What are the Big Five Personality Traits?

personality disorder
Can Personality change? Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Personality traits lie on a continuum.

The big five personality traits are one way of understanding people’s personalities and why personalities vary so much from individual to individual. This theory and the research behind it come to us primarily from psychology, which involves looking at presumably normal people and why they think, feel, and act the way they do.

Being low or high on a trait does not mean you have a mental illness.

With rare exceptions, these personality traits describe preferences or tendencies in people’s thinking, feeling, and behavior rather than abnormalities. People with a specific mental illness may be more likely to lie at the far end of these continuums.

The Big Five Personality Traits don’t cover everything.

There are many theories about why people have a specific personality and why one trait is more pronounced in some people than in others. Genetics, environment, and learning are postulated to play roles in the development of personality. Other commonly applied theories include the Myers Briggs types, or the similar one by David Keirsey, plus the Enneagram.

Here’s a summary of the Big Five Personality Traits.

In this theory, none of these traits are necessarily more important than others, and being at a higher level in a particular trait is neither a good nor bad thing. These traits describe differences in the way people approach life and the environment.

1. Openness.

People who are low in openness want concrete facts. People high in openness think in abstract terms and theories and are likely to be adventurous and interested in art, ideas, and new or novel experiences. People who are low in openness prefer tradition and may feel safer when there are rules to direct behavior and tend to be extremely practical.

2. Conscientiousness.

People who are high in conscientiousness are determined and easily exercise self-discipline. They likely are high in “won’t power,” the ability to forgo current pleasure for future positive rewards. People who are impulsive or easily distracted will score low in conscientiousness. The trait of conscientiousness also lumps “willpower,” the ability to do unpleasant things now for future rewards, together with many other self-discipline characteristics.

3. Extraversion.

The trait of extraversion measures more than merely being outgoing. People who are high in extraversion are energized by time with others. People who are low in extraversion, sometimes called introverts, need time alone to recharge their batteries. It’s important not to confuse being an introvert with an emotional problem such as social anxiety disorder. People with Social Anxiety Disorder are not necessarily energized by being alone. They simply avoid the fear of being around others by isolating themselves.

People who are high in extraversion are likely motivated by the praise and attention of others. They will do things for the applause of the crowd. Introverts are more likely to be highly internally motivated, and their own opinion of their accomplishments matters more than recognition from others.

4. Agreeableness.

Being high in the trait of agreeableness doesn’t mean that you go along with others and give in. People were agreeable don’t have to give in because what others want is okay with them. People with high and agreeableness are more likely to be motivated by doing things that benefit others and society in general. They are high in empathy, typically trusting, and willing to forgive.

People who are low in agreeableness are more likely to have conflicts with others. They are seen as competitive, aggressive, and often antagonistic. Being low in agreeableness increases the risk that you will have falling outs with others, and your life will be full of conflicts.

5. Neuroticism.

People who are high in neuroticism are much more likely to experience negative emotions. They experience more anxiety, fear, sadness, depression and may experience guilt and shame. Of all the Big Five Personality Traits, this seems the most likely to overlap with mental illness. People who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression disorders.

Neuroticism also seems to have more connected with life experiences than most of the other personality traits. People who experience traumas or severe negative life experiences are more likely to test high in neuroticism.

In the early days of mental health, there were only two disorders recognized, neurosis and psychosis. Psychoses are those severe things that are most likely to be treated by medication. Those things we call neuroses are more likely to respond to talk therapy. Not everyone high in neuroticism has impaired functioning or qualifies for a diagnosis of a mental illness. But if you are high in neuroticism, you should consider whether counseling might help you live a healthier, happier life.

What do these Big Five Personality Traits say about you?

The Big Five Traits are one way of looking at personality. Being high or low on any of these traits is not in and of itself either good or bad. I’m one who does not believe that whatever your personality, you are stuck with it. Some aspects of personality change more readily than others. Most personality characteristics change slowly across the lifetime. But if your scores on a personality test aren’t what you’d like to see, consider working with a therapist, counselor, coach, or teacher to learn new skills and shift the way your personality expresses itself.

Do the big five personality traits explain why you are the person you are?

In my opinion, no. Knowing you are high or low in any one of these characteristics doesn’t tell you what to do. Using that information may help you pick a career, a partner, or even a life adventure that’s more suited to you. Remember, these characteristics lie on a continuum. Not everyone high or low in one of these characteristics will experience it in the same way.

Words don’t adequately describe personality characteristics.

Starting with the big five personality traits is one Possible Way to begin your self-exploration, but I should leave you with a word of caution.

“consider, for example, the hundreds of adjectives summarized by each of the Big Five personality traits (Huta 2013c).” from Eudaimonia and Its Distinction from Hedonia: Developing a Classification and Terminology for Understanding Conceptual and Operational Definitions. Veronika Huta • Alan S. Waterman. J Happiness Stud (2014) 15:1425–1456

Does the idea of exploring your personality interest you? Then you might want to take this online big five personality test.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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