When Marian Sandmaier heard the sounds of strange young women’s voices in her front hallway, she dove for the floor, crept upstairs, and hid in her bedroom. What would cause this perfectly functional, successful, and outwardly confident adult to run from her daughter’s friends in a spasm of anxiety?
In this month’s Psychotherapy Networker, Sandmaier explores the lifelong power of one’s temperament. For many years, modern clinicians rejected the idea that one’s temperament was inborn. However, a long-term study by Harvard researcher Jerome Kagan, along with the work of various behavioral molecular geneticists, suggests that our natural inclinations may be hard-wired into our DNA.
Kagan’s study of over 400 children from infancy into young adulthood revealed that roughly half of those who were prone to anxiety, or “high-reactors,” shed their early shyness and transformed into extroverted talkers around the age of 15. However, when studied more closely, Kagan found that these seemingly transformed individuals still maintained the same neurological reactions to stress that they exhibited as toddlers. They simply got better at overcompensating for it.
For someone like Sandmaier, who has managed to overcome innate introversion to build a successful career and healthy relationships with others, this means that although she has managed to cultivate a functional “persona” that enables her to navigate the myriad pathways of public life, her “anima”, or private reality, has remained unchanged.