How does trauma change personality?

Three years ago I was writing about the Big 5 personality traits and how they might correspond to temperament and MBTI.

In the three years since I’ve done heaps of work on finding relief, focusing on more positive thoughts, and letting go of past trauma.

Today I was inspired to redo my Big 5 test for fun and see if my results have changed. Clearly this is a very subjective test for me to take, but nonetheless the results are very satisfying and reflect the shift in my personality and self-concept.

First, here are my results from three years ago:

Back then I was surprised to see conscientiousness and agreeableness come out so low. I concluded that perhaps trying too hard to be conscientious and agreeable in certain circumstances is actually a manifestation of neuroticism, and exacerbates those negative emotions.

Now let’s look at the new results:

As you can see, neuroticism is waaaay down (yay!) and conscientiousness and agreeableness are way up!

Openness to experience has also decreased a little, by about the same amount as introversion.

So, at risk of correcting myself again in another three years, what is going on here?

The most significant thing is that I am now better able to tell when my personality is being shaped by a trauma-based response. That’s the main reason why my neuroticism score decreased so much: while I am much more calm and relaxed in daily life, I also know now that calm and relaxed is who I really am, and each day I practice letting go of neurotic responses.

Being less anxious and stressed, I’m also less driven to find new ideas and different perspectives. I’m better able to sit still and appreciate where I am rather than restlessly searching for “new” answers and solutions.

And so, contrary to what I thought three years ago, I am happy to own my conscientious and agreeable traits, untangling them from neurotic impulses as well as neurotic standards of perfection.

My desk is still messy, but in other aspects of life I am the first to tidy and clean and sort. During the past three years I found a way to enjoy cleaning the kitchen, rather than feeling burdened and crushed by the chore. I love being organised…it’s just that neuroticism derived from past trauma vastly increases the internal cost of any such action.

I won’t just tidy my desk one day; I’ll buy a whole new desk that is optimised to meet our needs and be easily cleaned and organised and tidied, a desk that is a pleasure to own and to use.

And ultimately that’s where I hope my future Big 5 tests will go as well: with a self-concept based on the congruence of what feels good to me and what I actually do.

The long term goal of healing from trauma is to have no uncertainty as to how I really am, because I do what feels good to me.

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