In my new book, The Patriarchy Illusion: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Spiritual Feminism, I explore the hierarchical logic of patriarchy and all the different ways it can play out for us as women. In particular, I focus on the ways in which we can (often unknowingly) internalise patriarchal-informed hierarchies and hierarchical thinking in the following life areas: intelligence, career, possessions, wealth, appearance, relationships, personality and spirituality.
So, in today’s blog post, I want to talk a bit about the Personality Hierarchy.
What do I mean by the ‘personality hierarchy’? Well, while it is very culturally-specific, many societies tend to celebrate particular personality traits while devaluing or ignoring others. For example, much has been written in the past few years to explore and reclaim the innate gifts of introverts, because Western society on the whole tends to appreciate and reward extroverts. This is not to say, of course, that this needs to be flipped and that introversion needs to be valued over extroversion; we can instead recognise that they are both equally valuable traits.
On some level, we instinctively all know that different personality types offer complementary qualities. Society and specific subcultures may try to glorify some personality traits over others, but every trait has a gift to share. There can be no ‘personality traits’ hierarchy in truth. But from an individual perspective, being authentically ourselves can sometimes be tough going. The unfortunate reality is not everyone is going to like or approve of us, or approve of every single part of our personality, no matter who we are or how much we try. Disapproval and rejection can hurt, that’s for sure.
But we certainly don’t have to inflict disapproval and rejection on ourselves. Rather than relying on other people’s perceptions, we can give ourselves permission to accept and uncover the value of our own innate personality traits. For example, one part of me that I sometimes find unacceptable is being quiet and shy around groups of people. Yet, as uncomfortable as the experience is, I can admit that being shy and quiet actually does allow me time and space to suss out situations and other people. Being ourselves without judgement is something we can all progressively learn to do—and being our true selves is a worthwhile superpower we can all cultivate.
But with all the noisy social influences and peer pressure going on, can we ever really know our true selves? Personality testing can be of some help, because unlike IQ testing, it isn’t set up on a hierarchical scale; it has a refreshing implicit understanding that all personality traits are equally valid.
It can also be useful to keep a distinction in mind between our external, more superficial self and our internal, core self. As we may find ourselves acting quite differently around different people, we can use such a timeless distinction to help us get back in touch with our true self that may have gotten lost along the way of life. If we find that we’ve slipped into some kind of an external performance in our interactions with some people—with showy personality displays to win them over or impress them in some way—we can choose to prioritise our inner self instead, to show who we really are at our core.
On reflection, I can see that I’ve gotten caught up in the temptation towards external displays myself many times, striving to be funny, or interesting, or intelligent—often with a certain type of person who I want to befriend or impress—rather than having the courage to be myself and be genuine. Because being true to ourselves and the way we interact with others helps us to feel good about ourselves, regardless of society’s preferences.
The personality hierarchy can cause us to go down some pretty complicated rabbit holes, and may convince us along the way that there is something wrong or lacking with our innate personality traits. But trying to be like someone else or not feeling good enough as we are is simply our sneaky inner patriarchal programming at work. We can give ourselves permission to see the value in all our weird and wonderful complexity, because we are beautifully unique and worthy as we are.
This blog post is made up of content from the ‘Permission to be Yourself’ chapter of my new book, The Patriarchy Illusion: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Spiritual Feminism. Get your copy now!