How We All Have More Complex Personalities Than We Realize

by Keith Yeung

Have you ever caught yourself acting in a way that’s not typically "you"? I’m sure most of you have, and probably more than once. At times, it can feel like you’re a totally different person.

No, I’m not talking about dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), but more like having different sides of your personality.

As we all know from first-hand experience, human beings are rather complicated, so it makes sense that each person is a complex, multifaceted individual. Yet, we are often surprised when we notice people not behaving "like themselves."

Though we don’t pay much attention to it, we seem to possess a rudimentary awareness of changes in our senses of self.

A common observation is that our behavior varies depending on whom we’re with at the time. Socially, we interact with family, friends and others on a regular basis, and our senses of self change between each group.

When we engage with strangers or distant acquaintances, we almost automatically put on artificial smiles and become more conscious of our manners and other factors that may affect their first impressions of us.

With friends, we tend to be more relaxed and behave in a much less formal manner. We go even deeper into our comfort zones when it comes to close family and our casualness and lack of formality reaches yet another level.

Of course, each of these categories encompasses quite a broad range, so we can easily separate them further into sub-categories, such as casual, good and best friends.

Our behaviors and attitudes don’t just change between groups, but also between members of those groups. Even amongst our closest friends, the way we feel and act will vary between each individual.

The way we interact with a quiet friend, for example, is probably a lot different from how we communicate with a more talkative one. For example, when I’m with a friend who’s on the talkative side, I make an effort to be a little chattier to adjust to that friend’s social style.

Likewise, those who know of my introverted nature try to moderate their levels of speaking with me so I remain at a socially comfortable zone.

If you have siblings, you probably have a pretty good idea of how much influence they have on you, individually. And, obviously, we have an overwhelming tendency to transform into the best versions of ourselves when we are with a (new) romantic partner.

Aside from the people with whom we interact, context also plays a big role in determining who we are at any given time. In a family setting, you have at least one distinct role, possibly more, depending on who is present.

Let’s say I’m having a family dinner, for instance. At that dinner table, I am a son, but I am also a brother. And, my roles can expand further if extended family members are involved.

If you are employed, your role as a worker defines you when you are at work. You are a staff member to your customers, coworker to your colleagues and an employee to your supervisor or boss. Similarly, you occupy very specific roles when you are in class.

You are, first and foremost, a student there, as well as a classmate to other students. Your relationship with your instructor and your fellow classmates defines who you are during class time, even though you may be a completely different person outside of it.

Oh, and it doesn’t end there. I’ve only listed some of the more obvious factors that affect our senses of identity, but, the thing is, they’re not just distinct, independent factors, and one can easily imagine dozens of ways in which they can interact on a regular basis.

For instance, we would occasionally run into a friend or two at our workplace, and there’s this funny feeling of confusion: Do we treat him or her as a friend? A customer? A little bit of both?

Conversely, there are those ever-dreaded moments of running into your boss outside of work or a teacher outside of school.

In such scenarios, things can become really awkward, really fast. With so many variables overlapping and intersecting with each other, it’s rather surprising that we don’t act out of character more often.

It just goes to show how truly impressive our minds are, to be able to maintain a coherent identity for us, most of the time.

The people with whom we interact and the circumstances through which we go all affect our senses of identity. These overlapping variables create many selves within us, and sometimes, it gets hard to keep track of them all.

For most of the people we encounter in our lives, we only ever see one or two sides of who they are.

With friends and family, we may be able to observe a few more layers of their identities, but it is extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible to see all of who they are, or even all of who we are.

Human beings are a wonderfully complex, confusing bunch.