How Your Personality Gets Your Attention (and What to Do When it’s Angry)10 December 2019 / By Jessica Barnaby Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 10, 2019
Does your personality feel like a mischievous kid sometimes?
Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, you feel yourself melting into a blob of complete and utter… whatever. Bored to the roots of the hair on your toes. Or you find yourself floating perfectly still and everything inside you is chaotic energy and your hands wring hot and frozen and your chest beats hollow with barely enough space for your lungs to stretch. Your head is full of pinpricks and nobody had better come near you right now.
You’ve come to accept these quirks as part of who you are. You’re so familiar with the sensations and triggers that you don’t question them anymore.
Here’s the thing. Your personality is made of emotions and feelings that feed your thoughts.
Your thoughts are made of words but there aren’t enough words to describe everything you feel. You are a mass of perfection, conflict, and contradiction. It’s all a normal and necessary part of you because it keeps you questioning (for survival), learning (for survival) and interesting (for socializing and mating, and hence survival.)
Over time, this happens:
- You learn it’s too hard to listen to or address a feeling so you suppress it and pretend it’s dismissible.
- You generalize and create “bucket words” to hold mysteries. You might have one called “Never Mind” that holds the time you weren’t allowed to go to a sleepover and your best friend never spoke to you again, and the time you got lost in a park but instead of getting a happy hug when found, you got scolded for wandering off.
- Your bucket develops leaks and feelings float out and knock around inside you, making you feel out of sorts and you can’t figure out why. “Never Mind” things shouldn’t hurt, should they?
Your personality has given you default actions (traits). Whether it’s being a good listener or an action-hero, these default traits guide how you deal with the feelings you can’t put into words. Does it always work out? Of course not.
You’re stung that a new recruit earns more than you and you want to ask for a pay rise. But an unknown feeling generalizes into, “I’m happy here, I don’t want to rock the boat, I’m sure they’ll mark my value at my appraisal.” Deep down, you’re disgruntled. Why should you have to beg? Your partner’s going to be grumpy if you go to the after-work social. Your feelings generalize into, “But I’m networking and building contacts for a better life.” You know you’ll suffer a cold war later and deep down, you’re disgruntled. Why should you have to beg?
Anger lets you know your emotions are talking
All personality types experience inner conflict where there’s a mismatch between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Trying to make sense of things is the human way. But stress doesn’t speak in logic. Stress occurs when emotions and logic try to have a conversation but can’t get through to each other.
When there’s a battle between emotions and logic, the strongest emotion wins. But your other emotions are not happy at all. They want to be heard. They deserve to be heard. They’re as much a part of you as the emotion that “won.” And logic’s not happy at being ignored, either.
My friend, Linda, has a strong sense of justice. While she always gets involved when something’s unfair, an equal part of her hates confrontation. Every time she sends a justice-driven email, she finds herself dreading the response: she gets heart palpitations and spends all night mentally rewriting version upon version of that email in her mind. She’s irritable and unhappy. Linda has two opposite needs, Justice and Safety, and they’re clashing. She needs to find a way to make these two needs co-exist peacefully.
Your personality is more flexible than you think
You’ve learned to accept differences in the people around you, but have you considered differences within yourself? Your personality has never been set in stone and contains anomalies and surprises that are your own way of looking at the world. Wallflowers have a gregarious side and the best leaders step aside to let others shine. When you learn the ways your personality talks to you through emotions, you lose the fear you’re not good enough to be you. You discover your personality wants to work with you. And for you.
Exercise: Getting to understand yourself
Painful levels of stress, anger, and regret are generated when emotions fight without mediation. My friend, Linda, is torn between her “Justice” side wanting her to fight all the wrongs and be the person she was born to be and her “Safety” side wanting her to nurture her family and have the happy, contented bliss she’s always wanted. She needs them to compromise. This exercise helps find compromise when feelings are clashing and your stress levels are rising:
1. Accept the feeling without judgment. Your internal stresses are two (or more) sides of you having a conversation.
2. Identify the players. Play with this without taking it too seriously. Name everything you’re feeling. If you don’t know the words, give each feeling a shape, color and invent a name. Perhaps a face too. Think of your emotions as players and make them reveal themselves.
3. Respect them all. All feelings are the real you and they’re looking out for your survival. You’re the mediator and they need you to listen.
4. Find out the positive intent of each side. Analyze each one to discover what it’s trying to do for you. It’s looking out for you in some way. You’ll discover your own most effective way to get this information. Here are some options, but give yourself the space to develop them into a way that works for you:
- Write it out with pen and paper in a stream of consciousness. Ask your players questions to get the information you need.
- Speak out loud what each player is saying and also what the other is arguing back in return. Make them listen to each other.
- Have a friend ask the questions while you concentrate on speaking the answers
- Make a flowchart
5. Decide a resolution. Once you know the positive intent of each side, you can arrive at a way forward. In step four, each player gets to explain their hopes and fears. By step five, they’re ready to listen to each other and agree on a compromise. Linda’s Safety agrees Linda should “sort some important things out in the world.” Justice agrees Linda “should enjoy her family.” Linda finds herself choosing her battles instead of being whipped into a frenzy over every injustice. You’ll get that clarity too. Your personality is as alive as you are. It’s mischievous and makes you think it’s a blueprint, but your thoughts and feelings know it’s rich and alive and eager to enjoy a beautiful life. Your thoughts and feelings talk to each other and they send you prickles of unease when they want you to eavesdrop on their conversations and mediate. Step in quickly because the prickles get stronger the longer you leave it. Give those inner kids some direction.
storiesandsoulspeak (not verified) says...
I was really, really struggling yesterday and still this morning with the thing you just described here, and it terrified me how angry I was. But the most frightening part about it was that I had no idea what to do because I’d already tried every coping mechanism I could think of. This article gave me tools I’ve never heard of before, and for that I’m really grateful.
Jessica Barnaby says...
Thanks so much for letting me know that the article has helped you. Anger's so overwhelming until you break into the mish-mash of individual emotions and help them talk. Please feel free to get in touch through my bio if you need any help with the tools.
Mariya (not verified) says...
Ah, one of the best truity articles I’ve read so far (and there are a lot of good ones!) I love the analogy of players and a mediator, and very much needed to hear about respecting my feelings and giving them each an opportunity to express themselves. Thank you for this.
Jessica Barnaby says...
Hi Mariya, thank you for your lovely comment - you've made my day :-) I'm so happy the article helped you.