How do our personalities develop? What do we come with and what is built from our experiences? Once developed, how does personality work? These questions have been steeped in controversy for almost as long as psychology has existed.
In an article in Psychological Review, Carol Dweck tackles these issues. She proposes that our personalities develop around basic needs, and she begins by documenting the three basic psychological needs we all come with: the need to predict our world, the need to build competence to act on our world, and, because we are social beings, the need for acceptance from others. (She also shows how new needs emerge later from combinations of these basic needs.)
Infants arrive highly prepared to meet these needs – they are brilliant, voracious learners on the lookout for need-relevant information. Then, as infants try to meet their needs, something important happens. They start building beliefs about their world and their role in it: Is the world good or bad, safe or dangerous? Can I act on my world to meet my needs? These beliefs, plus the emotions and action tendencies that are stored with them, are termed “BEATs”. They represent the accumulated experiences people have had trying to meet their needs, and they play a key role in personality – both the invisible and the visible parts of personality. (1)
A seemingly elegant theory.
But imagine you are being thrown into an unknown forest.
Waking up among big tall trees. Listening to the silence.
Afraid of the darkness.
What would be your first thought?
How to predict? How to act? How to become… accepted?
Or the simple and raw questions… Where am I? Who am I?
It is easy to get lost in the forest.
If you only look at the millions of trees.
We have lost our ability to ask the right questions.
Because we ask too many…