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How Temperament Affects Us


As a therapist, I think about temperament a good deal—mine and that of the clients I treat. I often joke that I got the “happy genes” from my dad or am amazed at clients who’ve suffered greatly in life and yet remain hopeful and upbeat. We are the fortunate ones when it comes to temperament.

In “How Temperament Influences Support Given to Loved Ones With Eating Disorders,” Dr. Laura Hill, Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, The Ohio State University and Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego explains what temperament is and its importance: “Temperament impacts the cost of one’s daily emotional expense.” 

She goes on to say that “Temperament is the biological basis of our personality. It is created by one’s genes which set the framework for brain circuit development that evolves and functions over one’s life span. Temperament consists of one’s personality traits. Every person has traits. It’s the combination of those traits that creates our character over time. We don’t get to choose our traits. We inherit them.”

“Combinations of traits can make a person more prone toward successes and illnesses. No one is without traits. No person has a “perfect” set of traits. It is how each person trains and expresses their traits that makes their life more productive and fulfilling. Temperament is an underlying contributor to how we think, feel, and respond. Temperament is fundamental to who a person is. It influences when change can occur with less resistance.” 

The above paragraph is highly relevant to recovering from an eating disorder. Traits may be inherited, but they can be modified throughout life. Maybe you got a gene for creativity but your parents saw anything out of the ordinary as a threat to their ordered life and expectations for you, so you repress and suppress your creative desires—and are so frustrated that you eat and eat and eat. You could, as an adult, recognize that being creative is part of your temperament and honor your good fortune. 

Or you could be on the timid side and not have many friends because you’re afraid to reach out to people. Timidity need not be a permanent state. You could learn to push yourself a bit to make friends so you don’t feel so lonely and end up eating to comfort yourself. Consider your temperament and what you can change about it in order to make progress not only with eating but to forge a better life for yourself.