This article is probably going to have a lot of therapists up in arms wondering why bothering writing such an article. Personality change can be a core concept during many kinds of therapy, but it does not have to be.
But, is personality change possible after a person transitions into middle adulthood? This would entirely depend on what group of professionals you are talking to and the theories that they believe in.
There is a biological perspective that supports the idea that all personality traits have biological roots and causes and are genetic (Srivastava, John, Gosling & Potter, 2003). People that follow this theory closely believe that there can be little personality change after a person is fully mature and in early adulthood (Srivastava, John, Gosling & Potter, 2003).
The second perspective is a contexualist one that believes that personality is determined by multiple factors, including a person’s social environment (Srivastava, John, Gosling & Potter, 2003).
This perspective supports the idea that a person’s personality can and does change throughout their lives.
I would imagine that most behavioral health therapists would support this theory; however, I cannot say for sure. I definitely think it would be hard to help someone create change without believing that their personality could change.
One of the issues with the biological perspective is that believes that most personality changes will have already occurred by the time a person reaches adulthood. There is little room for change after that because you can’t alter the genes that you get.
However, this theory fails to take into account several very important things. Any family member of a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and any therapist that has worked with a person suffering from PTSD will tell you that their loved one or patient more than likely has changed since the traumatic event occurred. War veterans with PTSD will say that their personality has changed since they got back and more than likely, family members will agree with them.
The second thing that the biological perspective is lacking is evidence that people do not change after adulthood.
Think about your own social circle for a minute. Has it changed at all since you became an adult? You are probably answering that it has.
Now think about the reasons that it has changed and more than likely, one of your answers is going to be that people change as they get older. Finally, if that doesn’t help, think about someone that you weren’t real good friends with in school.
Are they on your Facebook friends list now? Do you think their personality has changed at all since high school or are they still the immature little jerk they were back then (and yes, I’m aware that some people never change)?
The point here is that it does not make sense that people’s personalities cannot change after adulthood. If so, I think the world would be much worse off than it is today.
I probably never would have gotten over my shyness (that I still had up until the age of 22) and not been able to speak without stuttering in front of groups of people.
There are people that I talk to today, that I am good friends with, that I never would have been friends with in high school, so don’t give up hope on people changing once they reach adulthood.
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I feel sure that personality can change as the result of conscripted military service accompanied by awful experience. But then it might be argued that conscripted personnel are usually not fully mature. The biggest personality change happens of course with death and rebirth of a soul aspect … but even then there are rare exceptions where character traits, fears and attendant nightmares are carried over from one life to the next. Several interesting books have been written about this, for example: ‘And the Wolves Howled – Fragments of two Lifetimes’, Barbro Karlen (2000) … the first life being the WWII life of Anne Frank.