See here for overview.
The Present Reflects the Past
As you read through the first chapter and you thought about some of your own personal problems, you might have wondered why you are the kind of person you are. What makes you different from everyone else? Were you born with the personality you have or might it have been different if you had grown up under different circumstances? Can you do anything to change it now, even if you want to, and if so, how?
In this chapter we are going to consider some of the factors that have been responsible for making you the girl you are today.
Students of human behavior tell us that we are not born with our personalities. Although some limitations are undoubtedly set up by our inheritance, even identical twins who are separated and grow up under different circumstances develop some differences. Everything that ever happens to us contributes something. No two people (except identical twins) ever have exactly the same heredity, and no two have exactly the same set of experiences. So it is easy to see why no two are alike.
Everything that has ever happened to you has influenced your personality.
Some Factors Which Influence Personality Development
Since everything which has ever happened to you has made some difference, it would be impossible to make a complete list of factors which have influenced your development, but the following will serve as illustrations:
The physical basis of your personality – body build, facial features, coloring, whether you are a quick and energetic or a slow-gaited person, your resistance and endurance are largely inherited. But environmental factors, such as nutrition, rest, protection, and physical care, make a difference too. Inheritance may set a limit to growth capacity, but environment will influence the extent to which you develop within this limit. Few people, if any, ever reach their full capacity.
Position in the Family
Whether you are the oldest, youngest, in between, or an only child makes some difference and so would being the only girl in a family of boys. If you have several brothers and sisters, you may have more opportunity for learning to share, to give and take, to see another’s point of view, to have help with your own problems. Parents are sometimes more lenient with younger children and let them grow up faster than their older brothers and sisters in such matters as dress or dating. On the other hand, the older children often take more responsibility at home.
However, the effect of position with relation to other members of the family is not the same for all individuals. So don’t feel that you are either doomed or favored by your circumstances. An only child might become spoiled and selfish and dependent, or an only child might become exceptionally self-reliant and capable and considerate. A member of a large family might have more opportunity to learn to get along well with others through experiences at home. On the other hand, he might learn to be demanding and quarrelsome and to shift responsibility to others. Each situation offers special challenges, as well as unique opportunities.
Where You Live
If your home is in a large city, your experiences will be different than if you grow up in a small town or on a farm. The kind as well as the size of the community, kind and size of schools, the house and neighborhood you live in, all help to change the picture, too.
Occupation, Economic, Professional, and Social Status of Your Family
Amount of family income makes a difference because if it is inadequate, there may be more worry in the home and less satisfactory health provisions. Embarrassment may develop over not being able to compete with companions. If there is more money, many opportunities to learn unselfishness and thrift, to weigh values carefully, to get pleasure from simple things that do not cost money are missed. The occupation of your father may influence your own work experience and the status of your family in the community.
Atmosphere in Your Home
Whether there is usually quiet or hub-bub, whether clutter and play activities are tolerated with serenity or whether meticulous order is required; whether schedules and routines are rigid or very flexible, amount of affection and how it is expressed, amount and kind of discipline and guidance, all affect personality growth.
Amount and Kind of Religious Instruction and Participation in Your Home
The degree of importance placed on religion in the home and the religious practices there influence attitudes and habits of children. Participation of your family in Church activities also affects your status in the community.
The Basic Needs for Good Personality Development
A. Physical Well-Being.
We all understand that bodies grow as they should only if they have the materials and conditions for optimum growth. Good health, vitality, and normal physical development are definitely related to personality development. So we need to mention first of all our physical needs. Since these are quite generally understood and provided for, we need only to list briefly a few of the most important by way of illustration:
Food of the proper amount and kind.
Adequate protection from extreme heat or cold.
Balance between rest and activity.
Cleanliness and good basic health habits.
Release from tensions, worry, and mental strain.
Protection from physical injury.
B. Emotional Security.
Also important, but not so widely recognized nor understood as our physical needs, are needs of a different type which must be met if we are to make sound and normal emotional growth, and develop pleasing and successful personalities. To be happy all of us need to have (1) comfortable feelings about ourselves, convictions about our personal worth, wholesome self-respect, and confidence in our own powers and abilities; and 92) we must also have satisfying, constructive relationships with other people.
You now have this balanced personal security to the extent that your experiences have been the kind that would develop it. You will continue to have it and it will strengthen only if your experiences in the future contribute to rather than destroy it. Good personalities grow out of good, everyday living, and everything you do counts one way or another.
The “social” or “emotional” needs which must be met if people are to have personal security can be stated in various terms. For our purpose, we can classify them under the following four headings:
1. Approval and Acceptance.
No one likes to feel alone, left out, or ignored. We all need to belong and have status in some group that is important to us. We need experiences that assure us that we are not only accepted, but also approved and wanted and that we are sufficiently like others to be comfortable in their presence.
This need is met by such experiences as:
Dressing like our friends.
Having similar possessions.
Developing similar abilities so we can do things with the group.
Having things to give and to share with others.
Being wanted and invited when the group meets.
Being chosen as leader or officer part of the time and given responsibility in the group.
2. Affection or Response.
We need friendship and approval of many people, but that is not enough. Also essential is a warm affectional relationship with a few who are close and dear to us. Being loved contributes more than anything else toward making a person truly lovable.
Experiences such as the following help to assure us that we are loved and cherished, that our affection is appreciated and returned by others:
The constant and patient care given us by our parents.
Expressions of affection in our homes.
The happiness of our parents when we make some achievement.
Knowing that we can count on understanding and love even when we are not at our best.
The daily give and take with our brothers and sisters if frictions and quarrels can be worked out so there is no bitterness and everyone is happy again afterwards.
having teachers or other adults do nice, personal things for us.
3. Achievement and Success.
We all need experiences which increase our self-respect and give us continually growing confidence in our expanding powers. This is not conceit or arrogance. In fact, the exaggerated behavior which makes others think a person is smug and self-satisfied is frequently an attempt to cover deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy and indicates that this need has not been sufficiently well met.
Such experiences as the following will help us to develop self-confidence and a feeling that we are important, worth-while people:
Being able to do something exceptionally well.
Doing good deeds for others that help us to feel unselfish and kind.
Doing work that makes us feel useful.
Getting school lessons with the least possible help.
Making choices for ourselves.
Managing some money to provide for our own needs.
Doing things that win the admiration of other people.
Taking responsibility in some organization.
4. Understanding of the World and Ability to Face the Realities of Life.
We all need experiences which will increase our understanding of the kind of place this world is, and the kind of people who live in it. We also need experiences which will help us to develop the ability to face situations as they are, rather than as we would like them to be.
Some experiences which will help to meet this need are:
Knowing may different kinds of people and learning to be tolerant about differences.
Learning to accept occasional failure, sorrow, and disappointment as well as success and happiness.
Learning about some of the things that need to be done to correct wrong in the world and make it a happier place for everybody.
Working with others, and adjusting to others’ ways of doing things.
Increasing our understanding of the purposes of this earth life and of the universe as a creation of God, functioning under natural laws.
Learning to accept and face conditions as they are rather than pretending they are as we wish they were.
While we all share these same needs, which continue from infancy to old age, the relative importance to different individuals may differ. Also the experiences which will best met them may be different for each of us, or for any one of us at a different age or period of life.
Undesirable Ways of Meeting Our Basic Needs
The needs we have been discussing are universal. We may not be conscious of them at all, but they are there and they drive us to make efforts to meet them. Perhaps those that have been the least adequately met will drive us the hardest. We will attempt to satisfy them in some way, but for each there are undesirable ways as well as the good ways such as we have been listing. If the things we do to meet these basic needs are damaging to us, or injurious to others, this will be reflected in our personalities.
It is easy to understand that we may be very hungry, but if we eat something that may look good but is poisonous, we will be sick.
We may need clothing, and it is all right for us to buy it, or make it, but society will not tolerate our stealing it.
There are equally undesirable ways of meeting our emotional and social needs. If we have to exploit or dominate or bully others to bolster up our own egos; or if we shrink from and are afraid of other people and let them dominate us too completely, our personalities will be warped in proportion to our maladjustment.
For lack of worthy accomplishment to satisfy our need for recognition, we may attempt to get it by bragging or impudence. We will get attention, no doubt, but this kind won’t increase our popularity.
Perhaps we can summarize what we have been discussing about personality needs by saying that if they are adequately met you will be a well-adjusted and well-liked person, (a) able to feel secure and comfortable within yourself because you know you are a worthy and worth-while individual, and (b) able to subordinate yourself sufficiently to have comfortable, constructive relationships with others.
What Can You Do About Your Own Personality Development?
You can’t change when and where you were born or live or the extent to which your basic needs have been met up to now. Since many of the other factors listed are also somewhat beyond your control, what can you do about the kind of person you are?
We are all influenced in our growth not only by what happens to us and what and whoa re around us, but by what these things mean to us. Some people grow up under adverse conditions, and their disadvantages become challenges to be overcome. Others are crushed and defeated by difficulties not nearly so great. From now on, as your own philosophy and understanding of life grow and expand, you will be able to control more and more what your experiences mean to you. When things don’t turn out as you hoped, you can say, “I will learn from that, and do better next time.” That is one way of “learning from experience.” If you are observant and alert, you will be able to learn much from the experiences of others, too, as well as from your own.
In our first chapter we mentioned the importance of being able to accept things that can’t be changed. Having freckles or being tall or short, for instance, are aspects of your personality which you can’t change, but they are less important than how you feel about them, and you can change that. Being either dark complexioned or fair doesn’t matter, but your happiness or unhappiness about it does. Even a serious physical handicap will not ruin your life if you can prevent it from crippling your spirit.
You create a part of your own environment every day. If you are a “sour-puss” or a “sad-sack” and feel defeated, or glum, or if you are a cheerful and optimistic person, the response of others to your moods affects the emotional climate in which you live.
Not only everything which has happened to you in the past has made its bit of difference, but you are still growing, and everything that happens in the future will make a difference, too. From now on as you gain independence you will be able to take more responsibility for choosing your experiences. Your habits of feeling and responding to situations are still being formed also, and you can change these, if need be, in the same ways you would change any habits.
You can’t remodel your personality overnight, but if you are willing to work at it sincerely and intelligently, there is a great deal you can do. You will find more suggestions in the following chapters.