Personality and Destiny…How to change them…

Updated on 21st August 2019

Who Are You, And Where Are You Going?

Transformative insights from psychology and the philosophy of psychotherapy

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Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2019

With Renata Taylor-Byrne

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Preface

Front cover, Who are youThe expression “Know thyself” comes to us from ancient Greece, and has been understood in many different ways.  In my understanding, the injunction to “Know thyself” is one of the three essentials for a happy and successful life.  The other two are “Know where you are in your life”; and “Know what is possible for you in your life”.  The third of those three is your ‘mission’ or ‘purpose’ in life, which you have to discover or invent for yourself!

Most people skip this challenge, of becoming conscious about who and what they are; where they are located in time/history; and what is possible for such an actor in terms of future directions for a viable/enjoyable life.

Most people spend the whole of their life living as largely non-conscious victims of a script that they wrote for themselves, with the aid of their parents, when they were less than seven years old, when they hadn’t got enough sense to write a really good script for themselves.

It seems to me that most people are lost and floundering in their lives. According to Henry David Thoreau, in his book on civil disobedience, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.  And he defined that desperation as ‘resignation’ – a giving up – or not trying to change their fate.  And that resignation often shows up as depression, suicidal ideation, or the frittering away of a life on idle pastimes, or drug-induced absences, or other forms of escapism.

Steve Biddulph, in his book on Manhood, goes further, and says that most men do not have a life – all they have is a game.  And the core of that game is the assumption that, if they just keep on waiting and hoping, one day happiness will arrive in their life.  A pipedream!  (Nobody is coming on a cuffing white charger. You have to make your life plan for yourself; and then take action; over and over again; failure after partial failure; persisting; persisting; persisting; until you reach the shore of your dream.  And even then you have to keep working at building your life every single day).

Whole cover Who Are You

Furthermore, if most men do not have a life, but just this grim waiting game, then most women are in relationships which cannot be much fun for them. Many of them are playing a comparable game.  “If I wait long enough, this man will become the lover that I want; the friend that I want; and life will be marvellous!”  Another pipedream.

The first step in dealing with those sad pipedreams is this: wake up; find out who and what you are; and then you will have a greater capacity to know what to do with your limited time here on Earth.

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The first chapter of this book began its life in 2009, as one of my discussion papers, or articles[i]. It has now been rewritten in a more popular form. (But if you have already read my eBook on ‘The Emergent Social Individual’, then you can skip to Chapter 2).

The content of Chapter 1 was, and still is, an attempt to construct an integrated theory of personality and personal existence; and to understand and explain what an ‘individual human being’ is.

My key questions were as follows:

Who are we (as human individuals)? 

How did we get to be ‘wired up’ the way we seem to be wired up? 

And how do we change and grow?

Back cover, Who are youiDuring the period from 1992 to 2007-8, I had been involved in a theory of human emotional-behaviour called ‘Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy’ (REBT); but I’d become disillusioned with that theory, because it led its own founder (Albert Ellis) into a horrible mess, in the period 2004-2007, in which he lost his right-hand woman (Janet Wolfe), and several of his main supporters within the Albert Ellis Institute; he was ejected from the board of his Institute; and denied the right to practice REBT.  It seems, on the face of it, that he had completely mismanaged his relationships with his colleagues.  He did not know who he was – because of his simplistic REBT model of personality – or indeed what kind of ‘being’ a human was.  He had been operating on the basis of a number of misunderstandings about the nature of social reality. But – apparently, because his theory was false – he crashed into a huge social wall, and ended his days in isolation and defeat.

Because I witnessed (from a distance) that huge social/emotional disaster, I had to begin again to try to make sense of life.

Chapter 1 of this book, then, begins with a recapitulation of my approach to rethinking the model of the human individual implicit in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), using some of the core concepts of Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis to provide an external frame of reference.

Next, the text returns to some of Freud’s writings to critically review some of those psychoanalytic concepts, and in particular to challenge Freud’s view of human sexuality: the idea that we are centrally motivated and driven by sexual appetite; as opposed to, say, power relations, or self-narratives or scripts; or the way our personalities adapted to fit with our parents expectations of us.

The result is a more general view of power relations between children and parents, and emotional difficulties arising out of those conflicts, rather than through psychosexual stages of development.

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Front cover, Who are youThe text then reviews the theory and perspective of the ‘Object Relations School’ of psychology/psychotherapy, which was a major deviation from the core of Freud’s work.  This psychodynamic orientation sees relationship as being central to what life is about.  It is not an optional extra.  Human babies are ‘born to relate’.  Relationship is integral to the survival urges and survival strategies of humans.

As I reflected more and more upon this task of rebuilding a theory of human personality, I created my own system of counselling and therapy, which is about emotions first; thinking and perceiving second; the state of the body, and its effects on the mind third; and then, lastly our stories about who we are, where we have been, and where we are seemingly going. Therefore, I called it Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).

The E-CENT perspective sees the relationship of mother-and-baby as a dialectical (or interactional) one of mutual influence, in which the baby is ‘colonized’ by the mother/carer, and enrolled over time into the mother/carer’s culture, including language and beliefs, scripts, stories, etc.  This dialectic is one between the innate urges of the baby and the cultural and innate behaviours of the mother.  The overlap between mother and baby gives rise to the ‘ego space’ (or ‘self-construction’) in which the identity and habits of the baby take shape.  And in that ego space, a self-identity appears as an emergent phenomenon, based on our felt sense of being a body (the core self, or somatic self) and also on our conscious and non-conscious stories about who we are and where we have been, who has related to us, and how: (which is called the autobiographical self, or the narrative self).

Section 5 explores the question ‘Who am I?’ and in the process we produce a model of what a human individual seems to be. This is where you begin to ‘know thyself’.

And Section 6 examines the nature of good and evil, as innate and socially constructed aspects of each individual, including supporting evidence for this perspective in the literature of different religions and cultures.

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This is followed by a brief review of the philosophy and psychology of human development, from Plato (in ancient Greece), through Kant (in Germany: 1724-1804), to Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky (in twentieth century Europe); and back to Freud (in Vienna in the early twentieth century) and the Object Relations theorists (in the UK and the US, post 1950).

Section 9 reviews the way in which Transactional Analysis (TA) can be used to conceptualize the internalization of the mother and father by the baby’s mind.

Section 10 explores how the (conscious and non-conscious) mind (or individual personality) emerges from the complexity of internalized relationship experience.

And Section 11 looks at the Zen perspective on ‘who you are’.

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In Chapter 2, I set out to summarize the key points about who you are, which is much more concise than Chapter 1.  However, we had to go through Chapter 1 to lay the foundations for Chapter 2.

Chapter 3 then presents advice on how to assess your own personality, using online resources.  This will fill out, and personalize, the definition and understanding of who and what you are, which we achieved in Chapters 1 and 2.  Chapter sections include:

Advice on how to assess your personality in a broader sense than was covered so far;

How to rewrite your life script, which is a non-conscious story that runs your life from non-conscious levels of mind;

Introducing self-management, including taking responsibility for your life; establishing your aims and goals; and improving your thinking and problem solving skills.

Back cover, Who are youiThen, in Chapter 4, I present a comprehensive account of how to understand and manage your emotions.  This is important, because your essence seems to be an emotional body-brain-mind operating in a social environment. Therefore, learning about your emotions, and how to manage them, is central to knowing who you are, and becoming who you want to be.

Chapter 5 focuses on a particular aspect of managing your habitual emotional responses: developing a new, empowering philosophy of life.  In Chapter 4 we mostly focussed on how to manage your emotions through diet, exercise and sleep.  But your philosophy of life is also important.

Chapter 6 explains how to change your behavioural habits.  Unless and until your can and do manage your emotional and behavioural habits, you will continue to be the victim of habits you passively acquired during the course of your childhood, and your largely non-conscious life up to the present.

Another area of habit formation and habitual functioning – how you are in couple relationships – is the subject of Chapter 7.  That chapter teaches you how you became ‘wired up’ for unhappy relationships, if you had unhappy parents; and how to ‘rewire’ your ‘Inner Couple Model’ for a successful, happy relationship in your current and future life.

And, finally, Chapter 8 presents a brief, summary conclusion of the key points covered in the entire book.

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Footnote [i] Byrne, J. (2009) The ‘Individual’ and his/her Social Relationships – The Emotive-Cognitive Perspective. E-CENT Paper No.9. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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Chapter 1: Exploring who and what you might be

A good deal of Chapter 1 was originally published as E-CENT Paper No.9, on the nature of the social individual – Byrne (2009e), and has now been published as an eBook. (See Byrne, 2019b)[i].  It is rewritten here in less technical language.

1. Introduction

Front cover, Who are youLet us begin by waking you up to a problem: You think you know who you are, but hope to show you here that you really don’t have an accurate view of who or what you are!

If I asked you, “Who are you?” my guess is that you would tell me your name.

But that is just an identification label attached to you, soon after birth, by your parents.  You are not your name!  How do I know? Because you are at least a physical body, and your physical body is not a name.

So then, you might try telling me your name (again) combined with your place of birth, your age, gender, and current marital status.  But that is not who you are, because many other people are the same gender as you, but they are not you. Many other people have your marital status, but they are not you. Many people are your age, but they are not you.

You might then tell me some of your accomplishments, and your work role.  But that is not who you are, because many other people have the same or similar accomplishments, but they are not you. And many other individuals do work which is similar to yours, or virtually identical to yours, but they are not you.

So there is a real problem for you, because you do not have a clue who you are. And therefore you cannot know what is possible for somebody like you.

You were most likely raised to think of your ‘self’ as a member of a particular family; with particular talents; from a particular community; and with a particular national identity. But if you’d been moved geographically, at a young age, you would have lost all (or many, or most) of your original identifying characteristics. I know, because that happened to me.  And I suffered enormous problems of identity confusion as a result.

If you have ever come across Buddhist philosophy, you may be familiar with the idea that you ‘are’ whatever you identify with. For example, practicing Buddhists are encouraged to identify with their sense of ‘bare awareness’ – or their capacity to be aware – rather than any material identity labels.  And, for spiritual purposes, I would go along with that. (Indeed, I’ve been practicing Zen Buddhism since 1980).  However, for other purposes, such as functioning well in the material world on a day to day basis, maintaining relationships, and pursuing a career, this is not a good way to identify your ‘self’.

But even in Buddhist philosophy, if you do your homework, you will find an understanding that we are more than mere consciousness.  Indeed, we are seen to be a product of the ‘five aggregates’, which are:

– Material form (which is your body-brain);

– Feelings, which Buddhism simplified to three: pleasure, pain and indifference; but which modern science sees as anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment. See: Ekman, P. (1993) Facial expression and emotion. American Psychologist 48 (4): Pages 384-392.

– Perception (or how things ‘show up’ in our mind;

– ‘Mental formations’ (which includes our character and dispositions);

– And, last, but not least: Consciousness! (See Craig, 2002, Chapter 4: What am I?)[ii]

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However, in the seventeenth century, a famous (or infamous) philosopher, René Descartes, ripped the body and mind apart (in his famous Meditations).  And from that time onwards, it became commonplace for scientists to treat the body as separate from the mind; and the mind as separate from the body.  Therefore, when Sigmund Freud came to create his theory of psychoanalysis, he firstly correctly identified that we are born as an ‘It’, and only gradually become a ‘Who’.  But then he simplified the ‘It’ down to the middle and lower levels of the brain – and dumped the rest of the body; apart from those parts which fitted with his theory of psychosexual stages of development: the mouth (oral stage); the anus (anal stage – potty training, etc.); and the genitals (genital and phallic stages???)

He ignored the effects of diet, exercise and sleep; and environmental stressors upon the adrenal system.

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For Sigmund Freud, if he were here today, you would show up as a phantasist, with neuroses related to your sexual development.  So let’s leave him on one side for the moment.

In the 1950’s, in New York City, Albert Ellis persuaded himself he had a superior grasp of what a human being was; and he set out to create a model of the human in which we show up as mere ‘Belief Machines’.  Again, we have no bodies for Ellis; and diet, exercise, sleep and environmental stress have no role to play in his model.  We will return to his simple ABC model in a little while.

I have spent years working on self-exploration, beginning as a quite autistic young man who was incapable of having any kind of significant relationship with anybody.  And by constantly working on this problem of self-identity, and self-healing, and exploring what somebody like me could possibly do with my few years here on this planet, I have created a wonderful life for myself.  A life of happy relationships; healthy living; and a satisfying career.

Back cover, Who are youiOne of the results of all of that enquiry-work is that I created a whole new approach to counselling and psychotherapy, which is unique, and right at the cutting edge of my field.  My system addresses the emotions of my clients; their thinking-perceiving (or cognition); their bodily states (based on diet, exercise and sleep, etc.); and their life-stories or scripts.  Because of the fact that it covers those four areas of life, I called it Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).

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So now, I would like you to accompany me on a little journey, to revisit some of the steps I went through to answer the question for myself: “Who am I?”  And then I will take a closer look at who you are!

Footnotes:

[i] Byrne, J. (2019b) The Emergent Social Individual: Or How Social Experience Shapes The Human Body-Brain-Mind. Hebden Bridge: The Institute For E-CENT Publications.

[ii] Craig, E. (2002) Philosophy: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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