faith, marriage, parenthood

Confusing Personality with Character

Many years ago, just after I got married, a friend invited my husband and I to meet her fiance. She had brought him home from college for Christmas. She was a really good friend and I really hoped the four of us would get along.

As we sat visiting, I noticed that her fiance was really annoying me. Certain expressions and hand movements when he talked were rubbing me the wrong way.

The whole ride home, I was silent. That’s unusual for me. I knew that her fiance hadn’t actually done anything unkind and yet he bothered me. Upon some reflection I realized that he reminded me of a relative who had been unkind to me.

I was projecting my memories and association with that person onto the fiance.

Now, just because he made similar facial expressions and hand gestures didn’t make him unkind like my relative. That was an unfair association in my mind.

In the future when we interacted, I tried to remember to let the fiance prove what kind of person he was without me judging him based on another person. Turns out, my friend picked a pretty great guy.

Fast forward most of a decade to a time when I found myself on the receiving end of this issue of mistaken identity.

I’m a high opinionated, strong willed, creative woman. I’m not a good housekeeper and wasn’t great even before I became ill. I can’t keep a schedule if my life depends on it, and I love spur of the moment plans, especially if it includes fun and friends.  Oh, and I talk a lot and talk with my hands.

One of my relatives grew up with an abusive parent. She mistreated them, verbally and physically. She’s manipulative, conniving, and probably pathological.

Her son, no doubt, suffers from PTSD as a result of years of mistreatment. After getting to know me, he compared me to her.

She is a lot like me in some ways.

She is creative; I’m creative. She’s opinionated: I’m opinionated. She’s a poor housekeeper; I’m a poor housekeeper.

If that much was similar, it must also be true that I’m abusive, manipulative, and vile. Or at least that’s what I was told.

The thing is, I am not any of those  negative things. I would never dream of manipulating or hurting people.

The problem is this: creative, opinionated, and free-spirited are parts of your personality.  They are a function of genetics. You’re either naturally orderly or naturally disorderly. It may make you prone to certain problems, but it doesn’t mean you will absolutely have those problems.

Abusive, manipulative, and vile are choices. These are part of your character. You choose if you’re going to be kind or hurtful, flexible or manipulative, gentle or vile.

Some parts of your personality you can even soften. For instance, I’m given to jumping to conclusions. I’m training myself to give more grace, to not be so quick to judge.

So let’s review: personality is the way you’re born; character is how you choose to behave.

Do people a favor, and don’t confuse them.

If you want to familiarize yourself with personality types, I recommend that you look into the Myers Briggs personality types. There are many similar personality types assessments out there. Ever since ancient times, scholars have divided people into 4 basic types. Even Christian personality typing uses a basic 4 type test.

People tend to think that anything that isn’t part of their own personality type that is a character flaw. For instance types As view being a free spirit as a deficiency in character. Those who are thinkers sometimes view feelers are too emotional. Feelers view thinkers as heartless. Extroverts think there’s something wrong with introverted people.

But, God made all kinds of people.

Our various personalities are needed in our world. Imagine a world where no one could keep a schedule. Imagine a world with no one to remind people to stop and enjoy the moment. Imagine a world where no one would stop talking and listen. Imagine a world without creative inventors or artists.

We all need each other.

And, we need to understand and accept personalities as God-given.

It’s part of God’s plan.


Sarah Forbes


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