Genetic Makeup and Temperament

Influences that shaped your life

By Arlene Harder, MA, MFT and John Fabian, Ph.D.


A person born with spinal bifida is not going to sail through school on a football scholarship. A person with a disfiguring birthmark is unlikely to be chosen beauty queen. A black person is going to have a more difficult time in some areas of life simply because of skin color.

There are thousands of ways in which your genes impact your experiences as a child and as an adult..

Likewise, your inborn temperament has caused you to react to life somewhat differently from your friends, acquaintances and even members of your family.

To explore how your basic temperament has impacted your life, all you need to do is to remember some of the traits your parents claim you’ve expressed almost from the day you were born. They may have said something like, “You’ve always been a talker, chattering away and wanting to be with people,” or “You’ve always been shy and preferred your own company to that of others.”

Topic Stimulators

  • Did you have a physical trait over which you had no control—such as being taller or shorter than your classmates, or being told you were handsome or plain looking, or being athletic or poorly coordinated, etc.—that made you stand out from others in some way? How did that impact you, at least for part of your childhood, and make you feel that you weren’t okay being who you were, or that you were better than others?
  • How has your acceptance or rejection of your physical trails changed over the years?
  • What trait is your “second nature,” the way you approach life most easily and comfortably? For example, were you assertive as a child, wanting to be the first in line and always raising your hand with the answer? Or were you more passive, willing to let others go first and not bothered if you were not chosen first for the team?
  • What are some of the words others might use to describe your personality? For example, would they say you are assertive or passive, emotional or aloof, eager to enter new situations or hesitant, competitive or non-completive, etc.
  • How did your temperatment—your basic approach to life–help you or hinder you as a child and as an adult?