One of the things about creating a true shift in character is that, well … it’s really hard to do.
Our character helps to dictate our behavioral choices and how we navigate the world. It is established during childhood, mostly by our parents and primary caregivers, but also by other family members, teachers and authority figures — not just in how they teach us but in how they treat us. The term character is not the same thing as personality.
The personality of an individual is easily accessed and assessed in basic interactions and simple conversation. Things like humor, friendliness, extroversion or introversion are components of personality. Character consists of harder-to-observe traits such as principles, trustworthiness, perfectionism or narcissism, to name just a few. Interestingly, while personality is much easier to observe, it is much harder to change. For example, upon meeting someone, you may quickly notice that person is friendly, outgoing and talkative. That’s personality — and if you’re someone who is more of an introvert, you well know that you can’t just decide to be outgoing.
On the other hand, you may know someone for months or even years to get a true sense of what their character is like and it may only be revealed in specific circumstances. For instance, you get into an argument with a coworker and instead of allowing it to blow over, that person starts ignoring you and talking about you to your other coworkers. That’s an example of character. Character relates to our belief systems and is more malleable than personality, albeit a slow and challenging task if you’re truly invested in changing elements of it.
To create this sort of change, it is necessary for us to perceive ourselves and our experiences with a bird’s-eye view. Without the ability to be reflective, we lack the necessary self-knowledge to identify and eventually modify our character structures. The problem is, we don’t come equipped with the ability to reflect on our own lives as if we weren’t in and of it. In fact, it can be really difficult to do. The process of gaining this type of perspective occurs through the ongoing verbalization of thoughts, feelings, reactions, perceptions and experiences — most preferably within the therapeutic setting. What happens next is a bit of a (very welcomed) phenomenon: Through this type of talking over time in a supportive and understanding setting, the previously immoveable parts of us loosen up some. As a result of this loosening-up or reduction of rigidity, we come to have psychological resiliency, increased emotional strength and a more expansive emotional experience.
Take a second to think about what your life would be like if you were suddenly imbued with high levels of resilience, strength and emotional expansiveness. An experience that may have made you uncontrollably angry in the past would still be met with frustration, perhaps, but it would also come with an easy and natural acknowledgement that whatever it is you’re frustrated about is ultimately small and inconsequential. You’re able to bounce back quickly. Receiving an insult or harsh criticism once would have shattered your confidence and sent you into retreat, yet that experience would be transformed into an opportunity to reflect on any truth to the accusation as well as the possible motive for the deliverer of the insult. If we know ourselves really well, we also know how to perceive a situation from multiple vantage points. This sounds like a more comfortable way of existing, doesn’t it?
Change is rarely easy. Creating changes to the very fibers of our being is certainly no exception, but if you envision a life where you exist in the world and in your relationships differently than you’ve been, there’s no worthier challenge. Plus, while I may be biased, the process of learning about yourself comes with some truly amazing moments of enlightenment and fulfillment. If any of this appeals to you, you may be an excellent candidate for therapy — not because something is wrong with you, but because you know that we only get one go-round and you deserve to live the best version of it possible.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist specializing in issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community in addition to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental illnesses. Her private practice, Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, offers both individual and couples sessions (www.lgbtphillytherapy.com).
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