Who we are vs. can be


You may be familiar with childhood development theories that suggest who we are is defined by the age of 10yrs old.   But what does that really mean…

From what I have learnt there are a variety of theories and opinions which tend to generally agree that around the age of 10yrs old we have developed our personalities.   I was chatting to another parent recently who understood that after 10 they didn’t have the ability to teach/influence their children around values/morals and how to be a good person in general.   They seemed to be worried that their child wasn’t well rounded or armed for adulthood etc.

So it got me thinking about the distinction between personality and capacity to learn.   At some level they are connected yes, because there are links between neglect/abuse and mental illness.  For now let’s assume though we are talking about a normal child raised in a functional family unit.

Neuroscience demonstrates we develop quite a number of significant neural pathways related to how we interact with the world, a handful of which we use to talk about personality.   You may refer to them in ways such as introverted/extroverted, type A/B etc, the differences or merit are non-consequential at the moment but they do exist.

Important side point here; the human brain develops many more neural pathways than I have ever seen correlated to a personality typing system.  The pathways that develop are individual and in concert are even more unique.  Personality types are a massive generalisation we can use as a foot in the door to understanding someone only.

Now let’s add neuroplasticity into the mix.  That we can teach our brains anything including adjusting personality. The best example I can think of to demonstrate this is the comparison between young and old people.   My observation is that it is harder to pick strong personality characteristics in older people because they have learnt to develop the weaker pathways and resulting personality attributes.  There is a lot of information out there on neuroplasticity in general.

From early on our environment plays a role in what neural pathways are developed most and therefore our initial style with the world.  There really isn’t any right or wrong here and different traits will only mean we are more comfortable and better prepared for certain situations.  I think this just leads us all down different paths in life…  it would be boring if we were all the same wouldn’t it !!

I personally subscribe to the theory that there are a number of key traits that we should try to develop in people to give them the best chance to adapt and continue to learn.  And that our best chance is between the ages of 0-10.  However it seems clear people will always develop some traits more than others (rules and structure versus creativity for example).

Given a solid base (functional upbringing) then we can learn and become whatever we want to.  Our value system is also something which continues to be developed for the rest of our lives.   Beyond childhood we start to become more autonomous and have greater access to learning beyond the family unit.   For me this still isn’t about capacity but moves into a control versus influencing discussion.    I hope that I develop a trustful relationship with my kids so that they continue to learn from me beyond childhood.   They will make mistakes and learn from them, extending knowledge, skill and personality in the process.  Then hopefully ‘do’ things differently next time 🙂

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