Can People Change? The Big Question

November 19, 2020

Have you had unpleasant experiences where people promised to change for the better but ended up disappointing? Once the trust and expectations are failed, it is inevitable for one to question the ability of an individual to change. Well, people can change, and this goes either way, for the best or the worst.

Looking at positive change in the context of a relationship, it takes a strong will for a person to adjust their behavior for the better and determination to work towards it. If a person is determined to change, then nothing can stop them. However, if someone promises to change, and appears to have reformed for a short while, after which they go back to the old ways, then this shows an absence of solid effort and determination.

What Influences People’s Ability to Change

Well, change is one of the hardest things to embrace. It pushes people out of the norm, out of their comfort zones, and that isn’t a pleasant experience for many. It is not easy for a person to change their behavior, as it is easy for any individual to flow with the character that comes naturally. That’s why it is difficult for some individuals to accept correction positively when they are corrected, and they may soon go back to the old trends.

Behavior is closely influenced by a person’s character, the underlying personality, and it is for this reason that changing behavior feels uncomfortable for some. But there’s hope. If a person has strong reasons to change, then they will commit to the process. It surely won’t be easy, but there will be progress. The three common factors that will influence an individual’s ability to change are genetic makeup, personality traits, and level of motivation. We will be looking at these factors exhaustively.

What Evidences That Change Is Possible?

There are numerous inspiring accounts of people who were once addicts. With strong motivation, being in the right environment, and support of other individuals, these people were able to beat their addictions and gained their lives back. Such individuals are a perfect example of the possibility to change as long as the motivation remains. People can change their personalities when under the right intervention measure. Studies have shown that when using the right treatment, a person with personality disorders can change for the better.

Often, people may tend to react in a specific way, not because they want to but because they have been conditioned that way. Addiction to substance abuse is an example of such a situation, and this presents a significantly difficult change to realize. People who find themselves rubbing shoulders with their partners, friends and the general population often live their lives from an individualized perspective. Such individuals have faults that affect their relationship with people. For such a person to change, they need to realize the need to relate with others by changing for the better harmoniously. A decision has to be made, and the journey towards changing begins.

Is Change Achievable From a Biological Perspective?

Our genetic makeup greatly influences who we are, our personalities, and our abilities, among other factors. As a child grows, they learn so much from their environment, and this influences them as individuals to their adulthood. However, even with the influence of our surroundings, our genetics determine many factors, such as our personality. It might be a surprise to you, but the biological degree of influence on our being is approximately 70%.

With that said, you might be thinking; it is not easy to change something that is influenced by our biological makeup. Well, it is important to look at it from this perspective, genetic influences are not necessarily permanent but simply default. As we know, default states can be adjusted to meek desired results and preferences. Similarly, if a person’s genetics fosters a negative behavior, rather than being comfortable about it, the person can decide to learn and embrace a contrary, positive behavior. Therefore, it is not a matter of whether it’s possible or not, as it is about a person’s desire and motivation to change.

The Influence of Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are some of the biggest issues that interrupt harmony in society, where individuals develop characters and behaviors that are contrary to acceptable standards by members of the community. Antisocial and narcissistic individuals have underlying personality disorders, and in such cases, the individuals need more than personal will and motivation to change. Whenever personality disorders are involved, the intervention of professionals is essential for lasting results.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most common professional intervention which is designed to influence a person’s character by reprograming their behavior patterns and eliminating the negative traits. Individuals with personality disorders have a difficult time to blend into society, but once the change is realized, they can harmoniously relate with other individuals.

Impact of Mental Health Disorders on Behavioral Change

A person may show hostile behavior towards other individuals, and it is important to understand that underlying mental health disorders may cause such behavior.

Some of the common mental health problems that cause mild to extreme behavior change in individuals:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Individuals with these conditions are susceptible to emotional fluctuation and behavioral instability. Let’s look at these conditions at length.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Some people have constantly changing personality traits, a problem that renders an individual unpredictable. The condition, known as BPD, is characterized by both mental and emotional variability. Patients with the disorder often show extreme symptoms such as suicidal tendencies. The good thing is that their situation is not beyond hope because there is room for recovery with proper medication and therapy intervention. However, before starting treatment, the condition has to be diagnosed by a licensed practitioner for medical compliance purposes.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders is another condition that triggers behavioral fluctuation in some individuals. Though they wouldn’t be termed as personality disorders, these conditions affect body processes such as digestion, and this may cause mood swings. Also, escalated conditions may involve the development of illnesses such as obesity, and this may further lead to emotional deterioration in some individuals. Personal determination, therapy sessions, and attending support group discussions help affected individuals recover from eating disorders.

Bipolar Affective Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition where an individual shows extreme fluctuations in their personality, a condition that even leads to hospitalization during extreme episodes. Patients undergo extreme emotional instability while others sink into depression. Furthermore, the disorder is classified according to the duration of time the drastic changes last. The condition can be treated using prescribed medicine and therapy.

Change Starts With a Personal Desire

Once a person realizes there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, that’s a good place to start. For change to be true and permanent, it must start with a personal desire here. A person voluntarily decides to let go of the old negative traits and embrace positive behavior patterns. The ultimate goal is to help them relate better with themselves and other individuals in society. Some people have been pressured to change, but because there was no personal conviction and desire to become better, the results were short-lived.

When a person is determined to change, they will be able to fight through regardless of the challenges. People who have shown a genuine desire to change for the better should be encouraged by offering moral support whenever necessary. Depending on the intensity of the problem, some traits will require administered therapy by a trained professional. There are minor behavioral problems that do not require professional intervention but an individual’s dedication to developing better behavior traits.

The Bottom Line

While some people naturally have unpleasing behaviors, changing to a better person by adopting positive behavior traits is possible. However, it is not a walk in the park, but the changing process is difficult and requires a lot of determination and motivation. The first step to becoming better is realizing an area one has behavioral shortcomings in. Once that is determined, one can learn to act and respond in positive ways that are contrary to the previous negative behaviors.

Always remember that:

  • Behavior change is possible because many people have walked the path and have become better members of society by learning and embracing better behavior traits.
  • Changing requires personal desire to become better, the will to put in the hard work, and motivation to keep you going until you achieve your transformation goals.
  • At times, professional help is necessary, as some conditions such as personality disorders are difficult to change without professional assistance.

The changing process requires one to be patient either with self or other individuals. As long as they are making an effort, then it’s okay, they’ll soon get there. Be as supportive as you can to individuals trying to become better. Negative character traits that are a result of psychological disorders should be addressed using a professional approach. The patients should be consistent in taking their medication, attend therapy sessions, and possibly be part of a support group. You can use mental health services for guidance. Sign up now to become a better person by first identifying the problem and taking relevant actions.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more.

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