Cover of "Personality Disorders in Modern...

Cover of Personality Disorders in Modern Life


Today I learned that Theodore Millon died. I started reading ” personality disorders in modern life” as a tribute to him, but the monkey mind that mine is, ended up writing this post instead.


To recall, Theodore Millon’s model talked about four fundamental evolutionary problems faced by all humans: 1) existence 2) adaptation 3) replication and 4)  abstraction. There were also two polar ways of approaching each fundamental problem; that of pleasure-pain; activity-passivity; self-other and I added to it the fourth polarity of broad-narrow. Anyway those polarities need not concern us for this post.


There is an influential model of emotions – the PAD model which views emotions, not as discrete basic emotions, but as dimensional in nature and thus different emotions differ from each other not as entities in themselves, but as graded multi-dimensional affects.


To elaborate, while the lay man may think of emotions as a few basic discrete emotions like sadness, happiness, anger, love, wonder, disgust, fear , interest etc. , as per this theory the emotions are complex graded amalgamations of a few basic fundamental dimensions.


As per this PAD theory, the first dimension is valence / pleasure/ pleasantness etc. which tells us whether the emotion colloquially feels ‘good’ or ‘bad’ . As we all know , no emotion by itself is bad; negative emotions have their own benefits, if invoked for a short amount of time and are situation specific; and the benefits of positive emotions is self-evident. BTW, some people consider ‘flow’ which is a sort of neutral emotional condition to be better that either.


The second dimension is Arousal/ energy/ vigor etc which tells us how strong the emotion is and how much it arouses us. Some emotions like courage arouse greatly (not just the person displaying courage, but also subtly the people witnessing it) while other emotions can have a calming effect (like love and compassion { depends what sort of love one is talking about 🙂 } )


The third dimension is dominance/ potency etc. and to my mind represents the ability of emotion to take control of you (/ others ? ). The immediate example that springs to mind is anger, but then so can be interest/ fascination. In either case, you empower your emotions to rule over you than vice versa.


The for-now-final dimension that I (and others) have added to the PAD model is predictiviness/transparency of the emotion:  whether it is hard to predict/ discern in oneself/ others or is consistently and transparently available to self/ others.


How does this relate to personality?


While reading the first chapter of Millon, I had the insight that one analogous personality dimensional structure we can talk about is as follows:


1) Strength/ existence of personality: whether one has ‘a personality’ / quirks in the first place. How (ab) normal one is; where one fits on the normal curve of personality traits distribution. Analogous to emotions, personality quirks have a function; those familiar with evolutionary theory will know why outliers are necessary for survival (of the species).


2) Fitness/ adaptability of personality : whether one can fit in with the social norms/ changing landscapes. Lay men think of people in terms of having a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ personality; in reality people are just responding to the environment and adapting. The behavior of some people is flexible, while for many its more rigid.


3) Centrality/ hold of personality: whether the quirks that make you unique form the average person, are central to your self-definition or have peripheral value; whether you want to shape/ influence/ mold loved others (like spouse, child etc)  as per your values or are OK with the differences.


4) Consistency/ integrity of personality: whether you are consistent in your thoughts, words, actions etc. or are comfortable with contradictions. (as and aside, a philosophical question is whether there is consistency behind contradictions and contradiction behind {apparent} consistency). With the cognitive revolution, much focus has shifted here. Using a information processing metaphor, much of new personality research like Daryl Bem‘s self-perception theory or Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory revolve around the idea of being consistent; either by changing your behavior or your self-image or maybe the language and words you use etc. etc. For eg. my counseling teacher used to say you can either be as comfortable as Gandhi (who he said used to sleep peacefully like a child whenever he got some time) or you can be as uncomfortable as OSHO.


So how does this relate to my ABCD model (or even the PAD model outlined above??) ? I’ll leave that as a homework exercise for regular readers. For now, let me just briefly touch upon the terms we use in personality research.


1. Temperament : more about what ‘Nature’ has endowed you with. He has an ‘irritable temperament’


2. Character : more about how ‘Nurture’ has shaped this character.


3. Personality: more about what ‘passions’ drive you.


4. Image: more about being ‘prudent’.


Let me elaborate. I have previously blogged about false dichotomies. I believe Nature Vs Nurture is a false dichotomy.  Everyone knows that. What about the new dichotomy I am introducing (Passion vs. Prudence) ?  As I mention in my false dichotomy blog post, Passion is about habits- using the power of your sub/ un-conscious mind – choosing for once , by way of habits, rituals etc. what you want to choose in times of crisis (on auto-pilot etc.). Prudence is about trying to reason, using whatever information is available at hand (including your gut reactions)- not necessarily conscious- but using bounded rationality- coming to a decision afresh at each choice point.


As I had mentioned in my false dichotomy post, Passion via prudence is more about making meaningful choices and a belief in choice/ free will. Nature via Nurture is all about proving the right environment to people to make their best attributes shine out. Running out of how to phrase ({Passion via Prudence} via {Nature via Nurture}) and what it is all about. Maybe you can help?

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