Can Your Personality Type Change Across Time?

I tried out a new personality test website the other day called 16 personalities. I came up as an Advocate, or an INFJ-A. This is a Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) type personality test for those who aren’t familiar with the letters:

  • The I means I am an introvert (63%) more than an extrovert (37%), and can “get exhausted by social interactions”. It also means that I recharge my energy through solitary activities.
  • The N means I am intuitive (58%) rather than sensing or observant (42%), and that I am “very imaginative, open-minded and curious”. intuitive individuals “prefer novelty over stability and focus on hidden meanings and future possibilities”.
  • The F means that I am feeling (72%) rather than thinking (28%), and am “sensitive and emotionally expressive”. Feeling individuals are “more empathic and less competitive than thinking types, and focus on social harmony and co-operation”.
  • The J means that I am judging (60%) rather than perceiving or prospecting (40%). This means that I “approach work, planning and decision making” in a “decisive, thorough, and highly organised” way. Judging individuals “value clarity, predictability and closure, preferring structure and planning to spontaneity”.
  • The A means that I am assertive (65%) rather than turbulent (35%). Assertive individuals are “self-assured, even-tempered and resistant to stress. They refuse to worry too much and do not push themselves too hard when it comes to achieving goals”.

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HOW HAS MY PERSONALITY CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

What’s interesting is that I have taken the MBTI on several occasions and have achieved very different results. Way back before I sought any personal therapy, about 10 years ago, I was an ENTJ, which is a Commander. This does not seem to fit me at all any more, but did back then, when I was much more competitive and egotistical. I was young, and thought I had it all figured out. My father called me “un-coach-able”, and he was my basketball coach for at least 2 seasons, which isn’t great news. It might explain why I have one of the ugliest jump shots going around, and no range from outside the key.

I then became an ENFJ when I took the test about 5 years ago, which is sometimes referred to as a Protagonist. It meant that I was still an extrovert, but I had switched from a thinking to a feeling subtype. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to fit me too much either anymore, as I really don’t try to lead others. I instead try to help them to understand themselves and become the person they want to be, not who I think they should be.

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IS IT WORTH COMPLETING A PERSONALITY TEST?

Normally, I’ve been fairly dismissive of the MBTI, as it doesn’t have a lot of scientific evidence supporting it. However, the description of the Advocate personality type on the 16personalities website was creepily spot on in some regards for me, including:

“INFJs are not idle dreamers, but people capable of taking concrete steps to realize their goals and make a lasting positive impact.”

“INFJs tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all.”

“It makes sense that their friends and colleagues will come to think of them as quiet Extraverted types, but they would all do well to remember that INFJs need time alone to decompress and recharge, and to not become too alarmed when they suddenly withdraw.”

“The passion of their convictions is perfectly capable of carrying them past their breaking point and if their zeal gets out of hand, they can find themselves exhausted, unhealthy and stressed.”

“One of the things INFJs find most important is establishing genuine, deep connections with the people they care about.”

“There is a running theme with INFJs, and that is a yearning for authenticity and sincerity – in their activities, their romantic relationships, and their friendships.”

“INFJs seek out people who share their passions, interests and ideologies, people with whom they can explore philosophies and subjects that they believe are truly meaningful.”

“people with the INFJ personality type make loyal and supportive companions, encouraging growth and life-enriching experiences with warmth, excitement and care.”

“INFJs don’t require a great deal of day-to-day attention – for them, quality trumps quantity every time.”

“First and foremost, INFJs need to find meaning in their work, to know that they are helping and connecting with people. This desire to help and connect makes careers in healthcare, especially the more holistic varieties, very rewarding for INFJs – roles as counselors, psychologists, doctors, life coaches and spiritual guides are all attractive options.”

“INFJs crave creativity too, the ability to use their insight to connect events and situations, effecting real change in others’ lives personally.”

“INFJs often pursue expressive careers such as writing, elegant communicators that they are, and author many popular blogs, stories and screenplays. Music, photography, design and art are viable options too, and they all can focus on deeper themes of personal growth, morality and spirituality.”

Other people may disagree with me, but these quotes were consistent with how I’d like to see myself, and the things that I truly value in life.

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RECOMMENDATION

If you’ve never taken an MBTI personality test before, check it out at 16personalities.com and let me know if it was as accurate for you as it was for me. If you’ve already taken it, I’d love to hear about if it has changed over time, and if your description now feels more accurate than what you were defined as in the past?

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

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How Do You Deal With Your Problems?

Throughout my schooling years, I was a horrible procrastinator. I would leave everything to the last minute, sometimes even having to take a day off high school so that I could finish an assignment that was meant to be due that day.

Once I got to university, I couldn’t do this anymore, as the due date remained the same whether I went to classes or not. I would instead consume a lot of energy drinks the night before an assignment was due, and generally do the majority of the assignment in an anxious, tense and sleep-deprived state; printing it out and submitting it 20 minutes before the deadline.

Exams were the same. I’d miss classes, not pay attention when I was there, and then try to cram an entire semester’s contents into the last 4 days before an exam. I would lock myself in my room, and study up to 12 hours a day, only leaving for toilet breaks and something to eat until I was utterly exhausted. Luckily, I have a knack for remembering vast amounts of information in short periods of time, so I always passed, but it wasn’t easy, or fun.

I sometimes tried to start early, but never found this effective, as the negative consequences seemed so far away. Eventually, I figured I would just follow the mantra, “if you leave everything to the last minute, it only takes a minute’. This mantra actually helped me to fit a lot of things into my life by being more efficient, but it did have its limitations.

Once I got to my Doctorate of Clinical Psychology degree at Monash University, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of having to do a 70,000-word thesis that was meant to take 3.5 years to do. How could I possibly cram something so big, especially when it consisted of doing a research proposal, ethics application, recruiting participants, conducting a clinical trial, collating all the results, running data analysis and writing up the thesis and journal articles? It turns out I couldn’t.

The thesis ended up taking me 4 years to complete, and there wasn’t too much of it that I enjoyed. It required a direct challenging of my usual defence mechanisms, and this was no easy feat, especially because I didn’t know what they were. I knew that I had always procrastinated with my studies, but I was never entirely sure why.

What Are Your Defence Mechanisms?

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Fortunately, there was a fun test over at personalityassessor.com on coping styles’ titled ‘How Do You Deal?’ that helped me to identify which defence mechanisms I typically used. If you are interested in knowing what yours are, I definitely recommend taking it.

It is a bit time consuming as there are 2 parts and over 200 questions, but the reason I like this questionnaire so much is that it is tough to fudge the test to get desirable results. This is because the survey doesn’t have face validity, and therefore doesn’t appear to measure how much someone engages in a particular defence mechanism. Two examples of questions are:

I am bothered by stomach acid several times per week” or

It is annoying to listen to a lecturer who cannot seem to make up his mind as to what he really believes“.

I’m not even sure which defence mechanisms these questions are tapping into or if the correct answer is true or false. However, previous research has shown that specific patterns of responses on the questionnaire are quite good at identifying people who regularly use 10 common defence mechanisms, including repression, displacement, denial, regression, projection, reaction formation, intellectualisation, rationalisation, isolation and doubt. My results were astonishing to me.

My Defence Mechanisms

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I first took the ‘How Do You Deal?’ questionnaire in February 2013. I had just finished a year-long practical internship at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and I found supporting individuals with cancer really rewarding and meaningful, but also quite challenging as I had lost a dear friend to cancer when I was 21. I was wanting to finish up my thesis by July but was falling way behind, and I was also a month away from getting married and moving in with my then fiancé. I had a lot of big changes coming up, and I was both stressed and scared with how everything was going to go.

Here are my February 2013 results, alongside the descriptions of these defence mechanisms given by the personality assessor website:

1. Denial – 94th percentile – extremely high

Denial is a defense mechanism where people avoid thinking about problems, or even pretend like their problems don’t exist. For example, someone might deny that they have a drug problem. Or someone might deny that they’re currently having conflict in their romantic relationship.

 

Since denial can be subconscious, people who use denial might honestly believe that their problems don’t exist!

2. Isolation – 91st percentile – extremely high

Isolation is a defense mechanism where people compartmentalize their thoughts and feelings so that their thoughts don’t affect their feelings.

 

Isolation differs from denial. Using denial, a person with a drug problem might refuse to even see that they have a drug problem. Using isolation, a person with a drug problem would acknowledge they have a problem, but would not let the fact they have a problem affect their feelings. If intellectualization is all about staying in your head to avoid your heart, isolation is about keeping your head and your heart separate.

3. Displacement – 81st percentile – very high

Displacement occurs when we “take out” our frustrations on someone/something else. For example, imagine that you hate your boss. It might have dire consequences if you expressed your hate toward your boss. So, if you displaced those feelings, you might go home and yell at your family.

 

This is different than projection. In projection, we don’t see our own feelings—we see them in other people (e.g., I am not angry, my boss is). In displacement, however, we still “own” our feelings (e.g., I am angry) but we “take out” those feelings on the wrong target (e.g., angry at boss, but kick dog instead of boss).

4. Regression – 73rd percentile – high

Regression is a defense mechanism where people essentially start acting or thinking like a child. The idea is that when life feels too overwhelming or our problems feel too big, that we regress to an earlier, easier time when other people (our parents) used to take care of us. As such, regression can include:

  • desiring for other people to take care of your problems for you
  • acting dependent on other people
  • acting like a child (e.g., temper tantrums)
  • refusing to take responsibility for your actions
5. Doubt – 72nd percentile – high

The defense mechanism of doubt occurs when people doubt their senses or thought processes when they encounter problems. For example, imagine a good friend tells you they don’t really like you. You might utilize the defense mechanism of doubt by thinking “I must have misunderstood what they meant.”

 

Doubt is kind of like a mixture of denial, intellectualization, and rationalization. Doubt lets us deny that our problems are real (or avoid making big decisions we’re afraid of) by questioning our ability to accurately see the world and make good decisions. In contrast to denial, when people use doubt, they are aware of their problems on some level.

6. Rationalization – 68th percentile – high

Rationalization is when people excuse their actions with usually irrational false explanations. For example, if someone binges and eats an entire large pizza, they might think “Well, the food was going to waste anyway! I might as well have eaten it.”

 

Rationalization is kind of like a mixture of denial and intellectualization. Essentially, rationalization allows people to “explain away” their problems (usually bad habits, personal flaws, etc.) with a superficially valid explanation. The biggest difference between rationalization and intellectualization is that intellectualization is used to avoid feelings, whereas rationalization is used to avoid seeing our own personal flaws.

7. Intellectualisation – 64th percentile – high

Intellectualization occurs when people avoid painful feelings by thinking oftentimes inappropriate impersonal thoughts. For example, if someone’s pet dies, they might think, “Pets die every day. Why should I be upset?”

 

Basically, the idea is that people who use intellectualization minimize their problems—or at least their feelings— and avoid the pain in their hearts by staying lodged solidly in their heads.

8. Projection – 47th percentile – about average

Projection occurs when we project our own thoughts and feelings onto other people. For example, you might really hate your boss. If you used the defense mechanism of projection, you might be unaware of your own feelings toward your boss, but instead think your boss hated you. This defense mechanism would allow you to deny your feelings and, in turn, believe that any conflict between you and your boss is your boss’s fault (not yours).

 

Projection basically lets us believe that are problems aren’t really ours—they’re someone else’s!

9. Repression – 37th percentile – low

Repression occurs when people push down or block-out memories or desires that they feel are threatening. For example, someone might repress painful childhood memories and try to not think about them. As another example, someone might repress their attraction to a friend that they fear wouldn’t reciprocate their interest.

 

Repression is similar to denial, but slightly different. Denial is about convincing yourself that your problems don’t exist. Repression is about blocking out part of yourself—memories or desires, usually—perhaps to avoid creating a problem!

10. Reaction formation – 15th percentile – very low

Reaction formation is a fascinating defense mechanism where we do the opposite of what we really want to do. For example, imagine you are very attracted to another person. If, for some reason that attraction is a problem (e.g., you are married, they are married, etc.), you might start to feel the opposite toward them—you may think they are disgusting and/or actively dislike them.

 

Reaction formation allows you to avoid your problems—and also creates a buffer to ensure you avoid your problems. In the example above, you’re not merely repressing your attraction toward the other person—you’re actually feeling negative feelings toward them. These negative feelings will ensure the attraction doesn’t resurface.

Seeing that my marriage ended up being far worse than I had predicted, I maybe should have paid attention to these results a bit more, especially my denial and doubt scores.

It did help with the writing up of my thesis, however, as I stopped trying to avoid the problem, started coming into the lab from 9am-5pm every weekday regardless of how I felt and began making some real and consistent progress without cramming for the first time in my life. I finished a full draft of my thesis by September 2013, started working as a Psychologist in private practice shortly after that, and submitted the final copy of my thesis for examination in February 2014.

Have My Defence Mechanisms Improved?

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I retook the ‘How Do You Deal?’ questionnaire at the end of April 2017. I am living a life that is much more consistent with the experiences I want to have rather than what society says that I should be doing. I believe that I am a lot happier and in the best place that I have ever been psychological. But have my defence mechanisms actually changed?

Defence Mechanisms 2013 2017
Denial 94th percentile 75th percentile
Isolation 91st percentile 92nd percentile
Displacement 81st percentile 77th percentile
Regression  73rd percentile 68th percentile
Doubt 72nd percentile 64th percentile
Rationalisation 68th percentile 53rd percentile
Intellectualisation 64th percentile 18th percentile
Projection 47th percentile 56th percentile
Repression 37th percentile 20th percentile
Reaction formation 15th percentile 9th percentile

As you can see, eight of my results had improved, with denial dropping 19 percentile points and losing its position as my most used defence mechanism. This is great, as I am now more aware of the issues that I have and can actually do something about them.

My most noticeable improvement was my reduction in intellectualising things, but I also repress things much less than I used to, rationalise my actions less, and doubt myself less too. This means that I am now turning into what I feel and need more, and not just remaining in my head. By understanding and accepting my emotions rather than avoiding them or explaining them away, it really does make it easier to know what action I need to take. Regular journaling, mindfulness and therapy have definitely helped me to create these changes. So has being more honest and authentic with others.

The two defence mechanism scores that have increased are projection and isolation. The increase in projection isn’t helpful, as this means I could be externalising some problems rather than taking responsibility for the role that I played in creating them. The high isolation score isn’t so bad though, as separating my head and heart is something that I have worked on to make sure that I am making decisions in line with my values and not my fears going forward. If this never changes, that will be fine by me.

Can We Change How We Deal With Problems?

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It’s not possible to completely avoid engaging in defence mechanisms. We all have different ways of coping, and many of these coping styles are developed in childhood and modelled on what everyone else in our family did.

Some defence mechanisms are more helpful than others, however, and they can change in time with deliberate practice. Head researcher of the Grant longitudinal study, George Vaillant, has separated defence mechanisms into immature, intermediate and mature defences. Acting out, projection passive-aggressive behaviour, and denial is considered immature. Reaction formation, repression and displacement are intermediate defences. Mature defences include:

  1. humour: seeing the funny side of things,
  2. sublimation: channelling difficult emotions into something prosocial and constructive,
  3. anticipation: planning ahead for upcoming situations that might be challenging,
  4. suppression: not reacting to your feelings or letting them show if this would interfere with you achieving your goals, and
  5. altruism: deriving pleasure from helping others.

A 2013 study by Malone and colleagues found that men who used more mature defence mechanisms between 47 and 63 years of age had better health between the ages of 70 and 80. This was mostly because the people who regularly engaged in more mature defence mechanisms had better social support and stronger interpersonal connections than individuals who used immature defence mechanisms (Malone et al., 2013).

If you want to build up healthier coping strategies, understanding which defences you currently use is a great place to start. The best ways to do this apart from taking the ‘How Do You Deal?’ questionnaire is consulting with a therapist, especially a psychologist or a psychiatrist trained in psychoanalysis or psychodynamic psychotherapy. Friends and family might be able to point out some potential defence mechanisms that you use, but I do think it is better to get this feedback from someone that is both professionally trained and impartial. They can then help you to replace these defences with more mature and adaptive coping strategies so that you too can have more supportive relationships and better long-term health and well-being.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

What if You Could Change Your Attachment Style?

In my top 20 psychology books countdown, I put the 2012 title: ‘Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love’ by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller in 9th place, thanks to its Amazon.com star rating of 4.6/5.

 

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Attachment styles research is an area that I’ve been fascinated in since I first learnt about it in year 11 psychology class. If you are interested in learning more about it, I do recommend checking the book out, as our attachment styles tend to have a much more significant impact on how we are in intimate relationships than most people are aware of.

What Are Attachment Styles?

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Attachment styles are initially developed in the context of our relationship with our primary caregiver growing up. This is usually the mother, but in other cases, it can be the father, guardian or potentially even a nanny.

Almost all children can usually be categorised as having one of four attachment styles based on how they respond to the strange situation test, which was initially designed and researched by Mary Ainsworth in 1969. They can be considered to have a secure attachment, an ambivalent insecure attachment, an avoidance insecure attachment, or a disorganised attachment.

In the strange situation procedure, an infant between the ages of 9 and 18 months is placed in a room with some toys for 21 minutes and is observed playing through a two-way mirror while the primary caregiver and a stranger enter and leave the room. This situation was meant to recreate what may happen in a normal infant’s life so that their typical reactions could be observed.

The strange situation procedure went as follows:

  1. The primary caregiver and infant enter the room.
  2. The infant explores the room while the caregiver watches but doesn’t play with the infant.
  3. A stranger enters and talks with the caregiver, then approaches the infant. Caregiver leaves while this occurs without saying goodbye.
  4. The stranger tries to engage with the infant.
  5. The primary caregiver then returns and greets and comforts the infant. Stranger leaves.
  6. Caregiver leaves again, and the infant is alone.
  7. The stranger comes back in and tries to interact with the infant.
  8. The primary caregiver then comes back in, greets and picks up the infant, and the stranger leaves.

What is worth looking at during this process is how the infant interacts with the new environment and toys in the room, how they associate with the stranger, and how the infant reacts to when the primary caregiver leaves the room (departures) and comes back in to greet or soothe the infant (reunions). These responses are very predictive of what attachment style the infant has, and also what attachment style the primary caregiver may have.

Attachment styles are not set in stone, and they can change over time, but like most things I write about, gaining an awareness of your own attachment style is a crucial first step before you try to look at how you can improve it.

A Secure Attachment

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Infants who are securely attached to their primary caregiver will be willing to explore a new room when they enter it. They will turn around and check in with their parent from time to time as they are their “secure base”. They may even come back if they are starting to feel too scared or overwhelmed, as their parents are their “safe haven” and help them to calm down emotionally and physically when they are distressed. Once they feel calm and safe again, which may be very quickly, they will then go back out and explore once more.

The secure infant will engage with the stranger when the primary caregiver is there, but might be warier when alone with the stranger, and could become upset when the parent leaves, but is then able to calm themselves down after a little bit. They are thrilled to see their primary caregiver once they return, however, and will be responsive to their communication and interactions.

Essentially, a secure child feels that their primary caregiver will meet their needs appropriately and responsively, and they learn to turn to them when they need it and do things by themselves when they do not. It is the ideal attachment style for learning, development of skills, and forming and establishing healthy, long-term relationships.

In intimate relationships, being securely attached is ideal. It means that you enjoy being close and intimate with your partner when they are there and are happy to do your own thing when they are not. You feel comfortable opening up to them or talking to them about your feelings or concerns, and feel comfortable helping your partner out with their issues too. Relationships seem relatively natural to you, and you are more likely to have a happy, long-term relationship.

An Anxious/Ambivalent Insecure Attachment

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Infants who are anxious or resistant are usually this way as a result of unpredictably responsive caregiving, where sometimes their caregiver is too full-on, sometimes they are appropriately responsive, and other times they are not responsive. As a result of these inconsistencies, the infant usually amplifies their emotional needs in an attempt to try and get them met on a more regular basis.

Anxiously attached infants are distressed even before the separation in the strange situation procedure, do not like to explore the area or interact with the stranger, show resentment for being left alone and are quite clingy and unable to calm down or be comforted easily once the parent returns.

In intimate relationships, being anxiously attached is tough. It means that you love being close with your partner, but find it quite difficult to be apart, often fearing that they don’t care or that they will stop loving you or will be unfaithful towards you when they are not around. You have a tendency to become preoccupied with fears of abandonment, especially in times of high stress, and may inadvertently push your partners away by making them feel like they don’t have enough independence or that you don’t trust them enough.

An Avoidance Insecure Attachment

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Infants who have this style will try to ignore or avoid the primary caregiver in the strange situation. They outwardly show little emotion during departures and reunions with the caregiver, and they will also not explore too much regardless of who is in the room.

The ignoring or turning away from the primary caregiver is actually a mask for internal distress, however, as heart-rate and other physiological responses are similar to that of the anxiously attached infants upon the separation from their primary caregiver. It seems to be that these infants want to be comforted when distressed, but over time try to suppress their emotional needs because their parents are not attuned or responsive to their distress or able to meet their needs in ways that would help them. As a result, they try to pull away, keep to themselves, and show the world that they don’t have any needs.

As an adult, having an avoidant attachment is also tricky for intimate relationships. It means that you are likely to value independence and freedom a lot, and tend to feel smothered or trapped if you spend too much time with your partner. As a result, you will manage to push partners away, especially if they are demanding or needy. You are also likely to not share enough of your own emotional needs or desires with your partner and may resent them for expressing these things to you.

Two avoidantly attached individuals may seem like they could have a good relationship together, but often there is “not enough glue to keep them together”, and they fade further apart from each other over time.

A Disorganised Attachment

 

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There is a fourth attachment style known as a fearful or disorganised. This was later identified by one of Ainsworth’s graduate students Mary Main and is where the infant flips between signs that they are overwhelmed with a “flooded attachment system” and strategies of desperation. This is often a consequence of significant trauma, as a reliable coping mechanism has not been established in the infant. They want to be close to their primary caregiver, but they are also terrified of being close to them.

Adults with a disorganised attachment who have been through a complicated relationship with their parents or guardians will find it tough to initiate and maintain a healthy and happy intimate relationship when they are older. They will often vacillate between feelings of being trapped and smothered and wanting freedom one minute and then worrying about how they would ever cope if they lost their partner the next. Their behaviour and strong emotional reactions can be confusing to both an individual with a disorganised attachment and the people they date.

But How Do I Find Out What Attachment Style I Have?

If you aren’t too sure what attachment style you have based on the descriptions above or from reflecting on your experience as a child or in intimate relationships, you can also take a free online test to find out. I have taken the test titled “Your Actual and Ideal Attachment Styles” at personalityassessor.com on three occasions now. The first time was on the 22nd of October 2014, back when I was still married, the 12th of April 2017, when I had just bought an apartment with my girlfriend, and the 12th of August 2018, 4 days before I was about to leave everyone in my life in Australia to move to Vanuatu for 2 years.

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Can Attachment Styles Change Over Time?

These are the results from the three attachment style surveys that I took, followed by the description that was included in my 2018 results at the personality assessor website:
Attachment Anxiety:
  • 2014 = 13th percentile – very low
  • 2017 = 3rd percentile – extremely low
  • 2018 = 2nd percentile – extremely low

You are currently extremely low in attachment anxiety. People extremely low in attachment anxiety tend to desire extremely low levels of closeness in their relationships, and also experience extremely low concerns about rejection and abandonment.

You’ve decreased a lot in Attachment Anxiety over time.

The decreases that you have experienced in Attachment Anxiety have been extremely consistent over time.

You indicated that you would like to stay the same with respect to attachment anxiety. Researchers believe that most people want to decrease at least a little bit in attachment anxiety.

Attachment Avoidance:
  • 2014 = 89th percentile – extremely high
  • 2017 = 47th percentile – about average
  • 2018 = 52nd percentile – about average

You are currently about average in attachment avoidance. People about average in attachment avoidance tend to desire about average levels of independence in their relationships, and they tend to experience about average levels of comfort with depending on romantic partners and opening up to them.

You’ve decreased an extreme amount in Attachment Avoidance over time.

The decreases that you have experienced in Attachment Avoidance have been extremely consistent over time.


You indicated that you would like to decrease with respect to attachment avoidance. Researchers believe that most people want to become a little less avoidant.

My Attachment Style

Based on the 2014 finding, I had an avoidant attachment style. That makes a lot of sense to me and is how I have typically been in most relationships. I was also a pretty quiet and anxious child growing up and kept to myself a lot even though on some level I really valued and craved for a solid relationship where it was possible to feel connected and have a sense of belonging without losing my sense of self in the relationship. I’ve always kind of struggled to show this to the other person, however, and often got accused of not caring enough in the relationships that I have been in.

While I can definitely see my part in the unhealthy relationships I have been in, I also have had a tendency to be attracted to and get involved with females who exhibited an anxious attachment, which only made the issue worse. If things go well in an avoidant/anxious relationship, which they usually do at the start, the quality of the relationship can feel great. Both of you are getting your relational needs met (maybe for the first time) and it is exciting and fun and nice. Once one person becomes distressed is when the problems begin, however, and they always do…

Before 2015 had a big tendency to shut down emotionally whenever I was overwhelmed or distressed, focus on getting through what I needed to do practically, and in general minimise my emotional needs. It was classic avoidance attachment behaviour. This pulling away caused distress in someone with an anxious attachment, however, and they would then amplify their emotional needs in response to the greater perceived distance in the relationship. They may have feared abandonment, and protested that I didn’t care or needed to give them more so that they would feel secure. I would then feel more overwhelmed and trapped, and pull away further in an attempt to calm myself down. Anyone with an anxious attachment would then begin to feel even more insecure and distressed and try to protest further. This vicious cycle often continued to play out and escalate, maybe with brief interludes, until the relationship ended, usually in a not so pleasant way.

Based on my 2017 and 2018 findings, it says that I would now be considered to have a secure attachment style:

Your prototypical attachment style is secure. Securely attached individuals enjoy being close with others, and form new friendships easily. They usually desire moderate levels of involvement in their close relationships.

This is pleasantly surprising to me because I still do feel more avoidant in my attachment then I would like to be, but my avoidance is now considered average, and my anxiety is extremely low. Comparatively speaking, I am still much more avoidant than anxious when it comes to relationships, but securely attached overall. I am a bit sad to see that my avoidance has crept up a little bit again since 2017, but hope that if I keep working at it that I can continue to bring it down further in the future.

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How Do We Improve Our Attachment Style?

Occasional conflict is inevitable in any relationship. Being in a relationship with someone with a secure attachment will help you to get through difficulties in life and your relationship, no matter what your age or attachment style is.

  • If you have a secure attachment too, it is likely to be pretty easy for you to have a happy relationship.
  • If you have an avoidant attachment, a secure partner can give you the space you need when you need it without getting annoyed at you or demanding for more.
  • If you are anxious, a secure partner can sit with your distress and hear you out until you have calmed down and your emotional needs have been met.
  • If you are disorganised, a secure partner will also try to help you work through and make sense of whatever it is that you are feeling and give you what you need, whether that is more space, a calming presence or greater closeness.

In time, a relationship with someone who is securely attached can help you to become securely attached too.

If you have had similar difficulties in multiple romantic relationships, think that you may be avoidant or anxious in your attachment style, or are securely attached but are in a romantic relationship with someone who you feel may be avoidant or anxiously attached, I hope that this information has been helpful to you.

An understanding of your own and others attachment styles really could stop you from falling into the same relationship traps, and give you a much better chance to have a long, happy and healthy relationship going forward.

 

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

 

The Five Lessons I Discovered From Being Kind

On January 1st, 2018 we kickstarted our Deliberately Better movement.

If you would like to join our movement, please feel free to join our Facebook group today. The only requirement to be accepted in the group is that you want to improve your life in some way.

Along with other passionate and driven allied health professionals, we aim to highlight the various ways that people can choose to act if they wish to scientifically improve their health and well-being.

In January, we aimed to engage in a random act of kindness each day.

This was a fun experiment, and I tried to make a video of my acts of kindness every second day, which I was mostly successful with:

  • On day 2, I gave a positive review on Airbnb and recommended for people to stay where I did

  • On day 4, I supported a friend on a hang gliding expedition

  • On day 6, I spent some quality time with my dad and played a round of golf with him

  • On day 8, I donated some spare change to the Royal Children’s Hospital

  • On day 10, I helped Angelina out with a school assignment and helped them to feel safe at nighttime

  • On day 12, I bought a copy of the big issue to support a rough sleeper

  • On day 14, we left a big tip at a restaurant that stayed open for us

  • On day 16, I donated plasma to the red cross blood bank

  • On day 18, I topped up some stranger’s parking meters

  • On day 20, I donated some clothes to charity

  • On day 22, I supported an organisation that was trying to raise money to protect a wilderness area in Tasmania

  • On day 24, I proofread a book that my friend had written and wanted to publish

  • On day 26, I engaged with a scammer from Nigeria and spoke about the various techniques that he used to rip off vulnerable people.
  • On day 28, I went and played a beach volleyball tournament with my sister Tahnee.

  • On day 30, I handed out bottles of water to people who were homeless around Melbourne.

Even though it was weird to film and promote the acts of kindness that I engaged in, the month really did teach me a few valuable lessons. These are:

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  1. Trying to be kind to others feels good

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2. Viewing or hearing about others acts of kindness feels great

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3. Hearing about or seeing others acts of kindness encourages people to be kinder too

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4. Trying to be kind to others can improve social anxiety

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5. Trying to be kind to others can enhance energy levels and physical health

To assess changes in how I felt from the beginning to the end of the month of kindness, I completed the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS), as developed by Watson, Clark and Tellegen (1988). This scale has two 10-item scales; one for positive affect and one for negative affect.

If you would like to assess your levels, please answer from 1 to 5 on the following questions for how much you have felt this way recently:

1 = very slightly or not at all

2 = a little

3 = moderately

4 = quite a bit

5 = extremely

Positive affect items:

_______ active

_______ alert

_______ attentive

_______ determined

_______ enthusiastic

_______ excited

_______ inspired

_______ interested

_______ proud

_______ strong

Negative affect items:

_______ afraid

_______ scared

_______ nervous

_______ jittery

_______ hostile

_______ guilty

_______ ashamed

_______ upset

_______ distressed

If you want to compare your scores to previous norms, first add up your totals for your positive affect and negative affect.

A 1989 study of 815 Detroit adults by Quinn found an average for positive affect of 36.0. For negative affect, the average was 18.2 (Quinn, 1989).

In 1993, an unpublished study by Wilkinson found an average of 33.5 for positive affect in 114 adult men and 33.9 in 115 adult women. For negative affect, it was 14.2 for the men and 15.5 for the women (Wilkinson, 1993).

What I find interesting about these findings is that US adults report both higher positive and higher negative affect, indicating that they may be more expressive (and more aware) of their emotions than Australians.

My score for positive affect before the kindness challenge was a 32, which was below the norms for both Australian and US adults. Given that I was feeling exhausted by the end of 2017, this makes sense to me. Extraverts are more likely to experience higher levels of positive affect also, and I would consider myself more of an ambivert.

After a month of kindness, this score had shot up to 41, which was more than one standard deviation higher than the norm for Australian men, and much higher than the average for US adults too.

My negative affect was less impacted by my acts of kindness, however, with my score remaining at 16 at both the start and the end of the month. I was slightly less irritable by the end of the month, but I was also a little bit more afraid, and this could have been due to the videos that I was putting up.

Either way, I seem to experience slightly more negative emotions than the average 1993 Australian, and somewhat less than the average 1989 individual from Detroit.

My experiment with being kinder didn’t solve all of my problems, but it did help me to take a few risks, challenge myself, put myself out there more, grow as a result, and hopefully put a few smiles on some people’s faces. That is enough for me, for now.

2018 DELIBERATELY BETTER AGENDA:


* In February, we gave up or cut down on something that was having a negative impact on our quality of life.
* In March, we focused on our diets and looked at what were the most effective ways to lose weight or get into the best shape of your life.
* In April, we looked into the different habits of high performers and how they improve their skills and become as effective as they are at what they do.
* In May, we’ll be looking at how to hijack your hormones and get in control of your sleep, metabolism and energy.
* In June, we’ll be checking out the latest and greatest developments in health and wellness literature, and passing on the top tips from the fields of medicine, psychology, neuroscience, behavioural economics, fitness and nutrition.
* In July, we’ll be exploring the benefits of minimalism, looking at ways to develop and stick to a budget, how to financially plan for the future, how to cut back on spending, how to create passive income streams, and the top tips for investing in or trading on the stock market.
* In August, we’ll be getting into the gym and out onto the track to explore how to bulk up, shred down, get ripped and be the most physically capable than you have ever been in your life.
* In September, we’ll be looking at the latest trends in health technology, and exploring the various options that you have if you want to improve your psychological and physical well-being.
* In October, we’ll be focusing on how to stress less, and sharing the latest tips to calm down quickly if you are distressed and want to live a more relaxed lifestyle in general.
* In November, We’ll be trying something new, and looking at the multitude of benefits that novelty can play in our lives.
* Last, but not least, in December, we’ll be taking stock of the year, reviewing what worked and what didn’t, and cultivating gratitude for all of the fantastic things in our lives.

All of this knowledge and content could cost thousands of dollars, but for 2018 only we’ll be sharing it all for free.

If you would like to help build the deliberately better movement, please join our Facebook group and invite three people that you know who want to improve their health in 2018.

Everyone is encouraged to get involved by commenting, liking, sharing or posting, but please keep it friendly, positive and focused on any of our monthly topics.

 

Thanks,

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Are You Living the Life That You Want?

In 2016, I decided to take on the challenge of accountability. As a Clinical Psychologist, being accountable was all about evidence-based living – engaging as much as possible in thinking patterns and behaviours that have been shown to lead to a happier, more satisfying, higher quality of life.

The following were the five key areas that I focused on as highlighted in my ‘Do You Want to Be Deliberately Better?’ Article:

1. Tuning in rather than tuning out

2. Turning towards my values rather than away from my fears

3. Maintaining an ideal work/life balance

4. Writing things down rather than keeping things in

5. Developing a growth rather than a fixed mindset

I made this declaration public as I was aware that people’s desire to remain consistent meant that I would be more willing to follow through on these targets and achieve these goals. All of them were based on solid research and were expected to have a positive flow-on effect for my long-term psychological well-being in 2017 and beyond.

While I did make some progress in being more accountable to myself, especially with numbers 2, 4 and 5, I continued to struggle with numbers 1 and 3.

Part of the problem was that I think I’ve always been the person who wants to be able to do everything and I do struggle at times to prioritise and separate what is really essential to me from what is critical to others. The other part of the problem is that I was working too hard, not saying no to what I didn’t want to do enough, and not leaving adequate time for leisure and socialising or even personal growth, creativity and health.

I was often extraordinarily drained and fatigued by the end of the work week and would spend most of the weekend recovering and trying to catch up on chores and paperwork to try not to fall even further behind with administrative duties than I already was. I was also financially in debt even though I was working full-time, and I was stressed out more than I would have liked to be too.

Mainly, I didn’t have enough time or space to reflect on where I was or what I needed, and when I did, I still didn’t make the necessary changes to make sure that my life was consistent with how I wanted it to be.

It’s not just me

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What seemed to help me a lot was reading the thought-provoking self-help book ‘Take time for your life’ by Cheryl Richardson. In this, she highlights the seven common obstacles that people seem to face in living their best lives. These are:

  1. They generally have difficulty putting themselves first
  2. Their schedule does not reflect their priorities
  3. They feel drained by certain people or things
  4. They feel trapped for monetary reasons
  5. They are living on adrenalin
  6. They don’t have a supportive community in their life
  7. Their spiritual well-being comes last

— Cheryl Richardson

I don’t know about everyone else, but I could check yes to all of these items except for number 6. I wasn’t spending as much time as I wanted with friends, but when I did, I felt well supported by them all. As for the rest, I wondered “How does she know me so well?“, but then I realised how many people there are out there that must be falling into similar traps.

My aim for 2017 was to take time for my life

Here’s how I’ve gone towards creating my ideal lifestyle so far:

  • I have moved into a fantastic apartment in the city where I am within easy access by bike, foot or public transport to all of my work, sport and leisure commitments.
  • I have begun regularly using the swimming pool, spa, sauna and gym that is a part of this unique apartment complex. As the gym here is excellent, I have been able to save by cancelling my external gym membership.
  • I have sold my car to avoid having to pay $70 a week for a car spot, not to mention the registration fees, car insurance, petrol, parking fees, fines, and depreciation in the value of the car. This also has the added benefits of never getting stuck in peak hour traffic, as well as more walking and bike riding to get to places, which reduces the amount of time I need to set aside for these activities elsewhere.
  • I have started listening to audiobooks more whenever I am walking around the city by myself. This has resulted in me getting outdoors more, reading less inside, and opened up more time for other personal growth, leisure and social activities.
  • I have finished up working at Mill Park and moved into the city for all of my work days. This means that I can get up later in the morning on work days, and ride or walk or catch public transport to work no matter where I am.
  • I have cut down the days that I see clients from 5 to 4, with Mondays now dedicated towards maintenance, administration, health, creativity and well-being. Because of this reduced workload, I am less stressed and more energetic. I am currently up to date with all of my administrative duties, paperwork, and continued professional development for the first time in 3 years.
  • This has also helped me enjoy my weekends more, as instead of playing catch-up on things I can socialise and relax and plan various adventures that I may not have had the time or energy to do in the past.
  • Even though I am working one day less per week, by buying less stuff and reducing my expenses I am no longer in any financial debt and am saving towards buying a place of my own.
  • I have started up another website – sleepdetective.com.au, which aims to help others to achieve the best sleep they can.
  • I have now donated plasma and platelets through the Red Cross Blood Bank three times. This can be done every two weeks and takes about 45 minutes, and really can make a huge difference for those suffering from leukaemia and certain autoimmune diseases.
  • I have found a new General Practitioner, Nutritionist and Dentist to ensure that my physical health is going well and made the necessary appointments to assess or fix up any of the issues that have become apparent.
  • I have had a DEXA scan to assess my bone density, lean muscle mass and fat. I will be having another one of these in 3 months to monitor my progress and ensure that I remain in the healthy range for a male my age.
  • I have resumed monthly sessions with my Psychologist to ensure that my mental health and clinical practice are as optimal as possible.
  • I have signed up for a year membership with the meditation app Calm, which will help me to continue strengthening my meditation practice. I will aim to practice this for at least 10 minutes per day to make sure that I keep trying to tune in rather than tune out.
  • I have also booked in for a 10-day Vissapana meditation retreat in April and a 12-day P&O cruise at the end of July. Both of these getaways involve switching off from all technology for the duration of my stay and will provide me with plenty of time for rest, relaxation and reflection, essential elements for tuning in and developing greater insight.

No Regrets?

Now that I’ve shared the changes that I’ve started to make towards my ideal lifestyle, I want to ask you this:

If you only have one life to live, and that life is yours, what changes do you need to make now to ensure you don’t accumulate any more regrets in the future?

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In her viral blog post and subsequent book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware listed the top five regrets that the dying people she cared for typically had. These were:

  1. They wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.
  2. They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. They wish they’d had the courage to express their feelings.
  4. They wish they’d made a bigger effort to stay in touch with their friends.
  5. They wish they had let themselves be happier. 

— Bronnie Ware

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Remember, we tend to regret the things that we don’t do much more than the things that we do. Be brave, give it a go, and see what happens. If you’re not sure what you want or how to figure it out, booking in for a session with a Psychologist could definitely help!

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist