Are You Stuck With 'Being Yourself'?

in psychology •  last month

Introduction

There is no argument that personality defines us and how we interact with the world in all aspects. The topic about personality is one of the oldest in psychology and probably would remain on the table for the next few decades. Different theories explain personality in different ways, but overall the general consensus is that personality is shaped by early life experiences and tend to stay stable over time. According to the most widely accepted model of personality, there are five basic personality dimensions that can define us as individuals.

Many of us have some things in our personalities which would like to change, improve or remove.For example, I’m an introvert. I get exhausted being surrounded with a lot of other people, especially if they are outside of my acquintace circle. This leads to avoiding meeting new people and cutting off “small talks” and/or idle conversations with friends or colleagues. Such behavior could seem rude to others or at the very least confusing. So, I am currently working hard to “fix” myself, or at least learn how to imitate extroversion.

Extroversion and introversion are psychological terms which today are common to many people, as they are two of the “Big Five” personality traits that psychologists have identified as key to one’s personality. The rest are openness to new experiences, agreeableness or the concern for social harmony, conscientiousness or self-discipline, and neuroticism or emotional instability.

It is believed that these traits shape what we refer to “ourselves” and play an important role in our social relationships, health, views and beliefs.

Is it really possible to change your personality or are our basic personality patterns fixed throughout life? While self-help books and websites often tout plans you can follow to change your habits and behaviors, there is a persistent belief that our underlying personalities are impervious to change. The Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud suggested that personality was largely set in stone by the tender age of five. Even many modern psychologists suggest that overall personality is relatively fixed and stable throughout life.

But what if you want to change your personality? Can the right approach and hard work lead to real personality change, or are we stuck with undesirable traits that hold us back from achieving our goals?

So could we change our personality?

Similar to other major topics in psychology, this question is not so easy to answer to.
In general, scientists agree that in order to make real and lasting changes to broad traits is a challenging task. So is there a chance for us if we are really willing to change? Some experts, such as Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, believe that changing the behavior patterns, habits, and beliefs is the real key to personality change.

What shapes our personality?

To understand if personality could be changed, we must first understand what are the factors that are crucial for our personality. Many people argue that personality is based on biological factors like genetics. Others would say that while genetics matter, it is experience and environment that are in fact detrimental for the genesis of personality. This conflict is known as the nature vs. nurture debate and has been ongoing for decades in various scientific fields, including psychology.

Today most scientists and philosophers would agree that the two factors are equally important in shaping our personalities. In fact, the interaction between genetics and the environment could influence how personality is expressed. For example, a person might be genetically predisposed to be impulsive or aggressive, but working in a friendly and official environment might make that person withhold or control their behavior, eventually becoming more calm and friendly, at least in working settings.

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck tells an interesting story of identical twin boys separated after birth. When they grew up they married women with the same first names, shared similar hobbies, and had similar levels of certain traits measured on personality assessments. This example is strongly in favour of the “nature” side in the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate, suggesting that our personalities are out of our control.
While genetics is certainly important, other research suggests that environmental factors such as our culture are also important in shaping one’s personality.

On the other hand

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh expected to see some evidence of personality stability over 63 years. They recruited 1,208 14-year-olds in Scotland in 1947 and asked their teachers to assess their personality. In 2012, the authors traced as many of these participants as possible and invited them to take part in a follow-up study.
Out of the original 1,208, 174 agreed to complete the questionnaire. They rated themselves and got someone who knew them well to rate them on the same six characteristics on which they were rated on when they were 14.

The researchers found out that these people had higher cognitive ability scores as children and were also rated by teachers as more dependable.

'Very broadly adolescents become rather less conscientious, more impulsive, more willing to take risks and seek adventure, more moody and irritable, and more social for a few years, then reverse those trends as they move into adulthood'

Overall the team concluded that there is no positive correlation between the age and stability of personality traits in their subjects. The researchers suggest that studies which only assess personality traits over part of a lifetime could be missing the bigger picture.

'There were no positive correlations strong enough to achieve significance between adolescent and older-age characteristic ratings or dependability”

It is fair to say that their sample size is not very big and diverse. This makes it difficult to assess key personality changes but it is possible to withdraw some general conclusions about personality development. Additionally, the original study also relied on teachers rating subjects’ personality and the participants were not able to rate themselves.

However they made some valid points, which raise interesting questions.

'As a result of this gradual change, personality can appear relatively stable over short intervals - increasingly so throughout adulthood. However, the longer the interval between two assessments of personality, the weaker the relationship between the two tends to be', the researchers said. As a teenager, many of us become less conscientious, impulsive, moody and irritable. We also become more social for a few years, then reverse those trends as we move into adulthood. In older age, people tend to become more accepting of themselves and all that goes with that.’

So what can we do to change our personality?

Going back to the first paragraph of this article - changing completely from an introvert to an extrovert might be extremely difficult. Frankly, most of the time I’m glad that I am an introvert and not extrovert. It is important to accept yourself for who you are and start changing or improving the aspects which you wish to correct.
General personality traits might be stable through life, but Carol Dweck believes that it is our "in-between" qualities that lie in the core of these general traits that are the most important in shaping our personality.

Changing beliefs and belief systems

According to Dweck people’s beliefs and belief systems are crucial factors which shape the personality. While changing your personality might be a difficult task challenging, you can try altering some of the underlying beliefs that help shape and control how your personality is expressed.

Dweck argues that

"People's beliefs include their mental representations of the nature and workings of the self, of their relationships, and of their world. From infancy, humans develop these beliefs and representations, and many prominent personality theorists of different persuasions acknowledge that they are a fundamental part of personality."

If you believe that you can’t change your personality, then that would become your reality. For example if I believe that my introversion is a fixed and unchangeable trait, then it is highly unlikely for me to become more sociable. But since I’ve acknowledged my introversion, observed and studied it, I know that it is changeable, which makes it more likely for me to change it.

Changing your habits

Today there is a lot of fuzz not only in psychological literature, but overall in all sorts of articles, books and movies about how important habits are. Healthy habits are in the core of healty life. No argument there. It is no surprise that positive personality traits correlate with healthy habitual responses. Good habits could be created, bad habits could be broken. Changing your habitual responses over time is one way to create personality change.

Stay focused

Stay on point. Set a clear goal and maintain conscious effort to act towards it. Setting the right mindset is crucial. The process of changing yourself is long and hard. Patience is required. You could seek support from the closest people around you by sharing with them your plans and receiving feedback from them. And if you feel like you are failing then:

‘Fake it until you make it’

If you struggle with understanding the exact trait you want to change, start imitating other people’s behavior which you like to achieve. While this approach is a bit ‘sliding on the surface’, it is a great start for the ones of us who are not sure exactly how they want to change, but are willing to. With time and experience this behavior could become your second nature, or a complete genuine change.

Conclusion

Personality change might not be easy, and changing some broad traits might never really be fully possible. Still, changes could occur depending on new life experiences. Dramatic events in life, meeting new people or changing the environment, even the kind of social roles we take on could influence some aspects of our personality. But the real question is are we really willing to change our personalities? Are we ready to do whatever it takes in order to do so? How many of us are really willing to put in the effort to make the kind of long-term changes that can alter personality traits?

If you made it so far, thank you for your time! If you enjoyed this article, please re-steem and upvote it. Comments and discussions are always welcome on my posts, so please be my guest. I would love to see what you think about this subject!

Sources:

  1. Personality And Aging

  2. Can Personality Be Changed

  3. How Praise Become Consolation Price

Pictures:

1, 2, 3, 4

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The "big five" has a useful benefit in creating a common vocabulary of complex ideas like intro/extroversion but it is a very broad organization system for these concepts. This is why even knowing your "type", as with the Meyers-briggs types, does not in itself lead to personality change; it is more about awareness. I like that you brought in the power of habit to the discussion. As a neuroscientist, neuroplasticity is my tool of choice for making "healthy" changes in personality that aim to achieve the highest forms of well-being, for each individual. Having the focus you reference, the willpower to continue progress toward goals, is essential and also trainable. Our personalities are our reactions to the circumstances of living, but often people are stuck in loops created by more primitive processes like flight or fight; setting concrete, specific goals and showing up every day can evolve our well-being.

Thanks for writing up on such an important topic; we all have the power to master our life, we just need to take responsibility and action! ;*

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I honestly do not like personality tests in general. Not only because they are so broad as you stated, but because they only provide to us a temporary "picture" of the person.

I am a big fan of neuroplasticity and I've done some simple articles on this topic and that's partly the reason why I did not discuss it here. Also the point here was to make some discussion and to highlight some key points such as the importance of healthy habits, as you also noticed.

Thank you for reading and commenting!

All the best to you!

Beautiful post @dysfunctional :)

Well, I am in love with this topic.

I like the works of Dweek's very much. Most of all because of the way she addresses the interplay between the underlying factors that shape personality's expressions and the behavioural responses they elicit. This is very important.

When my brother was younger he was an incredibly introvert person. As he finished university and started to work in hospitals and looking after patients, he became surprisingly more approachable and engaging. But, like you said, changes in broad traits have not taken place. To this day he still prefers to stay at home watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon than to go to a BBQ and spend the day socializing.

As always, it is wonderful to read your posts :)
All the best to you my dear.

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Hey Abby!

Thanks for reading once again!

I'm so glad that you enjoyed this one and took time to comment! It really means a lot.

I would choose

watching a movie on a Sunday afternoon than to go to a BBQ and spend the day socializing.

Every single time :)) :D

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Hey, @dysfunctional! You made a great article! :D I like the way you assembled it! :) I am a bit late with my comment, but I didn't hav the chance to read it earlier :)

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Thank you. It's never late if you read it :) I was away too but I am back now :)