Can We Change Our Core Personality?
Some think that it is possible, as adults, to change our personality. By personality, I mean the synthesis of attitudes, habits, the way we think and feel, our outlook on life and our attitudes towards ourselves and others.
One way of looking at personality is to view it as a circle with a central point. Everything outside the point/core is the part that evolves over time from our perceptions, attitudes and experiences that we have throughout our life.
The initial perception that is formed as an infant is the primary perception on which all others are based. It is whether the world is a trustable place or not. If an infant is treated with love, nurtured, held and wanted by his parents (its first contact with the external world) then the infant will feel secure that the world is a place he can trust. His emotional development will reflect this and the child’s personality will grow and develop from this point based on that one important sense of the world. He will later learn that the world may not be a completely safe place.
On the other hand, if the infant, still in the crib, is not given the basic unconditional acceptance or the love or nurturing, touching, attention that he deserves, he will grow to learn that the world he inhabits is not a reliable place. In fact, he will feel unsteady and unsure about what his surroundings hold for him. His expectations of his external reality will be one of mistrust, suspicion and a place where he must be guarded because the world, according to his experience, will be a threatening place and which will make him feel uncertain and unsure of what he can expect from his surroundings. This will be at the core of all perceptions he develops from that point on and the primary source of his neurosis and difficulties in forming any relationship for the remainder of his life.
In any relationship, regardless of the kind, there is a point at which one of the persons must make themselves vulnerable to the other. He must share some secret or show something he hasn’t yet revealed. This is the sacrifice that must be made if a relationship is to grow. When the other person accepts him unconditionally then this point becomes the beginning of the true inner nature of the relationship. It is the point at which an acquaintance becomes a friend. The trust that develops from this sharing of vulnerability becomes the building block of that friendship. With time, trust will develop both ways and the other person will be more inclined to share a vulnerable moment of their own.
If the child who mistrusts the world does not resolve his own issues, he will grow into adulthood never being able to place himself in a vulnerable position with someone else, because to him, his world is nothing but a threatening place from which he must develop defenses and ward off any threats he sees. So his ability to form deeper relationships will be compromised.
The crucial point here is that any perception of the world that follows, becomes the filter by which all future perceptions will be made, thus becoming the core of his personality.
When we reach adulthood, it becomes difficult to go back and correct this one perception and then expect that all those hence will in some way resolve themselves. The interconnectedness of all our feelings and actions are so intricately tied together that the notion that we could go through therapy and in some way hope that we can revise that prime perception and expect everything else to realign themselves accordingly, I contend is an illusion.
Personality is far too complicated and interwoven with reinforced experience, habits and other factors that it’s not possible to deal with any one problem in isolation. Although it is true that some people make remarkable changes over their lifetime, I contend that those changes may occur on the outer edges of the circle (personality) and that in and of itself may result in a completely changed person. However, changing the basic nature of the core personality, in my opinion, is an unrealistic goal that only leads to a greater sense of hopelessness that may add to the futility of the quest to changes one’s life.
Hopefully we should try and set realistic goals, ones that are credible and attainable. However, changing our core personality is not, in my opinion, a realistic goal. A better one would be to find experiences in our life that we can re-examine and perhaps come to different conclusions about their meanings that ultimately affect the way we see them. This hopefully can lead to insights that shed light on why it is so difficult to trust others, and maybe lay the foundation for taking the risk of finally sharing some of our deepest held fears and secrets with others. Perhaps, this will teach us that there are people who we can trust and maybe chip away at that core perception of the world thus far seen.
Over time we can change our personality enough to understand and control the instinctive defenses from being called forth to prevent us from taking a risk to reveal our true inner self to others.