More threads by Daniel

You Are Not Your Personality
By Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Personality is usually understood as a set of characteristics or traits that distinguishes one person from another. Personality is information about you. You are not information. You are that which this information is about. Therefore, you are not your personality. You are not your traits. You are not your characteristics. Traits are your psychological contour, your emotional and relational shape, how you present and manifest, your form.

You aren’t your form. You are not your Myers-Briggs’ profile. You are not your MMPI profile. Psychological parameters, specs of your cognition, motivation, behavior, and affect are merely descriptions of you. You are not a description. You are that which is being described.

Sure, you might present as an extravert or an introvert, as type A or type B, as a neurotic or a hysteric. These characteristics, of course, exist: there is no walking on the sand of form without leaving informational footprints behind. Sure, you have a style about you, a way about you, a response set, a mode of engagement, a pattern of reactivity, a presentation, a tone, a feel. Consider your personality as your informational signature.

No doubt you wear your psychology a certain way. But you are not what you wear. You are not your psychological disguise. You are not your personality mask. You might find it interesting that the word “personality” comes from the Latin word persona, which means a mask. No need to confuse the mask with the original face behind it. This mask, like all camouflage, has an adaptive function. If you have it, it must have helped you survive. If you feel safe enough now to take it off, do. If you can’t, you can’t. But even if this camouflage has become your second skin, even if you cannot take it off on demand, you can still know that it is but a layer, a psychological covering, a manner in which you manifest, a way others experience you, a conditioned role you play out on the stage of life. In other words, you don’t have to strip all the way down to know that you have clothes on.

Case in point: say that you’re using superglue as part of some home-improvement project. As tends to happen, you end up getting a little bit of it on your fingertips, and it sets. So, here you are, with a whitish layer of artificial skin on top of your natural skin. You try to wash it off. You scrub with steel wool and get a bit off. But no matter how hard you scrub, if you’re going to keep the skin on that finger, some of the glue will have to remain. So, you let go.

Personality is just like that. You were working on your psychodynamic “home-improvement project,” mediating between your arguing parents, negotiating with your siblings, withdrawing in reaction, pacifying others in a role-reversal, caretaking of caretakers, participating in the family system, and trying to improve your home dynamics (or, at the very least, trying to survive them), trying to glue all that psychodynamic chaos together.

You did it your way, in your particular style, you put your own signature on this work of surviving. And now this psychological modus operandi of yours is stuck on you like superglue. So be it. What matters is that you are not your inter-personal or intra-personal signature. You are not personality traits. You are the one who has them. You are not your psychological signature but the mind that initials the contractual pages of life.

Related book:

Lotus Effect: Shedding Suffering & Rediscovering Your Essential Self


Very confusing, if I am not my personality, then who am I?, mist?. I am sure this article is sound for many others but those with a fragile sense of self , those words, 'you are not your personality" bring a sense of panic and anxiety. Its best not to cast doubt without first offering up a ready refuge. Often I feel like a wisp, like smoke., about to disintergrate into the great void of nothingness

The article is a bit abstract and certainly genetics/biology plays a role in who we are.

But a classic example is the "situation vs. personality" debate in personality theory. For example, an introvert can act more extraverted than an extravert in a given situation:

Mischel showed that study after study failed to support the fundamental traditional assumption of personality theory, that an individual’s behavior with regard to a trait (e.g. conscientiousness, sociability) is highly consistent across diverse situations. Instead, Mischel's analyses revealed that the individual’s behavior, when closely examined, was highly dependent upon situational cues, rather than expressed consistently across diverse situations that differed in meaning.

Walter Mischel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Thank you Daniel. The quoted bits frightend me because I could not understand the language ( too high up there above me) and its way over my un-academic brain. It make me feel its a trap or i am too dull to get it Just plain little english for me please.
the alan adia bit was more kind, but what if too much of the light hurts too much. are these high minded directives capable of a little compassion for the small person, have some pity please
What is disgraceful is that the autor seems to be pointing to something unchanging in your mind: buddhanature, something that is pure from the begining and is only clouded by a changing personality. Buddhanature is a concept that was not teached by the Buddha himself. In fact it contradicts his teachings on anatta (no self). These teachings on anatta can however cause depersonalization in who misunderstands them (and has the tendency towards it)
I don't get it either. I understand the bit about how my characteristics define who I am (my personality or my properties) but if I was to take away all the characteristics that I currently have, what would be left of me?
Maybe the infant baby I was first born as? An innocent, uneducated creature?
In the bit you've quoted, does it mean that my reaction changes depending on situations and not how I feel comfortable for me to react as? Of course we have different reactions to different situations but everyone has a unique way of reacting/dealing with things.
It's just a bit confusing!

Maybe what the author is saying is that we all have a tendency to present ourselves to others (and even ourselves) as we would like them to percieve us and not as our real selves, consiously or unconsiously and is trying to provoke deep thought on the concept of who we really are, and judging from the responses it has certainly done that. Thats probably a simplistic view on the article, I know there is a bit more to it than that but I cannot formulate the right words right now. (no phd here I'm afraid lol)
For myself I am still trying to find me and have questioned are my characteristics really me,, does my way of doing things or how I think really define who I am,, where did I learn or why do I behave or think the way I do?
Who we thought we were some years ago could be different to who we think we are today... are we? or are we really a different person completely to the person we have become used to "being". This is some of what the article brought to mind for me.

I think trying to find\define onesself is a life long endevour as we grow and mature and change our thinking patterns along the way. Maybe throw away one mask for another etc etc.. until one day we realise we do not need or want a mask anymore.

Today for me I am me whoever that me is. :)

Yeah, you could say the author could have titled the article "You are not your persona nor your self-schema."

The author mentions the term self-schema elsewhere (in another abstract article).

Some info about the term self-schema:

The term self-schema refers to the beliefs and ideas people have about themselves. These beliefs are used to guide and organize information processing, especially when the information is significant to the self. Self-schemas are important to a person's overall self-concept.

Once we have developed a schema about ourselves there is a strong tendency for that schema to be maintained by a bias in what we attend to, a bias in what we remember, and a bias in what we are prepared to accept as true about ourselves.

A few examples of self-schemas are: exciting/ dull, quiet/ loud, healthy/ sickly, athletic/ nonathletic, lazy/ active, and geek/ jock.

Self-schema - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Self-schemas: Generalizations about self from past experience.

Schemas that have become established and developed from a great deal of experience may by quite resistant to change with pressure to maintain the status quo...We resist change once a self-schema has been established...

Belief perseverance--the maintenance of beliefs in the face of disconfirming evidence.

Social cognition - Google Books
Self-schemas of depressed patients contain many more negative attributes than those of nondepressed patients and are generally less complex in their organization....

The Self in emotional distress ... - Google Books
The social difficulties of low self-esteem people are exacerbated by the fact that people remember information about themselves more easily when it is consistent with their self-schema. Research on memory for self-relevant information suggests that once people view themselves and their social performances negatively, they are more likely to recall incidents in which they performed poorly rather than skillfully and more likely to remember unfavorable than favorable reactions from others. As a result, these easily accessed negative memories serve to precipitate social anxiety in future encounters.

Social Anxiety - Google Books
Thanks for the explanations and excerpts Daniel, I have never heard or even seen the term self schema before.
from reading those it would seem to me (imho) that the only way for anyone to change how they see\believe themselves to be is with a lot of work and a willingingness to be open minded about how things could be if they were to try and trust those that are in a position to help that process, ie A therapist, counsellor, life coach etc etc.
Not forgetting to mention forums like this one where positive thinking and helping people to look at the other side of the coin as it were can help contribute to people thinking more and making positive changes in their outlook.

From Who Are We Really?: C.G. Jung's "Split Personality":

In the language of Beck's much later cognitive therapy, this commonly distorted myth of ourself is manifested in and connected to our core schemata: skewed, distorted cognitions regarding how we define ourselves, life and others. In psychotherapy, unless we unearth, become conscious of, and correct our inaccurate guiding fiction, myth or schema, no fundamental and lasting change can occur.

Self is a Stereotype: Correct It!

...When we think of a Self, we think of a thought that somehow summarizes and encapsulates our essence. But that is, of course, nothing but a stereotype. Like a tree, we constantly grow and change. And any self-defining, thought-long description of our Being inevitably reduces and over-simplifies our nuanced complexity...
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