I teach psychology for a living, and each and every time I talk about the Big 5 personality traits, I reflect a bit on my own mental makeup. If you’re curious, it looks something like this
What stands out?
Aside from the fact that I don’t tend to favor the middle in any factor, the one there that might seem amazing is Emotional Stability – the 99th percentile. What is Emotional Stability you ask? Well, it’s the opposite end of the the spectrum commonly known as Neuroticism. You can also think of it as Emotional Reactivity. And as you can see from the above… I basically don’t react.
Now not reacting has benefits. I rarely feel depressed or anxious (by rarely, I mean perhaps 2-3 times per year for a period of about 1-2 hours), I don’t “freak out” over many things, and I tend not to panic. In fact, I am the epitome of the phrase If you see me running, try to keep up.
However when you have a very neutral to positive mood the majority of the time, it also means you don’t react to positive events the same way as most people. Tons of good things have happened to me in my life – far too many to name. And for the most emotionally charged, good or bad, I always feel that I don’t emote enough compared to most. And while it’s somewhat normal for some to be stoic at funerals (as opposed to throwing oneself on the coffin), I’ve had a few instances on the opposite end of the spectrum where I clearly did not communicate to others the level of positivity that I felt. Here’s an example: October 16 this year.
At work I have the privilege of leading a small team of dedicated professionals, and this year on the somewhat-dubious holiday of Bosses Day, they showered me with gifts. Playful certificates, donuts, a gift certificate, and a personalized mug that read “World’s Best Boss” on one side, and something fairly transgressive (a.k.a. profane) on the side that faces me if I were to drink from it.
Now when I saw this on my desk, my mood elevated quite a bit. The day wasn’t bad by any stretch, but after seeing their hard work, my little grinch-y heart grew three sizes, to steal a seasonal phrase. And while internally my mind kept thinking “That’s so nice of them, I’m touched they thought of me, that they came up with original ideas, and that they understood exactly what I would love to have the most on Bosses’ day”, the best I could do was go out to them and thank them repeatedly.
Later, I heard through the grapevine, that my reaction, the reaction of someone with an emotional stability of the 99th percentile, was a bit confusing. With some wondering if I truly liked the presents or if I was just being nice. This is one of the most misunderstood thing about us emotional stable types – our emotions don’t get “big” enough by most standards.
Over the next year, I’m looking forward to a ton of events that are going to be positively charged – vacations with friends and family, a family wedding, and more. However at each one, I’ll likely feel just a little bit of self-consciousness about my reaction. So if you see me (or other non-neurotics), and we say we’re happy, please just believe us. And if you’re one of those people who is on the other end of the spectrum, who wrestle with anxiety, mood swings, and more, it might be some solace to realize that you also have the ability to experience more passionate and “loud” emotions.
Oh, and before I finish this “mind rant” of sorts, I should probably point out that I wouldn’t change my personality – I’m quite happy with who I am, while also maintaining a growth mindset. So perhaps this year I’ll invest some time in learning to act excited. If that sounds crazy, it’s actually a method of therapy for those on the Autism spectrum. While I don’t have a problem recognizing a suitable reaction, I do have a bit of work to do to regularly produce it!