How Can Our Personality Traits Create Difficulties for Us?

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

We all have a personality. Our personality is shaped by a wide range of factors, including genetic, psychological, and environmental. Some individuals develop personalities that will allow them to have a good sense of self and have healthy relationships with others. These individuals experience an overall positive sense of self (i.e., healthy self-esteem, positive sense of lovability, worth and competence, and the capacity for healthy self-reliance and autonomy) and are able to create healthy interpersonal relationships at home and work. A solid and overall positive sense of self and others allows us to tolerate uncertainties, ambiguity, and aloneness in relationships and in life in general. It makes us more confident to direct our lives in a meaningful, purposeful, and authentic manner. 

These individuals also tend to be flexible in how they think and emotionally react to themselves and others. This allows for adaptation particularly in difficult and stressful life moments. These individuals may also have greater capacities to self-soothe when emotionally distressed, yet also be comfortable reaching for others when efforts to assuage his or her distress fail. They will also be able to identify, label, and assert authentic feelings, emotions, and needs in relationships while empathizing and connecting to the feelings, emotions, and needs of others. The capacity to reflect on and empathize with one’s self and others (e.g., intentions, motivations, feelings, emotions, needs and desires) is also essential to develop a healthy sense of self and others, and essential to create healthy interpersonal relationships. These capacities allow us to appropriately adapt our self to others and our environment as opposed to acting too hastily on our own thoughts, feelings, and needs. These capacities also allow us to assert our authentic selves and respond to others’ authentic selves. Maintaining an open, present, curious stance about one’s own and others’ intentions and motivations also allows for greater reflection and more time to observe reality, as opposed to jumping to conclusions about our selves or others. Being present-focused and non-defensive is most important in developing healthy interpersonal relationships.

Due to complex factors, including such circumstances as emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, and experiences of neglect, some individuals will develop an overall negative sense of self and overall negative sense of others. They will further experience a wide range of problems, including rigid, inflexible negative thinking or beliefs about themselves or others. Rigid, negative thinking about our self and others can create serious emotional distress and challenges in managing our emotions (e.g., intense emotional outbursts, moments of deep hopelessness and despair, depression and anxiety, chronic emptiness, withdrawal or detachment from others). These individuals further struggle with maintaining a sense of their own and others’ boundaries. Some individuals will engage in self-sabotaging and self-injurious behaviours, and express suicidal tendencies to deal with intense feelings and impulses.

Individuals experiencing personality and interpersonal difficulties also report an unstable sense of self and others in relationships. They may experience over-sensitivity to rejection, abandonment, and punishment. An overly negative or overly inflated sense of self and others may also be evident. An unclear or altering sense of self, identity, values, and principles may further contribute to emotional distress. Relationships may be difficult as a result of an inability to tolerate aloneness, an over-dependency on others or hyper-self reliance, or ongoing emotional chaos, conflict, or avoidance in interpersonal relationships. These relationship difficulties create interpersonal chaos and create difficulties sustaining long-term relationships. Finally, these individuals may also experience other mental health issues, including eating disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and substance use issues. 

The Personality Treatment Service at CFIR offers clients comprehensive psychological assessment and treatment of difficulties associated with personality and interpersonal functioning that create long-term challenges in their everyday functioning at school, work, or home. A comprehensive and lengthy assessment procedure is required to diagnose a personality disorder to ensure appropriate treatment planning. When personality issues are present, treatment is typically required for a lengthy period of time (i.e., up to 2 years). Clients must be motivated to change and be committed to attend regularly scheduled sessions.

Read more about our Personality Treatment Service.