Overleaves: the structure of personality

Imagine designing your whole life, including your own personality…


In some computer games and online worlds, of course, you can do just that. You choose an ‘avatar’, a virtual identity, to represent you. Starting with a basic template, you can select your physical features such as size, shape, hairstyle and so on. Then you might also go on to select your personality traits, such as paranoid, brave, evil, and so on. The choice of personality determines your character’s actions and reactions, which in turn affect how the game unfolds.

But what if we could choose our own personality in real life?

Actually, according to various spiritual teachings, we have all done exactly that.

From the vastly expanded perspective of the soul, our earthly human life is a bit like a massive multi-player online game. Each time we play, we get to pick a human body to be our ‘avatar’ and we also select the personality traits we want this avatar to possess in life.


According to the Michael teachings there are five core personality traits:

Together, these are known as OVERLEAVES because they overlay the pure energy of the soul, like coloured filters overlaying a ball of light, shaping our human experience and behaviour in specific ways. They are the building blocks of our human character.

Each is available in seven forms. For example, the available modes include Aggression, Caution and Passion.

Choosing the Overleaves

All overleaves are chosen.

Some of the overleaves (specifically the Goal, Mode and Attitude) are deliberately chosen by us, before birth, to give us the “right” personality for the task ahead in life.

For example, if a soul wants to experience being powerful, or perhaps learn how to use power more responsibly, then a Goal of DOMINANCE would be appropriate. This would give the personality a desire to take the lead or take control throughout the life.

So the Goal, the Mode and the Attitude are chosen before birth. The other overleaves are formed and adopted during life itself.

  • Centering, which determines how the personality processes personal experiences, is selected during early childhood.
  • Chief feature, which is how the ego tries to “protect” itself, develops throughout childhood but finally solidifies during late adolescence.

The Chief Feature is really a negative overleaf, a manifestation of fear and illusion in life, and as such is the personality’s main character flaw. More on that in a moment.

Goal, Mode and Attitude

The three main overleaves, central to the personality, are set before birth:

  • GOAL: Your basic motivation or driving force; your preferred outcome in all situations. Your goal shapes your choices in life, being both an attractive aim and a personal challenge. Example: dominance.
  • MODE: Your manner of expression or behavioural style; your normal way of doing things. Example: caution.
  • ATTITUDE: Your outlook on life or philosophical style; your normal way of perceiving things. Example: idealism.

To explain further: Your Goal defines how you intend to live life, or what you want out of live overall. Your Mode and Attitude define how you “do” life and how you “view” life, respectively. They complement each other — your Attitude shapes your inputs (perceptions), your mode shapes your Outputs (actions). That is, your Attitude defines your inward orientation to life while your Mode defines your outward approach to life.

As with most things in the Michael teachings, each of the overleaves consists of seven types or options. The seven types of Goal, seven types of Mode and seven types of Attitude are shown here:

So it’s as if you select one from each column before you are born, carefully (or sometimes not so carefully) choosing the options best suited to your particular life task.

In my case, for example, I perceive with an Attitude of Idealism, I operate in a Mode of Perseverance, and I am driven by a Goal of Growth.

Positive and Negative

Each overleaf has a positive pole and a negative pole.

For example, the positive pole of Dominance is LEADERSHIP while the negative pole is DICTATORSHIP.

The positive pole is in alignment with the soul’s purpose. It channels the raw energy of essence, which is pure, conscious and loving.

The negative pole of an overleaf is destructive, or at least self-defeating, and is driven by the personality’s Chief Feature and its underlying fears.


Your centering determines how you tend to experience life moment-by-moment. It refers to which “centre of operations” you habitually use.

There are seven centres in all, but the ones most used in ordinary life by the personality are the emotionalintellectual and physical (moving or kinesthetic) centres.

Centering H319Actually, you have a primary center which focuses your immediate conscious experiences and a secondary center or “part” which produces your automatic reactions to those experiences. For example, you might inwardly experience life using words and logic but outwardly react to what you experience with feeling and emotions. This would be described as having intellectual centering with an emotional orientation — or being in “the emotional part of the intellectual centre”.  This is shown here as

Intellectual → Emotional

There is also instinctive centering, which equates to the autonomic functions of the body. This is the temporary centering of those who are in a coma, for instance.

There are, in addition, three higher centres—but these tend to be accessed only briefly during meditation or in moments of great emotional intensity. The higher emotional accesses pure love, the higher intellectual access pure truth, and the higher physical or higher moving accesses pure energy.

Centering is formed in early childhood and plays a part in one’s subsequent learning style. For example, children with physical centering tend to process new experiences and information through physical movement, as though literally trying to “grasp” it or “get on top of” it. This may be viewed by their parents and teachers as restlessness and fidgeting.

Chief Feature

Your Chief Feature is your main, overriding character flaw or personality defect. We all have one.

Chief Features H319

The Chief Feature is a personal response to deep, existential fear. The fear is formed in childhood, compounded by painful experiences and childish misperceptions. In my case, for example, I have always had a basic fear of dying too soon, before I get everything done.

In adolescence, as we approach adulthood and independence, we adopt a behaviour pattern to manage the fear. That is, we find some strategy to try and stop the thing we fear most from coming true. This behaviour pattern defines the Chief Feature of the young adult personality.

If the fear is of dying too soon without getting everything done, for example, then the behaviour pattern used to handle that is to rush headlong through life like a runaway train. This, then, is the Chief Feature of impatience.

So the Chief Feature is a survival strategy or defence mechanism. Ultimately, it is a false mechanism, a sham. It serves no real purpose past early adulthood. It does nothing except get in the way of our authenticity and personal fulfilment. However, it is nigh on impossible to shake off.

At the same time, it is usually the most obvious and dominant trait of the whole personality. Hence the name, “chief feature”.

Primary and Secondary

There are, in fact, usually two such mechanisms, a primary and a secondary. The primary defence mechanism (i.e. chief feature) interferes with the person’s true Goal and the secondary interferes with the true Attitude.

If, for example, your primary is impatience, you will be anxious about missing out on opportunities to achieve your life’s Goal (in my case, Growth). But then your impatience will tend to hurl you into situations which make it difficult to achieve the Goal anyway, thereby perpetuating the problem. It is always a vicious circle.

And if your secondary defence is, say, self-deprecation, this will affect your Attitude or view of life — you will tend to interpret your life in ways that belittle your own capabilities, since self-deprecation is the strategy of those who fear being judged for their own inadequacies.

See article: Chief features: the seven character flaws

Putting It All Together

To get a clearer picture of how the overleaves fit together to make up our personality structure and affect us in life, I have done this flow diagram. The examples shown are my overleaves, just for illustration purposes.


[click for enlargement]

Basically it shows how the whole process of living is a constant cycle with choices at the heart of it. We perceive the world around us through our senses, we choose what to do and then we enact those choices in the world. The overleaves — those seven-sided boxes in the diagram — add colour to the mix:

  • The Goal provides a distinct motivation, pushing our choices in a direction consistent with our life plan.
  • The Attitude adds a distinct interpretation to our perceptions that is consistent with our life plan.
  • The Mode gives us a distinct manner of acting on our decisions that is consistent with our life plan.
  • Centering emerges as a quick and simple way of reacting to immediate experiences.
  • Chief Features emerge out of our growing fears and insecurities, adding a negative influence to our choices.

Understanding the overleaves gives us a very clear picture of how someone is operating in life. Usually the most obvious aspects of a person’s character is their Chief Feature (or character flaw). Actually, this is the most obvious in others and the least obvious in oneself.  It is often quite easy, for example, to spot someone else who has arrogance — not so easy to see it in yourself.

The other overleaves are less easy to spot, but I find that you once you start looking, your sensitivity develops with practice.  Just watch for how a person prefers to be across different situations. Those with a Goal of dominance, for example, have a distinct manner about them — always itching to take charge of something.

Of course, observing others is one thing. Observing yourself is another. In the near future I will be ading more personality tests to this site to help you identify your own overleaves.

22 thoughts on “Overleaves: the structure of personality

  1. So am I not supposed to be able to “access” pure love, truth, or energy at all times? I might just constantly meditate or be in a constant high emotional state, but I can access them without focusing on them. Truth feels like another layer to the world, actually. It’s a constant lens where I can view others others without bias, as well as myself which is the weirdest thing. (Because I can contrast it with seeing myself in a horrible way too.) I love everyone unconditionally, which can cause problems, because it hurts me to love them. I can see all of their flaws and love them anyway, but I can’t do that for myself normally. (I have at the very least major depression, and it is a separate lens. I can see the good characteristics I have that should be worthwhile, but I can’t feel the worth. It’s very frustrating to see so clearly that it’s the depression clouding my thinking, but not being able to fix it.) The access to pure energy is the only one I have to meditate to get sometimes, mainly when I cleanse my own energy.

    I have very bad self-destruction and self-depreciation but it depends on the timing. Sometimes I have a good day and I can actually see that I don’t need to think about myself like that and for a while everything clicks really nicely. Then (it’s happening now) for some reason I have to shut down and I can’t participate in society properly anymore. Even during the good times I’m still affected by the depression and bad thoughts, but they don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that I’m in balance again. (Mostly.)

    I’m not sure at all about my goal or method, but I think I’m a warrior type soul because the refusal to give up the fight to be happy is pretty much the reason I’m still alive, that and protecting others from the pain that leaving would cause them. I hope to invent things to help people when I’m older, (I’m 17…), and I’m extremely artistically inclined as well as being naturally inclined to lead. I have no idea how many times I’ve been here, but it feels like many times prior to this life, though in this life alone I can point out drastic changes. From completely deluding myself with two separate selves when I was younger to rapid shifts in the last year. Now I just feel extremely tired. I don’t know if a soul can be broken, but in the past year there have been three drastic changes. I had fully convinced myself that nothing was wrong at this time last year but then apparently it was time to grow up and I had to face so many demons. If I had to say now, I’d say I’m a mature soul of the later stages or a brand new old soul. (I can also see my aura which is a deep blue and it was interesting to see the color descriptions. Most of the people I know have a yellow or green aura, one other person has a kind of violet one.) I don’t know if it was supposed to happen so that I’ve gone through so much in so little time or not. I though it was normal growing up, but it doesn’t seem that way now. I’d say I’m in a mid-life crisis which makes me wonder about the future. I have the feeling that I’m not going to get much older, but I’ve had that for the past seven years. (Birthdays are surprising.)

    I can also distinctly feel the separation between the body I’m in and my soul. I haven’t seen that on here anywhere. For that reason I actually have a lot of body issues because all of the sudden sometimes I just become aware of the fact that I have a body and that’s what everybody else sees… It’s really weird. Most of the time I feel crazy because of these things, or I’m just not thinking about them. I especially try to ignore when I see something from someone which they didn’t want to share. Which is nearly everything. Most of the time they’re hurting and I wish I knew how to help them.

    I’m just curious as to your opinion on me. I feel strongly of certain things that are true, but I also feel strongly that they shouldn’t be possible…

    • Hi Reagan

      Believe it or not, you are next on my list of pending questions and comments. I have about 40 waiting to be to answered, going back many weeks, thanks to my poor health, low energies and repeated surgeries. I’m trying to catch up fast as I can.

      Your opening question was a little puzzling at first, but I think I can see where you’re coming from (with all this emphasis on the human-level personality). Basically, as you possibly know, you/we exist in a state of absolute and eternal love, truth and energy between lives. The whole point of incarnating is to learn from the opposites or absence of those divine qualities.

      Infant souls can be pretty brutal in their excursions into such dark places, but as we evolve through the stages we come to a point where we feel “doing evil” is too much of an ethical problem to be used as a growth tool anymore.

      Then we are on a different path of self-discovery, the inner path of self-awareness and self-responsibility.

      Old souls are more interested in returning Home than younger souls, so it’s not that you’re “not supposed” to access your higher centres, it’s just that the lower centres are tailor made for the crude life-lesson experiences that suit younger souls. But once you’ve learned most of what there is to learn, why not focus your higher centres? Bring more of your eternal essence into the realm of apparent mortality and separation. This is, for example, how true genius comes into being.

      The more evolved you are, the easier it becomes to access the higher centres. For younger souls it usually entails some sort of near-death experience or trauma, but for older souls meditation and similar techniques can be used to deliberately seek moments or episodes of self-transcendence.

      The psychologist Abraham Maslow noted that those who are mature enough to be concerned with self-actualisation also tend to deliberately seek experiences of a higher level of being: self transcendence, or merging with that which holds universal meaning, purpose and value. I get the feeling you are arriving there.

      You’ve referred to a variety of things, and one that struck me was your feeling that at 17 you feel like you are in your “mid-life crisis”, which in this framework is symptomatic of what is termed “the 4th internal monad.”

      [[ A quick overview:
      Life revolves around seven key turning points, each presenting us with a choice to either step up in maturity or to defer change in favour of “staying where I am.”
      (1) Birth is the first (you can to choose to be born, playing an active role, or just you can just be passive and let it take its own course, perhaps leading to a still birth or a baby in a vegetative state.
      The other turning points or “monads” are :
      (2) choosing to be a walking, talking individual during toddlerhood,
      (3) choosing to “flee the nest” in late adolescence and seek independence and self-sufficiency,
      (4) choosing to listen to and act on one’s own sense of inner truth during the mid-life “crisis”, as one seeks real meaning and purpose;
      (5) choosing to assess and complete one’s life’s work;
      (6) choosing to accept that death is approaching;
      (7) choosing to die and return to the Light. ]]

      For a planned life expectancy of, say, 70-80 years, we would normally see the 4th monad kick in around 35-40. If you genuinely feel that you are going through it now — at the point where most people are hitting their 3rd monad — this suggests you are living an accelerated life for some reason, perhaps expecting or intending to reach the 7th at a relatively young age (~34?). This might explain those feelings of living a short life.

      I suspect you are an Old Soul (you think and write like one –at 17! — and your Aura colour is consistent with this). I also suspect that the bigger part of you knows exactly what you’re doing here, though for the outward-facing personality and the ego at the human level, it can all seem a tad tedious and depressing.

      Anyway Reagan, you seem like a fascinating and very self-aware individual, and I hope some of what I very belatedly said in response to your enquiry makes sense and is of value.

      Feel free to get back on any points of clarification or further questions.

      Best wishes,

    • Hi Chris,

      I guess I should put together a glossary of terms used on this site.

      Some working definitions:

      Overleaves – the forces which are designed to shape an individual’s perceptions, motivations and behaviours in life, such as the Goal, the Mode and the Attitude. The overleaves are chosen before birth so as to attract particular life experiences. For example, a person with a Goal of Dominance will have, as their ‘default setting’, a drive to seek status and leadership. Taken all together, the overleaves make up the human personality of the soul while in that particular human life. The overleaves can be changed from one life to the next, or even within life. (Note: not all personality traits are reflective of the overleaves; some are the result of ‘imprinting’, social conditioning, and artificiality. These false or unintended layers tend to be shed around the age 35-40.)

      Oversoul – Not sure who’s writings on the oversoul you have in mind (Seth? Emerson?), but I think both would say it is not just the true, inner or higher nature of the individual person (i.e. the eternal soul), but also the true nature shared by all beings, uniting all souls collectively. In other words, our common Essence or Spirit.

      Most people act in habitual ways with a fairly dimmed consciousness, especially when young. This is not very reflective of their true inner nature (essence), but of how they have grown up and adapted to life given the resources (overleaves) they have and the circumstances they were in. But later in life they might feel an inner urge to be more “true to themselves”, or in other words to “manifest their essence”. This means, first, letting go of false or artificial traits that have been picked up in the first half of life, and second, choosing to act more consistently in the positive poles of their overleaves. The positive poles of the overleaves are a more direct and true expression of the universal essence, or Tao. (The negative poles are a distortions based on fear, ego, and low self-awareness, and tend to be anti-social and/or self-defeating.)

      The ultimate “virtuous character” is one who has managed to set his human personality to ‘positive’ and so serves as a direct expression of essence or the “Over-Soul”, which shines forth clearly, unaffected by the normal human trappings of unawareness, fear, negativity and separation.

      Well, that’s my take on it.



    • Hi Barry, thanks for the reply. You said as we get older (I am 36 now and definitely trying to align with my “True Self or as you put it the more positive aspects of the my over-leaves I chose pre-birth) but would you say that as children we are “Truer” to ourselves than say when we are teens and then after the transition to independent adults we slowly revert back to our “Truer” selves?

    • Hi Chris,

      Good question.
      Answer: Yes and no…

      I think children are internally “closer” to their essence or true self (i.e. true nature + true identity) than teens and young-mid adults, BUT they don’t know it because they lack the resources for clear self-awareness and self-expression.

      Also, their attention is primarily drawn to whatever is happening in the world around them, rather than inwardly probing their own existence (although of course some Mature and Old souls will do some of the latter while still in childhood – but probably won’t admit to it for fear of sounding weird and being mocked).

      The first few years of life are pretty much devoted to learning…
      – discovering the physical capabilities and limitations of the body
      – discovering how to interact with the environment
      – understanding and communicating with others through language
      – following (and breaking) the rules

      One of the milestones for a child (aged 1-2) is recognising that she “has” a specific identity — not her TRUE identity, but her place as others see her, i.e. her name, her position in the family, her appearance in the mirror, the location of her room, etc. Thus she develops a mental model of herself as a unique person (hence the emergence of the ego), but it is largely based on external information and factors beyond her control.

      As we grow up, it is quite normal for our self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-expression to be “boxed in” by this external focus of attention and the cues/rules/expectations we pick up from others, all of which we absorb into our model of self. Socialisation — learning the do’s and dont’s of being a normal, accepted member of society — is also an essential part of growing up into a human adult.

      By the time we’re about 25, say, we are fully immersed in the young-adult social world, asserting ourselves as free agents, maybe finding our own place in the big world, even trying to reinvent ourselves in some way to break from our childhood identity. At this point, depending upon the “density” of the various false, negative or nonsensical stuff we had previously taken on board, some of us are about as far from our true self as it is possible to get.

      So, yes, as young children we have fewer “veils” obscuring our ability to shine — something adults recognise and even envy. However, that doesn’t equate to our being “truer” to our true selves.

      On the whole, as children we don’t normally follow our own inner light to find ourselves (unless, I would say, we happen to be Old souls). Rather, we follow external things like social cues, rewards, threats, punishments, TV cartoons, schoolyard gossip, and — most importantly — the things that others say about us. Before long, our desire for inner truth is overwhelmed by fear, false ideas, idealised images, interpersonal issues and ego defences, and this outer layer just keeps on growing and accumulating until, at some point, we feel the dissonance —

      Is THIS who I really am? It somehow doesn’t feel right to me…But then, who AM I?

      And then, perhaps after an existential crisis, we decide to take control of our assumptions and habits, and take responsibility for ourselves as whole persons. This is the mid-life pivotal point, around 35-40, by the end of which — hopefully — the true self is starting to emerge and shine as layers of falsity are ditched and the true self is given free expression. This could be through art, meditation, writing, changing careers, or just becoming more quietly confident about who you are and why you are here.

      Oh yes, should mention this: each ‘normal’ life is planned this way. “First I’ll grow up and find my place in the world, then I’ll start to turn my attention inwards, recover more and more of my true self, and then work on my task for this life.” Each full life is planned around a task, which reflects and develops the current consciousness of the soul. The life task comes into focus at or after the mid-life turning point.



  2. Thanks again for your great answers they explain a lot. So if I understand correctly prior to birth we “know” there will be a period in which we are not being true to our “true selves” and that the crisis of conscious starts the journey towards inner discovery? The reason I ask this is because my teen years were especially difficult (bulling, low s-esteem, attention seeking, sexuality) it was almost too overwhelming. Somehow, however I persevered and gained back what I lost during those troubling years. Not only was I effected but the souls (parents) that raised me were disturbed by my personality. Yet, now that I am looking back I recognize that it almost seemed necessary for the struggle to learn the most about myself. Can I assume that pre-birth I knew I was going to make it this far? Or is that just not guaranteed? I mean if we make agreements with other souls to incarnate with us to help and support us, how much of “a life” is left to chance? Sorry to hijack this forum but I really resonate with your answers that I feel compelled to keep questioning.

    • Yes, before birth we set out a plan for the life to come, but with the intention of being unaware of the plan (at the personality level), so that the experiences hit us unexpectedly and our emotional reactions are both real and raw.

      Were it not for this ignorance of the plan, life would be rather like performing a play with the script in our hands – predictable, dull, and rather pointless. So at birth it’s as if we pass through a “veil of amnesia.” We know full well that for at least the first half of life we won’t have a clue as to our true nature or purpose. And in fact many (most?) of us reach the end of life still utterly clueless.

      AND YET we nevertheless experience most of what we set out to experience and do what we set out to do in our life plan. This is because the plan isn’t like a “script” but more like a flexible road-map of key life events (birth, relationships, bereavements, successes, failures, conflicts, breakthroughs, accidents, death). We make agreements with other souls to play their part in these events at the appointed time, but none of it is set in stone — free will and the complexity of life means that you might decide to drop out of an agreement, or someone else might skip an agreement they had made with you. There are no consequences for a broken agreement other than deciding whether to experience the same event by a different route, or maybe just leave that event for a subsequent life.

      Younger souls, once in a physical body, live life just as they perceive it from the perspective of the human personality and in the context of the given human society. Older souls, however, tend to break this habit around mid-life. THis is when they come to feel an almost intolerable itch prompting them to pause, re-think, and start being more real and true-to-themselves. They have reached the crossroads in the life plan where they have spent enough time finding their feet as a human personality, so it’s now time to start accessing and manifesting their true self (i.e. their essence, soul age, and life task). It can be an enormously stressful time for those who are anxious to find themselves and to discover what exactly they should do with their lives, but don’t as yet know how to DO so — i.e. where to look inside themselves.

      So, to return to the question, yes it is safe to assume that — despite knowing what you had set yourself up for — you believed that you would be here now, having found the strength to see it through. Which, as you say, is probably the precise reason why you had those specifically challenging experiences. Chances are, you have been sucessfully following your own road-map, with harsh experiences seemingly hitting you out of the blue, AND YET life is still an open field and free will is still the name of the game. The plan simply provides a set of perfectly tuned contexts for your free will to be evoked.


    • Thanks K.

      Kohlberg’s is one of several models of psychological development that can be easily mapped onto the soul ages. Basically Infant souls are Pre-conventional, Baby souls are Conventional, and I would say from mid-Young onwards things are increasingly Post-conventional.

      A lesser known but much more high-resolution model is Jane Loevinger’s stages of (what she calls) Ego Development, which has been extended by Susanne Cook-Greuter. I keep meaning to write about this – maybe I’ll do it now!

      In a nutshell, their model is based on empirical data (not just theory), and its 8-10 stages map neatly onto the soul ages. The Michael teachings describe how human personalities manifest “below” their true soul age until they reach 35 or so. As I see it, Ego Development refers to the stages of manifestation. For example, a Young souled personality will develop through ego stages 1-5, reaching a plateau in middle age, while an Old souled personality will go on to stages 8 or 9 in the same amount of time.

      Ok, I’m feeling inspired to write this up now.

  3. Hi, Barry. I’ve been reading over your site a lot. I’m probably going to bombard you with a number of annoying critical questions–not trying to be a jerk, just trying to understand it better. I’m aware you have other issues in life, but I’m eager to hear your ideas back whenever you can.

    Here, I’m kind of wondering about some of the other comments. You say the 4th monad is when you put aside all that stuff from earlier in life and start focusing on your true life task. Well I had an incident (a severe but non-fatal illness) when I was about 27-30, when I was alone in a foreign country. And it basically severed me from my past, made me rethink about everything I was and what I really want to/should do with my life. I spent another year trying to figure out what I should do next. Seems like 4th monad stuff…

    Well this is like 10-15 years younger than what you say. It’s possible I have more work to do on it or something, but basically, does this mean I’m going to die young? (I’ve never particularly thought I’d live past my mid-50s, but that could just be my relative youth unable to conceive of being “old”).

    Regarding the article itself, you discuss these personality traits we put in place for life; do we have other characteristics that stay in place from lifetime to lifetime (exclusive of soul type)? Are we just points of consciousness? I guess I’m wondering how much is “me” and how much is biological or assumed (trying to do my inner work here).

  4. What’s great about all of this, is even though my husband and I are different in so many ways, we share so many characteristics such as Chief Feature. It manifests differently in us, for the most part, but at the core it’s the same. Since he’d never go for channeling, I’d really like to spend the time to see if I can figure out what all his traits are and compare them to mine. We’ve always complimented each other despite our differences.

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