|Who Do You Think You Are? - Page 3|
Well before I fled from a couple of benign 22-year-olds, I was aware of the reality of temperament. From earliest childhood, I'd been jumpy and vigilant, prone to register every rustle, tic, and cough of my environment. I've long known, too, that I'm introverted, publicly chatty but privately solitude-loving, forever seeking rooms and gardens where I can be alone. Still, until my recent sprint to the second floor, I didn't think much about temperament, which is generally understood as a set of behavioral and emotional propensities that's inherited and enduring. Predispositions were all well and good, I believed, but they seemed to me mere background data, not nearly as influential or interesting as the drama of my childhood or my considerable efforts to remake myself since.
But now, I'm reconsidering. My experience on that Sunday afternoon has prompted me to look anew at temperament, especially the ways it may invisibly pilot our adult lives. Until recently, it's been largely the province of child psychologists, who've used the concept to help worried parents understand their implacably stormy, timid, or "wild" child. But the field of temperament is dramatically enlarging in scope. The new science of behavioral molecular genetics, which seeks to identify genes associated with particular human traits, has lately exploded with reports suggesting that our very cells may be imbued with tendencies toward extroversion or shyness or novelty-seeking or distractibility. At the same time that gene specialists are slicing and dicing DNA in search of predispositions, a Harvard psychology project has been quietly amassing longitudinal data on behavioral proclivities, tracking infants into young adulthood to tease out which aspects of temperament are mutable and which elements—like it or not—are ours to keep.
These multiple strands of investigation are beginning to shed new light on a question that's hounded psychotherapy for more than a century: what's the relationship between nature and nurture, and what does it mean for the human project of change? As we come to understand more about the complex process of temperament development, therapists may be able to better help clients master one of life's trickiest balancing acts—making peace with one's inborn nature while knocking against its boundaries, in search of a larger self.