Are there seeds in this applecore?
July 7, 2008 10:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I build a stronger personality?

This is a complicated question, but I really want to simplify it- boil it down to a few points so that I can take your insight and explore their ideas in a branching manner.

It comes down to this:

I feel like I have but a small amount of real personality- that I have little in the way of moral values I can claim as coming to on my own, that I have only one or two main focuses of energy at any given time (and these often shift around randomly), that people can't point to me and say "this person is a real so-and-so", or "that's something so-and-so would say/do". Maybe people do say or think these things, but I certainly don't feel like they'd have any certain compass point to do so.

The flip side of this is that I feel like my self is very malleable- that whenever I'm speaking with someone, I will bend my conversation, mannerisms, and whatever else to suit them. This is unconscious. I feel like there's no other way to be around them.

I'm aware that there can be different instances of a person- that you wouldn't necessarily act the same way around your mother as you would your best friend, but this goes beyond that. Friend to friend, no matter the status of knowledge of each other, I change.

Have you ever seen Zelig by Woody Allen? I feel like the central character- but to me, it's not so funny. Helpless, I guess.

So I'm asking- has anyone out there have advice as to how to solidify myself? To get over what appears to be a lack of identity? Should I write out my feelings on various controversial topics and work out my critical thinking (this I have done, it doesn't seem to stick)? Should I shout out to the dawn my most terrible fears and violent passions and see what I blurt?

How do I get to know myself to the degree that, if one were to draw a graph of my personality where X was my interactions with various individuals over time and Y was the amount of change in my character, one would see a straight line?

I know, this is all very eponysterical. But thank you in advance. I hope I don't have to point out how vulnerable this feels to post non-anonymously. Be kind.
posted by self to Human Relations (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy? Sorry, couldn't resist after the Woody Allen reference.

I kinda want to say this will come with age, but then you fail to mention your age, so you could be well older then me.

To answer your question, spend time with people who think like you want to think? This would help solidify your beliefs. Seems to work for Republicans and Christians anyway (sorry, cheap shot). Seriously though, if you really want to like making food and want to become a vegan because you think that right unless you are around your meat eating friends, then join a vegan cooking class.

I actually want to ask why what you have going now isn't working for you? I mean who cares? Well, obviously you do, but why? Why not just go with the flow if that's really what makes you happy?

We don't all have to be confrontational opinionated assholes. Leave that to us professionals.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:37 PM on July 7, 2008

I had a little epiphany today, that I think we live in such an advertising-saturated, message-driven culture that it's forcing people to feel that they must be "one solid thing" or have a personality that can be summed up or described neatly or succinctly.

I think that you are approaching this question all wrong --- I think you're seeing your genuine human complexity as a problem, when it's actually a strength. The market-driven, flash-in-the-pan culture we live in makes us think we should actually be some very solid, pre-packaged, colorful and bold, easily-described "thing" in order to be real. And that's wrong.

Your belief that "I am not solid" should actually be restated as "I am complex, nuanced, reactive to various situations and people, and have not fallen prey to the vulgar cultural forces that urge us to make ourselves caricatures of real, complex human beings."

People should relish being protean, full of nuance, and resistant to reductivism.

Read Montaigne. His essays are full of relish for his ever-changing, protean nature that is evasive of neat description.
posted by jayder at 10:41 PM on July 7, 2008 [37 favorites]

I know this isn't what you're looking for - but I think you're fine. Browse around askme - look at all the questions from people who cannot get on with people, who can't identify with anyone, who don't think they function right at work or at a party.... the fact that you can have a conversation with anyone and get on with them is a feature, not a bug.
As for the fact that you haven't haven't come to your moral values on your own - well, unless you're comparing yourself to Rousseau or the Marquis de Sade... everyone receives their moral values for the most part - that's ok, too.
Some people have Really Strong Personalities (and that includes jerks and "I read one book!" types who filter everything through a weird lens....) It also includes some really attractive and charismatic types - but there's more than one way to be attractive and interesting.
I don't even know you and I've already formed opinions about you as a "so-and-so". You're obviously a deep thinker, and an intuitive communicator, and a worrier, and someone who questions your own motives and strives to self-improve - those are very specific traits. You just aren't aware of them because you live in your own head.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:42 PM on July 7, 2008

What I'm getting, from what you're asking, is the following:

You hang out with many people, with whom you have a very casual, acquaintance-like relationship.

You interact with many people who do not care for the intricacies of your being, interests, or preferences.

Assuming that is accurate, then, my advice would be to:

Project a more intense, open image of yourself. Pick up a copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

Hang out with people who will take a deeper interest in you.

If that is inaccurate, and you yourself are just a shallow person, then I would suggest pursuing whatever interests you more deeply. Make new friends who share your interests, and allow LIVING to mold you into a person who could claim to have a personality.
posted by mhuckaba at 10:49 PM on July 7, 2008

I can relate somewhat. Sorry to say I don't have an answer, but maybe some questions or thoughts that can be helpful.

I have struggled with the same thing. Sometimes, I guess I consider it to be polite; making the other person feel comfortable. Not being confrontational, etc. But when it goes past a certain point, I think it's all about seeking acceptance. There comes a point where you might want to be liked and accepted above all else. So you have to ask yourself a few questions:

-Why is more important to be liked than to be yourself?
-What are you afraid of if someone doesn't like you?
-Why do you place your own needs below others' needs?
-Are there past issued that have left you damaged, and seeing acceptance as the safest method to keep your scabs from being picked at?

In my case, I tended to avoid confrontation or argument at all cost. It was the worst possible thing that could ever happen. I considered it my job to make sure that any relationship or interaction I was involved in or observing was kept peaceful and "friendly." I was the diplomat, the go-between, the problem-solver, the compromiser. I was only able to come to understand it by realizing that I used that to survive.

I was raised in an abusive and violent home, and the worst thing that could happen when I was a kid was to see my parents start to argue. Because the arguments often (nearly always) ended in violence, and sometimes a cop knocking on the door. From a young age, and into my teens, I would try to stop the arguments, sometimes physically placing myself between my parents to get them to stop the conflict. This pattern continued throughout my life. I never experienced healthy disagreement and resolution of conflict, so to me disagreement was a red flag: danger ahead! At the first sign of conflict, I would backpedal and place myself in agreement with whomever I was talking to. If others were disagreeing, I would do whatever I could to take the edge off. Sometimes with humor, sometimes by asking questions. But none of my actions had anything to do with asserting myself; it was all about placating others. And it's still a struggle today.

I make myself vulnerable my sharing this, because I think there might be something similar in your life that needs to be examined and understood. Maybe not as dramatic. Maybe far more.

It seems some people have the ability to let these kinds of things roll off them, and others are very sensitive and let things affect them in negative ways. Who knows why?

I would encourage you to understand that there are positive aspects to your personality as well. You're not likely to be an asshole, and the world needs no more of those. But you will probably find a way to assert yourself just a little more, little by little, where you get to the point where you don't feel like a phony.

If you're anything like I was/am, you may not even really be in touch with yourself to know who you really are. I had to come to a point where I took some time alone and rethought my likes and dislikes. I had accepted other people's tastes and preferences as my own. But my eyes were opened, and I suddenly realized that I hated some things I thought I had liked, and loved some things I never considered before. Take some time to form your own opinions about things before getting someone else's feedback. People like us can tend to be unduly influenced by the last strong opinion we hear. Then let someone know what you like, before you know their opinion. A movie, book, or TV show are good places to start. You don't have to argue about it, and you can certainly respect other opinions. But by taking small steps to share your opinions politely but firmly, you will become less afraid of it, because you will see it's not the end of the world.

And if anyone disowns you because they disagree with you, then they were never really your friend to start with.

Good luck. You have a whole new life to look forward to!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:53 PM on July 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

I took a quick look at other comments you've posted. You seem to have a personality.

Just keep doing what you're doing (maybe minus this little burst of solipsism). One dimensionality doesn't seem like something to strive for. People may talk about "real so-and-so's," but there are a lot more of us than them. By "us," of course, I mean people -- not caricatures.
posted by lionelhutz5 at 11:42 PM on July 7, 2008

You sound like a fully-developed Taoist. Relax, many people aspire to your level of mental & existential suppleness & flexibility.

Take a flick through the Tao Te Ching, perhaps. The suppleness & flexibility I speak of are described in various ways & segments, eg the concept that a stalk of grass that bends in the wind is stronger than a tall & rigid tree, which snaps in a hurricane.

This applies not only to being able to put on different faces for different people, but also to things like not adhering to rigid tastes, interests or moral outlooks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:54 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's something I read recently that hit home about liking whatever is liked by the person I'm with.

How do you get past that? I think it's time. It's getting used to who you are. It's repeatedly doing things, and one day, you're doing the washing, and go, hey, that's who I am, or maybe that's not who I want to be, I'm going to quit smoking, lose weight, travel the world, crawl under my bed and find myself. For a lot of people, 30 seems to be a really good time to stop and say, shut up external voices, I'm not interested in what you say anymore, I'm ME.

In the meantime, why not enjoy the fluidy of self? Why not be an amorphous person with the goal of learning multiple realities? One day, it will get old for you and you can settle in the person you'd most like to live with, who will turn out to be pretty damn familiar anyway. It'll be the core you that you remember from your youngest day, but with a little more confidence in your choices and preferences.

The only other thing I'd not do, if I were you, is not make global or definitive statements about anything, if you're going to change your mind tomorrow. It's fine to change your mind, but not everyone will understand why. Keep reading and writing and being. Your questions seem quite normal to me.
posted by b33j at 12:53 AM on July 8, 2008

I think if you have a look through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you will find some statements that you will be happy to accept as non-negotiable. You'll forget them, but you can go back to it any time you want to remind yourself that you do actually have a core set of values.
posted by tomcooke at 3:05 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I recomend some DIY adventure. I was feeling listless and totally boring for quite a while. I just spent 3 weeks hitchhiking around Canada, and I feel like a different person. I'm not recomending you do that, but doing something out of your comfort zone, and on your own, might give you time to think and figure out what else you'd like to do. It did that for me.
posted by sully75 at 4:35 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with Fuzzy Skinner - and I had a very similar upbringing. Time spent with yourself will help you realize your own wants, dislikes and opinions. Spending time with a variety of different people from different walks of life will open your eyes to new possibilities and opinions, but always take the time to mull it over in private. Other than that, age will do a lot of the work for you. Don't be in such a rush to solidify what most likely should remain fluid - there's a lot to be said for flexibility, an open mind, and creating agreement. Just get to know yourself better and you will be able to keep these things and still feel like yourself.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:06 AM on July 8, 2008

Military. It'll force you to become yourself. You can hate it, and go from there, or love it, and go from there. In the meantime you'll get into shape and meet a lot of people and do interesting things.

It will STRESS you, and it'll make you think about yourself. You'll also come through with a lot of confidence, thinking "holy hell, i just DID THAT".
posted by taumeson at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2008

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