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Adult personality inconsistency and problems with parents: uncovering the roots of the false self

Adult personality inconsistency and problems with parents: uncovering the roots of the false self

Robinson, Oliver ORCID: 0000-0002-6758-2223 (2008) Adult personality inconsistency and problems with parents: uncovering the roots of the false self. In: BPS Clinical Psychology Conference Annual Conference, 10-12 Dec 2008, London, UK.

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Research has established that individuals who tend to vary their personality depending on who they are with, show a variety of signs of psychological maladjustment in comparison to those who do not; they show more negative affect (Baird, Le and Lucas, 2006), lower life satisfaction (Suh, 2002), lower self-esteem (Sheldon et al., 1997), lower role-satisfaction (Donahue et al., 1993), higher rates of depression (Lutz and Ross, 2003), more anxiety (Diehl, Hastings and Stanton, 2001) and poorer physical health (Cross, Gore and Morris, 2003). It has also been shown that personality variability is positively related to the experience of inauthenticity and falsity (Sheldon et al., 1997). Donahue, Roberts, Robins and John (1993) found that personality inconsistency of this type is related to tension within the family. Psychoanalytic theory has also linked the operation of an adult false self to experiences with parents, particularly in early life (Winnicott, 1960).

It was hypothesized that personality variability and the adult experience of falsity in social situations would be related to an emotionally unstable relationship with parents. The method to test this comprised a questionnaire-based survey given to a non-clinical population. The final sample comprised 305, with 193 women and 112 men, aged from 19 to 55. The first questionnaire asked participants to rate personality traits, including emotional stability, in three social contexts - with parents, with friends and with work colleagues. The second part involved 3 questions; participants were asked to select in which of the aforementioned three social contexts they felt “most themselves”; in which they were “most authentic” and in which they “put on a front”.

It was found, consistent with predictions, that an index of overall personality variability calculated from the personality questionnaire correlated strongly with emotional instability around parents (r = 0.46, p<0.001), while not correlating with emotional instability in either of the other two contexts measured. This suggests a specific link between a person’s relationship with their parents and their overall personality integration. Furthermore, it was found that participants who cited one of the three social contexts (parents, friends, work colleagues) as being one in which they were “more themselves” or “more authentic” had significantly higher ratings of emotional instability with parents than those participants who found that they were equally authentic across settings (F = 9.8, p<0.005).

The results suggest a clear link between a person’s relationships with their parents and their adult personality integration. An explanation is that individuals who experience an anxious or ambiguous attachment with their parents in childhood may fear rejection or abandonment in later life, and so habitually adapt their personality to fit in to social contexts as adults, in order to be accepted by others and to minimize the possibility of social rejection. These individuals meanwhile retain an emotionally unstable relationship with their parents in adulthood. This interpretation is speculative but is open to empirical testing. Clinicians should be aware that attachment problems with parents may underlie poor personality integration in adulthood.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Poster)
Additional Information: Poster session at the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology Annual Conference, London 2008.
Uncontrolled Keywords: personality traits, personality inconsistency, adults, relationship with parents, false selves
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Health & Social Care > Department of Psychology & Counselling
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Last Modified: 21 Oct 2020 08:30

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