Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thursday's Therapy - “Personality Intensification”

Thursday's Therapy

“Personality Intensification”


A TCF Speech – 8 Things I’ve Learned About the Grief of a Grieving Parent

Part Seven of Eight

Sunday, July 6, 2003 - TCF National Conference

Closing Speech by Charlie Walton

Part Seven


I learned a new term recently that helped give a name to something I had observed that happens when sudden grief occurs. A gerontologist at our church was conducting a class on the problems of aging, and specifically, how to deal with aging parents. One of the things he said is that, as people get older,

a phenomenon occurs which is called

"personality intensification."

As the good doctor struggled to explain the meaning of "personality intensification," someone in the class spoke up and said, "Oh, you mean that, as you get older, you just get more like you have always been." The doctor had to agree that that was a pretty good definition.

You've probably seen this in older people. If they were grumpy as young people, they are going to be even more cantankerous as they get older. If they were sweet and loving and forgiving all their lives, they are probably going to be folks who grow old gracefully.

It's just that aging removes some of the motivation to hide our natural characteristics, and "personality intensification" is the result.

Well, I think the same thing happens when grief enters your life.

The motivation to monitor and adjust the way you behave just kind of melts away and your personality characteristics intensify.

For some people, that can be a blessing - they may have needed to open up and be less careful about life. For others, it can be really disastrous.

Sometimes you hear folks say that the death of a child is likely to cause the death of the marriage of that child's parents. That's just not true.

What happens is personality intensification. If there were cracks in that marriage relationship, the stress on those cracks will be intensified by the child's death. On the other hand, if that marriage relationship was a strong one, it will grow even stronger.

It is important for us just to know about "personality intensification," to know that it occurs naturally, and to recognize it when the added stress of grief is making it happen to us. It's not by accident that the customary wisdom of the ages is "Don't make any major life decisions for a whole year after the loss of a loved one."

You are not yourself, and you shouldn't expect yourself to be yourself. You just gotta tell the world to wait.

Thank you Charlie Walton for your insightful observations! May we use these insights to better understand our complicated grief and to take steps to make our lives healthier in the midst of them.


Another way to define Charlie’s phrase of “personality intensification”:

Personality Intensification –

What happens in the volatility of grief over your child’s death is that

· Whatever strengths you had before become stronger.

· Whatever weaknesses you had before become weaker.

· Whatever fault-lines were present in your life before, whether in your personality, or in your relationships, or both, those fault-lines become heightened or more intense, and thus your life feels more unstable.

· Sometimes your own intensified strengths and weakness work counter to one another and collide. For instance, your naturally compassionate heart becomes more compassionate so that you begin to help others in their grief, but if you have difficulty with boundaries or with time management, your once-positive work can become overly stressful and at times disruptive. Your strengths and weaknesses, at that point, have collided.

· Other times, your fault-lines are exacerbated by the intensive and pervasive grief process to the point of cracking and creating more chaos in your already over-stressed life. These added stressors effectively create more disruption in your already stressful life.

Stress can create either negative or positive changes in a person. Although

"personality intensification" can create more challenges to our system, even if

those challenges temporarily create chaos, ideally, those challenges can create

a new, positive growth in a grieving mommy or daddy. That is certainly my

hope for you!


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