The concept of designer personality is a clear example of how the real world differs dramatically from idealistic black and white thinking. Essentially, a personality altered by pharmaceuticals, legal or otherwise, would technically be considered a designer personality; however, the connotation is more in line with the selection of elective personality traits (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). For example, I wish to be more outgoing so I ask my doctor for a prescription to release my inhibitions or self-medicate with alcohol, rather than my anxiety is so great going out in public that I cannot function.
The reality is far from simple. I personally have struggled with this very idea because my son has significant Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with Sensory Processing Disorder affect (SPD). In the summer, I take my son off or significantly his medication because he is not in school and therefore, is not required to sit still for hours at a time, concentrating and focusing on things that may or may not interest him, all at another’s discretion. Trying to have a meaningful conversation with Gabriel (my son) when off his medication or even when it is cut in half, is incredibly difficult because he is so easily distracted by other things and dislikes discussing unpleasant topics. He is incredibly forgetful, impulsive and disorganized. I take him off the medication because he still needs to learn how to behave and channel his behaviors with the incessant buzzing of his mind. But, when he is in school, academics take precedence not just for himself, but out of consideration for his classmates. When Gabriel gets distracted or fidgety, he is not just minimizing his ability to learn, but that of his classmates as well. I am readily cognizant of that. There is a very fine line. Further, learning how much to push and when not to push your child academically is always struggle, learning issues aside. Gabriel is smart, sensitive, generous, and kind. He has a heart for God and would willingly give his most favored possessions to anyone in need. Those parts of his personality do not change with or without medication.
I understand because I have the same conditions. The difference is that when I was a child my mother used various forms of mental, psychological and physical abuse to keep me in line. Her methods worked. I was conditioned to behave appropriately and self-taught myself cognitive strategies to prevent negative consequences. However effective the methods were in conditioning my behavior they were ineffective at nurturing and inspiring a child, instill a positive sense of self, or learn how to handle the real world without fear of negative consequences. It took years of therapy and psychological work to undue many of the ill effects of my upbringing. To this day, if my boss asks to speak with me my heart hammers and the first words out of my mouth are, “did I do something wrong?”
As my personal anecdotes reference, there are advantages to prescription medications if and when they are used in concert with other techniques and not solely for elective whims.
This issue is convoluted by other long-time issues and concerns. First, one of the reasons there are personalities that need altering because of illness or genetic abnormalities is because the medical field has continued to advance technically without always considering the ethical ramifications of those advances. Survival of the fittest is no longer applicable to our society. It is survival of the best medical advance. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, or other condition, the medical community has treatments and/or cures. As a result of these advances individuals are passing along genetic traits at exponential rates, myself included. ADHD is a visible branch in my family tree. My sister has ADHD and is married to an alcoholic with diagnosed borderline personality disorder with ADHD. They have two children, one which was born at 27 weeks and through medical intervention has survived and lives a loving life with her parents. It is fairly likely my nieces will grow up, marry, and have children of their own, passing their genetic traits along with them.
The issue becomes more difficult because once the medical community has performed their advanced technical miracles and saved our lives, we have passed on our genes, and now, we have a society filled with individuals who have “issues.” The problem is, our society is not willing and/or is incapable of the flexibility, education, understanding, or tolerance to embrace these individuals as they are, but, rather, insist on specific societal norms that are quickly becoming more and more difficult to manage. It is not a us versus them scenario. The problem is misunderstanding, lack of education, and fear of the unknown.
Where is the support for my niece with special needs? There are some learning supports put in place, but there is no psychological support helping my sister and her husband cope with a child with growth issues, learning, issues, and other issues. Worse still, there are no psychological supports to bolster this child’s self-esteem, confidence, and understanding so that she can be successful in today’s uncompromising society. She is different. As a result, her entire childhood has been “different” than it may have been. Her medication helps her with school, but where is the concern for the altering of her personality by society?
When I lost my youngest son five years ago, my best friend in this world said to me, “I can’t wait until you are your old self again.” She said that to me on one of my good days! It seems to me that we are suffering from a catch-22. Our moral compass insists on placing this exorbitant price on life, but fails to accommodate when those lives to not match the picture perfect standard. So, people like me take antidepressants and antianxiety medication so that I can function in an uncompromising society until the time when they overcome their grief and/or anxiety. My son takes medication because the teacher is unable to engage him and meet his learning needs in a class of 18, and the other students still treat him differently because the medication is just a mask for the whole person within.
Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2012). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.