Since the dawn of time philosophers, scientists, theologians and psychologists alike have been discussing the topic of ‘identity’.
You know, that age-old question we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another:
Who am I?
What does make us the uniquely weird and wonderful creatures that we are?
Are we the result of our genetics?
Is it our parent’s style of parenting that determines our personalities?
Or is it simply the environment we were lucky, or unlucky, enough to grow up in?
The answer, it seems, can be found in pre-schoolers.
Did you know that it’s possible to predict whether a pre-schooler is going to be capable of winning a Nobel Peace Prize or committing a crime?
It’s true! And we have more than forty years of evidence to back this claim up.
In the Dunedin Study, researchers discovered that at the age of 5, children display traits that will directly impact their health, wealth and emotional life as adults.
This means the underlying attitude you currently hold in your adult life, is the same as it was when you were 5 years old!
Whoa! I know, right?!
The study was able to classify five basic character types and how they directed a person’s interactions with the world.
Well-adjusted is the most common character type with 40% of the population falling into this category. People with well-adjusted characters are flexible, resourceful and fit in well socially. They are open to new experiences.
The second most common type is confident with 28% of the population falling into this category. They are seen as fearless, bold, courageous and not afraid to take on challenges in life. They take pleasure in new experiences.
This character type makes up 15% of the population. They are more quiet, timid and less outgoing than confident and well-adjusted character types. They’re not paralysed by their apprehension, but they do need to make an effort to engage in conversations, particularly if they are in a new or unknown environment.
This character type makes up 10% of the population. They struggle with self-control, are highly-strung, irritable and closed to new experiences.
This character type makes up 7% of the population. Their shyness interferes with their ability to live. They have a hard time leaving home and establishing their own life. They are fearful, anxious, neurotic, and closed to new experiences.
These five character types, or personalities, can be recognised in children as young as three years old and do not change with age. In fact, some people’s character type gets more pronounced with age.
Our temperament is intrinsic, it’s not something that we can learn or unlearn.
Even though our personality type is set, any positive or negative experiences during the early stages of our childhood will determine how we live our lives and whether we are able to cope with stress or difficult situations.
So basically what that means, is that you can’t change a person, but you can change their behaviour.
Take the reserved person, they naturally want to sit quietly, but they can actively make the effort to engage in conversation.
So if someone is born with an under-controlled or inhibited personality it doesn’t necessarily mean the outcomes will be negative.
If that person has been parented in a loving, nurturing environment, and taught the important trait of self-control (which is learned, rather than fixed), they can still live a relatively peaceful and productive life.
This research provides valuable insight into people’s behaviour and gives an understanding of what might motivate people to conduct themselves in negative ways within their relationships.
If you’re struggling with negative patterns or cycles of conflict (whether it’s with a partner, your family or within yourself), then talking to a trained, experienced relationship therapist can help.
Being able to identify what’s really at the heart of the matter (and what’s fixed or learned behaviour, and therefore adaptable to change) can help you to break free from any ongoing negative relationship patterns so you can heal and move on – once and for all.