Personality Change

The final aspect to exploring personality is changing personality versus altering personas. Personas are the masks we wear in differing situations; these we change without thought and without effort. Personality is often defined as the more core related characteristics or traits that cut across personas; some theorists believe that these traits are unalterable once formed others believe that through extensive work or meaningful impact even these traits can become altered. Having seen the later occur, I am more of the mindset that some personality traits are alterable under extreme circumstance.

Personality traits can be seen as existing along a continuum whereby transfer from one side to the other is easier and more readily available the closer one is to the center of the continuum and extremes in the continuum are often problematic;

  • Warmth vs. Detached
  • Introverted vs. Extroverted
  • Internalized vs. Externalized
  • Depressed vs. Happy
  • Anxious vs. Serene
  • Dominant vs. Passive
  • Altruistic vs. Egocentric
  • Conscientious vs. Expedient
  • Insecurity vs. Confidence
  • Self-Sufficient vs. Other-Controlled
  • Restrained vs. Unrestrained

Circumstances where I have seen personality alteration occur include recovery from addiction, divorce, experiencing a major trauma (loss of life), death of a loved one, survival from suicidal attempt, and others. For many of these individuals there was also a meaningful spiritual experience or conversion type experience.

William James speaks of two differing types of conversion processes. One is the volitional type, which is a building up a new set of spiritual principles and morals, while the other is the type by self-surrender. The volitional type is perceived as holding the properties of partial self-surrender, with reliance on other “forces” for progress. The self-surrender type alone is often an awareness of incompleteness followed by a longing for the ideal with the complete surrender of self-resources to achieve this reality.

For some, this self-surrender comes in a moment of complete exhaustion and they concede, only to find the self-will slip away and the spirit to reside. Conversion experiences are what have been referred to as not a claim that “I have changed” but more an “openness to being changed”. What ensue are a personality alteration, a transformation, and a new state of consciousness and being.

An example of this is the many addicts that I have seen alter from being detached, internalized, egocentric, and expedient individuals that went on through volitional type conversion to become warmer, self-revealing, other-centered, rule bound contributors to society—traits that were not present prior to the addiction beginning.