Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: Personality Plus & Enriquezca su Personalidad

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: Personality Plus

Spanish edition: Enriquezca su personalidad

Author: Florence Littauer

Translator: Rosemary J. de Munoz

Date: 1983 (English), 1993 (Spanish)

Publisher: Fleming H. Revell

ISBN: 080075445X (English), 1-56063-317-4 (Spanish)

Length: 201 pages

Quote: "No existen dos personas identicas."

First the apology: I bought and read Personality Plus in the 1980s. Before selling my copy of that edition I bought Enriquezca su personalidad and read both books side by side. In theory each edition deserves to be reviewed in the language in which it was published. In practice I'm not confident enough to publish anything I might write in Spanish.

Apart from exercising the part of your brain that handles your second language, what this book is meant to do is explain some of the simplest, most obvious ways in which people are born different. When we are acting as our best, most mature selves, to the careful observer we'll seem even more different from one another than we were as uninstructed children.

More recent psychological research has identified several hereditary traits that tend to shape human personalities. Interestingly, some of the easiest of these traits to identify produce the classical four temperaments ancient philosophers attributed to the "four elements" (or conditions of matter). Hippocrates described the earthy or Melancholy temperament very much the way Elaine Aron describes the Highly Sensory-Perceptive personality. His watery or Phlegmatic temperament resembles the classic introverted personality associated with a long brain stem, as discussed by Marti Olsen Laney. His fiery or Choleric temperament is unmistakably what Meyer Friedman called "Type A"...and unfortunately Hippocrates' airy or Sanguine temperament is probably what we now call attention deficit disorder. Although we no longer believe in the medieval theory that linked these personality traits with mystical "humours," we recognize that the ancient Greeks classified people in terms of these traits because most people actually have one or more of the four.

Littauer encouraged people to identify their predominant temperament by choosing one word, out of forty groups of four words (in the English edition each set of four words begins with the same letter), that they thought most descriptive of them. Are you more persuasive, persistent, placid, or playful? This isn't even close to a scientific test. (Tim LaHaye offers a more scientific test online for $35.)

However, predominant temperament traits are easy enough to spot that the unscientific test is accurate for most healthy people. There are some disease conditions that produce "unnatural blends" of temperaments; probably the most common ones would be anemia and hypothyroidism, either of which can make other types act watery or "Phlegmatic." Littauer doesn't discuss the medical possibilities behind the "unnatural blends." Her approach to personality psychology is strictly behavioral.

For those who belong to social groups, e.g. churches, where people have agreed to try to help improve each other's character, just seeing how a large group can be divided into four, twelve, or sixteen sub-groups will help those who confuse character with personality. Each of the classical four traits encourages some behavior that is likely to be seen as "virtuous" and some that may be described as an individual's "besetting sins."

Understanding how our personality assets and weaknesses stem from the same hereditary, permanent traits can help us overlook other people's weaknesses and overcome our own. Having an introverted personality is different from feeling shy, although it's easy to confuse the two since young introverts are often made to feel shy by being told how uninteresting and inadequate they are. Having an aggressive, take-charge personality is different from being bossy, manipulative, or mean, although it's easy for young people to confuse those things, too, since older Type A's may have convinced themselves that it's their duty to keep young Type A's firmly in their place.

Some of the least lovable, least understandable things we do are confused efforts to get what we're hard-wired to want. Once everyone understands that taking drugs is a dysfunctional, dangerous way to access parts of the brain that HSPs, at least, normally activate by exercise and deep breathing, we're all safer from being tempted to experiment with drugs.

As Otto Kroeger and Janet Thuesen were observing in the 1980s, Littauer's analysis of the most conspicuous temperament traits overlooks several differences within temperament-type groups. Some HSPs, for example, abhor dirt and messiness but thrive on "creative clutter," with the things they work with spread all over the floor in some sort of inherent "working order" that makes perfect sense to the creative artist in the center of the web. Other HSPs' flesh creeps visibly as they glance through the "creative clutterers'" doors. "How can you stand to be surrounded by all that mess? I'd go mad in that office of yours..." There may well be physical differences between INTF and INTJ, but so far these haven't been as fully established as the basic differences between HSPs and non-HSPs.

There's also some room for disagreement about the outcome of some of the family situations in which Littauer's friends and clients used temperament psychology to resolve differences. Consider the hard-working HSP breadwinner who comes home on Friday evening, in need of a quiet place to unwind and think. Unfortunately he's married an ADD wife (a poor choice for anybody, I must say), so when he comes home, all the kids' little friends are shrieking and giggling in the kitchen as Mom demonstrates the lost art of flipping flapjacks; half a dozen flapjack flops are stuck to the floor, walls, and ceiling; the stereo is blaring in a room where nobody's listening to it; the smoke alarm is going wild, and the dog is trying to dig its way out behind the sofa.

Littauer's ideal outcome for this family requires this wretched husband to take the time to greet all these people he never invited into his home, before he goes up to his room to rest. Littauer is an extrovert, we can tell. I want to know why this husband didn't cut off all the electricity, send the extra children home, and file for divorce.

Anyway, for those who have not yet studied personality psychology in depth, Personality Plus is still a good introduction to the subject. It's easy to read and understand, with many anecdotes and epigrams to help readers remember the key points. Psychology majors, even as college sophomores, are likely to be told that it's an oversimplified popular book without statistical quantification etc. etc., but for purposes other than scientific research it's still a useful book.

Being published by Fleming H. Revell, it is, of course, written from a Christian point of view. It's not primarily about Christian doctrine and, for the time being, is probably the best first book on personality psychology on the market. (I've seen a potentially useful book on the subject that didn't take either a Christian or an astrological approach; it didn't sell well, and I can't seem to find it on Amazon.) Recommended.

Buy Personality Plus here:

Buy Enriquezca su personalidad here: