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Jul 1, 2022

One of the most obscure concepts in psychology is personality. We all know what that means and at the same time, it would probably be hard to define it in psychological terms. 



you're listening to psych with mike for more episodes or to connect with the show with comments ideas or to be a
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mike or like the facebook page at psych with mike now here's psych with mike personality
i don't know if that got caught welcome into psych with mike library this is dr michael mahon i'm here with
mr brett newcomb and intern michael hello good morning how are you both of you yeah yeah i'm so used to
saying extroverted how are you and now when there's more people in the studio then i don't know i don't know what to
say when you don't know what to say say nothing at all that's what they advise crickets missouri says uh you and all so
how are you all is how that works out yes yeah colloquialism
yeah we're gonna all go wash our clothes and get on the way right next to
illinois where they drink milk you are just too sensitive oh man all
right we got to stop because that's going down a dark road so uh
i remember a long long time ago you and i brett
were playing golf and i don't know why
but for some reason i was really
worried about this idea that somehow i was being fake because i
would act differently when we would go to the golf course than when we were in the office than when i was teaching
at the university and i remember having this conversation with you
about is it are you are you being real if you act differently in different
situations and do you remember what your answer was no but i know what it should have been
what what do you think it should have been you are different in different situations that's exactly what you said you said not only is that real but if
you act the same in every situation that's probably pathological yeah yeah okay yes okay okay yeah so yeah we all
do that i mean i used to teach psychology classes in high school and college and one of the things that i would talk about is we all have
different vocabularies we use for different settings when i worked my way through college working on a factory
floor on an assembly line the guys that i worked among were you putting tires on cadillac's
okay i worked in a bicycle factory the the guys on the factory floor
all cursed as they breathed so i found myself doing the same thing
but as a classroom teacher going into a seventh grade classroom i can't talk that way and when i go to church on sunday
morning i don't want to talk that way so i present myself differently depending on the context cues and the agenda and
the goal you do too and everyone does so if you recognize that that the trick isn't are
you consistent the trick is there enough consistency that the people who know you will recognize you in multiple
environments yeah so i i know who that is right yeah and and i think that that was what the
crux of my dilemma was that day is that i'd always prided myself i didn't recognize you on the golf course
i had prided myself on thinking that i was the same person in every situation
because you know i just i found that to be hysterical yeah and and they're j and they still do it just wasn't true and
then when i came to realize oh no i'm a different person depending on the context
i felt like i was betraying myself and then you said no that's just the way that everybody said
don't be pathological they have drugs for that and shock treatment yeah yeah so then
you've taught personality theory i've taught personality theory um
for you what is personality well you know it starts with the birth of an infant baby so i believe some
babies are born with personality orientation yeah to be more open and
gregarious or to be more closed and watchful some of them avoid contact and some of them
seductively embrace content and then as parents how do you interpret
what your child is doing i mean the whole thing about mother child bonding uh if the mother is not emotionally
available then the theory is a child panics and feels disconnected and is in dire
straits if the mother is emotionally available then the child is pulled into that warmth
those things impact the way the child then evolves from that point but i believe there is a starting point
of predisposition or orientation so uh it's biologically encoded into the
individual i think so okay but i i couldn't prove that scientifically that's just no no yeah but i'm just yeah so it's
interesting from there to say well how does your personality develop and i think a lot of it is fundamental orientation
impacted by training and experience how do your parents train you to handle
anger you see a one-year-old who's so frustrated because he can't have a piece of candy that he bites somebody or he
hits somebody uh how do the parents respond to that i know parents just said well i'll buy
you back teach them not to bite well i think that's just among the stupider and more abusive things that you've heard
but that's what they say proudly i teach my child uh i don't know the right answer i just
know a lot of the wrong answers i wonder if they say oh that's not working if they train their dogs the same way
probably my dog bites them but i'll just bite him back yeah okay well then the dog's probably gonna bite you
yeah yeah yeah so for me i would say that in
my view of psychology that personality
is really if not equivalent to very much ingrained
in emotional regulation so i think that those things are somewhat
synonymous so your personality is the way that people experience your personality is based on your emotional
regulation capacity does that make sense yeah but so then i wondered is
stubbornness and oppositionality is that ingrained or learned
do you learn to be stubborn are you just stubborn think you learn to be stubborn
i think you respond to your environment for the most part and i think i do i do think you respond to your
environment in that in that regard so what about resilience
i think you can change these things okay yes yeah so we are educable yeah i think
we are we are generally responsive to different things right we talk about um so pavlova stuff disorders right and
how do you treat a personality disorder when you introduce other tools or you
introduce other methods to uh lean on instead of whatever that undesirable person otto kernberg
contends that you can't really modify personality disorders until the personally disordered individual is
between 40 and 50 and wants to work hard enough to change the only thing that you can do he says and he and masterson the
two main voices in this field that i studied he says what you have to do is
supportive expressive psychotherapy you have to give them ways to vent and relieve their emotional cycles
but try to encourage them to be stable and sometimes that takes medicine sometimes that takes training sometimes
it takes discipline whether it's exercise diet sleep patterns whatever it may be but you
teach them over time the crash and burn phenomenon
is less frequent but the rhythm is still there uh until they hit that age where
potentially they could change but they can't do it until then yeah and and you i i agree with that and and you and i
really studied kernberg and and and heinz kohut and all of those guys uh which are not necessarily as
rigorously today um but i absolutely agree with that and because before i was 55
i would have said because i think of personality as synonymous with emotional regulation i think emotional regulation
is seated in the attached or lack of relationship with the primary caregiver
attachment theory yeah that it's that it's all about the security or insecurity that you learn in the first
two pre-verbal years of life and i would have said before i was 55 that that was
immutable you couldn't change that that if you were that way you would be that way you could find compensatory measures
to be able to be less reactive but you couldn't change the foundation of that
since i've been 55 and i i have a different view of that i think that i have been working on my own
intrinsic sense of security but i don't think i could have before then so i
absolutely agree with kernberg i think that there is something about that and i
don't know that there's an age range that i would identify but there is a point at which in life
i think there is somewhat of available to that yeah yeah i wonder if that's
correlation and not causation right i wonder if it's not so much that you are between 40 and 50 but that the vast
majority of people who were who cranberry studied and who he was able to successfully
work with and personality changing um happened to be at a stage in their
lives when they were 40 or 50. and if that if that is actually shifting right we look at like actualization of
identity and different identity crises and we found that people
are starting to have their identity crises earlier in life and i wonder if that
is a focus on self-improvement i wonder if that's a focus on entering into dialects with
oneself so what you're in life i think i mean that's a really intriguing question
um to which i don't have the answer but what i was about to say is i think some
of it i was having a conversation earlier this week with a friend who has a family member that's diagnosed as
borderline and this friend was talking about the kind of aggressive anger that happens
uh when the hypomania occurs and how frustrated she is that this is
happening again with this individual and you know she this individual will not have
someone in their life that will put up with that and i just laughed and said yes they will they have a radar that
lets them find them if this person gives up they'll go find another one that will take that crap and they will find another one that takes crap yeah and so
they just keep replicating that persona to bounce against but
the question that you raise is is it possible that they could discover
earlier a different way to do it and invest themselves in trying to do it differently and i think that's one of
the goals of doing therapy is to try to create that matrix right but i think it really occurs well so but but for that
to be salient i think we have to then explore what michael said about it could
be correlational but is it causal so then we have to say okay well then what is
causal because you know when i think about my own looking at me
um i think that part of the reason why there was an opener an open window after
the age of 55 is i think it's partly biological i think it's hormonal i think it's partly because i had lived through
the process of industry the the stage of industry according to piaget where i had built a career that i was feeling good
about and successful which gave me a different understanding of myself than was based
on my early experience so i think that there are a lot of dynamics that go into
that i don't know which one of those is the cause or if it
is a myriad of things or if neither one of them even is impactful and i'm just
you know whistling across the through the graveyard but but i think that they're
what what is the causal if we could identify what the causal
factors are then we could more directly so there are studies that attempt to do exactly that yeah and
categorize the responses uh character traits right are you agreeable
are you conscientious are you eager to please are you an extrovert are you an introvert or you're neurotic
find those clusters uh and that's exactly though you know that part of the article is exactly what i say why i say
for me personality is equal to emotional regulation because i think all of those things are about how well you're able to
what we used to call self-soothe yeah
you brought up an interesting point around an individual with bpd finding others
who will well dance the same dance the same dance right and what i've always heard i when you said that
the attachment theory bit clicked for me because i always think anxious avoidant right anxious finds avoidant avoidance
finds anxiousness and they and they end up in these situations um and that that really draws a parallel
for me so i think there might be some merit to what you're saying about but the anxious avoidance deal slides into a
concept called the isolator and the pursuer right and the isolator chases the or it runs from the pursuer until
they get to the extreme end of the pendulum swing then the pursuer finally says screw it this didn't work and i give up and in that exact instant they
reverse rolls then the pursuer becomes the isolator starts to go back and and the isolator chases them
and said wait wait wait they get to the other end of the pendulum so they just their relationship is a cyclical history
of role reversal so uh harper hendricks is the guy that uh developed that there yeah i know that
from uh the american whitaker and and judith uh
i'm blanking on her last name divorced no um uh
anyway i'll think of it eventually hopefully but but and and they talk about this idea of they call it
dismissive and preoccupied instead of pursuer and and and yeah and isolator um but exactly that dynamic
that that and that that it has to do with the way in which that they utilize conflict in the concept in the context
of the relationship so one person's going to use conflict to try and initiate intimacy the other partner is
going to use conflict as a way to gain distance and that yes they're going to use that at cross purposes until the
pursuer yeah then feels frustrated stops and then yeah then they switch roles so
we do a lot of couples counseling marriage counseling in our career okay before we do that let's go to the break
and then uh we'll pick that up on the other side no i'm gonna pound okay hey guys dr michael mahan here from cyclic
night and do you think that you have a story to tell
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are you still pouting no okay i'm over it go ahead in doing a lot of couples counseling
yeah you have to have a way to explain why does this always happen to me why you're like the alcoholic female
again the females married to an alcoholic male won't statistically divorce him just because
he's an alcoholic however should that ever happen then she says i've washed my hands of
that i'm going to go find somebody new right she goes and finds another alcoholic nine times out of ten and she swears
he was coming that wasn't visible and what you work on this thing it was
visible you have and we use the radial band theory frequency band theory you have certain
frequencies of attraction that you both send and receive like a radio
transmitter if we sent you to the convention center there were ten thousand people there there'd be a thousand people or 500 people
on your frequency those are the ones you would notice everybody else would just be a blob walking by but your radar says
target target target and you choose from among those targets and that's an
unconscious process yeah you're unaware oh yeah but but then you replicate the dance of relationship and get to the
same place and so if you want two chains one of the things you have to work on is
learning what your frequency modulators are and change them so that you then go out i mean how many conversations have
you had with somebody that says i don't find so and so to be attractive and i said well that's exactly i know that way exactly you know and they're like oh
that would be horrible well that's if you go find what's attractive to you right now it's going to get in the same
boat you're going to exactly there's a great um very approachable couple sets of books uh by
catherine woodward thomas uh one is called conscious uncoupling it's really good about how do i
end a relationship without a whole lot of drama and angst yes yes how what's the
best way to what's the best way to do a divorce yeah got a lot of attention like glenn paltrow and a few other
celebrities a while back the other one she has is called calling in the one um and it's talking exactly about what
you're talking about here setting your frequency dial to what you want in a partner and what you're saying you want
in the partner not just what you've had and what you say is not necessarily what you want because you gotta learn how to be honest with yourself who am i what am
i looking for let's say the average what is the the average distance between marriages right
between divorce and second marriage or next marriage is about nine months right and how much growth and personal
reflection can you really do in those nine months well there are some patterns there too i mean typically uh
men won't ask for a divorce unless they've already found a replacement
women will ask for divorce because they feel unfulfilled violated frustrated empty and they say
you're not doing it for me so i want you to go away they haven't even begun to look for a replacement at that point but they're
able to say this is not good for me men typically are not they they're like little kids on the jungle gym they won't
turn loose to this bar until they have this one in hand
so i think you have to look at the sex of the person uh as you have those conversations what
language can you hear which is one of the clinical challenges you face as a therapist how do i hear the language of
neurolinguistic programming the the usage of the person sitting in the chair
ops at me as i try to learn who they are and how they reveal themselves to me because when i want to make an
intervention i'm much more successful if i can intervene with terms that resonate with
them yeah well and so you know then
i think let me start a different way based on the conversation that we're having
i would ask you guys would you agree with this that we started this by talking about is personality
indelible across the lifespan is it is it is it consistent from the money that you're born until the minute you die and
i think what we're all saying is that may not be that's what i was taught when i was an undergraduate at st louis university
back in the 1980s that personality was pretty fixed that there wasn't a whole lot you could do to really
change that you could learn write different behavior modifiers but the personality was pretty consistent but i
think what we're saying is maybe that's not as fixed as
people used to say that it was is that fair yes okay so would you agree i don't i do
agree i do agree i remember i'm trying to look it up because i don't remember who did the study
uh but there there was a really controversial study that come out maybe 10 years ago that says you get a new
personality every five years or so that would be interesting and i i thought about
my my 10-year high school reunion is supposed to be next year and i thought about how excited i was and like most people
aren't very excited for their 10-year reunion um well unless they did really well in life and want to go show off
but how excited i was to meet some of the people again and and meet who they had become
because i i'm really viewing it through the lens of not catching up with old friends but rather meeting new people
where they are at now right okay so what i would though my my reaction to that
would be just because so like all of us are clearly very different than we were in
high school is that do we have new personalities because of that or
is that just a function of the developmental process we have more and
better clothes we have more money we present ourselves with some of the better cosmetic
presentations right i've been to high school reunions where the high school stars the star athlete
the cheerleader you know are they never moved beyond those days their best days are behind them and they were behind
them at 17. they're stuck they're frozen in time
but i would say that you know and and even before i was almost 60
you know let's say even 40. at 40 years old i represented every single thing
that i despised when i was 16. and was my personality different
i don't know so if you want to you want to make your wife upset say to her that you hear her mother's
voice coming oh no i would no my god no i would never say that because we all
say that i don't want to hear my dad's voice come out of my mouth but my children have heard it and he's been
dead all their lives but they've heard his voice saying his words
because he never met him so right so infuriates me yeah you know he's dead he's supposed to stay dead
why is he talking to him well i wonder if the question that you're getting at here is where do we draw the line between personality and environment
or or just reaction or evolutionary development yeah
yeah and are those are are they different i mean are they the same thing right because if personality
is a function of development well then obviously yes it should evolve over the
course of the lifespan but if personality is different from emotional development if it's a separate thing
like you said we were talking earlier and we were talking about that a lot of
people say that as you get older you return to a
lot of childlike behaviors right and you had said that uh brett you had said that if you were a curmudgeon at in your old
age you were probably a curmudgeon as a child and i said oh well that's great because i was a delightful child which
may or may not have been true there are those among us who would disagree yeah but but if you do return to a lot of
those same characteristics childlike behaviors as you get older that would actually be
a a plank in the in the in the board or in the the
platform that says personality is consistent well all i can say to that is people who
are listening if they have those questions come back next week and see if we were saying see if we're saying the same thing
yeah well we probably won't be because we'll forget what we said because that's a function of old age yeah right so uh
you know i don't know if i am after this conversation if i'm more
on the side of personalities consistent or more on the side of the personality can change but i will say
that i do have very different ideas about the consistency of that
at you know 58 than i did when i was 40. certainty is a problem
and for clinicians you have to understand you live in a land of smoke and mirrors constantly evolving constantly changing
i wish somebody had told me that when i was starting out somebody did tell you when you were starting out i was there
but you are so right that that uh everything is an evolution and it you
know you if you have an opinion that you feel like you are absolutely wed to that
is the core of your identity that will never change
i mean i i would not i would not encourage anybody to hold fast to those things
because you may find yourself at a point in your life where that no longer applies i've gone to the place where i
don't think donuts are nearly as good as i used to think donuts were amen yeah well i used to say the same thing
and now that i'm older it's it's changing yeah it's funny we face the same problem in engineering um so i don't know if
people remember was speaking last time on the show my day job i'm a i'm a software engineer and we talk about
the level of risk and reward between putting out new features so every time
you you release a new feature you carry some level of risk with that feature because there's a process going from in
development to in production and in whenever you run through that process you always run the risk of
introducing a bug or introducing a problem into the system and so we really hit at the dichotomy between reliability
engineers and feature engineers who say reliability engineers say i never want
this thing to change i've got automatic processes that spin it back up if it goes down or if there's a bug and
feature engineers who say well nobody's ever going to get any value out of this thing if there are no new features
and so it's one of the challenges for microsoft word yeah they they don't add new features but they change features around right yeah under the illusion
that there has been change and so then you have to figure out how the hell does this work now mm-hmm so i wonder buy an apple it's so interesting to see to hear
the parallels between between um psychology and engineering and clinician
work and all of these things it always my family is diverse my wife is a
microsoft person and i'm an apple person i hear her cussing her computer much more often than she hears me cussing
mine i wonder if that's because she cusses more than i do i don't know
[Laughter] she has more reason that's i know your wife a little bit and i find that
difficult to believe oh well but uh yeah i know i the the day that i took the job
running the graduate program at webster there was an apple on the desk and i
said to myself i'm going to figure out how to use this because the whole campus was was apple um and i and it and it's
familiar enough if your pc apples are familiar enough that you know you should
be able to do a thing and that you can do it but it's dissimilar enough that it's hard to figure out how to do it and
i got so frustrated i called after about 20 minutes called i.t and said look you're not the same person yeah
i i was going to throw it out the window they came and replaced it with a pc thank god let's end this thing yeah okay
all right so hopefully uh that was elucidating for somebody out there um
elizabeth okay yeah what what what's it's elucidative not a lucid dating
elucidative why one's a process if it's a process it's elucidative
okay so what is it if it's dating it's uh adverb
okay i still don't understand the difference it's a verb oh okay then but
okay fine yeah you can be both okay yeah but elusive
there you go so uh the music that appears inside with mike is written and performed by mr ben we'll miss you next
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my father used to say to me on a regular basis we'll miss you at the next family reunion