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Personality clashes

Jacob Ninan

One of the major reasons for conflicts among people, especially between marriage partners, is the difference in their personalities. By personality I mean a combination of temperament and upbringing, which causes us to think, speak, behave and respond in our own unique way. When we meet with someone else who has a different personality, conflicts can occur and sparks can fly.

Our 'temperament' is based on our genes which contain a particular combination of characteristics which we have inherited from our parents and grandparents. Since this combination appears to be 'random', meaning there is no rule as to what all we would get from our father or mother, even children in the same family can have different temperamental features.

Our temperament comes with certain strengths and certain weaknesses. Psychologists who have studied this have understood that certain strengths are usually associated with certain weaknesses as a combination. Also, even though the major temperament types can be identified, in practice we all show a combination of different types in various proportions.

On the other hand, our personality has also been shaped by the experiences we have gone through, especially in the formative years of our childhood. Depending on how well or badly we have been treated by our parents or major 'caregivers', we have picked up response patterns that have now become almost automatic for us.

Putting these together, our personality now tends to make us think, speak, behave and respond to situations and people in our own characteristic ways, unless we have learned to apply our mind to what we should be doing. As we grow up, and especially as we are taught by the word of God and by the Holy Spirit, we learn to overrule our automatic tendencies and do what God wants us to do. This, of course, is a lifelong process, and in real life we have a mixture of automatic responses and thought out responses.

Now we can understand how two people who have two different combinations of temperamental and experience based characteristics find it difficult to understand each other, and how they have conflicts with each other. Even when both have good intentions, the fact remains that each one views life with his own peculiar coloured glasses. Both of them cannot understand why the other person is like that, and also why the other person cannot understand them. Each of us expects everyone else to be just like us, and we can be very impatient with the others when they are not. When we try to explain our behaviour to other people, we assume that our explanation is clear to them, forgetting that sometimes our explanation makes sense only to us because the others do not have our way of looking at things or share our past experiences!

This makes life look very scary, doesn't it, when we wonder how we are going to get by in life without conflicts? The fact of the matter is that we aren't going to be able to get by without conflicts as long as we are imperfect and in this imperfect world. We can only hope to minimise the chances of conflict and learn to deal with conflict once it comes.

One thing we need to do is to try and understand ourselves and other people better and better. Intra-personal intelligence is what psychologists call the ability to understand ourselves. The more we understand ourselves, the better we will be able to appreciate the fact that others too have their strengths and weaknesses. And as we study the others and try to understand their peculiar personality make-up, it can improve our dealings with them and minimise conflicts. (This is called inter-personal intelligence). Those who are born of God have a definite advantage over the others in this area because we have the word of God and the Holy Spirit to teach us.

It is good for us to remember that we have a tendency to think that our own way is the right one and also a tendency to try and change the others. Another thing we may do is to keep on hoping that one day the others will change and that then we will be fine. We are not going to succeed if we go in this way, and we are likely to become frustrated instead. It is wiser for us to assume that the others may not change, and see how we can adapt ourselves to the way things actually are. We can tell ourselves, "Well, that's the way he(she) is," and see what best we can do under the circumstances. As Christians we pray for our own transformation and also for others hoping that they will change for the better. At the same time we also should face things as they currently exist and deal with them wisely.

I hope what I have indicated here is enough to point you in the right direction. Some are fortunate enough to have started in this direction early in life. Others who recognise this only later have it tougher. But they too can learn fast if they set their mind to it.

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