Image Credit: Alex Blăjan on Unsplash
Our early years define us; there’s no other way around it. What shapes our personality is everything that you have ever lived through, with each experience having a unique impact on you. What happens during our childhood can influence the rest of our lives.
Many different factors influence how we handle obstacles and challenges in our life.
Our genetics play an essential role in the development of our personality. In fact, personality and temperament can actually be passed down. However, there isn’t any clear inheritance pattern in personality or temperament.
Although our personality may be pre-written to a certain degree, it’s not set in stone. The world around us changes and morphs into who we are.
Our childhood affects our life in the long term. Our struggles throughout our developing years can negatively impact us beyond our understanding.
The challenges we experience in childhood are what shapes our personality.
Adverse childhood events are experiences that can be traumatic and life-altering. There may have been feelings of fear, sadness, or abandonment in these times.
Through these challenges, certain factors in our life can protect us. A stable support system can lessen the troubles of an adverse childhood experience.
But not everyone may have this type of support. Aside from outside support, the workings of our own personality may affect our long-term mental health.
Inhibited vs. Uninhibited Children
Growing up, we could all be categorized as inhibited or uninhibited children–but does that mean that children should be treated differently? Not necessarily, and being inhibited or uninhibited isn’t right or wrong. There are pros and cons to both, and whether we are inhibited or uninhibited can affect our personality.
Someone’s level of inhibition can be a standard indicator that someone if someone is more introverted or extroverted.
Inhibited children will show more anxiety, fear, and potentially distressing behavior when faced with unfamiliar situations. Inhibited children aren’t likely to engage in conversation with a new classmate or may fear interacting with their environment in places they are not familiar with.
From a child’s perspective, many new experiences may seem scary for them – an unfamiliar place like going to the museum on a school field trip or a scary and exhilarating experience like going on a rollercoaster for the first time. Whatever the case may be, a child will have a reaction to these events.
Will that child be more likely to engage in the activities at the museum or cower in fear at the dinosaur displays? Whatever that child naturally feels towards a new situation, their unique personality shows through.
On the other hand, uninhibited children will behave in a manner that is the exact opposite of a child who is inhibited. Uninhibited children will be more likely to engage in new stimuli (interaction with new friends, unfamiliar aspects of their environment, new situations, etc.)
It’s important to understand that whether a child is inhibited or uninhibited will significantly influence how they interact with the world around them. A child’s inhibition can heavily dictate whether they are introverted or extroverted. These characteristics fall under what is commonly referred to as a person’s personality.
As our brain and body develop throughout childhood, so does our personality. Personality is integral to how we define ourselves and how it influences our behavior. As demonstrated through numerous twin and adoption studies, research has estimated that around 30-60% of our personality is inherited through our genetics.
But, as we go through life, our personality is also molded by our experiences. The nature vs. nurture debate can come into play regarding how our personality is developed throughout life.
What really shapes our personality to become who we are? Are we born with a set personality, or does the world shape us? The truth is our personalities can both be shaped by our environment and influenced by genetics.
Personality can be defined as traits, likes/dislikes, values, ambition, self-perception, and patterns of behavior and emotions. Our personality can be understood in many ways. Still, the most common term you may have heard for how our personality manifests is whether someone is an introvert or extrovert.
Introverts are more likely to focus on their internal feelings. At the same time, extroverts are likely to focus on external sources of stimulation. Whether someone is an inhibited child or an uninhibited child can help determine whether they will be an introvert or extrovert.
Inhibition boils down to someone’s degree of approach motivation (also known as fearlessness) to new people, places, objects, or situations. Someone that is uninhibited would be more likely to engage in novel situations. In fact, uninhibited children can be observed to spontaneously engage with new stimuli in their world.
The experience of being either introverted or extroverted or falling somewhere in between helps shape the traits that define our personality.
What’s an ACE?
Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) may impact us in ways we don’t always see. An adverse childhood event is a potentially traumatic experience that occurs before the age of 18 years old. What happens in our childhood will dictate how we respond to our world growing up and how that shapes our personality.
A group of researchers sought to understand adverse childhood experiences by surveying over 9,500 people with a mean age of 56.1 years. The questionnaire is designed to cover many possible traumatic events. Within the questionnaire of adverse childhood experiences, there are yes or no questions that fall into three distinct categories:
- Abuse: physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Neglect: physical and emotional abuse
- Household dysfunction: mental illness, domestic violence
The answers on the ACE questionnaire are tallied up, with each experience receiving a point. If you’re interested in knowing your score, you may click here to do so. Whatever your ACE score may be, it is not a reflection of you or your experiences as a whole, mainly because the ACE questionnaire does not consider positive childhood experiences.
In fact, positive experiences in our life may protect us from the effects of trauma. Life isn’t just full of bad times. Life can’t always be filled with excellent times. There’s a mix of good and bad–all of which we usually have no control over.
The circumstances we live through shape who we are–but they do not define us. The ACE questionnaire is a helpful tool for understanding what you have gone through in your own life and how that experience shaped your personality.
Understanding our childhood and what challenges we faced can help us understand who we are. What positive experiences intermingled with an adverse childhood event? How did that impact us growing up?
Understanding Our Personality
Personality is expansive and subjective, morphing throughout many phases of our life. Although genetics may be essential to personality development, it isn’t the only factor.
Our environment plays a vital role in personality development and how that shapes our personality.
As we grow during our early years, our personality and subsequent behavior develop based on what we experience. Traumatic events can significantly affect this development. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two-thirds of children have reported experiencing at least one traumatic event by age 16.
Experiencing a traumatic event can be completely and utterly devastating. Trauma may impact a child’s behavior, including learning problems, criminal behavior, and long-term health problems (for a comprehensive list, I recommend reading SAMHSA’s Understanding Childhood Trauma).
Think about it like this: a secure child will have grown up feeling loved, cared for, and protected. However, an insecure child may have grown up in an unstable household where they were not loved, cared for, and protected (for example, a domestic violence situation), which can cause them to grow up feeling unprotected in their world.
If a child’s environment is not safe and predictable, they will view their world as unstable and unpredictable.
By reflecting on our own experiences, we can reflect on how we might have felt growing up. What was your homelife like throughout your childhood? What situations were a struggle for you and/or your entire family?
Understanding these moments helps us to see what we may have lacked, such as safety, love, or basic needs. Whatever the case, you’re still here–you survived it. What happened in the past will not define your present or your future.
By learning about yourself and your childhood, you can understand what shapes you and your personality over time.
Why Is This Important?
What is the point of examining the challenges we faced in childhood, and why can’t we forget and move on from them? In reality, the past is in the past, but the effects of experiences in our past can last a lifetime.
As children, our brains were not fully developed. Therefore, we could not wholly process the trauma or understand the obstacles we faced in our childhood.
The relationships that we form with our world, and the people around us, are determined by our upbringing. How we were treated and cared for as children is how we expect the world to treat us.
Thinking back to your own childhood, what memories have stuck with you–good and bad? What did you feel during that time? Were there any resources available to you? What did you experience that didn’t make sense when you were younger?
These experiences and these feelings still live inside of us, no matter how much we want to forget them. Our reactions and beliefs about ourselves and others are influenced by our feelings and experiences that we may not even remember.
Talking with a licensed therapist can help you through processing trauma from your childhood. Understanding what we went through as children can help us learn about what shapes our personality through our life.
Let’s look at an example: Imagine you had a rough family life where conflict was never handled directly. There were always subtle ways for family members to share their anger with you rather than addressing it directly.
Deciphering what we experienced in childhood can help us understand the toxic behaviors that were normalized, and how those behaviors affect our adult personality.
That toxic behavior that was normalized can still be present in your life and influencing the way you make decisions, think, or feel.
What This Means for the Future
Everything that we experience–good or bad– can affect how we function in day to day life–even how we function emotionally. How has the world shaped you and changed you from where you have been?
What lessons did you learn during this time?
Childhood trauma is something that stays with you for life whether we fully see it or not. Everything we need to know about how our life will be stems from our early childhood years. Childhood trauma is something that shouldn’t be dismissed but really processed.
So does this change anything?
Not really, just the way that you think. Seeing things from the perspective of an adult, rather than a child, will allow you to see what you couldn’t see at such a young age.