Sunday, April 1, 2012

Knowing Yourselves

We have all been in situations in which we don't quite feel like ourselves, it's almost as if someone else looks out through our eyes and takes over for a short while. Our friends notice and exclaim that we don't appear to be ourselves. Of course nothing really changes from our point of view we just respond to our environment and play the role that we think best suits that moment. Many thing can trigger this from work to anger from parties to gambling can release alternate versions of ourselves. It's almost as if we have multiple personalities within us.

Rita Carter in her book "Multiplicity", puts forward this very idea that within each of us are these multiple personalities and how they can affect and influence each other, sometimes in good ways and at other times in negative ways. She suggests that by better understanding ourselves and these alternate selves we can begin to affect how we feel and act. We can no longer think of ourselves as a single person or character but as summation of many selves working inside us.

First thing to make clear is that she is not talking about the mental illness of multiple personality disorder, where you have little control or consciousness over the people within you. She is suggesting that we are complex individuals with the capacity to behave differently in different situations and under different conditions. Her books helps you recognize and discover these personalities within and start to map them to better understand how they influence you in your choices and decision making. She argues that nobody is a single personality but is in fact made up of multiple characters within us, the important thing to do is recognize those that influence you in a positive way and those that do not and start to control which you wish to grow and those you wish to squash.

Her suggestion, is that most people have a few major personalities with many supporting minor personalities. The major personalities are those that guide a majority of our decision making, and whom we may most closely relate to, the minor personalities add to these cast members with less seen but equally important aspects of our character. It is very comparable to acting and playing parts within our lives all with the same shared life and knowledge.

She explains how these personalities can be mapped using the concepts of the OCEAN big 5 personality traits approach to mapping character. OCEAN is an acronym for:


This framework is a robust way for people to measure their personality type against. In Rita's book she maps these onto to a circular diagram with the opposing traits around the circle. Then through a series of questions you can begin to map your various personalities on the disgram to better understand their role in your mind.

The concept Rita puts forward is a fair idea and certainly it is consistent with new discoveries in science and psychology that she supports her argument with. It raises many intriguing questions. How well we can control these personality types is questionable, but at the very least recognizing them is a start in allowing you be aware when you might be behaving differently than your usual self. Equally interesting for me is the insight it gives to understanding ourselves and others and why people can appear inconsistent in some circumstances. It suggest that interviewing people for market research or using any kind of people study is going to only give a small insight to the complete domain of peoples thoughts and actions. As this area of study expands and gains insights it is going to go along way to explain many of the choices and decisions we make. Rita Carters book is a great introduction to these new ideas of the many selves within us.

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