Is personality change possible?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Virginia Sherborne MBACP (Accred.)
16th March, 20140 Comments
Many people are of the opinion that ‘people can’t change!’ This statement seems really strange to me, as counselling and therapy are very often about making changes. Perhaps what these individuals really mean is ‘People can’t change their personality.’ They can accept that counselling may help individuals make changes to their behaviour and to how they relate to other people. And actually, these changes are allowing someone to develop a new and healthier way of being in the world and being in relationships. So, surely this amounts to a change in their personality? For example, when someone who has always come across as very picky and critical learns to identify their own needs and those of others more clearly, and also learns to communicate in a more assertive and less aggressive style, then their personality will seem more calm and thoughtful. And amazingly, this individual is more likely to find that other people around them are more accommodating to their requirements!
Or imagine someone who grew up with carers who were abusive and cold. This person may have learned early on to ‘keep their head down’ and not to trust anyone, so they can’t be close and warm in a relationship as an adult. Spending time working with a therapist who is warm and kind and always trustworthy will gradually allow this ‘shut down’ person to blossom and begin to enjoy relationships in a different way. So, their personality will seem to have changed and become more trusting and warm.
Another client may come to counselling because they feel powerless in their own life, always being pushed around and putting other people first, perhaps because they were brought up to be ‘unselfish’. Their day to day life may be filled with an underlying resentment, where no one seems to appreciate all the efforts and sacrifices they are making. In therapy, this client learns to be aware of how they have learned to be a certain way, and how this comes across to others. They can look more closely at their own value system, and at how respecting yourself generates more respect and appreciation from other people! Being respected and valued by their counsellor, as well as being given a safe, private space to explore the positive and negative sides of their behaviour allows the client to change. This change will be perceived by others as a change in their personality, so that they seem more worthy of respect, and also more easy to understand.
To sum up, the process of talking privately with a counsellor who respects you and helps you to understand all aspects (positive and negative) of how you operate in the world and in yourself, can lead to lasting positive personality change, no matter how far you are along life’s journey!
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