The Myth of Personality: Can Personalities Change?

The basic assumption is that our basic personality traits are formed by a combination of circumstances beyond our control, and that individual characteristics such as honesty, introversion or friendliness remain fairly stable and consistent over the course of a lifetime.

If this is true, it means that a person who is friendly and outgoing at age 25 will be still be friendly and outgoing at age 75, and a person who is dishonest or unpleasant as a child will remain that way through the course of a lifetime.

In spite of those long-held assumptions, it appears that we can reconfigure our personalities, although changes may occur over the course of time – often many years.

Drastic or sudden personality changes are rare, although people may change significantly as a result of an accident, severe illness, great personal loss or other traumatic or life-altering event. Most personality changes happen very gradually, either by intention or as a natural part of the aging process.

Social Roles: Changing and Adapting

Personality changes sometimes occur in response to a changing social role and the way people view themselves. For example, a person who begins a new job requiring maturity, dedication and responsibility may make appropriate changes in order to adapt. A new parent may become more honest and conscientious as they examine how their thoughts and behaviors affect their offspring. Gradually, over time, those changes may become permanent aspects of a person’s personality.

Personality and Mental Health

Although it’s very difficult, individuals with certain personality disorders can make dramatic changes with concentrated effort and skilled counseling. Similarly, people struggling with anxiety, depression or substance abuse may make permanent changes after committing to drug and alcohol treatment or rehab. However, such long-lasting personality changes happen only with a high degree of willingness, motivation and commitment.

Aging: Changing in Positive Ways

Most people change and evolve gradually over time, becoming more settled, confident, caring and emotionally stable with maturity. Fortunately, personality changes across the lifespan are usually positive and people tend to become more agreeable, generous, and more willing to try new experiences.

Researchers believe that such personality changes are a natural part of the aging process – a result of life experiences, gender, environment and a greater sense of self.

Our True Nature

Although we can change certain personality traits, it may not be possible to change our fundamental selves. One thing is certain: scientists still have much to learn when it comes to the complexities of the human personality.

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