Where our Personality Traits Come From
Those who study DNA and its effect on personalities, temperament and behavior suggest that it’s a very complicated subject. There is not just one single personality gene; it’s really a combination of many genes that connect in different ways and times to influence a response. Studies also show that the structure of our personality traits can be changed or influenced based on our environment and our circumstances. For example, some who has experienced a traumatic event or series of events like abuse at a young age, may grow with a great deal of anger.
On average, less than 50% of our personality traits are influenced by genetics – what we inherit. This means our environment and the circumstances that surround our lives have a larger influence on who we become and how we react.
Children naturally exhibit characteristics and reactions of their parents because of shared life and circumstances. We learn how to respond by watching others.
What our Personality Traits Mean
It is not uncommon for people to take a DiSC profile assessment test. We have used them here at Solomon’s Porch to better understand ourselves and how we can better work together on various teams.
DiSC measures your personality and behavioral style to describe human behavior in various situations. For example, how you respond to challenges, how you influence others, your preferred pace and how you respond to rules and procedures. The four primary categories are Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance.
Most of us are a combination of these personality traits, and like all things in life, can have both positive and negative attributes based on how we develop and use them as we engage and interact with others.
Consider the things you value most: money, time, relationships, success, knowledge, faith, etc. What happens when your value system is attacked? How do you react? No matter what your natural or learned personality traits are, all personality types can react in an unhealthy. self-centered protective or attacking way.
In a blog post a few years back written by Les Buckley, he explains that “because people’s response to stress is fairly consistent, you can predict your team’s reactions when things aren’t going well. Dominant types become more intense and demanding, Influence types get highly emotional and explosive, Steadiness types acquiesce and feel hurt, while Conscientiousness types avoid and withdraw. These behaviors are not necessarily helpful or appropriate, but they are likely to occur.”
This conflict is even true within our own selves. My assessment said I was a ‘Ds’; Dominant and Steady. Personally, I love the word Steady, I think it describes who I am, but I don’t really like the word ‘Dominant’. S’s can be turned off by D’s. The “Supportive” S in me fights against being “Dominant” and tries to keep that personality trait in check. Sadly, there are times I have failed.
The consequences of our Personality Traits
I have found God speaks to me thru my reactions – if I am willing to listen. In my quest to pursue God I have learned that some of my responses to others have been destructive. But to my encouragement, there are great biblical characters that had Dominant personality traits such as Joshua, Rahab, Solomon, and Stephen but I want to specifically look at just one: Paul. Here is an Apostle who had strong Dominant personality traits.
When we are first introduced to Paul, the scriptures referred to him as Saul and if you were a follower of Jesus at that time you would not have liked his type-D personality.
Gal 1:13-14: For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Saul was sold out for Yahweh (Hebrew word for God) which sounds good, however his traditional Jewish beliefs clouded his ability to see Jesus as the Messiah. He viewed followers of Christ as Heretics and therefore dangerous. They challenged his value system. They challenged his identity. His reaction was to destroy them.
Saul’s type-D personality reacted to followers of Christ with persecution. If you didn’t deny Christ and follow Saul’s way of thinking you were in big trouble. Fear was the story of the day. He was bound and determined to destroy this movement started by Jesus.
Regretfully, today much of our own culture believes if someone doesn’t agree with them they have the right to use any means of force: lying, violence, anger, ridicule etc. to make their point clear. We see it in politics, religion, schools, families and the workplace. It’s all a type of persecution.
The truth is, Saul was wrong 2000 yrs ago and this culture is wrong today if we hold to these destructive actions. Persecution is always sinful in the eyes of Christ. The message of the Kingdom was not delivered that way. It’s a message of peace.
How to change our Personality Traits
If God was going to use Saul something had to change in the way he reacted to others. But that was his nature – his personality traits. Is he stuck with what he inherited? Can a person’s natural traits change?
Fortunately, for the Christians of Saul’s day (as well for us today), Saul did change – and dramatically. Saul experienced an encounter with Christ that we read about in Acts 9 on the road to Damascus that would change him and the world forever.
Saul became known as Paul; a new creature in Christ. He was no longer trying to destroy the church. He was now a follower of Christ, an Apostle, preaching the gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Some 20 years later, this change is very clear from his writings in Philippians 3.
Phil 3:7-8: But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Phil 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul shares what used to be important to him. He valued his own status and achievement. This was his identity before he discovered the value of knowing Christ.
When we first hear about Paul in the scriptures his Dominant personality was persecuting the church in a violent way. Twenty years later Paul still has Dominant personality traits but now it’s different, it’s being perfected. His drive isn’t to destroy people who don’t agree with him, it’s to serve Christ by sharing God’s love and by allowing the Spirit of God to transform who he is as a person.
Paul is a picture of restoration, a picture of what God can do with our broken personality traits. Paul’s values changed. His identity of being a Hebrew or a Pharisee didn’t matter anymore. What became important to him was to know Christ. And, Paul found the more he came to know Christ, the more he was perfected, and the more effective he became in the hands of God.
This gives me hope. I hope it gives you hope.
The reality is we, the church, are responsible for so much pain both inside and outside of the community of believers. How we treat others, how we speak and react to others, means something and can have eternal consequences.
Like Saul, we too must change. We can’t say: This is who I am. This is how I operate. These are my personality traits so get used to it. Even after Paul’s dramatic conversion and life changes, admitted he hadn’t “obtained it yet.”
We too, must long to know Christ and be willing to be perfected (conformed) into His image which frankly happens within community.
Henri Nouwen quotes Parker Palmer, a spiritual writer of the Quakers, when he shared: “Community is in fact the place where you are purified, where your love is tested, where your childhood of God is constantly put through the mill of human relationships. That is what community is. Community is a place where Judas always is and sometimes it is just you.”
Sometimes it is just me.
There are parts of my personality that still need to be perfected by Christ. There are times I just get in the way and exhibit personality traits that are selfish, condescending, and domineering. I have hurt people. Thankfully they loved me and have forgiven me.
The Holy Spirit has the ability to change my and your reactions but you and I must cooperate. We must listen to others in the community and we must listen to the Spirit’s voice. We must humble ourselves. We need to listen to our own reactions. And above all, have a deep desire to know Christ.
My daily prayer is for God to work in me and to change me (and my personality traits) to be more like his. How can God change you? Are you willing to be part of a community that helps you in the process?
Listen to this message, “Create in Me a Clean Heart” on podcast to hear more details about how God works to change us into the people He wants us to be.
This post was written by Mark Brown, active member of Solomon’s Porch church and former Chairman of the Elder Board.