What is personality?

This topic is about something that can determine basically everything about us. It is the first thing about us that most people come in contact with even though they don’t understand it and it is the thing that most often lies at the root of much human conflict. Personality is the combination of enduring patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior that are characteristic to a person. Now let me repeat that with emphasis on the key words, which we will then consider one by one.

 Personality is the combination of enduring patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior that are characteristic to a person.

Enduring: this means that the things that define one's personality aren't temporary, but lasting. If someone is this way today and that way tomorrow, that might be a change in behavior but not necessarily their personality. For it to be personality it must be enduring. That is why people say things like, "That person has always been like that since childhood!"

Patterns: means that the things that make up personality aren't single things. They are things that go together. Selfishness isn't a personality. It can be a personality trait that is; part of a personality, but it alone cannot be termed personality, except you consider it together with other things.

Characteristic: means that each person has their unique personality. Personality is like a stamp. You have yours, I have mine. That's why you can say things like, “this is not in a person's nature” because it's out of congruence with their personality.

Now note that I said at the beginning: "patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior"

These 3 main aspects of mental health.

I'm re-emphasizing this because most times, when we think about personality, we only think about behavior; I'll be surprised to find any different opinion.

The point about personality is that our personality is not just what we do, but even the patterns to the way we think and the way we feel. In other words, just like we have behavior habits, we also have thinking habits and feeling habits

I’ll like to mention that temperament, is the part of your personality that's believed to be inborn.

Personality evolves over time: people's personalities are generally stable and enduring, but they also evolve and over time can be changed due to things like life events.

Having mentioned the three main components of mental health (patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior) it is important to note that they are connected, but they can lead to each other;

- Feelings can change behavior - behavior can change feelings

- Thought patterns can change feelings - feelings can change thought patterns

- Behavior can change thought patterns - thought patterns can change behavior

Great! Now let's look at different aspects of personality.

Of course I'm sure many of us have seen all kinds of personality tests online. You know, those Facebook "tests" that tell you, oh you're like this character in this movie and so on, most of those aren't reliable, or scientifically tested. They're just for fun, nothing serious. It is usually mentioned on the tests (they're required to by law) but sometimes people miss this and take them seriously.

However I’m not saying don't do them, just don't take them seriously. If you do them, just do them for fun and move on.

Having said that, there are reliable tests of personality. The most popular is the MBTI (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator), which is very well researched, but not available for free (mostly), it is also quite complex so I'll share another one that is backed up by research but is much simpler.

It is called the “Big Five Inventory”, some also call it “OCEAN” (you'll see why in a minute).

First let me say something about personality tests: they are to help us understand, not to predict, that is, knowing our personality type, or someone else's, doesn't mean we can now predict what they will do in future, or that we now understand them completely.

There are some people who don't like personality tests for this reason: they feel that it puts people in a box, but that is a misunderstanding.

 The truth is no test can fully describe anyone of us 100%. We are too unique and diverse for that, and to use them to predictive is to reduce people in an unhealthy way.

Tests can help us understand ourselves and others better, and understand why we have conflicts and how we can resolve them. When understood rightly they can be a powerful tool.

Now let us get down to what OCEAN is all about

Each letter stands for what is known as a scale, there are five letters hence 5 scales and your personality is described by putting together where you are on each scale

The five are as follows:

Openness to experience





I'll explain each one in a bit, but first there's something we need to understand: none of these are good or bad. Instead each has its strengths and weaknesses.

I repeat, there's no better or worse one.

There are times when anyone of them is advantageous and times when it is disadvantageous. Also depending on the society, some are actually preferred to some, but it is not that the less preferred one are bad. In fact, in societies where one is considered "bad" it means they are actually depriving themselves of the benefit of that particular one.

None is inherently better or worse than the other.

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Let's start from the start;

Openness to experience: this is about how much a person is or isn't open to new experiences. People high in this factor are excited by new things, new experiences and new people. People that are low in this area prefer things that stay the same and may feel uncomfortable with “the new”.

High openness people are more likely to take challenges and risks, while low openness people are likelier to be more careful and cautious.

The conscientiousness factor:  this measures how much a person prefers structure and rules. People high in it are more likely to be disciplined or even strict and those low in it are more likely to be flexible and spontaneous.

The extraversion factor: here we consider how much a person prefers the external world versus the internal. An extraverted person (what we usually call an extrovert) is likelier to be more outgoing, enjoy interacting with people and talking a lot, People low in this (introverts) enjoy their internal world more and need socializing less.

Agreeableness:  this measures how well someone gets along with others and thinks of others over themselves. So people high in this are likelier to be easier to get along with and trust while those low in it are more likely to be more self-aware and skeptical about others.

As an example of how these personality traits depend on situations, people high in agreeableness are very helpful to have around when you need to build consensus and get people to agree on one thing, while those who are low in it are very helpful for when you need to be more skeptical and distrustful of offers for help that may have ulterior motives.

 Neuroticism factor: this is a measure of how much a person responds to stress. Basically it measures how stable a person is emotionally. Those who are high in this factor are more prone to be stressed by life circumstances and at the higher levels may be prone to what most people think of as "blowing things out of proportion." Those low in it, however, are more likely to be easily upset in stressful situations and are generally more calm.


We must be careful not to assume that some behaviors are products of mental illness. This would be like saying that every cough is tuberculosis. The fact that something can happen in a mental illness doesn't make every instance of it a mental illness.

However, there are personality disorders in which this can happen but such a diagnosis is too serious to be used carelessly.  We must be careful not to label people wrongly.

The following link will help you carry out a personality test, feel free to try it. //www.outofservice.com/bigfive/


Written by Dr. Ayomide Adebayo, our friendly psychiatrist. Twitter @docayomide IG @docayomide