One of the keys to really understanding ourselves, especially if we are interested in knowing what makes us tick from a medical standpoint, is to discuss some of the interesting issues around the words we use to classify cognitive, emotional and behavioral tendencies we may carry.
Understanding Our Tendencies
There are personality tests that attempt to help us better understand how we see and approach the world. Systems have been developed to better understand and classify our personalities, interests, behavioral patterns, intelligence, our inner emotions and our internal conflicts. Businesses and colleges use these tests to understand their customers, optimize placement of personnel, plan for career development and sharpen skills. ‘Human Needs Psychology’ will use the top two of the author's six basic human needs to classify how a person is likely to respond to their environment. This information is then used to help people learn how to motivate themselves and others and to personally grow and contribute. The Abhidhamma Pitaka of Theravada Buddhism has seven sections, one of which, the Puggalapannatti, is dedicated to personality types.
We are always looking for new ways to gain insight into an individual's behaviors, including our own. Such exploration has led to literally hundreds of commonly used classifications that we use to better understand, communicate and help each other. Each system has its own ideas on how an individual comes to have such traits. Most use some combination of nature (our genetic inheritance or karma) and nurture (what we have been exposed to and what habits we have acquired from this exposure). We have experienced the advantages of adopting organizing principles around which we can quickly adjust to any situation. This can help us to better understand, respect and work together. A system has yet to be discovered that perfectly 'classifies' everyone, and there will likely never be a system that can define or predict any person completely. Until then, we will keep revising our classifying methods to better understand and appreciate each others' talents.
Medical Classifications that Aid in Understanding Ourselves
People who have dedicated their lives to relieve the suffering of those with emotional struggles also look to such systems to better understand and appreciate each person they serve. To mindfully understand these systems, clinicians dedicate years of training to appreciate the complexities of the normal variability. We each possess complex emotional, physical, social, psychological and cultural traits. From conception, gestation, birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood, ‘the golden years’, until the moment of death, clinicians investigate systems of optimal development.
Working to Understand Internal Organization
From the BEGINNING of a clinician's education, each type of cell, each part of each cell and each chemical in each part of each cell is brought to the student’s awareness. How do all the 'organelles' inside each cell work together? How is all of this organized? How does one cell communicate with another? How do these cells know which way and when to grow to form the body’s systems? How does each system communicate with all the other systems? How are decisions made and what happens if these cells and systems disagree? Who or what has the final say or offers the compromise that keeps the body strong?
From Our Organization to Our Environment
Simultaneously, a clinician studies how all of this happens in the environment where we exist. How does an egg allow only one sperm to fertilize it and 'almost magically' create a new being? What calls one cell to become a nerve cell and another a white blood cell? How does a mother's body titrate each nutrient necessary to feed their growing baby for nine months? What is it about a baby that fascinates parents and creates a parental bond made to last a lifetime? How does a child learn all they need to survive from his or her parents and then separate and individuate from them as teens?
How does the cell, tell the system, tell the body that we are loved? Then the real magic! After all of this fighting for survival, how are we able to love another so much that we would give our life for their survival?
Our mind and bodies respond to a wide variety of stresses and are studied to better understand how we are able to maintain equilibrium with our environment. How we perceive stress, the effects of strain, what bodily resources are required and how the body naturally orchestrates, not only our survival, but our impact on the world. These fields of STUDY are taught by experts in each field. Given their experiential point of view, each expert, to some degree, often feels that their field has all the answers (or at least the better answers!). This view of life gives way to the personal experiences gained through the natural PROCESS of living where each of us learns 'the rest of the story'.
All of this study is so beautiful. It helps us immensely as we work on understanding ourselves. It is the study of who we are, why we are and how wonderful we are.