Temperament, Personality, and Addiction: Untying the Gordian Knot
By Philip Hemphill, PhD, LCSW
Broad models weaved together often provide us with insight as we struggle to reveal a picture of this complex combination. The myth of the Gordian knot tells us that it’s “several knots all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to see how they were fastened.” Therefore, our approach to this task is rooted in trusting historical work that is being updated daily with universal discoveries in science. We are constantly examining the knot while strategizing our next approach to the disentangling process. We often use a varied language to describe our work but ultimately we are assisting with unraveling the loops and bonds while witnessing a formation of a new tapestry.
The structure of temperament is often associated with historical anthropology, which has evolved into “individual differences in reactivity and self-regulation, influenced over time by genes, maturation, and experience.” At the basis of this understanding is a biological and neurological framework that represents a bidirectional interpretation on one’s actions. This translates into the development of personality, which Eysenck described as Extraversion-Introversion, Neuroticism, and Psychoticism. This model formed the infrastructure to sensation-seeking behavior, aggression, hostility, sensitivity, impulsivity, anxiety, and sociability. There is evidence that gender differences are based in biological contributions, gender socialization, gender stereotypes, and maturational effects that are expressed in agreeableness, sensory sensitivity/openness, neuroticism/negative affect, surgency/positive affect, effort control/conscientiousness, and activity. The male and female distributed traits have considerable overlap, and differences within genders tend to be more substantial than differences between them.
Like all good psychotherapy we need to focus on the fundamental principles of therapy to align with individuals such as 1) Recognizing the relational context, 2) Establishing an experiential focus, and 3) Emphasizing self-exploration. This allows for the management of ruptures which invites collaboration and focus while creating an open environment to either accept or reject your observations. As the relationship is the key, we must also acknowledge the symptoms that are present, which include one’s ability to regulate and modulate affect while accepting interpersonal interactions and helps define one’s sense of self.
The self begins to be exposed to others during the developmental journey, serving as an opportunity to know how to behave in groups. Individuals learn these skills during the school-age years before the onset of young adulthood that begins to require intimacy skills with peers or courtship relationships. These group and intimacy skills allow one to experiment with different lifestyles, ideologies, and relationships before they settle into a predictable, comfortable pattern. This ability to adopt different social roles provides another infrastructure of values, goals, career objectives, and responsibilities. Erikson (1948) described this truth as:
To be an adult means among other things to see one’s life in continuous perspective, both in retrospect and prospect. By accepting some definition as to who he is, usually on the basis of a function in an economy, a place in the sequence of generations, and a status in the structure of society, the adult is able to selectively reconstruct his past in such a way that, step by step, it seems to have planned him, or better, he seems to have planned it. In this sense, psychologically we do choose our parents, our family history, and the history of our kings, heroes, and gods.
The next formation occurs through a series of narrative identity followed by a stage of future narratives. Unfortunately, addiction often attempts to sever the narrative knot or create a loophole that serves as a significant distraction to clarity. Therefore, the goal is to assist with answering: How do I act? What do I feel? What do I want? What do I value? What does my life mean? Who am I? Who have I been? And Who am I becoming?
Hazan, C. & Campa, M. eds. (2013). Human bonding: The science of affectional ties. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Livesley, W., Dimaggio, G., & Clarkin, J. eds. (2016). Integrated treatment for personality disorder: A modular Approach. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
McAdams, D. (2015). The art and science of personality development. New York, NY: Guildford Press.
Marcel, Z. & Shiner, R. eds. (2012). Handbook of temperament. New York, NY: Guildford Press.