Relationships

All in the mind?

How often are you referred to as "The Quiet One", "The Shy One" or "The Worrier" before you believe that is who you are and behave accordingly?
Free your mind

Many people grow up with a label they acquired in early childhood and by adulthood it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Parents and teachers sometimes sum up an entire personality in one word, which tends to make families as scripted as a drama, with each person assigned particular roles which they continue to act out.

It’s not all bad, since some assumptions can carry very positive undertones, but if the labels conflict with how a person views themselves it can seem as if they’re stuck with that perceived persona, when it can actually be changed. Cynthia McVey, Health Psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University, believes a desire for image change is very common.

“People do learn to adapt in different situations and I think that’s fairly typical,” she says “It’s part of our social skills and really a matter of increasing confidence and adapting to suit different people and situations. Thinking of the positive results of behaving in a particular and desirable way can reinforce that behaviour and make it easier to produce each time until it is almost natural.”

Oliver James, the psychologist and author who published They F** You Up: How to survive family life* in 2002, goes a step further, believing a complete personality change is indeed possible.

The crux of his argument is that emotional attachments in our first years of life shape all future relationships, as well as our very sense of self. He identifies four personality types, and as well as believing we can change these, also details how to do so.

“Apart from uncontrollable life events, such as meeting the right person, having babies or securing a particular job, we can have a profound effect on our own personalities,” he says “You need to identify what is troubling you and focus on that — such as why you are in a particular mood, especially if that is negative.

Look at how patterns are established and aim to change them, even in the smallest ways. You rewrite your own life, and become the personality you want, but it does take work.

I would also add that recent evidence from the Human Genome Project suggests that only 5-10 percent of what we are like is caused by genes. How we are is not fixed by them. Our electrochemical thermostat is set by our early life, especially 0-6, is not in our genes, and so it can be changed. “

New behaviour can be learned and ingrained habits shrugged off, whether that’s paralysing shyness or excessive enthusiasm.

Imagine how you would have been if family life/circumstances/situations had been different and start making small changes in your behaviour to get out of the habits you’re unhappy with — practice a greeting over and over again until you know you could walk into any social gathering and hide your nerves by using it.

Or learn to take a deep breath and let people get to the end of a sentence, rather than cutting across them. Drama classes can be helpful at every age in learning to present a particular image and change body language to be more receptive.

A tense posture inhibits mirroring, which is a very common form of body language which physically emphasises an emotional connection and registers very comfortably with the person you’re with.

A common reaction in stressful situations is to comfort yourself unconsciously by stroking your neck, hugging yourself or cradling your arms. The person opposite may not be totally conscious of your actions but they instinctively don’t like them, and the situation instantly becomes uneasy.

Speech is another immediate giveaway in terms of how relaxed you are as when you’re anxious you talk less, but faster, which can come across as very clipped sounding.

Improve your confidence by increasing your knowledge. You might want to re-read school classics before moving on to current favourites, both to explore the wealth of characters and personalities depicted and so that you have an understanding of the topic if someone refers to a particular book in conversation.

Keep abreast of current events and always be ready to learn something new or try different experiences and don’t let anyone pigeonhole you.

If you want to try something different nothing is set in stone, especially not childhood nicknames. Changes in life circumstances can have a profound effect but understanding your personality also allows you to change it voluntarily by identifying what troubles you about how you come across to other people.

You can’t do anything about the past but you have complete control over your future, so break free from other people’s expectations and take life by the reigns and steer yourself towards the personality, life and future you desire.

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