I had a conversation this week with a colleague about whether or not our core characteristics change as we journey from conception to adulthood. He told me that his sister’s first pregnancy was uncomplicated and relaxed, the baby arrived dry-eyed and calm, soon slept through the night and has now grown into a laid back young adult. Her second pregnancy was more difficult and the baby arrived screaming, wouldn’t sleep through the night and has remained on edge and attention-seeking.
There are environmental factors that affect us day-to-day, impacting on our moods and therefore our behaviour – but I think it’s possible that our core; our fundamental characteristics, never change. We can train ourselves to think and behave differently but our essence will remain as it always has been.
My mum corroborates my theory. She said that from birth up to now my brother, sister and I have maintained the same – individual – defining characteristics. By ‘characteristics’ I don’t mean happy, sad, funny, boring – I’m referring to how we interact with other people and navigate our way through life. For instance, if something sad happens (a bereavement, for example) my older sister will be fairly predictable in her response but my brother will react and behave differently to her, as will I.
My mum concluded: “you’re an introvert, your sister’s an extrovert, your brother’s somewhere between the two.”
As a baby I was quiet, sucked my thumb, slept well and didn’t need much in the way of attention. As a toddler I was shy, hid behind my mum’s skirts and preferred to play quietly than to run around being loud. As a teenager I was loud with my friends but not with new people – and spent a lot of time alone: playing the piano, reading, writing. As an adult I still enjoy solitude but also like to be sociable. I value intimate relationships with close friends over big groups of acquaintances.
Though I’ve become more confident over the years, I remain introverted. Not shy – that’s different. In a workshop I attended, the speaker explained the difference like this: an introvert will have read through the emails and notes I sent prior to this meeting, as they like to be prepared. An extrovert will rock up and just get on with it – quickly scanning the email as they fall into a chair. An introvert will quietly slide out if they need the loo, whereas an extrovert will make an announcement about where they’re going.
The characteristics of an introvert are further explored in this brilliant TED talk. A self-proclaimed introvert discusses the pressure put on us throughout our lives to be extroverted – loud, confrontational, sociable. But she believes we should nurture the traits of an introvert too. Being quiet, pensive, studious and working alone is as important as being loud, outgoing, spontaneous and working as a team.
I found this interesting, as I’ve been accused of being difficult and unsociable when I’ve shared my desire to spend time alone, away from the crowd, being quiet. The accusers are always extroverts who like to be around others constantly – talking, sharing. The truth is: I find those people difficult and uncompromising but I don’t tell them because an introvert internalises. My mum, also an introvert, has never forced me to be loud, or encouraged me to participate when she knows I’m craving time on my own. And in fact, is probably more likely to suggest to someone who seeks constant company that they might find value in learning to enjoy their own company.
We all grow, learn, mature and transition through from birth to adulthood – with ups and downs – but I maintain that, ultimately, the way you respond to the challenges and the highs are set quite solidly. Even if you learn to accept different environments, they won’t ever feel as natural as the one you seek from birth. I still favour peace and solitude – although I’ve learned to adapt to the opposite, too.
Well, there’s a bit about me, my family, our core personalities and how we roll. What about you? Have you become a completely different person over time, or has your core character remained fairly unaltered from birth to now?