A Reexamination of Human Personality From A Biblical Perspective (Part One)
One of the most fascinating and significant subjects within the discipline of psychology is the area of Personality. This subject has given rise to many books, conferences, and personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs and the popular Enneagram. Those who promote and conduct personality test say that these particular tests help a person in their self-exploration, develop a better sense of self, and as a result, becomes more self-aware of their interest and who they are as a person. However, in light of these texts and this subject found in the study of psychology, two specific questions ought to be asked: 1) What is the Personality of a human being? and 2) Does the Biblical philosophy concerning the nature of humankind teach personality?
The English word personality was used in the 14th century and found its origins in the Late Latin word personalis. This Latin word also is associated with the French word personality and is described as the character that is a distinctive attribute of a being that is conscious of oneself. In short, according to this explanation, the personality is the quality that is unique to a being that is self-aware. However, those who have sought to study Personality and the development of this quality have not reached a consensus as to what makes up the personality and how the personality develops. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains the quality of Personality in this manner, "Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: Understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole (APA.org).
Dr. Philip Holzman writing for Encyclopedia Britannica, explained the aspect of Personality when he explains it in the following manner, "Personality, a characteristic way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Personality embraces moods, attitudes, and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people. It includes behavioral characteristics, both inherent and acquired, that distinguish one person from another and that can be observed in people's relations to the environment and to the social group" (Britannica.com). Another resource describes the aspect of psychology in this manner when they write, "At its most basic, Personality is the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make a person unique. It is believed that Personality arises from within the individual and remains fairly consistent throughout life." A fourth source, New World Encyclopedia, defines personality as "a person's characteristic behavior pattern. Many people think Personality is made up of observable traits such as shyness, friendliness, and initiative. However, such traits are only the outward expressions of various inner conditions and processes such as intelligence, attitudes, interests, and motives." (New World Encyclopedia, P-222, 2002).
From the journal titled Historical Perspectives on Personality – The Past and Current Concept: The Search Is Not Yet Over, the author Krishnamurthy Kavirayani explained what he believed the personality to be when he wrote,"What makes us what we are? Is it our body or the psyche or mind or both, definitely the answer is both. While there is no generally agreed-upon definition of Personality, most theories focus on motivation and psychological interactions with one's environment." There are several things to note about these particular explanations of Personality. One such feature is that personalities are qualities, or traits, that make a person unique from every other person, and according to these explanations, the uniqueness of a person is described by how one behaves, feels, and thinks that is distinctive from everyone else. Another feature is that personalities originate from familial and societal interactions and that an individual's personality remains consistent over time. In one sense, a third feature is that these explanations of personality are somewhat subjective as some people believe the personality reveals itself through examining observable actions.
Just as some various theorists and researchers have not reached a consensus on what constitutes a human being's personality, there is also some disagreement about when a personality fully develops. Sigmund Freud, the Psychoanalytic theory, believed that the personality consisted of three components: Id, Ego, and Superego. Sigmund Freud thought one's personality was developed innately at six years of age and remained permanent throughout the physical life span. At the time Sigmund Freud's theory was groundbreaking in that his theory attempted to answer how people grow and develop characteristics they possess.
Another theorist named Erik Erikson, a student of Freud developed his theory that became known as the Psychosocial Theory of Human Development. Erikson believed that personality developed by a series of crises throughout the lifespan, and depending on if a person overcame the crisis or failed at it was essential to personality development. Another significant theorist known as Carl Jung believed a personality developed through what Jung titled the Collective Consciousness, which consists of images and memories that had been impressed on a person's consciousness from their ancestors by the process of macroevolution. These familial images and memories that have been passed down are what became known as archetypes. Another influential theorist who discussed personality is Abraham Maslow, known as the Father of (Secular) Humanistic Psychology. He proposed a theory in which the physical need and positive social interaction were essential in developing a human being's personality, which he outlined in his theory the hierarchy of needs. These theorists who were significant in contributing their ideas differed from how this aspect of a human being forms and develops.
Researchers interested in personality have used science to answer questions about the formation and development of personality using personality assessments. However, what is lacking is the researcher's worldview when one develops such an assessment. Modern personality assessment began in the early nineteenth century with Sir Francis Galton, a proponent of macroevolutionary theory and an advocate of eugenics. Sir Francis Galton coined the term genius to mean that physical and mental features are inherited genetically. In addition, Sir Francis Galton developed an intelligence test to ensure a person they married were their physical and intellectual equal, and they would have children with the same intellectual pedigree. To one extent or another, these philosophies espoused by the theorist have influenced the way one thinks about personality and could have possibly influenced how they describe the personality and the assessments developed to measure personality.
In light of personality from a Biblical perspective, several questions arise: Does humanity have a personality? Is personality distinct from person to person? Is personality seen by observable traits and characteristics such as shyness, friendliness, and initiative? Do "inner conditions" that humanity possesses, such as attitudes, and interests make up personality? Does each personality of a human being remain consistent, or does one personality change over time.
In the next article, this writer will begin to answer these above questions from examining the Book of Genesis.
Until next time...
Soli Deo Gloria!