- Post 02 May 2007
- Last Updated on 23 April 2008
- By Ozodi Thomas Osuji
PERSONALITY IS EPIPHENOMENAL
One of the questions each of us must answer is: is the human personality, in real terms, is ones self epiphenomenal or not? Epiphenomenalism means that the human personality is a product of the human body (and social experiences) and, by implication, ends with the death of the human body. On the other hand, to say that personality is not epiphenomenal is to imply that it is apart from the human body hence could survive the death of the human body.
Clearly, many human beings would like to live forever and, therefore, would like to believe that their personalities originate from outside their bodies and continues to exist after their bodies die. In other words, there is bias in favor of ideas that suggest that the human personality is extra-physical in origin. People are invested in the belief that their personalities are more than their bodies.
Be that as it may, I have come to the conclusion that the human personality is a product of the human body and, therefore, end with the death of the human body. In this paper, I will try to explain why I came to this unflattering conclusion. (This conclusion is unflattering to our human vanity for finitude makes us lose our sense of specialness; oblivion after death means that we are temporary phenomenon; our pride would we were special and immortal.)
The term personality is derived from persona, Latin for mask. The assumption is that personality is a mask, and not the real self. Personality is supposed to be a learned pattern of responding to society and its demands on the individual, a pattern that may not include all there is to the individual, just as the actor is more than the roles he plays in a play. Jung, who coined the term personality, believes that beneath the mask of personality is another self, possibly a spirit. Jung had no proof for his hypothesis that personality is the false self and that the real self, the self beneath the mask of personality is a spirit self.
Let us just say that each of us has a persona, a mask and that beneath it may be more to him, what that more is I do not know and at present not inclined to speculate on. Speculation is not facts; in this paper, I will restrict myself to self evident facts.
Personality is the individual’s habitual pattern of thinking and behaving, his observable and predictable pattern of responding to stimuli emanating from his environment (physical and social).
Each of us has a habitual pattern of relating to other people and to his world in general. Whereas all human beings are in many ways alike they are each unique. All human beings inherited the same compendium of human genes hence are alike; all human beings behave alike, which is what makes them human beings, those who are alike. But within our general sameness are variations both in our genetic structures and in our behaviors. Each of us inherited a different set of the same human genes and each of us while behaving as all human beings do has a slight variation to the generalized human behavior pattern. The specific manner that each of us thinks and behaves is his personality.
Generally, most human beings have normal personalities. Normalcy is derived from the term norm. Norm is how a group of people do things that enable them adapt to their world. To be normal is to conform to ones group’s norms, to behave as the group’s norms, the group’s culture expects one to behave.
Culture is that which enables people to adapt to their world in time and space; thus, to be normal, which to conform to a group’s culture, is to do what enables one, within ones cultural environment, to adapt to the world, to survive.
To say that most people are normal means that most people do those things that enable them adapt to the exigencies of their world and meet the normative expectations of their society.
To be normal does not mean to be healthy. No one has one hundred percent physical health and no one has one hundred percent psychological health.
I would say that over ninety percent of humanity is normal in personality structure and that the other ten percent has personalities that are sufficiently different from other people that they may be said to have personality disorders.
A personality disorder exists when the individual is not able to successfully adapt to the exigencies of his world and, particularly, where he is not able to have harmonious relationship with other people in his cultural group. Persons with personality disorders generally produce interpersonal conflict; they do not get along with other people and other people do not get along with them.
There are many types of personality disorders. The more serious personality disorders are called mental disorders or psychoses; they are schizophrenia, mania, depression, delusion and so on. The lesser mental disorders are called personality disorders and anxiety disorders.
Briefly, Schizophrenia, a psychosis, is characterized by the presence of hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations can occur in any of the five senses: auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile etc.
Mania is characterized by excited sensorium, euphoria, affective lability, poor judgment and delusions of grandeur (and in rare cases hallucinations).
Depression is characterized by loss of interest in the activities of daily living, a sense of guilt and worthlessness and desire to die. The depressed person has no interest in food, sex, sports, work, socializing, and personal grooming and just wants to be left alone, to mope and is often fatigued.
In delusion disorder (aka paranoia) the individual believes what is not true as true; such as believe that he is god, and in minor forms believe that he is a very important person and want other people to treat him as such.
There are hundreds of mental disorders and even the ones mentioned above have different types.
Schizophrenia has many types, such as disorganized, paranoid, catatonic, undifferentiated, simple, remission etc; delusion disorder has many types, such as grandiose, jealous, erotomanic, persecutory, somatic etc; mania has degrees, such as cyclothymia, hypomania etc; depression has degrees, such as dysthymia, major depression etc. Each mental disorder would take hundreds of pages to explain. For our present purposes, however, a simple definition would suffice.
Whereas all mental disorders are, strictly speaking, personality disorders: disorders of the person, disorders of the self, there are those specifically called personality disorders. At present the psychiatric establishment accepts ten personality disorders: paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, histrionic; dependent, avoidant, obsessive-compulsive and passive aggressive personality disorders.
Those with serious personality disorders, the mentally ill, generally are unable to work and earn a living by themselves and have to be supported by other members of society. On the other hand, those with personality disorders are able to work and make their living; indeed, some of them are professionals: medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, professors, even heads of state (both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were narcissistic cum paranoid personalities). Personality disorder does not affect the individual’s intellectual functioning but affects his interpersonal functioning.
Briefly, paranoid personalities feel inordinately inferior and inadequate and desire superiority; they are keenly aware how other people see them and if they feel demeaned, belittled, slighted etc they quarrel with the person they believe is humiliating or degrading them; their objective is to be seen as very important persons; they are generally suspicious and do not trust any one and feel that people would take advantage of them and are therefore guarded. They are always scanning their environment trying to ascertain that dangers are not going to spring unto them. Such persons tend to do well in occupations where suspiciousness is a premium, such as police.
Schizoid personalities are not interested in being with people or making friends and keep to themselves; they do not seek other people’s approval and could care less what other people say about them. Such persons tend to do well in occupations where independent, undistracted work is done, such as technical, mathematical and engineering work.
Schizotypal personalities generally believe that they have extrasensory powers and believe in such unscientific subjects as spirits and psychic phenomenon; they are perceived to be odd and eccentric. These people populate religions especially the New Age variety, with its beliefs in disembodied spirits, crystals and such nonsense.
Antisocial personalities have underdeveloped conscience and often engage in criminal behaviors; they steal, kill etc and do not feel guilty or remorse; in fact, they enjoy hurting other people. These persons are in and out of jails or in politics (where they tell the people lies, tell them what they want to hear and in the meantime steal from them).
Borderline personalities are afraid of social abandonment and will hurt themselves so as to make other people, their love objects, feel guilty and not leave them. They generally have confusions in many areas of their lives: gender confusion (many are lesbians), occupation confusion etc. The universities are crawling with borderline women shouting at every man they see for being sexist, patriarchic and oppressive (read, for not loving and providing for them).
Narcissistic personalities feel inadequate and seek attention and admiration from other people so as to make them seem special and adequate. Generally, they are high achievers and are found in the ranks of successful persons in their society. However, when they meet with failure, since their sense of well being is predicated on been seen as successful, they tend to become depressed. Narcissists feel superior to other people, in fact, some of them feel so superior to other people that they do not mind exploiting other people, using them to achieve their goals and discarding them as soon as they are no longer useful to them. These people love their self images and do not love other people. They often marry beautiful women and use them as trophy wives, decorations for their parlors and to get other men to envy them. Whereas they may shower their wives with fine clothes, jewelry and other creature comforts, they seldom love and pay attention to them, hence such women feel lonely (and some seek lovers elsewhere; this is the syndrome of the old rich man’s wife who has affairs with the neighborhood poor boy who truly likes her).
Histrionic personalities are drama queens and want to be the center of attention. This disorder, like borderline is mostly found in women. They are plentiful in the performing arts (actresses, singers, gymnasts and any professions where the woman is the center of attention and feels that other people are admiring her beautiful body; generally, she wants admiration but does not love other people and will marry an admirer and divorce him when she finds a better admirer; she has poor and shallow affect).
Dependent personalities, perhaps due to sickness in childhood, feel weak and powerless and want other people to take care of them; they are lacking in initiative and are followers of assertive persons. Think of minimum wage workers and welfare recipients.
Avoidant persons are shy and feel that as they are that they are no good and believe that if other people know them as they are that they would reject them, and to avoid rejection they avoid other people; in social isolation they manage to retain a fragile positive self esteem. On the job these people do their jobs but do not make waves and are generally bypassed and not promoted to managerial and leadership positions. Think of the proficient technician who trains others and in time they become his boss. It takes assertiveness, positive self esteem and self confidence to make it in our competitive world.
Obsessive-compulsive persons feel an inner pressure, something that they cannot prevent, compelling them to do certain things and do them compulsively. These tend to do well as scholars and researchers; the universities are full of them.
Passive-aggressive persons are afraid to assert themselves least they are rejected by other people, so they go along with other people, please them, but resent been a push over, a door mat, and occasionally show their resentment of those they believe take advantage of their lack of assertiveness, those who use them, by doing things that defeat their objectives. (Most normal persons have some passive-aggressive traits; thus, it is now questioned whether this is a separate diagnostic category; indeed, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, forth edition, has removed it from its list of personality disorders.)
BIOSOCIAL ETIOLOGY OF PERSONALITY
What makes the individual develop the personality he has? We do not know. Where there is no sound knowledge speculations abound. However, here are the known facts. None of us remembers anything before we are born; indeed, we seldom remember anything before age three. Therefore, it follows that personality is constructed during the first few years of our existence.
We do not come to the world with a pre-existing personality. We come to the world as a bundle of genes contributed by our parents (who, in turn, were the products of a long line of genetic heritage).
The human child is born with a specific biological constitution. That biological datum interacts with his physical and social environment and forms a personality. The inherent biological forces in the child respond to the external world they find themselves and somehow construct a sense of self for the child.
Each of us sees our external world and what it requires of us to adapt to it, to cope with its exigencies. We construct a self, a person that would seem to adapt to that world. Personality is the self that the child constructs to adapt to the specific exigencies of his world.
Clearly, there is something in the child that equips him to adjust to his world. Religious persons call that something in us that constructs our personalities’ spirit. Some atheistic biologists, such as Francis Crick believe that neurons somehow produce the sense of self in people. I do not know what that something is and simply will refer to it as the unknown X in human life.
What is self evident is that the human child takes his inherited biological givens and combines them with his social experience, particularly how his parents and or guardians treat him, lovingly or not; how his sibling treat him, lovingly or not; how his peer group treat him, loving or not; how the authority figures in his world, teachers, etc treat him, loving or not, and formulates a personality for himself.
By the sixth year of his life every child, more or less, has formulated a personality for himself. Personality is fixed by adolescence (age 13). Most people at age seventy are who they were at age thirteen; that is, personality, once formed, is very stable and seldom changes, though it may be refined by education and positive life experiences but, by and large, the individual remains constant from childhood to old age.
(Accidents that injure the human brain/spinal column, and some drugs, however, do alter personality in a dramatic manner; in organic personality disorder, an injury to the central nervous system makes the individual behave in a manner that is totally different from the way he did before his accident. An injury to a certain part of the brain may transform a quiet, timid person into an excited, angry person. This reality makes the case that personality is biological in origin; for if injury to the brain can produce drastic changes in personality it follows that the human body produced the human personality.)
George Kelly made the best case that the child builds on his inherited body and social experience in constructing his personality. As he sees it, the child is like an engineer or philosopher and uses his biological heritage and social experience to construct his self concept (aka personality). In his view, the human personality is conceptual, that is, was mentally constructed by the human child using his body and social experience as building blocks. Those with different bodies and different social experiences construct different personalities for themselves.
A lot has been made of the social influence on the construction of personalities; however, studies of separated fraternal twins show that they tend to have similar personalities despite their upbringing in different social milieus.
Whereas social factors influence the construction of personality, there is absolutely no doubt that biological variables play the greater role in the etiology of the human personality. I dare say that inherited biology is responsible for, at least, ninety percent of the human personality, whereas social experience accounts for, perhaps, ten percent?
We are a product of our bodies more so than we would like to believe. Our genes (nature) largely determine who we are. Many folks do not want to accept this fact for it would suggest that we are determined and that there is not much that we can do to change ourselves. It would also militate against those with personality disorders. For example, if personality is biologically determined and antisocial personality disorder is a product of biology it follows that society could not do much to rehabilitate those with this disorder.
Human beings would like to believe that sociological factors (nurture) play the greater role in the genesis of their personalities and level of intelligence. (Intelligence testing shows that intelligence is stable from childhood until the individual dies; if you are smart, IQ over 130+, you are smart, if you are average, IQ 100+, you are average, if you are dumb, IQ 70-, you are dumb; schooling and other interventions do not seem change the individual’s IQ).
Apparently, the preference for sociological determinism of personality and intelligence gives people the hope that they could improve themselves, and gives them the illusion that they can change the personalities of those deemed problematic.
Evidence, unfortunately, shows that despite all the money wasted by B.F. Skinner and his behaviorists trying to use their behavior technology to modify the behavior of criminals, their so-called social engineering that there is not one iota of evidence that they changed the basic personality structure of criminals.
Criminals understand only one language: force; to minimize their antisocial behaviors they have to be punished, locked up. If you are sentimental and expect them to be nice, they would screw you and laugh at your naiveté. These people actually enjoy taking advantage of other people and feel thrilled when hurting other people, when seeing people suffer. Sadism is written in these people’s minds.
In the context of America and its racist reality (for the flimsiest excuse white racist judges clamp black folks into jails), it has come to be believed that since many blacks are in jails and prisons that blacks, unlike whites inherited criminal genes. This is not quite so. The percentage of blacks with anti social personality disorder is probably the same as that of whites. It just so happens that in
Defensiveness apart, there is incontrovertible evidence that personality is largely the product of biological factors, with some social factors playing secondary role.
Personality is biosocial in etiology.
This conclusion could be seen as an assertion without proof. But how do we prove the origin of personality considering that personality is the individual’s total response to his environment? Personality was formed when the totality of the child’s body responds to the exigencies of his life situation. It is difficult to attribute the formation of personality to just one aspect of the child’s life.
None of us is a mind reader. I cannot read your mind and know what you are thinking and you cannot read my mind and know what I am thinking. The only thing that I know for sure about you is what you tell me; and the only thing that you know for sure about me is what I tell you. Should we then rely on what we tell each other as the truth of who we are?
Human beings are known to lie and tell each other what they think that they want to hear. Therefore, we cannot always take as true what other people tell us as true about them. We try other ways in our efforts to understand other people, including direct observation of their behaviors. The problem is that we always observe others behaviors in with our perceptual schema, hence whatever we say about other people is subjective, is influenced by our own history, our past.
We also employ projective identification in our efforts to understand other people. In projective identification one projects to other people what one knows about ones self; one thinks that other people would think and behave in the same manner one does. One makes assumptions of who other people are based on who one knows ones self to be.
Is it realistic to think that other people are like one and would behave as one does? Of course not! In truth none of us understands other people; indeed, it is doubtful that any of us understands himself.
THEORIZING ABOUT PERSONALITY
In studying the writings of the great personality theorists, such as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Otto Rank, Erick Erickson, Eric Fromm, Karen Horney, Gordon Allport, Kurt Lewin, Harry Stark Sullivan, Wilhelm Reich, Carl Rogers, George Kelly, R.D. Laing, B.F. Skinner, Hans Eysenck, Abraham Maslow, Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck etc, what struck me is that most of them built their theories of personality from their own personal experiences while pretending that they did so through observing other people.
Freud, for example, had serious issues with sex; apparently, he had sexual desires for his mother and for just about every woman around him; he had sex with his wife’s sister. Extrapolating from his personal issues with addiction to sex, he constructed a hypothesis that all children have sexual desires for their parents, the so-called oedipal complex, and that the human personality is a function of the interaction of Id, Ego and Superego.
Adler felt inordinately inferior and compensated with a desire for fictional superiority and from that personal experience built a hypothesis of personality that all children feel inferior and restitute with quest for superiority.
Jung, even as a child, was obsessed with god and spirits, and from that constructed a hypothesis that there is such a thing as the collective unconscious, a subterranean region filled with residues from the species past lives, archetypes and spirits.
Horney desired to be an ideal child that pleased her absent father and from that experience constructed a hypothesis that children so desire to be liked by their significant others that they reject their real selves, invent ideal selves that they think others would approve and seek to become them and experience anxiety to the extent that they do not become them.
Simply stated, most Western personality theories are rooted in their authors’ personal issues, though this fact is denied or hidden while these authors wrote as if they were talking about other people.
I do not like any one who deceives other people. I cannot stand lies and liars. In constructing my personality theory, I rely on my own experience. I use my personality type, idealistic personality, to illustrate the etiology of personalities in general.
Western psychological nomenclature does not have a category called Idealistic personality. I am not a Westerner. I am an African. It is about time Africans added to psychology; therefore, an idealistic person there is.
THE BIOSOCIAL ORIGIN OF IDEALISTIC PERSONALITY (IP/ IPD)
Each of us has a personality. That is, each of us has a habitual pattern of thinking and behaving. Whereas, most people have normal personalities, however, upon closer observation it is seen that they tend to have some of the features of certain personality disorders. For example, many persons have traits of narcissistic and or paranoid personality disorders. This means that whereas they are normal that if you look deeper that they seek specialness, want to be seen as very important persons, ask other people to admire them, seek social attention; and that when stress mounts in their lives they tend to behave as paranoid personalities do: become suspicious, do not trust what other people tell them as the truth and generally are guarded and scan their environment searching for things that could harm them. (On September 11, 2001, after Arab Muslim terrorists attacked
Where personality disorder exists, the features of that disorder are conscious in the individual’s awareness (the narcissistic personality knows that he seeks admiration from other people, the paranoid personality knows that he fears humiliation and belittlement from others, the antisocial personality knows that he does not care for any other person etc) but in normal personalities the traits of personality disorders are unconscious. That is, what is in disordered personalities is also in normal personalities, but are hidden in the latter’s subconscious minds and come out when they are stressed.
I have observed myself for most of my adult life. I do not have any of the accepted personality disorders. However, like most so-called normal persons, I have the features of the various personality disorders in a masked state. For example, I do not consciously seek other people’s attention but nevertheless I like getting attention; I do not distrust other people but I do so when I am under stress.
In observing myself I noticed a pattern of thinking and behaving that is unique to me, to my father, to my grand father and to my kindred in general. I have also noticed this trait in some none family members.
We are intensely idealistic. We have idealistic personalities. People in my family, for example, would rather die than take what do not belong to them. We are moral to the point where it is incapacitating. It is immobilizing always worrying whether what one is about to do is right or wrong, rather than just do it, as one sees other people do.
Like most people, I can trace my conscious self awareness to about age six. Since that age (when I began school) I have always wished that things be different from the way they are. I wished that I were different from the way I am; I wished that I was ideal and perfect.
If I see a person, I immediately appreciate his shortcomings and imagine how he or she could be morally better. I generalize this pattern of thinking to non-human beings. Thus, if I see an animal, I imagine how it could be better in its behaviors; if I see a tree I imagine how it could look better; if I see a house I imagine how it could be more beautiful; if I see cars I imagine how they could be better designed.
In adolescence when I became aware of social institutions, such as families, schools, work, government etc I would imagine how they could be better than they are. My thinking is preoccupied with imagining how the world could be improved; I do not accept anything as it is, I am always wishing for things to be better, to be ideal and perfect.
Perfection is, of course, a mental construct, not a reality; at any rate, as soon as you think that you have met the criteria for perfection, it changes and you subsequently resume seeking more perfection; perfection is a goalpost that is always extended as soon as you get close to it; perfection cannot be attained.
Plato, in his book, Republic, talked about archetypes, ideal states of whatever exists in our empirical world; he imagined that they exist independent of us and that that is why we seek perfection.
I think that there is no such thing as a perfect state existing outside our wishes. We see something and appreciate their short comings and imagine how they could be improved hence quest for perfection.
Upon reflection, I observed that my desire to have things improved is rooted in my desire to improve myself.
I was born with a body that is prone to pain. I do not have a clear picture of the origin of this pain except that my body aches most of the time. Walking up a hill is enough to generate unbearable pain in my legs. In so far that I have medical disorders, it is inherited spondilolysis and mitral valve prolapse (which most members of the family have). The salient fact is that I live in free floating pain.
Given this constant pain, in childhood, I concluded that my body is not good enough. I rejected my pained body and wished for an ideal painless body. This self rejection has nothing to do with beauty; most people consider me handsome; nor has it anything to do with race; I do not see white skin as better than black skin. Nor does it have anything to do with shame over the objective self since in terms of IQ, I am in the superior range and in terms of education no one can do better than a PhD from a top university in his twenties. I rejected my body because it is pained and gave me too much trouble in my effort to adapt to my physical world. It is as simple as that and we do not need to manufacture complex vacuous theories to explain the obvious.
From the rejection of my pained body, I generalized and rejected who I knew myself to be and wished to become a better bodily self and eventually a perfect mental self.
In Karen Horney’s terms, I rejected my real self and invented an ideal self and wished to become him.
However, Karen Horney’s sociological account of the origin of her concept of neurosis (sick neuron?) does not apply to me. I did not reject my real self to please other people; I did not construct an ideal self to have a self that other people would accept. Instead, my body was objectively weak and pained and I did not like it and wished for a better body.
I was born with a propensity to low pain threshold; I am almost always in physical pain. My on-going pain made me to not like my body. I wished for a less pained body; I wished for a less weak body. I wished for an ideal body. That is just about it.
As the individual does to himself he does to the world. If you reject you and wish for an idealized version of you, you must necessarily reject other people and wish for an idealized version of them.
I posited an ideal self and ideal standard of behavior and use them to judge me and judge other people. If I see you, I judge you with my idealized self and its ideal standards and since no real human being is ideal, I necessarily rejected you and wished that you were ideal.
I evaluated every person and everything in the world with my idealized concept of how they could be and found them not good enough. Nothing in the real world is ever good enough for me.
As you can imagine a person who is always aspiring after ideals and failing to attain them must live a disappointed existence. He must be a frustrated person. Consider schooling. Some students are satisfied with B grades but an A minus grade made me consider myself worthless. I had to be perfect in everything that I did and such a life is filled with anxiety from fear of not been perfect, fear of not been ideal.
My father is like me; he has idealistic personality; my grandfather, my great grandfather etc have idealistic personality. Most members of my family have idealistic personalities. No one in my family has had any of the major mental disorders. Psychosis does not run in my family. Our issue is self hatred and desire for ideal self. In the context of
You could say that my family has developed an idealistic culture and subsequently socialized its children to it. There is no doubt that social variables play a role in the etiology of our personalities; however, the role of culture in human affairs tends to be exaggerated.
I have come into contact with relations of mine for the first time and noticed that they are exactly like me. One of my cousins, who lived in far away
Our idealistic personality is a product of our bodies. Our bodies, as it were, threw up our idealistic personalities. In effect, personality is epiphenomenal; personality is a product of the individual’s inherited body (with some social factors contributing to it).
PURSUIT OF POWER IN IDEALISM
The idealistic person wants to change himself, change other people, change social institutions, and change the world; he wants to make everything he comes in contact with into his idea of how they should be perfect.
The desire to make the self, other selves and the world perfect may seem innocuous but actually reveals a desire for power. The individual wants to recreate what is into what he wants it to become; he is, in effect, saying that he ought to be a very powerful person.
Religious persons construe their God as powerful because he allegedly created this world.
If one wants to recreate this world, it follows that one wants to be more powerful than the God that allegedly created this world; one is saying, in effect, God is not powerful enough for he created an imperfect world and that one is more powerful for desiring to recreate the world more perfect.
Making the world into a perfect place is a pretext for seeking grandiose power. In reality the individual is not capable of recreating himself and other people into what he wants them to become. For one thing we have not even understood how the self came into being and one cannot change what one does not fully understand.
However, in the future when genetic science and genetic engineering is advanced, there is no doubt that people would be able to recreate themselves into more perfect selves. In the present, obviously, we cannot recreate ourselves.
At present the wish to recreate the self and the world is mere fantasy. However, we must remember that today’s fantasy is often tomorrow’s reality; moreover what is fantasy for some is reality for others depending on their ability to fulfill the wish. To the primitives in the jungles of
The specifics of how the human body produces the human personality are not yet fully understood. However, there is no doubt in my mind that in the future when we have a clearer understanding of how our bodies/genes work we would understand how our bodies influence our personalities.
IDEALISM AND ANXIETY
If the individual wants to be ideal, wants other people to be ideal, wants the world to be ideal, he must necessarily judge himself with ideal standards and find that he is not ideal. If he does not want to accept his real self and real body, which is always imperfect and not ideal, it follows that he must fear not being ideal. He must have fear of failure. He must anticipate with fear all sorts of situations where he could fail, such as examinations and interviews. The idealistic child has free floating anxiety. Most members of my extended family have anxiety issues, but not of clinical quality to warrant anxiolytic medications.
All of us understand what fear is for no one can survive in this world without experiencing fear. Fear is the response to perceived threat to ones survival.
If the individual, human or animal, perceives a threat to his survival his body undergoes certain physiological and biochemical changes and those compel him to either run from or fight whatever is threatening his life. His body pours out adrenalin which arouses his body and makes his heart pound fast, rushing blood to all parts of his body; his body releases sugar which his blood carries to the muscles enriching them to fight or flee from the perceived danger; he breathes rapidly inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. As a result of his rapidly working body, excess heat is generated in his body and eliminated through his skin and exhalation. The nervous system works fast sending messages to the brain; the brain processes them and sends feedback to all parts of the body to either fight or take flight.
In short, in fear people do what they have to do to survive. Anxiety is fear response. The symptoms of fear and anxiety are the same thus an anxious person is a fearful person, and also an angry person…for whatever makes the individual fearful also makes him angry.
The anxious person’s body is generally more sensitive, that is, more prone to anxiety (the fear response mechanism in him is acute). Additionally, such persons develop secondary fear from fear of not living up to their idealized self images.
The less idealistic one is the less anxious one is. If one wants to reduce ones anxiety one has to reduce ones idealism; in fact, if one gives up all desire for idealistic states and accept ones self as one is, accept other people as they are and accept social institutions as they are and accept the world as it is, one would greatly reduce ones level of anxiety.
Talking about unconditional positive self acceptance, as Carl Rogers talked, is easier talked than done. Human beings always have ideal goals, and often use those in judging themselves hence are always afraid of not measuring up. A certain amount of anxiety would always be in some people.
Any one who cares to observe his personality will no doubt conclude that it is a product of his inherited genes and social experience. Personality is epiphenomenal in origin. However, if that person is honest with himself he acknowledges that he wishes that he lived forever and did not die hence is afraid of the implication of epiphenomenalism.
If we are a product of our bodies (and society) and that is all there is to us, since our bodies must necessarily die it follows that our self concepts aka our personalities would end with our physical death.
Somehow, the human self concept, the sense of I, the ego does not want to accept that it would end with the end of its body. Everywhere human beings have religions that tell them that though they physically would die that they would not die out. The attraction of religion is largely rooted in its promise of life after death.
People gravitate to what they call God, even though there is no evidence for his existence because he promises them life after death (it is our minds that invented God and then make it seem like he invented us). The God delusion, as Richard Dawkins called it, is a strong delusion in human existence. I doubt that we can ever get to a point where people did not believe in God.
When science seems to show that God does not exist, people come up with very ingenious ways to convince themselves that God and life after death exists. Consider the religion propounded by an American clinical psychologist, Helen Schucman. Empirical evidence shows that we live and die. So what did she do? She said that we live and die as in a dream, but that in fact we do not live in the empirical world we see ourselves in. To her the empirical world is a dream and whatever is done in it is as in a dream. Thus, even though we die in the world we really do not die for what happens in the world, which is a dream has not, in fact, happened. When we wake up from our dream (of separation) we learn that we were never born, did not live in body and that the world does not exist. This clever woman sought to explain away the material world and replace it with a solipsistic view of life. Her solipsistic, idealistic philosophy cleverly refutes crass materialistic monism that says that matter is all that exist and denies spirit. Thus, those people who are afraid of the death of their selves flock to this woman’s religion and read her book, A course in miracles. (In her book, she mixed sound psychological insights with magical thinking.) Mankind comes up with myriad ways to deceive itself.
Does that mean that God does not exist, that we do not live after our physical death? I do not know that God exists or does not exist. What I do know is that in the here and now world there does not seem God’s existence.
What I do know is that in the here and now, we are born and our inherited bodies and social experiences dispose us to invent certain personalities.
Like most people I would like to live forever but so far there is no evidence that that is going to be the case. The evidence indicates that our personalities die with the death of our bodies.
(If something survives our bodies, since our bodies determined our personalities, that something must be totally different from the personalities we have on earth.)
Each individual has a unique personality, a personality he formed in childhood. In this paper I stated the obvious: that personality is constructed with biological and sociological variables.
I did not show the specifics of how personality was formed, nor has any one else done so.
The entire human body responds to the environment and in so doing forms a personality; deficits in a particular body exaggerate the responses found in all people and forms problematic personalities. All people, for example, have vulnerable bodies and respond with fear to their environment. But those who inherited serious medical disorders might respond with greater sense of weakness and anxiety.
Personality is the product of our bodily and social experiences but how exactly this came to be I do not fully understand. I hope that in the future we shall understand the etiology of personality better than we do today.
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
May 1, 2007
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