Have you ever been in a really bad relationship and when you’ve finally had enough and manage to get yourself away from this “toxic” person – be it a spouse or a friend or a family member –  they come crying saying they’ll change, if only you’ll give them another chance?

Have you ever heard about career criminals who find religion or education or something in prison and claim they’ve changed and are new people now?

Have you ever been in a workplace where they think with a little training they can turn that reclusive egghead huddling in the corner cubicle into a dynamic team-player who will be able to go across the country and give dazzling presentations to clients?

Do you believe any of these? Do you believe people can change like that?

I don’t think people can change who they are. I think people can learn certain skills. I think people can acquire knowledge that will help them modify their beliefs and thought processes. I think as people mature and/or as their life circumstances change,  they make adjustments to their behaviours or to how they live their lives.

I think a good program and lots of support will help an alcoholic or drug addict stop drinking or taking drugs, but that does not stop them from having an addictive personality.

Anger management might help stop the abusive spouse from physically lashing out at people, but will not stop him from being an abusive person.

And my employer can send me on a million team-building workshops and I will never play well with others. I will learn how to pretend I don’t want to slash my own wrists next time I’m put on a team project, and I may accumulate some tools that will help me survive the project, but I will never be a team person.

Becoming a parent (and old age) has modified my behaviour so I go to work like a good citizen every day; I don’t stay up late; I don’t engage in risky activities; I set a good example. I’ve also mellowed in my reactions and judgments on things. And I think – I hope – I’ve learned a hell of a lot more over the years about all sorts of stuff. And that has also shaped who I am today, but basically, I’m the same person I’ve always been.

Because, sometimes, when I hear a song from my youth, or smell a certain scent or look at an old photo …. how I long to shake off these decades of relative respectability and just do something really stupid again. It’s like an actual physical craving – like there’s a demon idiot lurking deep in my psyche somewhere, long supressed, just waiting for an opportunity to let loose.

I imagine this must be something like how the addict feels or the pedophile who’s been “cured” or the guy who spent 20 years of his life robbing banks and has been “rehabilitated” for a while. No matter how many layers of therapy or good intentions or years of being straight they’ve wrapped themselves in; they are who they are at their core.

I don’t think anything can change that. And, I don’t think it would take too much, depending on their level of self-discipline, to give in to that craving.

I don’t know. I’ve never known anyone or heard of anyone who’s undergone a real transformation. Have you?


39 responses to “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

  1. Some things are just instinct. Ask any of my dog brethren what the first thing they think of when they smell something truly disgusting nearby, and they’re already gone — blissed-out, cross-eyed and rollin’ in it.

    The hippocampic switch flipped so quick, they never had a chance to think about it in the first place…

  2. I happen to have tried cutting ties with a friend since elementary school, and every time she would say she would change. 15 years later, she still hasn’t changed. I believe she’ll be going through life changes within the next couple years (moving out of her parents’ place, maybe a baby) so I’m crossing my fingers real hard that she smartens up and becomes a good/normal person.

    But, no. I don’t think people change.

  3. No, I don’t believe anyone can change like that. I think if you really want to change aspects of your personality you may be able to “pump up the volume or tone it down a bit” but in the end, you’ll still be you. And just like drug addicts and pedophiles, the urge to do things the old way will always be with you.

  4. Jazz – It’s probably a good thing that we developed some common sense and self control or there’s no telling how we’d end up, dontcha think?

    Coyote – I’m not sure that I’d attribute that behaviour to the hippocampus. I’m thinking more orbitofrontal circuit

    Stephanie – I think you’ll probably be waiting a long time for your friend to become a good/normal person and I sincerely hope that if she is a bad/abnormal person she puts off having that baby.

    Charlene – It’s so, so nice to hear from you again and I’m glad I went to visit your blog before responding to your comment. My god, woman – the things you’ve been through in the last 6 months. Thank you for coming back to the blogosphere – sometimes it’s a good place to come for a little virtual sanity.

  5. I would say “yes and no”. Someone I know has an obsessive personality. For years, his passion was for technological gadgets. To hold a conversation with him, you would have to talk about cameras, cars and hifi-systems. He had no interests outside of that. He used to spend his spare time sitting for hours in a camera shop just talking to the salesmen.

    Then one day, he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. Now, he spends no time on cameras, cars and hifi-systems. He has transferred his focus to God. So in that sense, there has been a big change …… at least in focus. However his obsessive behaviour is still there, only it now manifests itself in church activities. Now he only talks about sermons he’s heard or Christian Books that he has read. He may go to two churches on Sunday, is a worship leader in one church, bible study leader in another church, attends two other bible courses during the week.

    The camera shop salesmen miss him. Anyway, I think his fundamental character hasn’t changed but his focus or drive has. That I believe can happen to all of us.

  6. Urgh. I agree that people can’t change their spots overnight like that, and when it seems a ‘magnificent’ ‘miraculous’ change has occurred, it’s usually because this person has slowly been changing inside, on an ethical or moral level, but has been resisting the change because of social/moral beliefs that say “No you CAN’T change that way, that’s WRONG or will make us feel unsafe!”.

    Yet inevitably they hit that tipping point and it appears as if they suddenly found God and changed overnight, though all that’s changed is their acceptance of change that has taken much longer. The few (VERY few) people I know who have gotten “clean” (which is a term I don’t like, because it a) implies you’re “dirty” to begin with and b) puts this person on their high and mighty horse — “Now that I’m CLEAN I can show you the way! Wow, I never could have helped you before, I was worthless, but now I can do anything! No, you’re wrong, I’m right, because I’m CLEAN!”) seem to have changed miraculously but in reality they were never really addicts/dependant; they were either merely jumping on the bandwagon to look ‘cool’ without actually committing to being a user; or they were in such bad health from doing stupid and reckless things to get high that it was either cleaning up or dying or something equally ridiculous (the latter is especially true with alcoholics). Because I believe that getting “clean” is viewed as WAY too much of an ‘accomplishment’; we all have bought in to these stupid stereotypes that all users and use is inherently bad and evil, when in reality usually the only reason that drug users hurt themselves/others is because we BELIEVE they’re hurting us just by using, and then we go off on this stupid “Oh, me! How could this person HURT me so much?” when all they’ve done is something they needed to do for a long time but were afraid to do because they didn’t want to ‘hurt’ anyone; and I truly believe that with a whole society supporting you and giving you the tools to use safely, without STIGMA and being PERSECUTED among your people, all drug use could be %100 safe, secure and non-harmful — without exception. There is a safe way to do ANYTHING.

    Sorry XUP, went on a bit of a tangent there :-\ … I really just wanted to ask you if you truly believe there are ‘addictive personalities’… because in truth we’re ALL addicts — whereas drug addictions are just a different form of the same inner force to feel good. Sorry, yet another long rant could come out of that.

    Thank you for your awesome, awesome posts! I quote you all the time on my blog! Keep kickin’ ass.


  7. I was all prepared to launch into a story about how totally different I am in important ways from my younger self, but then I thought maybe it’s the “crazy pills” I’ve been taking for 5 or 6 years. Or maybe the changes I was going to talk about are more a sign of maturity than anything else. Or maybe being able to drink beer all the time has just made me mellow and happy. Or maybe it’s finally being with a mate who really gets me. All I know is I probably wouldn’t want to sit next to my 30 year old self at a bar.

  8. like lone grey squirrel, the only person i know who has completely changed is someone who found God.
    80’s night at any bar is bound to bring out the real “fun” me. thank god that only happens once or twice a year, and not in my hometown.

  9. LSG – I think that’s the same point I was making with the addicts. When they stop drinking most of them pick up other, perhaps less harmful addictions, to compensate – coffee, cigarettes, sweets. Your friend must be very difficult to be around sometimes, eh?

    JM – Wow, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I think you’re right that all of us have addictive personalities to one extent or another. Many people are addicted to coffee, for instance. Some of those people would have little difficulty giving up coffee if they had to for some reason. Others would have a very difficult time. You call it “committing to the addiction” which may be quite accurate. In the same way as some people are able to move in and out of relationships without really investing very much of themselves in them while other people are always totally in their relationships – heart and soul and are devastated when they break up. Different people commit themselves (become addicted to) different things in different ways. I don’t think the “ways” can change, but the “things” can. I also totally agree that we need to decriminalize drug use and find ways to provide drug users with safe ways to pursue their habits. It’s ridiculous that we promote and glorify the use of alcohol while reviling the use of drugs. What’s evil about drugs is the fact that organized crime is running the show. I cannot agree with you however that drug use is perfectly harmless. Anything you consume that is not nurturing your body is having a negative effect on it. That includes caffiene, nicotine, food additives and preservatives, alcohol, prescription drugs/over the counter drugs (though they may have a positive effect on one or more symptoms) and recreational drugs.

    Lebowski – It’s good to know you never change!

    Geewits – Well, you certainly have a lot of mitigating circumstances there. I bet you were always a goofball, though, right? I don’t think I’d want to hang out with my younger self either. Many of us were pretty obnoxious back in the day, I think.

    Meanie – I don’t think those people who “found God” really change. Like LGS’s example, it’s just a veneer of something new. You may talk about different stuff and you may express different behaviours, and you may seem like you’ve changed to others, but I don’t think who you are can change.

  10. The first time I took a personality test was a revelatory experience for me. Not because I learned anything about myself I didn’t already know, but because up until then I just kinda assumed everyone’s worldview was *ultimately* like mine, and therefore everyone could be reasoned with in terms I understood. Oh boy, am I glad I figured out I was wrong. Interacting with other people is a lot less confusing now 😉

    I think our personalities do slowly morph in different directions as we get older, but ultimately I have seen no evidence that they don’t stay largely the same throughout our lives.

    (I’m an INTJ by the way.)

  11. I dunno..this is a good question.

    No, I don’t think a person can suddenly change, in a short period of time. Especially when you’re well into middle-age, and you’ve had 40-50 years experience of behaving and thinking a certain way

    But (at the risk of sounding artsy), “Life is a Journey”I think maybe we change gradually.

    Shit happens (relationships, divorces, new jobs, death in the family, etc..) and these things affect us.

    I know I’ve changed from where I was 15 years ago. (Hopefully for the better!)

    And how many times have we heard a married person complain that their spouse “wasn’t the person I married “X” of years ago”.

    So I think I’ll give a wishy-washy answer, and say yes…we DO change, gradually…sorta.

  12. I think most people can change or at least modify some their negative characteristics if they are willing to put the work in. People can become better human beings, but it does require patience and determination, which obviously isn’t easy.

  13. I think it is possible for a person to change, but highly unlikely in the long run. Thus, change is a rare event.

    But rare is not the same as never… however, when a person says they’ve changed, I view their claim with considerable suspicion.

  14. Dave – How old were you when you finally figured this out? I still find it incomprehensible sometimes.

    Friar – Yes, as I said, people evolve and grow, but I don’t think they fundamentally change. I’m sure if I knew you well now and heard some stories about you from when you were a kid, I would be able to recognize you in those stories.

    Pauline – True. And people will go through normal changes just because of the things they experience on their life’s “journey” (as Friar put it)

    Squid – Really? Do you have any examples? On what do you base this belief? I think it boils down to a nature vs nurture thing. How much of what you are were you born with and how much I learned? I think you are more than 50% nature. I would say even as much as 75% with the rest attributable to “nurture” and/or life experiences.

  15. and I agree about personality being more nature than nurture. Its amazing how many genes have been found that specifically relate to how we think and feel or are linked to guages of personality. and with that train of thought I have to ask – is there any reason at all to believe in free will??

  16. Gokalie – What was it like growing up with a “sparkling presence” for a mother? I don’t think that our personality or how we process thought being genetic negates free will. Genes do not necessarily compel us to behave a certain way — they may predispose us toward certain behaviours, but we still have the option of acting those behaviours out. As well, environment (nurture) will have a role to play in how those predispositions manifest themselves in us. Dontcha think?

  17. I’m with friar on this, I think people evolve… we learn from our mistakes. Experiences shape who we are… miraculously overnight though — not so much.

  18. Shes changed quite a bit in those 30 or so years. Some aspects have changed enough that it might well be a transformational change, but many aspects of her personality have not changed. She is very inspiring nowadays, positive and future oriented.

    I’m not sure I believe in free will. In the end, a “choice” is really a set of chemical reactions, albeit an extremely complex one, as are genes and their results. Otoh, its a lot easier to pretend one has free will in any case, otherwise it becomes difficult to get through the day to day.

  19. good topic (again), one i’ve pondered and tried to explain. being in recovery, i’ve seen people change their behaviors, finding the balance with their addictive behaviors. people that you would never invite into your home, you find yourself letting them house/dog/kid sit for you while you leave for a month.

    i believe that deep down we each have a sort of mapping that will never change.

    relating that to people being in recovery, if the recovered person stops doing the things that got them sober in the first place, there is a huge chance that they will return to using alcohol and drugs. they will pick up right where they left off. i’ve heard that from people that have experienced it and i’ve seen it happen in my personal life with friends and relatives.

    as for pedophiles, rapists, or serial killers i firmly believe there is no rehab for this.

    lastly, a big element for making changes in our lives from being bank robbers, or the like is that the person must really want to change their behavior in order for it to happen. they have to hit a wall, then get help for that.

    i suffered terribly with OCD, it was a huge problem and i’d be late to work or anything else i needed to be on time for b/c i’d have to drive back to my house to make sure i turned everything off.

    i got into therapy, they gave me meds, and i worked my ass off. the medication allowed me to find an even ground so that i could apply the behavior modification in my life. (in times of big stress, the OCD comes back but i am able to talk myself down from it so that it doesn’t interfere with my daily life).

    i sure had a lot to say there i guess 🙂

  20. I’ve known some cases where people seem to actually make some pretty transformative changes. Are they really “different” inside? Who knows. But if you change your behavior, does it really matter if who you are is still there inside you? If anything, that makes those changes even more impressive.

  21. evolve. i like that word. it think that’s what it is. we evolve, become better if we try. change our spots? no. i try very hard to be nicer to people. try very hard to have more patience. but in the end i am still a mean ol’ bitch with a nasty temper.

  22. Nat – Absolutely people evolve, but I don’t think they fundamentally change. Maybe like a tree – it grows, it has leaves then it has flowers, then it has fruit, then everything falls off, maybe the bark gets chewed up by bugs and other critters, maybe it starts to rot out from the inside, maybe someone hangs a swing from it or builds a fort in it – it’s always still a cherry tree.

    Gokalie – I don’t know. Actually a lot of people would much rather believe in predestination; fate; karma; a grand scheme; a life that’s all been planned out by a higher power. That’s why religion and spirituality have always been so popular. People don’t want such a huge responsibility. It’s a big burden to believe in free will and that your life is largely determined by the choices you make.

    Leah – Thanks for the insight, Leah. The only thing I would question is that you don’t believe pedophiles, killers or rapists can change their behaviours. I wonder why? The entire Canadian-British prison system is based on “corrections/rehabilitation” not punishment…in theory. That with the right treatment the impulses these people have can be tempered and suppressed so they can function without giving in to them. I’m not sure I believe it either, but I imagine it must have happened some time for the experts to keep putting faith in it, no?

    SAW – No one is saying it’s bad or good. It is very impressive when someone can live a life contrary to their nature. But I think it somehow, somewhere nature has to have its way. Like I said with the addict. They give up the alcohol or drugs but increase addictive behaviour in other areas.

    Smothermother – Yay! Let’s hear it for mean old bitches. I know what you mean. I’ve learned how to put on a reasonably acceptable public façade, too.!!

  23. I don’t think people change. They just find different ways to cope..

    ps: someone probably already said this much better but I can’t change the fact that I’m not reading all the comments to find out.

  24. Glen – That’s probably extremely true. They don’t change because the want to, but because they have to in order to cope.

  25. I sometimes wonder how people have gotten so far through their lives without changing. Like, they are so odd or abrasive or awkward or rude…how did “life” not smooth that person out? How do some people stay so fricken weird their entire lives?

  26. Heather – Maybe old people who are like that were like that inside all along, but put on a good show during their productive years in order to survive. Now that they’re old they have to vent all those decades of suppressed rudeness. Whaddya think?

  27. Well, it depends what was wrong with said person in the first place. Change has to come from within.

    In some cases, people can change themselves, learn from the past and be better people. There are exceptions to every rule. I know a few.

  28. Nathan – You know a few people who have completely changed who they are? Their personalities? Their thinking? Their reactions? Their instincts? Their essence?

  29. XUP: Yes, I happen to know one quite well. Me. Long story involving learned behaviours. I’ll have to tell it to you sometime if you’re interested.

    People can change but in most cases, they don’t. There are exceptions to the rule, though but very few & very far between.

  30. Yes, their are probably some that have benefited from rehabing but I think a very small amount. Listening to pediophiles discuss their sickness is why I took that stance. Some publicly ask to be jailed or drugged for life. I know my first comment was a contradiction, but I chalk it up to human behavior all around is a contradiction.

  31. Nathan – It would be interesting to know how much you’ve changed and how and how permanent this change will be.

    Leah – No, I think you’re right. I don’t think you can stop a pedophile from ever being a pedophile, which is unfortunate because they can no more help being a pedophile than anyone else can help their sexual orientation. The unfortunate part is that their orientation is illegal and ethically wrong

  32. XUP: Forever. I’m not that person anymore. I don’t behave the same way I used to (which was sort of bipolar/borderline if you look up the definition). I’m glad I don’t.

  33. I think ‘evolve’ is the right word. Some people can make themselves look, on the outside, the way they want to look, but the basic character doesn’t change. And it takes a lot of willpower. The erosion of years, in my experince, wears off some things and brings others to more prominence. But they were all there in the first place.
    Don’t get me started on predestination, hmm?

  34. Nathan – Forever remains to be seen. I’d be interested to hear your story. Are you or have you blogged about it?

    Mary – I totally agree with you. And yes, let’s not talk about predestination

  35. XUP – As long as I’m convinced it’ll be forever…

    Yes, I’ve blogged about it. Feel free to take a look. You won’t have to go back very far – just a page.

  36. GREAT QUESTION! I think a person’s basic make-up stays the same. But people become more themselves as time goes by. I spent many years living a life that wasn’t really me, that looked more like I thought I should live rather than how I might want to live. As I age I become more and more myself. My external life more and more resembles my internal life. So, to others, I might look like I’ve changed but I’ve just evolved into my real self.