Who Am I? Personality and Empathy – May 2012
How do you know who you are? When you think of describing yourself, what characteristics come to mind? Integrity? Research shows that people’s integrity shifts with circumstances and consequences – we tend to be more honest if someone else is watching us, or if we have a sense of being watched by a higher power. Are you introverted, receiving strength from your time alone to be able to move into the world successfully? Remember our monks from last month who had meditated 10,000-50,000 hours, and how part of what changed in their brains was the lit-up left prefrontal cortex, the part of ourselves that mediates our social expansion? As our brains move toward secure attachment, we move toward the world and toward others with more curiosity and joy.
Extraversion is one of what the scientists consider the “Big Five,” the qualities that organize every personality. The other four are: Neuroticism (whether we are prone to stress and worry, or if we are emotionally stable); Conscientiousness (whether we are organized and self-directed, or if we are spontaneous and careless); Openness (whether we are creative and imaginative, or practical and conventional); and Agreeableness (whether we are trusting and empathetic, or uncooperative and hostile).
Just think about moments when empathy has changed you. When resonant support is effective, it unfailingly moves us into integration: flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy and stability. It moves us along each continuum of what researchers believe define us, and through what we believe about ourselves. Consider the way our view of the world and ourselves changes when we work with false core beliefs. For example:
“People are dangerous and exhausting.” When we receive resonance for each layer of this experience, being with people moves in the direction of flow and fun, changing our sense of how introverted we need to be.
“Something bad is about to happen.” When we work with core levels of anxiety, something within us begins to relax.
“I can never get it right,” or “I’m not enough.” When we transform preconceived notions about our limitations, we move into undreamed of experiences of competency, commitment and ease.
And as we expand the picture to include the ways that empathy helps us claim our creativity and our compassion and acceptance of self and other, we start to get a sense that the soul is a very different thing than personality.
I think about what it is like to walk into a workshop and look at the circle of strangers in the morning, people who will be known to me and each other in some way by the end of the day. As the circle becomes safe, as trauma is held with care and healed, and as the faces come alive, we are claiming an infinitude of individual expression that is quite different from measurable tendencies that can be grasped by science. When we are truly present to one another, we are in the presence of mystery.