The Big Five: Can people be organized into just five personality traits? 

According to researchers, yes. Ok, not exactly. You should know by now that nothing in human psychology is that simple! We do mostly fit into five major categories, with other traits grouped into each category. There is ongoing debate that one or two more traits should be added and that this model works best for the Western European world, but so far, the field has mostly stuck with the Big Five. 

Each trait is a spectrum with polar opposites at each end – we are all somewhere on these spectrums. 

  1. Openness (opposite is Traditional/Rigidity)
  1. Conscientiousness (sorta-kinda opposite is Disorganization/Unreliability)
  1. Extroversion (opposite is Introversion)
  1. Agreeableness (sorta-kinda opposite is Manipulative/Uncooperative)
  1. Neuroticism (opposite is Emotional Stability)

If you wonder where you fall on these spectrums, there are all kinds of free tests that will score you and show you where you compare to others who took the test. Here’s just one example:

These traits are not “good” or “bad;” they all serve an important purpose in being human, even traits like neuroticism. Usually, they only get us into trouble if we are at one extreme end or the other; for example, a person who rates very high in the Agreeableness spectrum may sacrifice his own happiness to put others’ needs before his own; if he rates very low in Agreeableness, he may be too uncooperative to be successful in his job. However, if he falls somewhere in the middle, this may be the healthiest balance for his particular lifestyle; he can be agreeable enough to get along well with others; tell people “no” when he needs to practice self-care (be uncooperative); and convince his team at work to come together and do a project they may not want to do (be manipulative or coercive). 

Why should you learn where you stand on the Big Five? 

1.) It’s fun. ‘Nuff said, but here’s a couple more reasons if you must have them…  

2.) You’re an amazing, fascinating human – why not get to know yourself a little better? 

3.) When you’re aware of your traits and strengths, you can use them to your advantage.

If you feel you are struggling with your traits or with self-acceptance, a therapist or intern may be able to help you. Come see us at our clinics in Cary, Fuquay-Varina, or Apex!

CarrieAnn Lefsaker

Mental Health Student Intern