Determine the Strength of People’s Character // Human Nature Series 05
“Character is destiny.” -Heraclitus
We struggle to gauge the character of the people around us. Their carefully curated images suggest a mythical greatness and we fall for it. Even though we know that the character of the people around us will affect our wellbeing, it seems too abstract to grasp. The skills to become a good judge of character elude us.
In this article, I’ll break down how to understand character in others and improve it in yourself. Many of these ideas come from The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. To see my full interview with Robert Greene, check out the video embedded below.
Part of the challenge of understanding character is that it is formed in many layers. These layers can overlap in strange ways causing conflicting character traits that confuse us. To make sense of character, recognize the four layers.
The first layer of our character is influenced by our genes. Psychologists believe that some character predispositions can be spotted in infants. Second, the attachments we form with caregivers will shape our adult relationships. Early attachment takes on a pattern that we will seek to repeat. Third, the strategies that we employ when dealing with others come from the first two layers. We develop these strategies in our youth and they become habitual. The fourth layer is the front we put up to disguise our flaws. For more on The Law of Role-Playing, see my last article on seeing through people’s masks.
When you can understand the nature of character, you will have two tremendous advantages in life: you can break your own negative patterns and you can measure the character of others before you choose to align with them.
“Awareness of your nature is so much better than denial and repression.” -Robert Greene
To become a masterful judge of character, hone the three skills described below.
1. Observe Signs of Character. If you know what to look for, you will be able to spot a person’s character over time. Emotional leakage is visible under stress. If you notice a person buckles under small pressures, expect the same under great pressures. Sudden gains or power can also bring out valuable information that was not apparent before.
Look at how people relate to others too. Who do they choose as a spouse? How do they relate with their spouse? Perhaps they compete with everyone around them?
Watch how they approach relationships in general. If they look outward for excitement and inspiration, realize that you are observing an extrovert. And if they are sensitive, spending their time with their ideas, you can assume they are introverted. Both types are fine, but it is important to recognize them. Otherwise, you may project your own values on them and struggle to understand them.
Finally, be sure that a person’s character is strong and resilient. Like the sense of identity that protects people from the pull of narcissism, strength of character comes from a feeling of self-worth. People of character are better at persisting in the face of chaos, while those of weak character will feel overwhelmed.
“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln
2. Identify Toxic Types. Because weaknesses can be presented as positives, it is important to be aware of these toxic types. When you cross their path, head for the hills.
The Hyperperfectionist. They work hard and it is admirable, but you realize that they can’t delegate. Every decision requires their approval. Soon they burn out and blame you. The whole event was fueled by their desperate need for control.
The Relentless Rebel. What looks like a cool rebellious pose is actually their cover. They have been disappointed by authority figures in life and now hate everyone with power. They cut others down with their vicious sense of humor. Eventually, they see you as the unwanted authority. They resist everyone so can feel superior.
The Personalizer. These people never felt like they were enough as children. Now they go through life on guard. Everything that others say or do feels personal to them.
The Drama Magnet. These people yearn to grab your emotions. They seek out confrontation and play the victim. Escape them now.
The Big Talker. They express grand visions. You are caught up in their excitement. Then, they find a reason not to follow through. Deep down, these people crave attention and power, but they fear the responsibility that comes with their big ideas. These people suffered as children, being suddenly criticized for small mistakes. Now, they have learned to impress people but make excuses to avoid the criticism that may come.
The Pampered Prince. You feel guilty for not helping them. They pout and throw tantrums like children, because they are locked in their childhood patterns. Every whim was indulged in their youth and they expect you to continue this treatment.
The Pleaser. They present a friendly exterior, but hit you with passive-aggressive behavior. These types were constantly scrutinized as children. They were trained to please others, but they resent this position. Their kindness is not sincere, it is a defense mechanism.
The Savior. They take great pleasure in rescuing people, always looking for someone in need. As a child, they were forced to tend to the needs of a parent. This inverted power dynamic is their model for relationship. Being the savior fills their need to feel important.
The Easy Moralizer. They are righteous, deciding who is good and who is bad. This is their way of dominating people whom they envy. Because these types were made to feel guilty for their desires, they became repressed. Now, they are self-loathing and project negative qualities onto those who are not repressed. If you get close, they will condemn you next.
3. Improve Your Character. Your character has flaws. Spare yourself the pain of denial and view your character as raw material that you will develop through effort.
Start by examining the four layers of your character and observing yourself as others see you. How do you respond to responsibility and stress? What are your particular character strengths and weaknesses?
Then, find ways to channel your character weaknesses into advantages. Are you adamant about resisting authority? Try to use that energy in the creation of a product that breaks old trends.
Finally, build up your character through habits. If you suffer under pressure, it is time to take on some adversity. If you fail to finish what you start, pick a task and bring it completion. And if you struggle to share control with others, it is time to join a team. All of this can start small. Like a muscle, your character will grow with resistance training.
“In anything, it is a mistake to think one can perform an action or behave in a certain way once and no more.” -Cesare Pavese
For an in-depth look at our nature, the book to read on this subject is The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.