Can People Really Change?

I’m not going to hold you in suspense! Yes & No! No, there are somethings we can’t change and Yes there are many things we can! I’ve witnessed it over and over. One of my biggest pet peeves while watching TV, especially dramas based off of best-selling books, is this idea that people can’t change. That people are just who we are and that’s all there is. That we really don’t have much choice, we are just let about by DNA and circumstances. Bad people are bad and good people are good is a common thread throughout much of television.

 Here’s the thing, we see evidence of the opposite is true, we see people changing every day! Of course, we can also find examples of people staying the same as well, and I don’t have a problem with that. My issue is the “it’s impossible for people to change” concept.  Remember I said this is a Yes & No answer? There is personality, you know your favourite colour, whether not you like cats and dogs or prefer a fur free zone, whether we are task oriented or motivated by relationships, if you are generally serious or silly, if you like your schedule structured or spontaneous or both. These kind of personality traits are more fixed and there’s some evidence that those kind of things do stem from our DNA and upbringing.

What I am talking about is can we be free from certain things that plague us that people often lump into the ‘personality’ thing. For example anxiety or phobias, or if we are impatience or get angry a lot.  Most people are not born with phobias or anger management problems (I know some kids have more temper tantrums and we can be more PRONE to anxiety or anger issues by DNA and circumstances). Sometimes trauma can trigger a phobia as well. That doesn’t mean you have to live with it’s effects forever. Also, there are things we are born with, predisposition if you will, that we can still change in terms of choice and behaviour.  For example, you might be a natural introvert but you don’t have to have social anxiety. You can be an introvert and not be anxious around crowds, chatting with a small group, or presenting in front of people.

Why this is so frustrating is because there are many who could have freedom, but they don’t know it. They are told it’s just the way it is. you’re going to have to go through years of therapy to deal with your trauma and maybe you’ll be able to cope with your phobia but really we can’t change. But there’s evidence that this is not true. Not only in my own experience, but I hear from colleagues and clients too. Stories those recovering from phobias very quickly, sometimes within a few sessions, while for others it takes a few months, yet they gain recovery in the end.

I think we’re so used to hearing the stories that someone has been/done X their whole life. They never changed. We all know people who “have been like that their whole lives.” We don’t think to question it. But, if you look and listen you will hear many stories about growth and change. People who go from being lazy to productive, angry to calm, unhappy to finding joy, or like in my case full of anxiety to peace.  This isn’t to say one never experiences it again. It’s the bent of the character, the daily experiences that change.  We will have off days, set backs, relapses but what is the majority of your experience.

Let’s meet Joyce (name and circumstances changed to protect identity, she has passed away now).  Joyce grew up in a poor family in small rural town. She had very few friends and suffered emotional and physical abuse as a child.  Times were tough growing up and she remembers nights with little or no food.  In high school she was told by a teacher since she was beautiful she should just try the street to earn a living.  Her mother had a severe mental illness and her parents divorced when she was young.  She found herself in a constant battle between trying to be independent and looking for approval from others.  She clung to money since she had little growing up. Perfectionism plagued her to the point of attempting suicide.  But she found she had a choice.  She had been a Christian, but it took her some time to realize she didn’t experience the peace it offered because she held onto her past, her self-defeating beliefs of perfectionism and to feel valued she needed approval of others. She didn’t get therapy or find enlightenment in a single moment, but she did change and find that peace.  She became one of the most generous people I know.  While still stingy with herself, she would give and give to others. Time, money, or things, didn’t matter she loved sharing. She had a spark of joy.  Of course, like the rest of us she had bad days and relapses. Times where she started to worry about what others thoughts, but these would pass. Like us she had victory in some areas of her life and needed growth in others. Had Joyce be able to use the TEAM-CBT tools I am 100% confident she would have turned the corner far more rapidly and been able to conquer some more of the things she wanted to change in herself.  But whether change takes you sometime or happens quickly over a few weeks or months, it is possible, just like with Joyce.

I would be amiss if I didn’t talk about spirituality and God. I realize this is getting to a taboo subject even with an emphasis on freedom and acceptance. But it would be unethical of me to share the single most powerful way to experience change, following a healthy spiritual journey.  I believe God is involved in your life right now whether you believe in Him or not. We are told all good things come from God and that includes recovery from painful emotions and traumatic events. This was Joyce’s experience. And how much more powerful can we get if we add the effective mental health tools, like CBT, with spirituality. Amazing results!!!

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