What is personality? Is it a section of our brain that – in a certain way – allows us to experience the world, to react, and to feel? Do we have a choice or can we even pick our personality ourselves? What does the Buddhist psychotherapy say about it?
Our inner voices
Who does not know them, one’s own inner voices with their pretty often incompatible demands, their evaluations and impulses? In our head, there is a voice that constantly comments and evaluates everything. But whose voice is this actually?
A scene from the everyday life with an inner dialogue.
Me, a loud clinking and the coffee cup shatters to the ground. ‘How clumsy am I! How could that once again happen to me! I’m so stupid! This is so typical of me!’ The coffee flows along the tiles and under the kitchen unit. I sigh: ‘Oh dear, why do these things always happen to me? This was my favorite cup. Nobody on Earth attracts misfortune as magically as I do.’
Such a situation surely seems familiar to you. Who is speaking in my head? Who is calling me names because the cup fell down? Who is that once again typical for? Who is sighing and feels sorrow over the cup? Who feels sorry for oneself? And who or what is this “I” that reacts to the situation?
Personality traits in the Buddhist psychotherapy
Both the Buddhist psychotherapy and the modern western psychology assume that the ‘I’, the way we experience it, does not possess a firm, intrinsic nucleus, but consists of many parts. Modern neuroscience has also, after years of research, openly declared that it was not possible to locate an area in our brain able to generate cenesthesia. Already 2500 years ago, Buddha saw it in the same way.
The Buddhist psychotherapy assumes that there is an infinite number of personality traits in ourselves, which altogether form our personality. A bit like an orchestra, in which numerous instruments are playing, but to create one single piece of music. There are general personality traits, such as the inner Family Man, the Sportsman, the Creative, the Optimistic and the Pessimistic. There are also more particular ones, like the inner Wet Blanket, the Depressive, the Critic, the Self-Hater, the Quick-Change, the Dogmatist, or the calm one.
Everyone has the disposition to an endless amount of personality traits. The traits that are stimulated by our environment and ourselves develop themselves and are prevalent. The other ones remain in the background until we activate them. So, when a voice in my head tells me ‘Idiot!’, then it surely is the inner critic. When the voice says ‘That does really not matter’, then it is probably the Inner Sympathetic speaking. ‘If that comes out, you will be in trouble’, says the inner Scaredy-Cat, and so on, and so on.
In the Buddhist psychotherapy, we assume that every personality trait behaves in us like a separate person and shows very specific characteristics. The posture, the array of emotions, the voice, the behavior and the worldview. At the moment of its action, the trait filters and analyses the reality through a sort of special glasses, and so we then experience reality in a way that is specific to that personality trait.
Which part of the personality may it be today?
The different parts of our personality are, in and of themselves, not a problem. Buddhism sees a problem in the way we identify with our personality traits. This can lead to us to experience painful situations in life. If we no longer see ourselves as a person with many facets but rather identify ourselves with the Inner Depressive or the Inner Aggressive, this inevitably leads to difficulties. For every person is so much more than the sum of their personality traits. You are not the Depressive or the Victim or the Unsuccessful.
Every human being can decide which personality traits they want to stimulate. This requires practice, attention and discipline, though it is possible and can be specifically trained thanks to Buddhist psychology. It is not without reason that Buddhism is also called the ‘training of the mind’, for we can train our mind! We can free ourselves from unwholesome traits and stimulate traits that appear salutary and helpful to us. The most important tool in order to reach this is a regular meditation practice.
And so next time you let a cup of coffee fall, observe what first happens and who speaks up. Is it the Inner Dogmatic or the Inner Calm? Decide yourself and consciously who you want to trigger. The Calm one? The Forgiving? Who will help you to achieve a better life in the long term? At the end of the day, it is your decision and your opportunity to change. For all personality traits are a part of you and thus, you have the final word on which trait will be stimulated and which one will not.
Here you can find out more about Buddhist psychology and how it can possibly help you develop new insights into yourself.