When I was younger, I used to believe personality was linear and essentially one dimensional. For example, when you are a child you act as a child; a teen acts like a teen, and an adult acts as an adult given your age and life experiences. I thought personality was derived by the maturation process, since I was constantly reminded by my parents and adults around me to “grow up” or “act my age” when out of line. The fact is, however, I’ve come to realize that there are many factors that comprise what we call personality, hence my choice of the word “prism” to describe the totality of the personality inside each of us.
During the early days of psychology, Sigmund Freud suggested there were 3 key parts of personality: the id, the ego, and the super ego. The “id” is instinctual, carnal, and lacks any sort of moral control. It acts impulsively and without reason, and does not have any regard for the consequences of its actions. The ego serves as the middle child in this family: it is a “reality check” on the demands of the id, and tries to point us in the “right” direction in order to satisfy our id desires, through a much more realistic lens. Finally, the Superego serves as the arbiter of desires, reality, and self control. Unlike the other two personality components, the Superego guides one based on notions of morality and ethics. Essentially, the Superego is the “conscience” that guides everyday decision making, allowing the other two sub-personalities “permission” to come out only if such actions conform to what human society – and oneself – considers good.
Freud’s simplistic model spurred on more research into personality and what makes who we are. After Freud, the most notable diagnostic for personality would probably be the Meyers-Briggs test, which assesses the levels of extroversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. This test is widely used many arenas, including general psychological research, job applications, and sometimes during the process of diagnosing mental illness. For example, I recently determined my own personality type using an online Meyers-Briggs test: INFJ. This result was slightly different than the type I had several years ago, which was INTJ.
When considering Freud’s model and the Meyers-Briggs test, it would appear that Meyers-Briggs covers the ego and superego aspects of personality, but not the id. Meyers-Briggs is very useful for breaking down how we behave from an emotional standpoint, but does not explain the more carnal and visceral human desires within us. As a result, I view Freud’s model as one side of the prism, while Meyers-Briggs to be another.
Another aspect of personality is spirituality, which can’t be measured on any test as definitively as general personality. Spirituality is a union of our inner soul and ultimate beliefs in life, and it serves as a catalyst to drive us forward, even when all other parts of us want to give up. In essence, it is even higher than the Superego, because it defines the ultimate ideals to which the superego is accountable. Some choose formal religion to guide their spirituality, while others might meditate or create their own higher belief system.
Teaming the ideas of Freud, Meyers-Briggs, and general spirituality, we have 3 sides of our prism covered. What’s the final side? Clearly, it’s the dysfunctional side of our personalities, the abnormalities, mishaps, and malfunctions that make us unique. This is where the programming gets scrambled for better or worse. This is where I believe Borderline Personality and other damaging psychological conditions come from.
Looking objectively at BPD, one can conclude that a portion comes from the id; while the Meyers-Briggs types explain how our BPD gets expressed. Spirituality remains constant in this equation, because even in our deepest, darkest moments, we still feel akin to some sort of higher power. The majority of BPD, however, comes from the dysfunctional part of the personality prism, which serves to reroute, misguide, and even self abuse ourselves and those around us. It is not necessarily psychosis, which suggests permanent personality failure; but more likely a damaged personality that has the potential to improve only if the rest of the person is willing to do significant work, soul searching, and counseling.
Facebook.com offers a version of the Meyers-Briggs personality test on its website, which allows users to post their result within their profile page. Facebook.com also categorizes each user based on the final letters determined from the test. For example, my INFJ diagnosis suggested I was “The Sage”: a compassionate, committed, and deep person. This sounds wonderful and uplifting to me. To be true to myself, however, I can’t escape the fact that there are other parts of me that are NOT this way.
Therefore, I do not believe personality can adequately be categorized by one diagnostic test, simply because personality itself is dynamic and multidimensional. There are parts of us that can be fleshed out using a test, but there are other parts of us that come into direct conflict with such test results.
This leads me to two final conclusions. One, personality is comprised of more than one piece: it is multi-faceted and constantly in motion. Two, and most importantly, my suggestion of a personality prism gives me hope, because while the BPD part of me does wreak havoc on my daily life, there are still other worthwhile, truly good parts of me that do exist and serve to push me forward towards improvement.
If you have BPD, the same is true with you. Don’t give up on yourself if you have BPD. Yes it is destructive and dangerous, but that doesn’t mean that’s all we are. Truly, there are other parts of us worth bringing out and living for.