What is CHARACTER (Part 2)


what to look for

Previous: What is Character, Part 1

SITE: 7 Common Character types in Fiction

REMINDER: See ACRONYM Page for abbrev.

(C) (from Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D)

1. Character is plural
Character is not made up of just one or two traits, but is multi-dimensional & must be measured in ways that do justice to its breadth and complexity.  People are not simply kind and humble, brave and hopeful, or wise and fair. People’s character is a unique profile of strengths, with many variations.
• ALSO, to be healthy means to be balanced. We’re not looking to only have ‘positive’ traits according to some societal norm. Each person has a unique combination, which needs to be identified & appreciated. Thus – the Myers-Briggs Questionnaire, the MMPI, The Enneagram, & many other measures.

2. Character Strengths (CS) are basic
Neal Mayerson (founder & Chairman of the VIA Institute on Character) says CS are the basic building blocks of the goodness in us, our true essence – the core part that account for being our best selves.greek coins
• The word “character” comes from a Greek noun for the stamp impressed on a coin.  From that we use the term to mean that individuals have been “stamped” by nature into a complex of mental & ethical traits. However, we then often jump to incorrect conclusions, such as – if someone is sensitive they are therefore weak; another is vain and so is shallow …. Groups are also categorized as stamped in specific ways, such as men and women having different characters (‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’).

3. CS are stable, but can & do change
While they are fundamental parts of our personality, these strengths can change in intensity or in focus, depending on predictable life events such as starting a family, unpredictable life events such as a trauma, and deliberate changes in lifestyle.  
• ALSO, some traits may be prominent at one stage in life (being Adventurous but not Compassionate, Socially active but not Discrete…) while other traits may take prominence at other stages, as with experience & maturity (Decisiveness, Cautiousness, Self-control….)

4. CS are expressed in degrees
People express their strengths in different ways, depending on the event or setting -in degrees – rather than having a trait or not have it.  
Social Psychology tells us that the details of the specific situation influences actual behavior. We may:
— normally be very Responsible, but on some occasions we’re not – because of how late we are, how much money we have at the moment, who we’re with, how upset we are ….
— use Sdegree of abilityocial intelligence & Curiosity when with friends, Self-regulation and Prudence when eating, draw on Teamwork and Perseverance at work, use Love and Kindness with family….
• The degree to which a trait is expressed can depend on the people we interact with: we may be Restrained with a shy person or unsafe authority figure but Expressive with good friends or children, Diligent at work but Carefree on vacation…..

5. CS can be measured
There are many theories & tests created to identify what is potentially strongest and best in individuals (See a list on Wikipedia).  One such is the VIA Survey (‘Values in Action’ Inventory of CS), evaluating CS on a dimensional scale (degrees), rather than categorical (either/or).

6. CS are inter-dependent
In most situations people will express a combination of CS rather than one at a time. Interactions among strengths may enhance the expression of some but hinder the expression of others. For exp, it’s hard to be creativity without some level of curiosity, or to be kind without some amount of bravery…..while being discrete can limit the ability to be persuasive, and being truthful will modify one’s meekness ….

7. CS can be developed
While we’re born with CS, we can have them in different proportions (one person will be naturally higher on Courage, another on Cautiousness, one is higher on Ambition, another on Deference….). Yet the strength of our characteristics can be modified or enhanced with attention, experience & training. People can learn to be more curious, more grateful, more fair, more open-minded…. Specific interventions can have an impact on many CS, such as journaling, emulating others & goal-oriented planning. Practice can break old habits and form new ones

8. CS can be overused, misused, or under-usedpower abuse
Since we are all molded by our childhood experiences, our fundamental strengths can be repressed & then quickly forgotten, or expressed in unbalanced & harmful ways. For exp, Creativity can be misused in email spamming; overuse of Curiosity can lead people into dangerous locations, under-use of Fairness can lead to conflicted relationships. Balance and skill are the keys

9. CS have important consequences
The outcome of expressing one’s CS is likely connected to many benefits, such as increased happiness.  This may be especially true regarding our signature strengths – the more intense ones that feel energizing & authentic which we use across many settings & are readily noticed by others.  Over time, research may also reveal that each Cs has its own unique ramification. For exp, perseverance seems to be linked with achievement more than most other character strengths.

10. CS are universaluniversal
These strengths can be found in the most remote cultures and lands, shared by people with differing beliefs, religious affiliations, and political preferences. This makes applying character strengths more a matter of gathering & using the best parts of us, than picking ourselves apart.

NEXT: Dimensions of C.


5 thoughts on “What is CHARACTER (Part 2)

  1. Good article. Finding my CS right now is difficult, I enjoy the perspective you bring to the table. I know I have good and bad character traits, I’m just trying to deal with this new ACOA title and how that has impacted my perception of who I am and what traits are truly mine and are only a result of my reaction of the dysfunction I experienced early in my life.


  2. I know what you mean – in the beginning it took me a long time to identify mine. But mirroring from other people helped – (intelligent, curious, artistic, sensitive…)
    as did making inventory lists, starting with qualities I could put on a resume (good organizer, dependable, creative…)

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