On Being Shy

On Being Shy

I recently received a question concerning shyness and the person was convinced that their lack of confidence had resulted in the destruction of all their relationships. As I’m sure there are more people than this person who are working through their own level of shyness and lack of confidence in making social connections, I thought to share my response in the hope that others will gain something from it.

One of the best pearls of wisdom I’ve received is from Russ Harris’s “The Confidence Gap.” In it he notes: “competence breeds confidence.” I mention this and explain it further in my response below and I highly recommend people reading the excellent book.

Now my response:

If you are not writing this while sitting in a cave in the middle of nowhere, having run power cords from a village miles away, I’m going to assume that you have some various forms of social connections, whether that be friends of some kind and/or work connections. Let’s back up from the universal statements that you’ve “tried everything” and how this shyness has “ruined my life and relationships.” I think you’ll notice that you do in fact have relationships, the issue is that they aren’t what you would like them to be.

Which is perfectly fine to be frustrated about! Here’s why it’s important to step away from the universal condemnations: you have the skills to move forward, you’re just not seeing them and that lack of sight is making it difficult to build off of them in new ways.

Begin by looking at what you already do: how do conversations usually go? Do you go out at all? How do you respond to questions/inquiries in life and at work? It doesn’t matter whether your responses to all these are the ideal of what you want them to be, the point is to see what you’re already doing.

Once you’ve taken note of what you’re doing, consider next what you’re avoiding by not expanding on those skills. What is it about social connections that has you so worried and anxious that you don’t pursue them? If the answer is some form of rejection, note immediately that you’ve already achieved this by avoiding that very thing! Seriously, avoidance is fulfilling all your fears while lying to you about being helpful. Avoidance is an emotional narcotic, setting up the pitfalls you’re afraid might happen and then pushing you in anyway.

So, what next? If you want your life to continue the way it is, then by all means don’t change your behavior. If you want something different, then you have to try something else and a quick way of doing so is building off of what you’re already doing. Even if what you’re doing is 2% of where you’d like to be, it’s amazing what doubling that effort every week or so will lead to. Confidence is a trap when we try to seek it first, it’s like fool’s gold, shiny and great, until we run smack into our doubts again and it crumbles. Focus on the doing, no matter how small, and build up from whatever level of competence you’re currently at. Eventually your confidence will rise as you do more of what you want and this time it will last.

As a last point, acknowledge to yourself that this is going to suck. Anxiety isn’t necessarily a sign that what you’re doing is wrong, it’s simply an assessment that what you’re doing is different and outside your perceived norm. You’re going to have this feeling as you grow. Say hi to it, hug it, thank it for letting you know you’re exploring life and then let it go on its way have served its purpose. If you have to be present and let it go often at first, that’s ok too, emotions have a way of becoming a habit and like all habits, they’re difficult to change.

My Success Does Not Support Your Suffering

My Success Does Not Support Your Suffering

Triggers are a fascinating part of our humanity. Mentally, a trigger is a perception inspiring an emotional and cognitive assessment. Externally, triggers are any act or situation that provokes a perception. Importantly, what we perceive never holds the entirety of a situation. We only see what fits within our worldview. From this, a trigger is as common as the air we breath and the blood coursing through our veins. Unfortunately, because our minds evolved to be more wary of potential suffering rather than pursuing potential enjoyment, triggers get associated with what leads to heartache and uncertainty. A great deal of difficulty results because we do not separate our perception from the event itself, believing that what we see is all there is.

Down the Rabbit-Hole

Our stories or personal narratives provide the structure for our perception. They guide which parts of a situation are selected to support a particular trigger’s continued empowerment. Combine this with the human need to feel each and every opinion is right and the result is an enormous barrier to individual change. Ruminating, spiraling or obsession are only excessive forms of actions we all do. An event happens, we’re triggered, the story we have about it reinforces our response and that behavior inevitably supports the whole process. We simply don’t act unless doing so supports our narrative about the situation we’re in.

A result of focusing so strongly on negative assessments from triggers is moving away from self-reflection. The external object, whether event or person, bears the burden of responsibility. Lost is the other side of the relationship, that of the person doing the assessment.

Pushing Away Suffering

Pain is inevitable, suffering is the product of recurring focus. To get rid of pain is a fool’s errand, but suffering can be mitigated when we see our own role in its perpetuation. When triggers are viewed as inherently negative and we cease questioning our role in the perceiving end of the relationship of suffering, the result is an abdication of any responsibility. The other person holds all the cards, they possess all the power. Everything they do carries with it an inevitable connection to our hurt and limitation of self.

In an attempt at turning the table, the other person ceases being a person in their own right. Gone is any attempt at understanding the nuances of decision-making. Absent is any consideration of enlarging one’s own view of the situation. Instead, responses are automated and centered on demanding dismissal of the perceived offensive act. Further, anything contributing to the negative trigger must be removed. This, regardless of any functionality or worth the action of the other may have.

This isn’t an excuse for horrible behavior. This recognizes the varied relationship between an act and our reaction to it. When the perception of the hurt person is all that matters, simply by virtue of their suffering, there is no room for personal growth. It’s easy to look at verbal abuse and say the reactions of the person its directed at should matter. What about when it’s not abuse? What happens when it’s another person’s success or achievement?

Removing the Positive

A person who strives to better themselves is not concerned with the perceived grievances of others. Nor should they be. Engaging in exercise and losing weight to contribute to a greater self-image is not a knock against those struggling with eating disorders. Working hard to achieve business success is not a mockery of those who are poor and disenfranchised. Simply having been born in a family with greater access to societal resources is not an inherent slight against those who weren’t.

An exclusive focus on being negatively triggered by looking at success and achievement diminishes the legitimacy of any work that went into those results. Further, it closes us off to a more nuanced look at the systems in place which facilitated personal progress.

Moving from Value

We can maintain or regain a sense of empowerment without dismissing or belittling what another person has done. This involves turning back to the other player in this drama, your own self. Nobody gets upset about something they lack concern about. Flipped on its head, we only get triggered over the perception of things we care about. Here is where strength can be found:

  1. Identify the core Value being violated (or supported).
  2. Reflect on why this Value is important to you.
  3. Assess whether what the other person has done takes away what you Value.


The easy answer to that last question is: it doesn’t. What the other person did is far less important than you being a person who Values what is important to you. Further, by reminding yourself of what’s important, the space is open to search out what may be learned from the other person’s successes. You may not want your life to look completely like theirs, but there are many ways to express an appreciation for what you Value.

If you’re finding yourself faced with difficult emotional reactions and want to live a freer, more expressive life, I can work with you to achieve that goal. Check out Counseling or Coaching.

For further exploration, check out the podcast episode covering triggers: Our Humanity Is Being Triggered

Behavior Is the Projection of Our Stories

Behavior Is the Projection of Our Stories

This is the final part of a 3-part series looking into the essential characteristics of Relational-ACT, the counseling philosophy behind the services provided by Life Weavings. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), created by Steven Hayes, considers behavior to be an indication of the direction or Value that one’s life is heading towards. As such, behavior is a source for constant appraisal of one’s consistency in pursuing a particular Value. Relational-ACT is founded upon a relationship model for the creation of perspective leading to change, where behavior is not an indication of moving towards a Value but exists as a pointer directing attention back to a Value it is supporting. We exist as an inevitable trajectory of intentional energy starting with Value, moving through Narrative, resulting in Behavior.

Behavior is our humanity interacting within the relational reality in which we all reside. Existing within that established social space, it not so much creates a new experience as discovers the potential residing within each situational context. This is why we cannot simply do anything we want, whenever we want, our behavior must manifest within the layered context of each personal Vision and social possibility.

Vision By Flashlight Not By Lantern

Suspenseful scenes in television shows and movies are often built around the usage of light. A character will enter a dark room and pull out the tiniest flashlight you’ve ever seen, not bothering to flip switches or finding out they don’t work. An inevitable consequence is the villain will pop out of the darkness and surprise both the character and the audience, or a key piece for their journey will be missed. While it’s a useful prop for entertainment value, the image is not altogether different from real life, with our perspective being that of the tiniest of flashlights rather than a lantern or overhead light.

We enter the world, each of us, through the birth canal of our species, limited in the ways that are specific to our existence as human beings. We cannot run as fast as the cheetah, we do not possess the claws and teeth of a lion and we cannot swim underwater like a fish. From this starting point, what is possible for us is not at all infinite, and further constrained by the genetic, familial, and societal conditions that encapsulate our lives.

This Vision of Personal Expression encompasses all of our behavior, not just our outward physical reactions, but our mental and emotional behavior and the triggers that lie within us waiting to be clicked by circumstance. We do not and cannot see ways of behaving that do not lie within that possibility, though thankfully our Vision can move, as it does each time we react in ways that we wish we hadn’t and later recognize a different way of behaving in the future. The judgment of wanting to have acted differently can only happen because we are now in a different context, with a moved Vision of what is possible. Judgment does not mean accuracy, rather it’s a recognition of our desire to become better versions of ourselves.


Behavior exists as insight to our inner lives since we act based on what we believe ourselves capable of. Behavior is also an indicator of what we care about since we are triggered by what we find important and meaningful. Thirdly, behavior is also helpful in determining how our perception or self-narrative has limited us. Relational-ACT seeks to shift the focus on individual acts that leads to debilitating judgment of the whole person, by instead exploring each response within the context of the person’s life and their framing of it. This doesn’t remove responsibility so much as allow the relationships of our lives to show us new ways of reaching for the best of who we know ourselves to be.

Part 1: The Importance of Values

Part 2: The Power of Personal Narrative

The Power of Personal Narrative

The Power of Personal Narrative

This is the second of a 3-part series looking into the essential characteristics of Relational-ACT, the counseling philosophy behind the services provided by Life Weavings. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), created by Steven Hayes, considers the ‘self in context.’ That context is explored through what is referred to as ‘relational frames,’ the ability of the self to explore experience through the building of perspective. Relational-ACT is founded upon a relationship model for the creation of perspective leading to change. We exist as an inevitable trajectory of intentional energy starting with Value, moving through Narrative, resulting in Behavior.

Narrative is a broad term that holds the notions of perspective, structure and intentionality. It is the process through which we decide what is important to us among the vast information in our experiences, organize our responses and direct the attention of others to the self-image we’ve constructed.

What We See Is All There Is

There is simply too much information in even the most simple of experiences for us to ever be consciously aware of it all. While the analogy can only be taken so far, consider life experience like a computer, with programs running in the background, but you’re only using one at a time. Perhaps, like me, you’re switching between multiple programs all the time, but the reality is there’s only one at a time you’re consciously using. Also, depending on what is being worked on, not all the programs running in the background will be accessed equally.

That background processing is similar to the experience of our everyday lives. We are inundated by information in the form of social, familial, personal, emotional and ideological programs (or memes). We must be selective in the building of our conscious experience, otherwise known as perspective.

A major consequence of this narrowed vision that we experience as conscious life is a false sense of our comprehension. Simply because we are not currently aware of those programs running, and all the information they contain, doesn’t mean they’ve stopped or that they aren’t making connections with one another. Our mind/brain’s are associational devices, connecting disparate pieces of information with other pieces. It’s why we can remember new things when recalling older experiences. It’s why multiple people can experience the same trauma and have different memories of what happened and different reactions. It’s why our emotions can connect us within so many experiences.

Our Behavior Always Serves A Purpose

Behavior is any action taken in response to an event or to encourage a particular response in return. Behavior is both learned and evolving in the sense that we can associate or connect multiple items to build new responses. How we select our behavior begins with the window of our perception.  That window is limited by what we have learned and the extent of the information we have available. We don’t do anything without a purpose and that is contingent upon our narrative associating information onto the stage of our present.

This way of looking at behavior means there’s no action that ‘isn’t the real me’ and allows for exploration when it’s stated ‘I don’t know why I did that.’ We’re now back to the consequence of a narrowed vision. Because we can’t keep consciously aware of every connection being made between all the information churned around in our minds, there are times when our actions don’t seem to fit the verbalized story of ourselves we’re telling. This is where calls of hypocrisy come up. Also, because we can only keep track of a small amount of the information we’re processing, the story we tell of ourselves may not always offer enough of an explanation to us. This is particularly true when, upon reflection, we realize that had we acted differently, the consequences would have been far more beneficial. Unfortunately such thinking forgets that the ability to reflect necessitates  having more information.

The idea that ‘hindsight is always perfect’ is true not because we’re foolish, broken or corrupt, but because we can only decide our actions based on what we currently know. Action/behavior by its very nature will add information to our lives, in no small part because it is a way of looking back through the window of our perspective to see what we missed the first time.

Identity is As Much Social as it is Personal

Narrative provides the structure for determining what it is we will pay attention to, in order to direct our actions for a purpose, to result in the establishment of an identity within relationships. We have an innate desire to belong, but equally so we want to maintain a sense of self. Thus our identities serve the two-fold purpose of identifying for others that we are a part of something larger than ourselves even as we do so from a centralized notion of “This is me.”

One way of looking at this is seeing our relationship with identity as that of an old-style drawing compass. The circle we draw is the social group our identity connects us to, even as the center point determines the size of that circle. Anything within the circle we will feel connected to, whereas everything outside it becomes “other.” This simplification makes it easy to believe we only have the one, but no single identity can ever encompass the whole of any one of us.


Our personal stories grow out of what is important to us, guiding our responses to life and providing a grounding for our interactions. We never cease being in relationship, even as the details of those connections ebb and flow in importance based on the context our self-images are constantly shaping.

Relational-ACT recognizes the power of narrative as it leaps forward from our Values to provide the structure for our identities and guides us in developing behavior to interact with ourselves and others. By exploring our stories we can peer back through the windows of our perspective, see what we missed and find the space to grow.

Part 1: The Importance of Values

Part 3: Behavior Is the Projection of Our Stories

Living Through the Maps of Your Mind

Living Through the Maps of Your Mind

Traveling usually requires directions. They may be obsessively precise or they might be confusingly opaque, but whether you’re deciding to turn down such and such a street or taking a right at the end of the fence-line, there’s still some level of guided movement involved. With GPS, the history of more broadly keeping an eye on where we’re going seems to, however, have gone away. Stories litter the Internet of people who got into accidents because they followed the GPS directions without paying attention to their surroundings. A base assumption seems to be that technology cannot fail, despite almost daily reminders of the opposite.

As it is with GPS, so it is with the mind and our mental maps of experience. Part of the assumption for GPS being wholly accurate is a likely ignorance concerning just how it works. For some people, there’s some vague notion of satellites and/or cell-towers, but even there the exact mechanisms of what is going on are as obscure as getting directions from a resident of a small-town without any road signs. Thankfully our minds, much as with GPS, work well enough that the blips in their functioning rarely cause catastrophe. Unfortunately, this means they get mostly ignored or shrugged away with little further introspection into what might be missing from our view of experience.

Let’s start with a couple declarations, in agreement with Fauconnier and Turner’s (2002) book The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities:

“…Nearly all important thinking takes place outside of consciousness and is not available on introspection…” and “…the imagination is always at work…”

If true, these starting points have a great deal of explanatory power when it comes to a broader understanding of those times when the mind makes connections we find profoundly unhelpful and/or unhealthy (obsessive thoughts and feelings) and sends us down paths that fundamentally change our notions of who we are (psychosis and other pathologies).

Just What Is A Mind-Map?

endocrinologyA typical map is a representation of the physical world and can serve multiple purposes: directions, land contours including elevation and slope, and the locations of various items, depending on need. A mind-map is much the same, a way of representing the world of our experiences to provide structure for the selection of potential behavior, the means of justifying that behavior through fundamental schemas and Values, and organizing the relationships of our lives.

As Lakoff and Johnson (1999) note:

“Living systems must categorize. Since we are neural beings, our categories are formed through our embodiment. What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience! They are the structures that differentiate aspects of our experience into discernible kinds. Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather, the formation and use of categories is the stuff of experience.”

Categories are more than the signs seen at a grocery aisle, they are means by which our minds differentiate the whole of our experiences into disparate parts. Fundamentally we begin with the category of Identity, as in “me and not-me.” Were we incapable of separating our bodies from everything else, we’d have a hard time determining how and whether to react to objects, indeed the very notion of “reaction” assumes the mental framing of a relationship between two objects and infers a type of cause-effect relationship as well. Also at this fundamental level there is a category of Space, as in “inside and outside,” that when connected to thoughts and emotions we describe them as happening “inside us” and their effects orchestrating reactions “outside of us.”

These categories are not simply mental constructs, they have immediate and direct effects in how we live our lives. In fact, they are the means through which we act!

“Because relations that verbal humans learn in one direction, they derive in two, they have the capacity to treat anything as a symbol for something else. The etymology of “symbol” means “to throw back as the same,” and because you are reacting to the ink on this paper symbolically, the words you just read evoked a reaction from you…” (Hayes, 2005)

Just as the words, symbols representing linguistic concepts, on a page spark reactions in us, so too do the actions we take based on our mental categories. Unfortunately these categories do not exist within the realm of experience, they are instead ways of organizing our experience. This purpose is not at all concerned with providing Truth, rather is bent towards providing a guide for the relational interactive reality of our actions.

Consider the latter category of Space and its relation to thoughts and emotions. Were this a Truth and fully accurate, then a person’s feelings and thoughts would never interact with others, thus providing justification to the idea that “I can’t make you feel something.” When we recognize that the categories are about organization instead of a fully accurate representation, then we begin to see why empathy is such a powerful experience; it is a transaction occurring at a more basic level than our categories would have us initially believe.

Categories are simply one, however basic, aspect of mind-maps. It might help to think of them as the symbols on a physical map, letting you know what is meant by the short-hand  representation. There are also schemas (relationally-bound structures like Principles) to bridge our Categories and a process like Blending (Faucconier & Turner, 2002) that allows us to take aspects of one experience and help us expand our understanding of another, as in through analogy. All of these work through the broader mapping process of building associations.


A Winding River of Relational Associations

“When we think, we arbitrarily relate events. Symbols “carry back” objects and events because they are related to these events as being “the same.” These symbols enter into a vast relational network that our mind generates and expands on over the course of our lives.” (Hayes, 2005)

Consider the fact that lines and symbols on a map do not actually exist upon the land being traversed. This may bury the needle in obviousness, but such notions are often so “obvious” that the power of their effect is ignored. Lines and symbols on a map are a form of collective agreement, as a species across varying geographic locations and forms we’ve landed on a relatively universal means of organizing our planet. However, none of these things exist or have meaning outside the contours of our minds. Earthquakes, sea-level changes, erosion, etc. all routinely shift our maps at a base physical level and the political/military changes and conflicts change them at the level of ideology. Our maps are arbitrary, and sometimes capricious, not in the sense of not having any meaning, but that the meaning is quite clearly so capable of being changed at a moment’s notice.

Our mind-maps are not much different. We connect disparate data points into lines and symbols, stretching categories into schemas, living through Principles and Values as if these things have a life outside the relational bonds we live and breath through. They don’t.

As human beings, we can and do quite often engage in behavior that is contrary to stated goals, contrary to our well-being and incompatible with the goals and well-being of others. Our mind-maps are similar enough precisely because we’re all human and therefore allow us to organize ourselves enough to create societies and come to a consensus on things like the creation of physical maps. However, the associational process that supports all this is not a simple one-to-one or uni-directional.

“Humans think relationally…” and “are able to arbitrarily relate objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings, behavioral predispositions, actions (basically anything) to other objects in our environment, thoughts, feelings (basically anything else) in virtually any possible way (e.g., same as, similar to, better than, opposite of, part of, cause of, and so on).” (Hayes, 2005)

Consider that a singular social event like a protest can be looked at in almost as many ways as there were people participating within it. We each, every one of us, utilize mind-maps to organize our understanding, come to conclusions and therefore set us on a trajectory of response. Nobody does this differently, there is only variation in the information that is selected to support conclusions, the schemas being applied and the resultant behavioral response.

What allows us the freedom to grow and change is our ability to associate multiple things with one experience and build new maps guiding us into new realms of potential behavior. A childhood considered oppressive and dominating can later be looked at as supportive if perhaps ignorant; a beggar on the street-corner can be looked at as lazy and later seen as having fallen to forces outside their control; a woman’s body considered the property of a man’s can come to be seen as the source and embodiment of their independence; and those once considered “other” and open to ridicule and mockery can eventually be seen as belonging to the same great sea of humanity we all reside within.

The journeys of our mind-maps are the lines and symbols of our interactional lives.


© David Teachout


Fauconnier, G., & Turner, M. (2002). The Way we think: Conceptual blending and the mind’s hidden complexities. United States: Basic Books.

Hayes, Steven C.; Smith, Spencer (2005-11-01). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Kindle Locations 468-470). New Harbinger Publications. Kindle Edition.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.

The I of Our Identity

The I of Our Identity

There can be only one identity, one me that is, one I that moves through events observing and directing behavior. Personal experience seems to support this notion. Thoughts and emotions seem to arise out of the maelstrom of our internal world in response to information we believe ourselves fully capable of comprehending. Yet the seeming ease this occurs obscures a wider situation. If we switch our perspective to focus on the “one off” experiences we’d start looking at ourselves very differently.

What happens when we do things that “aren’t the real me?” What are we attempting to say when we respond to someone’s opinion of us with: “you don’t know the real me”? When confronted with behaviors we’d rather we never have done, the very notion of “doing better” means we have it in us to react in different ways to similar situations, so why did we not do so the first time? These questions and the answers to them are often based on viewing the self as if there is a real version caught behind a cloud or other obscurity.

“The recognition that something phantasmic (projected, imaginary) functions as a façade behind which the real thing might be hidden is implicit in all phenomena of pretence or delusion and it is also taken for granted in the many common, quite casual, expressions that refer to the ‘real’ world, self, or social state of affairs and enjoin us to return to it. Yet the relationship between fantasy and ‘the real’ remains perplexing.” (Hurst, 2012)


This facade or image or projection is, so we tell ourselves, not the real me and yet, where does it come from and who then is doing the behavior which the facade looks upon? The reality is that while we at times feel distant from what we do and feel disconnected from ourselves, this has far more to do with a desire to not look at ourselves honestly rather than any actual description of our lives. We are far more than any one action, emotion or thought, any singular framing of image or projection, with the greatest source of our limitation being a tendency to lose sight of this very fact.


Genetics As Destiny, But Not Really

When attempting to explain who we are, inevitably family is brought up and, at least to some degree, that means genetics. This gene-centered view of ourselves has been helped along in the last couple decades with persistent headlines declaring this or that personality trait, mental illness or disease has been found to have a genetic link. At an intuitive level, this focus makes sense as genetics is the basis for life and we all spend time wondering how much of our parents are in us as we develop.

four temperamentsThe most recent form the genetic-focus has taken has been in determining introversion and extroversion, terms connected to temperament (based all the way back on Hippocrates), a previous version of the genetic-focus. Just as there are online questionnaires now to determine where one is placed on the scale of intro and extroversion, so there was a time when temperament questionnaires were all about whether one was more or less melancholic, sanguine, choleric and/or phlegmatic. Whatever scientific basis either of these pattern-analyses have, and there is definite debate, the degree to which a person is comfortable considering genetics as playing a role in their personality has as much to do with finding comfort in knowing the origin for a particular trait as it does with considering how genetics works.

“One thing that early gene-personality work overlooked is that a lot has to happen to allow DNA to code for specific hormones/neuropeptides, that then have to act at the cellular level to subsequently influence personality. In short,genes need to be expressed at a cellular level in order to influence personality, and so one place where a genetic researcher might want to look to examine gene influences on personality is at this expression–that is, what genes are being unzipped by RNA, so that specific hormones/proteins are produced?” (Psychology Today)

Finding a singular gene-trait relationship is far from simple. One way to consider this is from the perspective of our own lives, where a consideration of the influences on our life exponentially expand with each social circle we expand our vision to. There are our immediate friends and family and co-workers, followed by their friends and family and co-workers and so on. Imagine each of those individuals being a gene, with varying strengths of relationship to each other person, the resultant entirety being your whole genome. While this image is not meant to convey precisely how genetics works, it does help indicate the complexity involved.

Another way of putting it is from the same article: “…conceiving of genes and personality not as simple one-to-one relationships, but instead, as complex systems of genes that work in concert to express a personality trait.” (Psychology Today)


The I At the Heart of Our Story

identity location

When asked how personality develops, Dan McAdams, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, discussed the potential role that genetics plays in providing aspects of our personality to us, then went on to describe the notion of a life story:

“A person’s life story is an internalized and evolving narrative of the self that reconstructs the past and imagines the future in such a way as to provide life with some sense of meaning and purpose. The story provides a subjective account, told to others and to the self, of how I came to be the person I am becoming.” (The Atlantic)

Consider that personality, as much as certain grounds of it may be provided for us by genetics, is the means through which we interact with others and our environment. Further, as in a story-book, our personality is far from being singular, instead a multi-faceted evolving process taking in new information all the time and responding in as consistent a way as possible. Personality, rather than a thing separate from the world, is instead a way for each of us to organize our experiences into a manageable and, to us, coherent structure.

When discussing the human need for coherence and comprehension of living, Hurst (2012) notes:

“It is most ‘realistic’, or closest to being true to the human condition, to admit a degree of uncertainty or undecidability concerning what happens and admit the possibility that there could be more to events than human cognition can cover.”

That uncertainty drives both the continued conscious engagement with an expanding life and the shifting nuance of our personality structure. We want to be prepared for as much as possible, to not be wracked by the winds of fate and chance. The way we do this is by working through the varied perspectives we’re connected to, in other words, the people we have relationships with.

“The semblance consists of multi-facetted appropriations of events, which incorporate, not necessarily harmoniously, my singular perspective (personal experience), the shared perspectives of various groups of others (consensual reality), and a phenomenal or objective ‘facticity’, which is intersubjectively shared among most humans because we share certain faculties.” (Hurst, 2012)

social interactionThis “semblance” of Hurst is the approximation of reality that our minds create,
essentially a perspective. Think of perspectives as the processing force of our personal identity (personality), with the facade we project to others being the outward face or response at the end of that process. If someone asked our opinion on a matter, we’d be letting them know of our perspective, shaped as it is by all the influences (past, present and considerations of the future) in our lives. That perspective will be threaded through the structure of personality you have that is determining how best to act within the situation, providing a face for others to interact with.

Looked at this way: perspective threaded through personality to build a facade or presentation to interact with the world, provides a much fuller picture when we talk of who we are. Rather than stalling at introversion or extraversion, melancholic or choleric, we see how our personalities are responsive from within a vast interconnection of social relationships. Instead of “I’m shy because I’m introverted,” it’s “I act shy because it slows down the number of interactions I deal with and is how I’ve learned to work within the world.” Instead of “I’m social because I’m extroverted,” it’s “I engage actively in building social relationships because I’ve learned to deal with the world through information gathering.”

By looking beyond personality labels to an exploration of personality systems, we move past static responses to situations and into dynamic places of potential behavior. Forces like genetics may have set a particular spectrum of possibility for each of us, but within that arch is a virtually unlimited ground for human expression if we but learn and stretch.


© David Teachout



Hurst, A. (2012). On the meaning of being real: Fantasy and “the real” in personal identity-formation. South African Journal of Philosophy, 31(2), 278–289. doi:10.1080/02580136.2012.10751775

Kraus, M. W. (2013, July 11). Do genes influence personality? Retrieved June 26, 2016, from Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/under-the-influence/201307/do-genes-influence-personality
Further Reading:

Further Reading:

Eysenck, H. J. (1990). Genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences: The Three Major Dimensions of personality. Journal of Personality, 58(1), 245–261. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1990.tb00915.ri

Roberts, S. E., & Côté, J. E. (2014). The identity issues inventory: Identity stage resolution in the prolonged transition to adulthood. Journal of Adult Development, 21(4), 225–238. doi:10.1007/s10804-014-9194-x