06 Apr Am I Born this Way?
I get asked this question at every SDI training that I have ever conducted, “Are we born with our personality or is it developed through our environment?” It happened again this past week so I have decided to spend some time reflecting on what we know. But before we do that, we should ask why we want to know the answer to that question. I believe we ask this question because we want to know if it is possible to change who we are! Perhaps some people don’t like who they are and they would like to be more like someone else. Others may have tried changing their behavior patterns without much success. Perhaps change isn’t possible. Still other wonder if the pain and wounds in their lives are what have shaped them into who they are today. When we begin to study and learn about what makes people tick, it is natural to ask where we are born this way or whether we can actually change. And if we can change, how does it happen?
Personality is defined as the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. People are complex and don’t always act the same way so there are many theories of personality and little agreement about how personality if formed. SDI is not a personality assessment, but it does give us insight into how personality is shaped. SDI teaches us that people are a combination of three primary motivations (reasons why people chose behaviors). This combination of motivations is called our Motivational Value System® (MVS). We know that out of our unique MVS we have intentions and our behaviors come from our intentions. Motivations can’t be seen. But behaviors can. This is what people see and how personality is often classified.
The one thing that research reveals very clearly is that MVS is stable throughout life. Data has been collected for almost 42 years with indisputable results. People who take the SDI more than once over time have the same MVS more than 97 percent of the time. The evidence is that motivations are static, and motivations are the foundations for behaviors.
What we don’t know is whether we are born with a specific MVS or it is shaped by our environment and then hardens at an early age. If you have children, you can see MVS evidenced as early as 7 years old. Christopher Nava or the University of California states that personality is formed by the first grade and stays stable throughout life. But this doesn’t answer the question about the source of MVS prior to the first grade.
We can’t say with certainty, but the evidence leans towards motivation which drives behavior is set so early in life that we can say that you are who you are by God’s design. Scripture teaches us that God knew us in the womb and knit us there (Jer 1:5). Before we were born, he prepared works for us to do which seems to indicate that God was involved in shaping us for specific purposes (Eph 2:10).
If this is true, we should embrace who God made us to be. That means getting to know God’s design for us rather than trying to change it. Each part of the body has a function that is unique and needed. Only then can we work together to accomplish God’s plan together as the body of Christ. We must value God’s design.
So, does this mean that we can’t change? No! Our MVS may stay the same, but our behaviors are always a choice. We chose behaviors that help us achieve fulfilment of our MVS. We develop patterns of behaviors that others can see which appear as our personality. But we can change behaviors and we do. The Personal Strengths Inventory demonstrates that behaviors do change, and we can even choose behaviors that are not natural to our MVS.
The Scriptures teach us that when sin entered the world that we look to fill our need for acceptance, significance and security apart from God. We know these needs can only be met in Christ so the attempt to do so apart from him is destined to failure. Our striving to fill these needs impacts how we treat other people. We overdo our strengths. We sin against our brother. We are only free from this striving when we come to not only understand the Gospel, but learn to apply the Gospel to our soul needs of love as demonstrated by the three passions of the soul. Another way of saying this is to live more freely as a beloved son, rather than as a slave (Rom 8).
Real change is possible! It comes through the transformation of the soul through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Spirit. When this happens, our personality changes. Our MVS doesn’t change, but our behaviors change. We don’t strive to fill our soul needs, we serve freely in worship of our Savior. Jesus said that when he frees us, we are free indeed (John 8:36). We are then free to live in love for God and for others as we were designed.
(You can read more fully about the needs of the soul in Three Passions of the Soul or Soul Discipleship Primer – to be released May 2019)