A Word About Behavioral Masks versus Personality Types?
In class, I used to begin my lectures on Behavioral Masks by asking my students which they thought personalities were: “nature,” or “nurture.” In other words, are people born with personalities that cannot be changed, or do their personalities develop over time? Or is it a bit of both?
Most of my students guessed that it was a bit of both; however, the truth is that personalities do not change over time. We are all born with certain inherent temperaments that do not change. These temperaments are what psychologist call our personality types. Now we have already discussed the four major personality types. However, determining personality can become challenging because we all tend to develop Behavioral Masks as we mature.
This means that if you are born with a Choleric personality, you will always live to accomplish something important and get irritated by anything or anyone who gets in your way. If you are born with a Phlegmatic personality, you will always live for the people in your life and feel anxiety when people don’t get along. If you are born with a Melancholic personality, you will always crave accuracy and logic, and get frustrated with anyone illogical. If you are born with a Sanguine personality, you will always believe that life is here to be enjoyed, and feel annoyed by anyone who rains on your parade. No matter what happens to you, you will always have these feelings; but over time, you will learn behaviors designed to help your personality thrive in a multi-personality world.
In other words, we develop behavioral masks in order to live effectively in a world where differing personalities often clash. Let me give you some examples.
Suppose that I am a Phlegmatic. I live for harmony, acceptance, and stability. I hate taking charge and would much rather just be a supportive member of the group. But let’s also say that I have been raised in a dysfunctional family where the only way I can gain the stability and harmony I crave is by taking charge and learning to be direct with others. I might develop a mask that makes me appear strangely Choleric, even though I want nothing to do with what a Choleric wants.
Or suppose I am a Choleric who craves appreciation, recognition, and accomplishment. I need to be in control, and I can’t stand people who get in my way. I’m a bit of a loner and usually I’d rather work alone. But over time, in order to get the control, appreciation, recognition, and accomplishment that I crave, I begin to notice that people are important. I might learn how to make friends, delegate more, work in groups, get along, I might actually appear like a social Phlegmatic or Sanguine, when deep down inside, I will always prefer to work an my own and have it my way.
Perhaps I am born a Sanguine who lives for approval, attention, and applause. I know deep in my heart that life is here to be enjoyed. I love people. I love to tell stories, and I absolutely hate anything that takes my joy away. But over time, I have learned that in order to enjoy life, I do have to keep up with my responsibilities, and so I develop skills to keep myself just organized enough to pay my bills on time and file my reports as required. I might actually look as skilled at those tasks as an analytical Melancholic, but deep down I will always know that life’s real purpose is to bring everyone joy, and those other tasks just help me stay afloat while I fill my life with laughter.
Or maybe I am a Melancholic who craves thoroughness, order, and accuracy. I just don’t understand people who don’t care if they are being illogical. I need life to make sense, but over time I might learn that it is illogical to expect logic from others. I might learn to be a little less critical, more accepting, less afraid of being illogical. I might actually appear social, when I really just like to make sense out of ife.
So yes, we all develop behavioral masks in order to achieve what we crave.
So why does this matter to you?
Well, suppose you are working with someone that seems Phlegmatic, so you know that relationships, small talk, and pleasantries are all important to that person. You treat that person accordingly, and then you begin to notice that those long friendly talks often end a bit abruptly, and the stories that the person tells always have a point. Ah ha, you might be dealing with a Choleric who has developed a social mask, and during those long friendly chats your friend might have just been wondering when you would get to your point.
I am a Choleric with a social mask, and as for myself, I think that it is important to know my own weaknesses, to know about my natural impatience, as well as my inborn desire for control and accomplishment. I know that I am not a “people person” although I have grown to work and play well with others. I have even made teaching my life’s work. Knowing these things about myself helps me to forgive my occasional lapses and get myself back on course faster.
I suspect that the same holds true for us all.
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