Psychology

Can people change? And Should they?

9 Mins read

People can change, but sadly they often don’t. This is because they do not want to change, most often it’s because changing doesn’t benefit them in any way. Their current self may seem more rewarding and upright than the person they may become if they change. Sometimes it’s not that, people choose not to change because its hard, taxing and down right exhausting. Its easier to be stagnant than to move.

I truly got troubled by this question when I watched season three of The Expanse. At the end of the season, humanity is given a gateway to 1,300 habitable systems beyond our own galaxy by an alien life form. Considering how much suffering there is at that point in the series’ history, something like this is seen as the Holy Grail.

However, James Holden, the main protagonist of the series, sees a new gigantic problem, to him the problem is – people don’t change, regardless of the solution presented, people will choose to destroy themselves because they are unwilling to change who they are and what they want. They are unwilling to sacrifice the destructive to foster the constructive because it’s easier to give in to the destructive. To quote him:

You know, all of our divisions, all of our hatreds…They didn’t just magically disappear the moment you set us free. You’ve given us a new frontier. 1,300 habitable systems on the other side of those Rings. You know we’re gonna go. We won’t be able to resist. It’s gonna be another blood-soaked gold rush.

James Holden, The Expanse

This quote made me write this article to try and understand why our minds are so inclined to resist positive change but are easily inclined to let in any negative, destructive tendencies. Moreover, I seek to answer the question, “Can people change? And Should they change?'”

People often choose to change for themselves because they have seen negative impacts inflicted on them by their own behaviors. That’s the major reason why people change. It’s also the major reason why you can’t forcefully take someone to rehab. In most centers, he/she won’t be accepted there if he/she doesn’t want to be there.

Change is largely attributed to the person’s motivation to change, reason to change and the effort he/she is willing to make to see the results. Outside influence plays little to no role in making the person change. To put it simply, you can’t change someone, you can however put pressure on them so that they can change by themselves.

Apart from that, people are relatively the same. However, as you get older, you also ‘change’ because of life experiences and the society you live in, but that is more of growth rather than change. Change is a drastic or gradual shift in habits, behaviors and tendencies to serve a needed purpose or fix a problem.

Growth on the other hand is a natural continuous process that takes place as you actively participate in the society and just life, the growth happens as you continuously adapt to fit into different scenarios in your environment and people in general.1

It is important to note however that most traits are mostly constant by the time you leave your teens. According to Psychology Today , based on a fifty years study of “Big Five Inventory” data gathered from 1960 to 2010, the rankings (of personality traits) remain fairly consistent. People who are more conscientious than others their age at 16 are likely to be more conscientious than others at 66. On average, everyone becomes more conscientious, more emotionally stable, and more agreeable.

When we talk about change, we have to be careful to differentiate between people changing their bad habits such as alcoholism and narcissism, with people changing their personalities, beliefs, principles, values and way of life. The former is very obvious and no one is going to disagree that when you are stuck with a destructive habit then you should change it. The latter on the other hand is complicated because it involves changing the person’s core systems.

Should people change?

If a person has destructive habits such as alcoholism, abusive tendencies, narcissism and such kind then yes, they should change because they have negative impact on them and those around them. However, when it comes to the matter of changing core systems you have to ask yourself if you truly know who you are well enough to actually want to change.

Most people get disgusted by a few of their shortcomings. Lets say you are a very nice and agreeable woman and so often people take advantage of that to manipulate you and have their way. From a far, the logical solution would be to change yourself to be more disagreeable and less nice.

However, being agreeable has so many benefits especially to women. Women are often found to be more agreeable than men (Feingold, 1994; Costa et al., 2001). This means that women, on average, are more nurturing, tender-minded, and altruistic more often and to a greater extent than men.

Women being agreeable helps them take care of babies, their loved ones and the society in ways that a disagreeable man couldn’t. Obviously the agreeableness between genders isn’t that much different but you get the point. Gender differences in personality traits tend to play a big part in the stability of the society, changing one of them to suit one particular scenario may end up affecting the whole equilibrium of your own being.

This is why knowing your personality is very important. Your personality explains by large everything that constitutes you better than any metric in existence. Therefore, if you truly want to get to know yourself, you should take this personality test from Truity.Com . Its called the Big Five Personality Test, its free but for a comprehensive result you will only have to pay as little as $9. Sweet deal right? .I recommend you get the comprehensive answer to know how to orient yourself in the world.

The Big Five Personality Test focuses on five aspects that comprise of our own behaviors, habits, ways of thinking and tendencies. It dives into these five areas to help you know how to orient yourself in the society and become so self aware that you know how to be yourself truly. This will in turn help you find meaning in your own life by respecting the sovereignty of your own individuality and fitting that into the societal beliefs and practices.2

The five traits:

  1. Openness – including active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity
  2. Conscientiousness – implies being careful, or diligent a desire to do a task well, and to take obligations to others seriously.
  3. Extroversion – refers to a state of being where someone “recharges,” or draws energy, from being with other people; the opposite—drawing energy from being alone—is known as introversion.
  4. Agreeableness – behavioral characteristics that are perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm, and considerate.
  5. Neuroticism – a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feelings.

After knowing on which scale you fall on, you will be able to know where you have shortcomings and why, in so doing, you may then start thinking of changing yourself so that you can foster the ideal traits that you want. But why should you even think of doing that, aren’t we all amazing in our own ways? Shouldn’t we embrace that and make the most of who we are?

Before you even think of changing yourself you need to know that personality traits are relatively fixed. You won’t be able to change them. You will only be able to alter them to go higher or lower on their respective scales.

For example, you can choose to become disagreeable in certain scenarios so that you don’t get hurt, but still maintain being primarily agreeable.

That’s the change you can make, and that’s the change you should make. You can’t flip your whole personality into somebody else, that’s not how the human mind works. No wonder we always say, “People Never Change.”

Therefore the answer is no to the question of whether people can change their personalities. They can only shift themselves consistently on a given spectrum. Which is to say that if you are introverted you shouldn’t aim at being extroverted. What you should do is learn how to foster extroverted tendencies when the occasion calls for them so that you can attain a certain goal.

For more on this watch Jordan Peterson’s video on if you can change your personality:

Why should you change

After identifying your personality, you will be able to then figure out where your shortcomings lie and why they are present. You will be able to differentiate between something that is a innately built into you and for you from something that you are entertaining to have your way in life.

For example, narcissistic tendencies are not at the core of our personalities, neither is excessive aggression or constant disagreeableness. What you will discover by studying personality psychology is that our core traits are not innately bad or good. What they do is provide us with an anchor to which we can orient ourselves in the world. Choosing to use them for good or bad is up to us. This also applies to our morals, values, beliefs and principles.

Negative repercussions

Once you realize that one of your actions or a few of them have negative repercussions, then yes, you should change. This applies to habits such as drug use that may lead to health issues, death and emotional turmoil. Changing these habits is harder than any other because such habits normally result as defense mechanism to help us deal with some trauma or incomprehensible events.

Societal and cultural norms

Some societies do foster harmful cultural norms that scientifically have terrible impacts on the society. This may include female circumcisions, only male education, physically harmful traditions, sports, forced marriages, wealth misuse and unfair distribution. The list is endless.

With the internet and the rise of the intellectual age, we should all be open minded to noticing how our beliefs and traditions may negatively impact others and ourselves.

Religion and Spirituality

Things that determine your attraction to a potential partner include Physical attraction, Intellectual attraction, emotional attraction and last but not least Spiritual attraction.

Spiritual attraction not only means religion but also all sorts of beliefs, traditions, principles and values. These things shape who we are, If you are a Christian, you will most likely align your life around some things that are not harmful but may not be suitable for your partner who is an atheist.

Therefore, you will eventually expect him or her to convert into a Christian or else you will. The eventual solution is mostly a break up. Religions and beliefs are a vital part of the society and if you are open to the idea of being religious then you should be willing to change to be able to live in a certain light.

Take care of other people

In the New Testament Jesus frequently made a comparison between those who were physically blind and those that were spiritually blind. The “Blind leading the blind” is a scriptural reference indicating that Christians were not to act in a way that would lead non-believers astray (acting in a hypocritical way).

This applies to everyone in life, not just Christians. If you are in a position that requires you to take care of others, its your obligation to change to fit into the category of a leader and care giver. If you have become a parent, you will have to realize that you are required to foster good, loving and caring habits that can be able to help you take care of the child.

Fit into a sector of society

Most of aspire to be better than normal. To be part of the 1% or at least close enough. We want to belong to certain sects of the society. Act like that society, be like that society and be accepted into that society.

All of these are good reasons that won’t require you to change your whole persona but rather adopt new skills and tactics to be able to fair well in the society. Anything that deviates into the realm of changing your persona should be feared and discouraged at all costs because it may wreak havoc on your whole being.

Peer influence can cause people to question who they are and who they should be. Personalities should be understood so that people aren’t tempted to try and change themselves. By doing so we will reduce personality disorders that are sometimes caused by peer influence and social isolation.3

Bottom line

Its possible to change but changing is never always the right thing to do. Change should be expected and encouraged when people have destructive behaviors or when they are trying to better their lives without changing their core personalities.

However, from what you have read you will notice that our personalities don’t determine whether we are going to do good things or bad. They just anchor us. Our decisions are ultimately going to be influenced by the environment and what happens around us generally speaking.

This is why its hard for people to change, they are held captive by what is going on around them. To change a person you not only need to change their way of thinking, you also need to change the environment they live in, although changing them should always come first.

If people don’t know who they are and the right way of thinking, then how are they going to positively impact the society. To paraphrase Jordan Peterson’s quote, a famous clinical psychologist:

You need to start by cleaning your room.

By understanding that human beings are a mess and that you are part of that mess helps you know that you need to work on yourself first, straighten your life first.

And maybe you will be less messy to actually fix big problems. Don’t remain a mess and say that what is messy about you is only a circumstance of your environment. With that type of thinking you will end up making the world even messier.

Take responsibility.

Also, accommodating others doesn’t mean you cease to be who you are and what you believe in. You accommodate others by treating them with respect, love and peace.

If you are interested in fostering and improving your personality and habits, check out my previous article on How to change your ‘personality‘.

Footnotes

  1. How Do We Change As We Age? | Psychreg. (2019). Retrieved 8 September 2020, from https://www.psychreg.org.
  2. Srivastava K, Das RC. Personality and health: Road to well-beingInd Psychiatry J. 2015;24(1):1–4. doi:10.4103/0972-6748.160905.
  3. (2020). Retrieved 8 September 2020, from https://fau.digital.flvc.org
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About author
I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.
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