By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Personality characteristics aren’t as fixed as we used to think.
Research has found that personality characteristics can change gradually across the lifespan. Data from national health plans has helped identify this change. People who have taken personality inventories multiple times throughout their lives often show a slow, gradual change as they age. Not everyone changes, but it happens often enough that we now believe personality traits are not fixed but are changeable.
The change in any short period of time is relatively small, but cumulatively your personality in your retirement years can be quite different from your personality in childhood or adolescence. For some people, this is a good thing; for others, not so much.
The belief that personality characteristics are largely unchangeable spawned the group of diagnoses called personality disorders, such as narcissism, borderline personality, and antisocial personality disorder, which are considered pervasive patterns of behavior and very difficult to treat. Understanding how life experiences contributed to creating these disorders has also helped us understand how they can be changed.
There can be sudden spontaneous shifts in personality.
Transitions from adolescence to young adulthood can alter personality by exposing a young person to new situations. Agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness tend to increase while extraversion often decreases. However, the personality in the teen years is a better predictor of success in later life.
Undergoing a stressful or traumatic experience can also result in a shift in worldview. While some people who experience trauma develop PTSD, others can develop posttraumatic growth. How someone navigates this traumatic experience can impact their future behavior and the way their personality is expressed.
There are multiple ways in which personality can change across the lifespan.
Some personality changes may be the result of aging.
Extraversion and conscientiousness tend to decline across the lifespan. Openness to experience tends to be relatively stable, then gradually decreases in old age. Neuroticism that largely undesirable characteristic that leads to an increased risk for depression and anxiety tends to be high in childhood and adolescence, declines throughout middle age, and often increases sharply among older people.
You can deliberately change some personality characteristics.
A significant amount of personality changes happened because of your life experiences rather than deliberate efforts to change your personality. But there are ways in which people’s deliberate efforts have resulted in a long-term change in their personality. The research is pretty clear that simply wanting to change your personality will not be sufficient. Personally induced personality change requires conscious effort and action.
The personality traits most often chosen as the goal for change are to decrease neuroticism, that excess of negative emotions, and to increase extraversion. Extraversion can be increased by deliberately going out of your way to say hello to people you encounter or putting your hand out when meeting a stranger at a meeting. Not only does developing these behaviors make you less uncomfortable around others, practiced often enough, but you also begin to be more extroverted, a change that will eventually show up if you take repeated personality inventories.
Your behavior can change your personality.
Engaging in uncomfortable behavior can result in significant personality change as you become more comfortable doing things that used to be outside your normal range. Simply wanting to change your personality will not be effective without engaging in the new behaviors. If you want to be more extroverted, you must act “as if” you are more extroverted. Planning to do personality-changing behaviors but then failing to do them backfires. If you say you want to be more extroverted but then chickened out on the opportunity to talk to a stranger, you reinforce being introverted.
Do you like your personality? What parts of your personality would you like to change? And are you willing to take action to create that change?
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!
My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.
Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.
Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.
As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.
Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.
Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.
Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.
What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?
Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.
For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller
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