It’s interesting to hear how people talk about personality. Often we see it as either something that is totally static (I had one person describe themselves as “unchanging as the tide”), or we believe it’s something that morphs until we become an entirely different personality. When profiling people, I can’t count the number of times people have told me their personality has changed over the years. “I used to be an Extravert, but now I’m an Introvert,” etc.
Part of this is being unclear about terms. What exactly are we talking about when we use the word ‘personality’? For most people, it’s their identity and how they see, describe, relate to themselves. When they say their personality changed from extraversion to introversion, they’re really saying they used to relate to themselves in a more extraverted way, and now they self-identify as an Introvert.
How we relate to ourselves definitely morphs and changes over time. Different situations bring out different responses, and we see ourselves in a whole new light.
In the field of personality types, however, personality is more than just how one sees themselves. It’s less about our values and interests (which definitely change over time), and more about how our minds are hardwired to interact with reality. There are components that change and alter, but the foundation of who you are – how you learn new information and how you make decisions – isn’t going anywhere. You’re stuck with it, and that’s a good thing. The overwhelming majority of people fall in love with their personality description and have trouble understanding why anyone would have different preferences. And that may be why it doesn’t change. You’re programmed to love your programming, so there’s little incentive to monkey with it.
That said, while the core of your personality doesn’t change, it does grow.
This can be confusing because growth can make the same thing look almost unrecognizable. The same seed of bossiness in a six year old which makes them so obnoxious you can’t stand being around them can bloom into true leadership, the kind you find magnetizing and draws you in. The quality didn’t change, it grew.
Our personalities do the same thing, which is why we relate to ourselves slightly (and sometimes completely) different over time.
I want to create an important distinction here. “Grow” doesn’t necessarily connote positive development. A garden grows whether you’re tending it or not, and the results are obvious. In an untended garden there will be no weeding, no directed care given to sensitive or preferred flowers, no boundaries created, etc… It just grows as it wills. The mess can be overwhelming if undesirable and aggressive plants grow deep roots and graft themselves to the landscaping.
It’s the same in our personalities. If we let our personalities ‘grow’ without thoughtfulness and indulge our preferences, truly undesirable traits can become deeply rooted, and graft themselves to parts we really like. When it comes to removing these components (i.e. characteristics that encourage us to make the same bad decisions over and over again, or simply make us unhappy), it can feel like we’re ripping ourselves in half. We run away from positive growth because we fear we might lose ourselves in the process.
One of the best things about personality psychology is the host of personality development tools to which it gives us access. If we can create a distinction between how our minds are wired, what’s programming from our past, what’s an interest or value, and what’s a virtue or vice, we can go about the task of ‘landscaping’ with a lot more faith that the end result won’t divorce us from ourselves. Instead, we become the kind of person that inspires lifelong romance.