You’ve noticed people change, over the course of the years. The quote books are filled with it, the movies tell you this is very common and even psychology has often pinpointed specific theories of why this happens. It may be tough to tell when you yourself grow in ways and aspects of your personality alter. But others around you may have often used the common phrase ‘You’ve changed. What’s happened to you?’. Change is never easy. Psychology now says that what we identify as ‘different’ in parts of a person’s personality may in fact be due to the life events they have encountered. Is it permanent? We find out.
Is every life event responsible for a specific personality change?
In an ideal world, this would be the case, say psychologists, but the real world rarely functions by this principle. Every life event however similar will elicit different responses in different people. Not just that, but this response may be to different degrees. However, that being said, every life event that occurs will not cause a personality change, and it is often over the course of time that people’s behaviour alters.
Psychologists have always wondered how great it would be if every life event were responsible for a particular change in people. For instance, correlating specific personality shifts with specific events such as conscientiousness tied to beginning a new job, fear tied with losing a job, etc. This way, therapy would be easier, but psychological studies that have been conducted have found that even when a group of people are observed for a course of several years, and they experience significant milestones such as break up of families or parenthood or other events after which you’d expect a personality change to be seen, this wasn’t so lasting.
What has been seen, however, is that instead of a certain event influencing a personality change, it might be the reverse. People with particular traits come to experience life events differently.
Why can’t change be quantified?
In spite of tremendous research having been done in the area of how life changes influence personality changes, it is very difficult for researchers to actually arrive upon a substantial conclusion. This is because of the diversity, versatility in emotions and difference in the responses that people show when presented with specific situations.
The factors that make these studies difficult are:
Small events trigger responses. The frequency of these events also plays a role in how people react. Thus, for a study to actually come to a conclusive finding, it would need to track the small events, the frequency, and do this over years. Even after this, the unpredictability of the spectrum of human emotion would make it tough.
You may have often witnessed yourself how the same situation has different people in a team responding to it differently. Some buckle under stress while some thrive. Thus, having an emotion bank for every life event wouldn’t be possible, due to the variation in how people react.
People sometimes WANT to change. There may not be any event that triggers this. They simply want to. This could complicate studies that are striving to build a correlation of events with emotions.
What dictates personality change?
Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, wrote in her paper titled Can Personality Be Changed? The Role of Beliefs in Personality and Change, "People's beliefs include their mental representations of the nature and workings of the self, of their relationships, and of their world. From infancy, humans develop these beliefs and representations, and many prominent personality theorists of different persuasions acknowledge that they are a fundamental part of personality.”
This essentially means that the basis or the root of one’s personality change depends upon what one believes. If they think they can change, then so it is. If they think, they are stuck, then so it is.
What to do to cope with someone’s personality change?
When you notice that someone close to you has drastically changed, here’s how you can deal with it.
Instead of confronting them with a bunch of questions that may be accusatory, ask them about the reason for the change and validate what they are saying. Pay attention to what they are saying. A listening ear can go a long way to help you understand the reason for the change.
A support group
If the personality change is due to something specific such as dealing with addictions, or the death of a loved one, ask them to join a support group. Being in the company of others who have gone through the same thing may help them cope with it better.
Get them help
Often personality changes are due to underlying issues that the person may not be consciously aware of. Speaking to a mental health therapist will help them get to the bottom of it and also make them aware of why the change persists.
Personality changes can be drastically different for different people and this makes these all the more fragile while dealing with and attempting to understand.