You can change your personality.

personality disorder

Can Personality Change?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Your personality is not as fixed as many people believe.

We used to think that you were born with a specific personality characteristic. You might be an introvert or an extrovert. Long-term studies have shown that people’s personalities do change across the lifespan.

Some personality traits change more readily than others. But why those personality characteristics change has been unclear.

Some personality characteristics change as you age.

One research paper – Trajectories of Big Five Personality Traits: A Coordinated Analysis of 16 Longitudinal Samples examined these changes.

Extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness all decline with time. Not every person shows the same level of decline, and various studies have come up with different results. Neuroticism, on the other hand, seems to be the highest in both the very young and the very old. I read other research which tells us thoughts of death are highest at those extremes also. It would seem that the very young and the very old have more to worry about.

Life experiences can alter your personality.

Research has detected a significant number of cases in which is a result of life experiences people’s personality changes. If you are forced into a situation where you have to interact with a large number of people every day, and you can’t escape that situation, over time, you may become used to this, and gradually you might become more extroverted.

One of the treatments for various fears and phobias is exposure and response prevention. This treatment is especially effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Something that initially was scary, and overwhelming, becomes less fear-inducing the more you’re exposed to it, especially if that exposure is in the company of someone who reassures you.

People who have a fear of public speaking and take a class in public speaking often get over that fear. There are also groups you can join to help you overcome your fears.

Which parts of your personality change most readily?

Most researchers study personality using the Big Five Personality Characteristics, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Some of these characteristics change more readily across the lifespan as a result of life experiences.

Can you deliberately change your personality?

Recent research in the area personality conducted by Nathan Hudson at Southern Methodist University and his colleagues, some aspects of personality change more readily than others. It’s not enough merely to wish that your personality was different. Some of these characteristics, like muscles, require exercise to develop. Taking deliberate, intentional action to make yourself a better person can also result in a change in your basic personality.

The two traits which most people wanted to change were neuroticism and extraversion. People would like to be more emotionally stable, that is less neurotic. And most people wish they were more comfortable in social settings and, therefore, more extroverted. Interestingly, in one study of how people could deliberately change their personality, almost no one wanted to become more agreeable.

Tasks that challenge one of your personality characteristics, such as openness, vary in difficulty just as exercise for muscles can vary in difficulty. The more difficult the task you undertake, and the more often you undertake a behavior of any difficulty, the more likely it is to shift your personality.

The conclusion of the study was:

“The single largest implication of our study,” said Hudson and his team, “is that actively engaging in behaviors designed to change one’s personality traits does, in fact, predict greater amounts of trait growth across time.”

There were some qualifications in this study. People who tried a task but were unsuccessful in completing it moved their personality in the opposite direction from what they intended.

There’s also a limitation to this study in that it was conducted over fifteen weeks. While it’s likely that some people would continue to undertake tasks to improve themselves in a particular direction, whether these changes would last over a long period or be overridden by typical life experiences is still an open question. The participants in the study were psychology students, presumably young and with an interest in the outcome. I have to wonder if personality may be more changeable in young people both because of their lack of experience and the larger deliberate efforts that it would take among people farther along in the lifespan.

What do you think about changing your personality?

Are you happy with who you are and your personality characteristics? Is there some part of your personality you’d like to change? If you could change something about yourself, what would that be? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or feel free to use the contact me form.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Six David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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: Some family secrets can be deadly.

What if your family secrets put you in danger?

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?

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

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Are you Hyperthymic?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Hyperthymia person

Are you Hyperthymic? Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Recently I read an article in a peer journal about Hyperthymia. Here is an interesting point of view on the question of whether the mentally ill are really different from “normal” people. Maybe people with a diagnosed illness are on a continuum and just have more or less of the characteristics the rest of us take for granted.

I am inclined towards the idea of continuums, not discreet illnesses despite the fact that I need to give people a diagnosis to get insurance to pay for treatment. That says to me, some people’s problems keep them from having jobs, friends or being happy and they need help. Other people get along fine as they are and don’t need help. For example, 70% of people report having at least once in their life heard a voice calling their name but when they looked there was no one there. Does this say that hearing “voices” is normal or that the other 30% are lying?

Bipolar disorder is especially troublesome. There are degrees of symptoms and as we have talked about in past blogs lots of people get another diagnosis first and then it gets changed later on, often when the antidepressants make it worse, not better. What if parts of Bipolar disorder are just normal personality characteristics? Could there be milder forms of bipolar disorder that are not getting recognized or does that start to pathologize everyone?  Some authors have suggested we need a Bipolar 3 and Bipolar 4 to capture milder forms of the disorder.

Hyperthymic temperament is a description given to people with 7 specific characteristics.  Sometimes the list is longer or shorter. It is currently seen as a personality characteristic which means it is not generally recognized as an illness. Most mental health professions avoid working with and diagnosing personality disorders as these are often seen as just the way a person is and not likely to change or as needing lots of treatment to change. Dialectic Behavioral Therapy is used to treat some personality disorders and long-term psychotherapy is used for treating aspects of personality that might be considered neurotic or psychotic personality features. Most of the time professionals leave this one alone.

People with this personality style do develop problems of living everyday life that result in them coming to counselors for treatment. Maybe it should be a disorder?

Here are the 7 characteristics of Hyperthymic Personality described by Glick. With MY explanations of how they might be recognized.

1. Cheerfulness

Hyperthymic people are annoyingly cheerful, cheerful to a fault. Hard to understand how someone could be too cheerful but I have learned to be suspicious of overly cheerful people. What are they up too?

2. Exuberance

This is clearly pathological, especially before I have had my coffee in the morning. These people are often described as needing a “chill pill.”

3. Meddlesomeness

To my detractors, I will say I am not meddlesome. I am just helpful even when you don’t realize you need my help. If this does not explain things try the “chill pill” described in 2 above.

4. Lack of inhibitions

Why can’t people just let last year’s New Year’s Eve part go? Occasionally letting your hair down is a good thing. However if this has resulted in more than one arrest, we are thinking you are beyond uninhibited.

5. Overconfidence

What I shouldn’t run for president? Have you seen who else is running? Now that is overconfidence.

6. Grandiosity

Genius is never recognized in its own time.

7. High energy levels.

Not sure about this one. I can be as energetic as almost anyone right after my nap. So there are people with high energy all morning?

So are there people who meet most or all of these characteristics? Sure. Do they sometimes get in trouble and have problems, yes again. Should this be another condition we diagnose and treat? The jury is still out on that one.

What do you think? Is Hyperthymia a legitimate issue? Does it need treatment? Are we making too many things disorders and trying to treat people just for being who they are?

This post was featured in “Best of Blog – May 2012

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.