We all know everyone has their own unique personality. But do we really understand it and draw the right conclusions from our social interactions? The Big Five Personality Traits allow us to finally understand why we are the way we are and why our loved ones behave the way they do.
A theoretical model of psychology might not sound like the most exciting thing on earth, but this one has the potential to change the way you see the world and especially other people forever. Let’s admit it, we all struggle with understanding our loved ones and their decisions. Deep down, we assume that everybody is actually like us and should think like us. But this could not be further from the truth. People are actually very different and see the world with entirely different eyes.
The Big Five Personality Traits help us understand just how different people really are. This model allows us to pinpoint our personality on a spectrum of five dimensions and 10 aspects creating a unique blend of personality for each of us. Let’s take a look at the different categories that shape the way we see the world.
1. Extraversion: Positive Emotions
Extraversion is all about positive emotion. Someone who scores high in extraversion smiles and laughs more often than the average person. For them, the world is a wonderful place full of opportunities, and getting along with other people is easy. They’re friendly, spontaneous, talkative, sociable, and simply fun to be around. The opposite end of extraversion describes introverts who don’t like talking about themselves and are reserved and quiet.
Someone high in extraversion smiles and laughs more often than the average person.
Extraversion can be divided into two aspects: assertiveness and enthusiasm. Someone who is assertive finds it easy to convince other people. They’re the ones who take charge and lead the way. Enthusiastic people love to share personal information, especially when they’re happy — and they’re happy most of the time.
2. Neuroticism: Negative Emotions
In contrast to extraversion, neuroticism describes how we deal with negative emotions such as frustration, disappointment, grief, and pain.
Neuroticism can be further divided into withdrawal and volatility. A person who is high in withdrawal is scared of many things, often feels blue, and is easily overwhelmed. They’re very sensitive to negative emotions and tend to worry a lot. They’re also much more prone to depression and anxiety. On the other end of the spectrum, people are calm and self-confident.
Volatile people are touchy and often experience mood swings. They have a hard time controlling their emotions and get irritated, angry, upset, and annoyed easily. Have you ever wondered why your dad always curses when he’s stuck in traffic? He’s simply volatile. People who aren’t volatile are easy-going, stable, and relaxed.
3. Agreeableness: Maternal Care
Agreeableness tells us how much we care about other people. Those who score high in this dimension are very warm and accommodating but have a hard time standing up for themselves. They’re great team players and really find joy in helping others. Disagreeable people, on the other side, are highly competitive. On average, women tend to be more agreeable than men, and it’s definitely a personality trait that comes in handy when raising a family, especially when dealing with an infant or elderly person who needs care.
Agreeable people are warm and accommodating, but struggle to stand up for themselves.
Agreeableness can be broken down into compassion and politeness. While compassionate people value quality time and are genuinely interested in the well-being of others, politeness is more about avoiding conflict and not offending anyone.
4. Conscientiousness: Duty and Order
Conscientiousness describes our work ethic and organizational skills. Someone who is very conscientious is punctual, well-organized, detail-oriented, and self-disciplined. People on the other end are careless, laid-back, messy, and often unfocused. Think well-to-do business consultant in Manhattan vs. surfer who lives on the beach in his van.
The two aspects of conscientiousness are industriousness and orderliness. Highly industrious people always carry out their plans, hate wasting time, and get things done quickly. They don’t procrastinate and aren’t easily distracted. Orderly people always keep their house clean, love routine, and are the happiest when everything is in perfect order. They’re also easily disgusted and emotionally affected by disorder.
5. Openness to Experience: Ideas and Beauty
This dimension of personality describes how much somebody is interested in abstract ideas and beauty. Here we can make a distinction between intellect and openness. This is basically the difference between smart and creative. Think engineer vs. artist.
Open people live for art and beauty.
A person who scores high in intellect can easily understand abstract ideas and new information. They can solve complex problems, are very analytical, and love deep discussions. Open people, on the other hand, live for art and beauty. They need a creative outlet, get lost in the beauty of nature, and see beauty where nobody else sees it. They believe in the importance of art, love to think about things deeply, and are often daydreamers. People who are low in openness are down-to-earth and care more about practical problems than abstract ideas.
What Does This Mean for Our Relationships?
The fact is that people who have vastly different personalities might have trouble getting along and building meaningful relationships with each other. This is good news and bad news at the same time.
The bad news is that this difference will not go away anytime soon. The good news is that it’s nobody’s fault. If we understand that most of our interpersonal conflicts are actually rooted in personality differences, we can stop blaming each other and start finding a solution. We can also start to feel empathy for the struggle of the person we’re in conflict with instead of yielding to anger or frustration.
Scenario 1: He Always Leaves His Belongings Around
Are you one of those women who gets easily upset because their significant other has again left his underwear in the bathroom after taking a shower? It’s most likely that he’s significantly lower in orderliness than you are.
While his boxershorts are the very first thing you will notice when you enter the bathroom, he probably really didn’t see them when he left. While this is frustrating, it’s good to know that he doesn’t necessarily do this on purpose. He might actually already be trying to work on his lack of orderliness because he knows it upsets you. But as it’s difficult to work on something that’s innate, a bit of sympathy for his struggle will probably go a long way.
Scenario 2: She Gets Upset over Trivial Things
If you were able to relate to the previous example and really do get upset easily, chances are good that you would score high in neuroticism. This means that you strongly react to negative emotions and find it hard to stay composed in stressful situations. If this is not you, think of somebody who is very impatient and gets annoyed quickly. Have you ever been harshly criticized by a colleague only to hear an apology half an hour later?
Their emotional outbursts are much more about them than about you.
When dealing with people who are very high in neuroticism, understanding that their emotional outbursts are much more about them than about you can help tremendously. If you know that this is not personal, but that the person is just drowning in a whirlwind of negative emotions, it’s much easier to resume a normal relationship once the waves have flattened.
Scenario 3: He Never Goes to Cultural Events with Me
Have you been frustrated because your husband doesn’t share your love for art, fashion, and beauty? Would you like to go on dates to the opera or the theater or classical concerts, but your partner is much more into sports? Then you probably score much higher in openness than he does. This isn’t his fault and doesn’t mean that he’s an uncultivated person. He just can’t enjoy art as much as you do, and you might be better off doing these kinds of activities with someone who also genuinely enjoys them.
How To Pick the Perfect Partner
What does all this mean for dating and finding the right man? In order to avoid frustration and conflict, it’s best to pick a partner who has a somewhat similar personality. Of course, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same as it’s definitely possible to bridge gaps as long as they’re not too big.
To avoid conflict, it’s best to pick a partner who has a somewhat similar personality.
For example, if you are highly extroverted and love to throw parties, but your significant other is an extreme introvert who finds it very exhausting to spend time with other people, you will have a hard time scheduling your free time so that it’s enjoyable for both of you. The only exception for this is neuroticism. If you’re very sensitive to negative emotions, it’s a good idea to find a partner who is emotionally stable and can help calm you down.
Can We Change Our Personality?
We’ve all heard the saying opposites attract, so what if you love somebody who has a very different personality? Or if you’re struggling to build a good relationship with a family member? Can we actually change our personality?
The answer is yes, to some degree. If we want to be the best version of ourselves, it’s actually necessary to expand our personalities whatever they happen to be. An introvert can – and should – master the art of small talk, and an extrovert can – and should – learn how to spend time alone. If we’re aware of the flaws in our personality, we can definitely take steps to correct them – but only to a certain extent. A very disorderly person can – and should – learn to keep their room clean and use a calendar, but they will never experience the same joy that a very orderly person gets when everything is in perfect order. In a similar way, an orderly person can probably never really relax when surrounded by chaos.
It’s Your Turn!
Now that you have learned about the five dimensions and the 10 aspects, it’s time to find out how you and your loved ones score. The best way to learn about your personality traits is to take a Big Five Personality Traits test.
To be the best version of ourselves, we need to expand our personalities.
As I’ve been introduced to this interesting concept by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, the renowned psychologist who has famously spoken out against political correctness and has done a lot of research in the field of personality, I would like to mention his Big Five personality test here. It shows results on all five categories and 10 aspects and also provides a very detailed and helpful interpretation – including the option to compare your results with those of a loved one. Of course, there are also free Big Five personality tests like this one by Truity.
A fun way to combine this exciting self-exploration project with quality time is to do it together with your significant other or a good friend to make sure the answers are correct (and not what you wish they were).
If you would like to learn more about the Big Five Personality Traits, I can highly recommend the in-depth course Discovering Personality by Dr. Peterson, as well as his university lectures about Personality and Its Transformations.
Understanding personality really does have the power to transform our close relationships from frustration-ridden exhaustion into meaningful sources of joy and peace of mind. If we accept that we’re all different and try to understand where the other person is coming from, we can truly eliminate most conflicts and might actually even be able to live somewhere close to happily ever after.