Readers of “Mad Dog House” ask frequently if people can truly change their way of being and dealing with others.
Can people every change their basic personality styles?
The answer is: yes and no.
Most professionals agree that basic personality style (traits and tendencies) are deeply ingrained by the time we’re adolescents. Yes, there can be some minor modifications after that, but our basic way of interacting with others is pretty much set by the time we’re seventeen or eighteen.
So what about someone seeking psychotherapy because of unhappiness with relationships and how life is going? What about the person who repeats endlessly the same maladaptive patterns of behavior leading to frustration, failure, unhappiness, and even deep depression? Or the person whose relationships are tainted by neediness, or dependency, or the wish to dominate others; or any other joy-sapping traits that make life difficult?
The goal of any psychotherapy is to help a person develop a better understanding of one’s self. It’s called insight. Hopefully, by developing an awareness of personality pitfalls, a person can recognize them, nip them in the bud before they ruin a relationship, and therefore, live a more fulfilling life.
For example, a man comes for counseling because he’s been fired from three different jobs. During sessions (to which he always arrives late), he realizes that even going back to elementary school, he undermined his own success by tardiness and by not completing tasks on time. In high school, he received Cs instead of As because he never submitted his work by the deadlines. In business, he repeated the same pattern. He also learns in the sessions, that as a child, it was his way to get attention from his mother. Without realizing it, he’s been repeating this pattern with every authority figure in his life.
I like to think of it in this simple way: imagine personality style as a ninety degree angle. If a person can move that angle a mere three degrees, then a significant change in how one perceives people and interacts with them is possible. This can lead to positive changes.
Author, “Mad Dog House”