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Formation of Personality
By: Lissa Coffey

One of my favorite authors, Shakti Gawain, has a new book out: The Relationship Handbook: A Path to Consciousness, Healing and Growth.

This is an excerpt from her new book - amazing!

Formation of Personality

An excerpt from The Relationship Handbook


We develop our personalities in ways that are both universal and yet completely unique. We all experience the same process of development, while our individual circumstances and surroundings shape our particular makeup.


When we are born, we are vulnerable, impressionable, and completely reliant on those around us. We develop ways to have our needs met when we are hungry, for example, or uncomfortable, or just need love. Our experiences inform our behaviors; we discover a smile might bring joy and playful interaction or crying might bring comfort and immediate attention.


In that way, our parents, siblings, and those who care for us shape us. Our personalities continue to develop as we explore the best ways to have our needs met. We learn which behaviors will bring us love and acknowledgment and which will bring us negativity and even punishment. These aspects of our personalities evolve and take form as we grow. By adulthood, we have identified the ways that work best for us to operate in the world. As adults, we use similar approaches to our relationships, family, and work life to those we developed in childhood. We have fine-tuned ways of keeping ourselves safe and creating a sense of security in our lives.


A drawback to developing in this way is that we tend to overvalue certain aspects of ourselves. We might even come to think that our way of being in the world is the only way to be in the world. And when we overidentify with one aspect or side of ourselves, we automatically create an opposing side, what is often referred to as our shadow side.


We value one set of behaviors or certain parts of ourselves and then consider the other parts unacceptable, “not good,” or even a liability. We see our way as good and right, and we actually try to disown the other parts of us or deny they exist. Additionally, we form rules about how we should be, and how others should be, based on this value system. As a result, we criticize ourselves when we express or show our shadow parts, and we judge other people when they display these behaviors.


Most likely we have revealed some of these shadow aspects of ourselves at some point in our lives. If we received a negative reaction when we exhibited a certain part of ourselves, though, we probably learned to hide or suppress it. Eventually, we learned that showing that part of ourselves was not safe and would not get our needs met. For example, one aspect we often choose not to express is what we refer to as our “vulnerability.” Our vulnerability is the part within us that is connected to our sensitivity, our needs, and our emotions. If we have shown vulnerability in the past, we may have been criticized or ignored. In order to feel safe or in control, we might “stuff” these feelings and needs and act instead like we don’t have them.


Consider a sensitive child who is quick to show her feelings, from happiness to sadness, enthusiasm to anxiety. If she is told she is too sensitive, shouldn’t take things so seriously, or has no good reason to worry or be sad, she will learn to conceal or deny her emotions. Just seeing that her expressed feelings worry or anger those around her would be enough for her to become adept at suppressing them.


Because she has learned that a more detached approach to life pleases others, she comes to see that this way of relationship is the right and ideal way to be. She comes to view sensitivity and emotionality as a negative thing in herself — and in others. She criticizes herself when she expresses these parts of herself and judges other people who display them. Our unexpressed aspects — whether vulnerability, boldness, creativity, daring, sexuality, or others — don’t disappear. They continue to exist “in the shadows,” and like most hidden things, they come out one way or another, sooner or later.


What’s more, failing to recognize and find room for our shadow sides limits how we experience and participate in our lives. Our relationships will be affected if we think it’s wrong or weak to express our feelings. If we value intellect but not creativity or the arts, we may choose a career that becomes increasingly dissatisfying. Our well-being depends on our being whole and having access to all of who we are.


All the parts of ourselves — those that we consciously develop and our shadow sides — are our “selves.” We use the term “selves” to describe aspects within our personality; in Jungian psychology, the selves are called “subpersonalities.” Each of these selves has its own perspective on our lives, its own ideas, and even its own ways of remembering specific events.


It is important to note here that we are in no way talking about multiple personality disorder. Multiple personality disorder is a psychiatric dissociative disorder. Here, we are bringing to the light a simple process that is naturally occurring within us all the time. It is as simple as sensing two different parts of us when we go out to eat — part of us wants to eat healthy and another part wants to order off the dessert menu. It is the conflict we feel when making choices, ranging from major life changes to simple daily decisions. This work was inspired by and is most similar to Jung’s work with the shadow and discovering the unconscious.


I was first introduced to working with these aspects by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone. The basic idea of their work, which they call the Psychology of Selves, is that we have within us the potential for every energy or aspect of personality that exists, and each of us develops the aspects that work best in our lives to get our needs met, and we minimize or disregard the aspects that do not.


I believe that our work in this lifetime is to create awareness of all the parts of ourselves. Each part has a purpose, has information for us, and is actually necessary for us to achieve the balance and wholeness we are searching for. Ultimately, coming to embrace all our selves is the path to enjoying more balance in our relationships as well.


# # #


Shakti Gawain is the author of The Relationship Handbook.  A bestselling author and pioneer in the field of personal growth and consciousness, she cofounded New World Library with Marc Allen in 1977. Visit her online at


Excerpted from the book The Relationship Handbook©2014 by Shakti Gawain and Gina Vucci.  Published with permission of New World Library


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