If you’re the oldest child, you probably often hear comments about how you must be a great planner who enjoys order in life. The same goes for only children, who are often assumed to be “lone wolves” and said to be mature, creative, and comfortable being alone.
But is all of this really true? Does birth order really define who you are and shape your personality, even into adulthood? Yes and no. The bottom line is that while it does indeed play a role, it’s not the only circumstance that should serve to explain every facet of your personality. Here’s a closer look at how birth order does impact your personality, alongside many other aspects of life that also make you the unique person you are.
The role of birth order and personality
Experts have found there is at least some truth to the claim that birth order influences personality. First-born children are more apt to feel high levels of responsibility, and consequently may be more prone to put pressure on themselves. Middle children are thought to be concerned with fairness and peace, yet also late bloomers who often struggle for attention.
However, as an only child, I can say that while I definitely exhibit the aforementioned lone wolf traits, I also exhibit personality traits typically reserved for other birth orders. Therefore, it wouldn’t be accurate to lump me strictly into the “only child” personality category, and likewise for other people who have a certain birth order.
Like many things in life, trying to define personality with a one-size-fits-all blanket statement can be tricky. When we say that all people of a certain age, birth order, profession, or nationality will typically act a certain way, it’s important to know that there’s much more to it. All kinds of overlaps exist, so it’s virtually impossible to categorize individuals solely based on highly clichéd (and therefore, unfortunately, widely accepted) generalizations.
The many facets that drive your personality
To that end, while experts maintain that yes, birth order plays a role in personality development, so too do several other things. For example, there have been findings that certain illnesses and overall physical health can trigger various personality traits. Parallels have been discovered between neurotic personality traits (typically an anxiety-driven need for prestige, power, and affection) and five illnesses: headaches, arthritis, heart disease, asthma, and peptic ulcers. Furthermore, researchers found that a shorter life span and shyness may be linked.
Experts also suggest that life’s circumstances can affect your personality. Depending on what you experience, you may find that you become isolated and reserved even though you used to be highly social. Or, perhaps you were often quiet, and now jump at every opportunity that screams “adventure.” A multitude of life events can prompt such changes, including childhood trauma, your relationships with friends, verbal abuse and your sensitivity levels. Events that unfold in your life—for better or worse—can drive and create shifts in your personality, making both subtle and dramatic changes.
In reality, a vast number of events can create your personality, and it’s an ongoing process. Yes, you may have traits that your “stubborn” grandmother or “curious” father exhibited, but you also take in life’s daily experiences and react accordingly over time. Perhaps you’ve reached a point in life at which you are no longer the thrill-seeker you once were. Alternatively, maybe you no longer place the same emphasis on certain goals in light of a significant life change (such as the birth of a child or death of a loved one) and observe changes in aspects of your personality as a result.
Even the number of existing personality traits is debatable. Years ago, some researchers said there were upwards of 4,000 personality traits. As time went on, experts suggested there were around 16 personality traits. Today, it’s commonly believed that there are five, easily remembered with the CANOE acronym: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion.
The main message here is this: you’re an ever-changing being who is constantly adapting to life and to the world around you. Therefore, it’s important to examine a variety of life events and interactions when learning about the entire scope of your personality, instead of clinging on to a few “rules” that attempt to stereotypically define who you are at the get-go.