The Source of Personality

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Are people born with personality, or is it something learned?

Answer: You bring up the age-old question of nature v. nurture. It’s probably a combination of both. Any parent who has more than one child recognizes that at least some portion of personality is inborn. Having raised five children, it was evident that we had five different personalities in the house. They all had approximately the same upbringing in the same environment, and yet they were so very different.

But even though nature is very evident in the development of personality, the environment (nurture), including birth order, seems to have an impact on personality.

In our household, our children were raised in very similar environments, but the two oldest children displayed the traits of the oldest child. Our middle child was definitely the middle child being the peacemaker. And our youngest child fit the description of the youngest child in birth-order theory.

Even if the debate continues on whether nature or nurture is more significant, it is well-known that environment has a great impact on the development of personality disorders. For example, a strong correlation has been found between childhood abuse, particularly sexual abuse and the development of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as an adult.

Jerome Kroll from the University of Minnesota wrote a book on Borderline Personality Disorder and titled it PTSD/Borderlines in Therapy: Finding the Balance. He posits that when there is a history of abuse, BPD is a form of PTSD. Other researchers have found a relationship between lack of discipline and the development of personality disorders. And Antisocial Personality Disorder is often associated with lack of bonding with a significant adult as an infant and child.

So, I believe the conclusion would have to be that both nature and nurture impact the development of personality. One individual’s inborn personality traits allow him or her to go through very traumatic events and come out seemingly unharmed, whereas another develops a disorder from the same event. In other words, one individual’s personality traits may be protective, whereas the other’s traits provide no defense against a traumatic event.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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