 6, 2013

I think your sister just might be pushing your buttons, honestly. There's no real harm or even bad manners in the specifics she's criticized. Relax and maybe rule out certain people's opinions.
posted by vers at 2:54 PM on April 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

It sort of sounds like your sister might be a jerk. If someone asked me how I thought a dinner went, and I knew they were nervous about it, there's no way I would say anything critical. I'd say that it went great and that everyone had a great time. And I certainly wouldn't tell my sister that she's being annoying when she's being nice to children. If the instances that make you feel this way primarily involve other people, including your sister, saying jerky, mean things to you, I'd solve the problem primarily by distancing myself from those people.
posted by decathecting at 3:02 PM on April 6, 2013 [17 favorites]

Your sister sounds like the sort of person who tries to "just help" by pointing out your flaws... but is actually mean spirited. Is anyone else in your life making you feel this way, or is this isolated to that relationship?
posted by Nickel Pickle at 3:02 PM on April 6, 2013 [10 favorites]

You know, every now and again I get to worrying about stuff like that too. Just the other day I came across something that made me stop and think, and it may for you too:

"Friendship is when people know all about you but like you anyway."

My friends aren't perfect. That one's kind of arrogant, the other one's a bit belligerent, this one's a bit emotionally out of touch. But you know, they're still my friends and I still like them. So if you have friends who you like and who you're happy to call your friends, that probably means you're getting along just fine.

Of course, some stuff like manners and formal etiquette can be worked on to make a good impression. But that's not your 'personality'. That's about suppressing your personality - not getting too excited, not talking about personal things, etc - in order to follow the rules and fit in. The opposite of being 'genuine', in fact.
posted by Lady Li at 3:06 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, your sister is being a douche tbh. I have friends who do things much more annoying than saying "honey" or speaking with their mouths open when excited, and these things DO NOT make them unlikeable to all people, and I wouldn't bring them up unless they were seriously pressing me about it, because they're not a big deal.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:07 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also people used to CONTINUALLY think I was religious, and I didn't realize why, until I started wearing tighter clothes with lower-cut collars, and then I realized I'd been dressed pretty conservatively/non-femininely most of my life.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:08 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Own who you are and quit worrying about your sister. Or other negative people. You sound just fine.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:25 PM on April 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think the problem here is with your sister, not you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with calling little kids sweetheart, etc. And that was just a bitchy thing to say about talking with your mouth full, when she knew you were feeling self-conscious. Listen, people who are "cool" or "dry" or "friendly but not too friendly" are a dime a dozen. What the world needs is more people who care more about being genuinely kind than about being cool. Be one of those.
posted by HotToddy at 3:27 PM on April 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I call kids honey and sweet-pea and sweetheart. Kids are sweet and being around them warms my heart, those sweetie-isms just come out. Truth is, I don't think enough adults look at kids they didn't personally create and instinctively call them by terms of endearment. The world would be a nicer place for all kids if they did. Kids are endearing. Call them honey and sweet-pea and sweetheart if that's what comes naturally to you.

Your sister might find those sweet nicknames annoying but more likely there's something about your relationship with your sister, or that dynamic, that has her being critical or annoyed or whatever with you. (I see in your followup that she was the one who pointed out your mouth-full faux-pas.) In the big picture of how you come across to people, your birth family doesn't count. Way too much baggage there for them to see you as you are. Your sister will forever see you as you were at your most annoying age.

As for the Sunday-school thing, it may very well be that your self-consciousness about how you come across is the very thing that's making you come across as reserved and overly-agreeable, rather than relaxed and friendly. The secret is to care *less* about how you come across, rather than to care *more* and try to change it.
posted by headnsouth at 3:33 PM on April 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Is anyone else in your life making you feel this way, or is this isolated to that relationship?

Not really, no. The sweetheart comment was rude. She didn't have to say anything about that. My sister is more "cool". A number of my friends have told me how "cool" my sister is over the years. We have different personalities. She's friendly but more cool, less accommodating. I'm more helpful and more of a people pleaser.

Most of the time I'm fine, and comfortable with my personality, but every once in a while these insecurities will surface.

stoneandstar: I think it's my looks combined with my personality. I have this newscaster hairstyle and I can dress pretty conservatively, especially at work, and I have this personality that I inherited from my mother that is mostly sweet and friendly and smiley and people-pleasey.

Thank you again for the answers. All are very helpful for me and I enjoy reading them.
posted by Fairchild at 3:36 PM on April 6, 2013

Response by poster: As for the Sunday-school thing, it may very well be that your self-consciousness about how you come across is the very thing that's making you come across as reserved and overly-agreeable, rather than relaxed and friendly. The secret is to care *less* about how you come across, rather than to care *more* and try to change it.


headnsouth, that is exactly how I feel about these kids in my life. They are precious and endearing. They are sweet peas and I feel compelled to call them that. Thank you.

Okay, I won't comment again -- for a while at least.
posted by Fairchild at 3:41 PM on April 6, 2013

My personality comes across asking of "detached" and"cool" in the temperature sense. I have a very dry wit and am somewhat cynical. Hyper-saccharine pop culture and clich├ęs make me want to puke....

And EVEN I think it is perfectly appropriate and awesome to cuddle little kids and call them "sweatpea" and "honey." They're cute little kids!! Of course you play with them like that! They're so cute!

It's one thing for you and your sister to have different personalities. But your sister is being hyper critical and seems to take some perverse joy in needling you, possibly because you act so receptive to wanting to please her. I would bet that she doesn't criticize HER friends when they use cutesy names when playing with little kids.
posted by deanc at 4:13 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I believed every thing that my sisters every said about me, I'd think I was some kind of retarded slut bitch monster who is both too skinny and possessing of a Buddha belly. I think that my colleagues at my last job thought I was a hard-working do-gooder who could do pretty much anything I put my mind to. At my current job, I think that my colleagues think that I'm pleasant, calm under pressure, and caring. And I think that my friends think I'm energetic, friendly, self-deprecating, passionate, well-informed, and charitable.

There is some truth to all of those things but not one of them is the whole story of who I am and how they know me - only bits and pieces. Different people have different perspectives on who we are based on their experiences with us. That's neither wrong nor right - it just is.

If you don't like something you do, like talking with a full mouth, maybe you should work on that specific behavior. Everyone who knows me knows that I am usually running late to whatever and that is something I would like to change. But when it comes to things like calling children "sweetie," I don't know why you would want to change that beyond someone else making you self-conscious about it.
posted by kat518 at 4:47 PM on April 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Where did 'newscaster hairstyle' come from, I wonder?

Siblings are the least objective sources of feedback. Your sister's perspective on you will be forever warped by memories of things that happened when you were 5 or whatever, coloured by the emotions she had when she was 7 or whatever.

Reflection is good, and the people-pleasing bit is worth looking at, but there's nothing wrong with being sweet or wearing cardigans.
posted by nelljie at 5:21 PM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I once met a woman who initially struck me as incredibly saccharine and fake, until I got to know her better and realized that she really WAS that sweet, for real. Please don't change for anybody. As noted above, the cool cucumbers are a dime a dozen. We need more people who are willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves!
posted by kate4914 at 5:22 PM on April 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Seconding what Lady Li said. I've yet to meet a person who is without any annoying traits, the key is to surround myself with people whose faults I can tolerate and who can tolerate mine.

The thing is, you really can't create a persona that will appeal to everyone - no matter what you do, someone somewhere won't like it. But others will! So you might just as well do what comes naturally to you, as long as you stay in the realms of what is acceptable behaviour in your culture and you strive to be kind - which it sounds like you already do.
posted by akrasia at 5:39 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I pay close attention when my friends tell me what an asshole I am being. Not joking...
posted by brownrd at 5:53 PM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came back to tell you about my co-worker. I never would have thought to describe her as being like a Sunday school teacher until this thread, but that's not far off the mark. For example, she matches her outfits to all the holidays, on Valentines Day has heart earrings, heart sweater, and even hearts on her pumps, Christmas sweaters all month long in December, etc. She's very sweet and loyal and professional and has kind of a little-girl affect, especially in her voice. But she is one of the most delightfully foul-mouthed and opinionated people I've ever met and it is just extra hilarious to hear her saying "God fucking dammit" in her little girl voice as she rips apart the latest stupidity from the GOP.

What I'm trying to say is that you don't have to fit into anyone else's stereotype. You can be schoolmarmish and cynical and foulmouthed all at the same time and it can be wonderful. You can be however you are, and plenty of people will think you're great.
posted by HotToddy at 6:56 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Personality quirks, or any variations on normal (like what you've described here), are not flaws by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have the opposite problem-- I'm often told that I come across as "cool", "dry" or "deadpan", and I hate it! People think I am being sarcastic even when I'm expressing sincere emotions, and people are slow to open up to me because they see me as being kind of aloof.

One thing I have tried is to be more consciously expressive with my body language and tone of voice. This has helped in some situations. So, you *can* change your mannerisms with conscious effort... but it is really tiring to do this all the time.

What I have found to be more helpful is to just correct people's misperceptions in a lighthearted way. Now whenever someone makes a remark about my deadpan personality I just laugh and say something like "It's funny, people tell me that all the time! Once you get to know me better you'll see I'm not like that at all!" or "Ha, I've sure got you fooled. Don't tell anyone, but I'm secretly a big sentimental dork." Substitute "total cynic" for "big sentimental dork", and maybe something similar could work for you.
posted by circumspice at 9:48 PM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with those above, but want to add that it's natural to overly compare yourself to your siblings especially when they have traits you admire.

I myself am a people pleaser and one of my siblings is very assertive-- sometimes aggressive. This is a useful trait sometimes, other times not so much. While she has not been critical- at least openly to me- about my accommodating nature, growing up I have found her example to be an inspiration in situations where I know I need to be more assertive.

One of the great benefits of having others in our lives is having their traits sort of rub off on you, soften where you are too hard or strengthen where you are a little weak.

If once you step back and get some perspective you find that underneath the self-doubt and hurt feelings you do feel that you sometimes aim to please people at a detriment to yourself (and that is why you admire your sister's less appeasing personality) become more conscious of it and make a small adjustment.

Try not to feed any jealousy towards your sister, her personality has it's own draw backs and I am sure she admires some of the traits you possess, although she may not express it.
posted by abirdinthehand at 6:50 AM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

You sound delightful just as you are. In Jane Austen's novels, being "agreeable" was high praise, (although that term is not used much these days). Unless your personality is getting in the way of your profession or aspirations, just roll with it and enjoy the rewards and friendships that come with being a kind, cheerful, polite, good-listening, caring person.
posted by mama penguin at 5:50 PM on April 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older Undergrad's over... what now?   |   Verbal Tryptics? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.