|Who Do You Think You Are? - Page 9|
Kagan understood that he was witnessing an important developmental event. These high-reactive children were now able to shift between what Jung called the "persona," or public face, and the "anima," which in Kagan's usage refers to an individual's private reality, where temperament abides. He links this developmental shift to the growing capacity of the prefrontal cortex to manage the amygdala, which normally takes 15 to 18 years to occur. This neurobiological development helps explain why, by mid to late adolescence, many high-reactive teens are able to meet-and-greet with the best of them and still feel mortally shy, or take high-flying risks but feel terrified within. "An individual develops a persona over time," says Kagan. "But time doesn't change the anima."
As I think about Kagan's 15-year-olds, two things occur to me. One is that there are situations in which it can be enormously useful to be able to behave with Žlan no matter how miserably downtrodden one may feel—at a job interview, for example, or a first date with someone you actually like. My second thought is that, in the wrong hands, a persona can be a dangerous thing. For some of us, the development of social graces (or some other wished for behavior) may tempt us to imagine that we can shed our bothersome temperaments altogether and sail forth to realize a peculiarly American dream—"personal transformation."
Be All You Can Be—and Then Some
With all my heart, I bought into this transformation fantasy. Granted, not all of it was fantasy: I was growing and changing, too. After spending one too many afternoons weeping into my bedspread over rejection by The Girls, some tiny ember of determination and self-regard began to flutter to life. I turned my energies toward gymnastics, which hurled me forward into a new experience of body confidence. At home, my mother listened to my sorrows and made me feel, in her presence, as though I were a genuinely interesting and entertaining person. By early adolescence, I'd gained enough savvy and common sense to make other friends and get to know some cool boys. I cared a little less about The Girls, who responded by discovering—surprise!—that they really liked me.
At about this time, my family moved cross-country, from New Jersey to San Diego; two years later, we flew back over the same landscape and touched down in suburban Philadelphia. These dislocations involved my attendance at three different high schools, where I learned that, with sufficient warm-up time, I was actually pretty good at making friends. Secretly, though, I longed for college. There I envisioned myself shedding the remainder of my despised cocoon of shyness and emerging triumphant, the fully-formed social butterfly I was meant to be. I entered the college-selection process with a kind of devil-may-care aplomb, envisioning myself an unflappable adventuress who could land anywhere and thrive.