General Question

nikipedia's avatar

Can people change?

Asked by nikipedia (27921points) July 16th, 2008

A recent quip claimed, “once a cheater, always a cheater”. Lots of brilliant psychologists have demonstrated that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. My personal hero has said, “It’s about taking what you have, and, instead of trying to change it, finding a happy way to live with it.”

That all seems awfully cynical, and unkind to anyone who has made mistakes in the past. So do you have evidence to the contrary? Can people change?

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35 Answers

osullivanbr's avatar

People’s personalities can’t be changed and I really don’t think we should try. The simple fact of the matter is if you’re not happy with a person the way they are, well then, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate you’re relationship with them.

EDIT: Oh, and, I hate conference calls too

tinyfaery's avatar

I see it in my work, but not very often. Unfortunately, its true; past behavior predicts future behavior I sometimes tell my clients that I am psychic, and I can see the future.
But it does happen. In my experience, there is only one thing that determines whether or not someone changes—the desire to give up the old and replace it with something new. Its hard to let go of patterns and habits; in a sense they act as coping mechanisms for unpleasant and overwhelming emotions that plague human beings every day. The key is awareness and replacement, and a lot of hard work. Its not easy to give up the security blanket.

wildflower's avatar

People don’t change, but they do become better acquainted with their surroundings and better at responding/adjusting to their environment (if they want to).
It’s possible to do something bad because you don’t know any better, then learn and do better next time. That doesn’t mean you’ve changed who you are, you’ve just changed how you handle a certain situation.

shilolo's avatar

I think people can change, but it takes a really concerted effort on their part. For example, the entire field of cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the premise that through hard work, people can change intrusive thoughts and damaging behaviors.

Speaking from personal experience, I have changed dramatically from the person I was when I was 18, and I hope, for the better. Even some parts of my personality that weren’t necessarily negative, such as my tendency to flirt, I modified in order to satisfy both myself and the people around me.

osullivanbr's avatar

Surely the difference between you now and when you were 18 is not really the same kinda change as nikipedia is talking about, that’s more growing up and becoming more mature wouldn’t you think?

flameboi's avatar

we can, but we have to admit that we need to do it to become better individuals, an active part of our society, or just to keep breathing…. (we tend to adopt self destructive attitudes)

shilolo's avatar

@Osullivanbr. Yes, some of the differences are due to maturity (I hope). But, I have also made concerted efforts along the way to modify certain behaviors, which I owe less to maturity per se and more to my making a daily effort to behave differently.

For example, and this is deeply personal, I used to feel really badly about myself for a number of reasons. To correct this, I implemented a 3 pronged plan. First, therapy. Second, with the help of the therapist, I modified that behaviors that were causing the problems in the first place. Lastly, I kept a list of positive attributes in my wallet that I would pull out and look at whenever I got really down. Months-to-years later, my metamorphosis was “complete”, and I emerged a different person. I am much happier now than I was then (this was almost 20 years ago), and I owe it to the therapist and my dedication to self-improvement. Admittedly, some of those personality traits creep into my behavior intermittently, but I am aware of them and I continue to do my best to minimize their impact.

wildflower's avatar

But is behavior the same as personality? I think you can consciously change and control your behavior, but that doesn’t mean your thought-pattern, fears, joys, urges, etc. have changed at all.

osullivanbr's avatar

Well done on that shililo. Very well done. The first question to be asked so really is exactly how much does a person want to change.

Spargett's avatar

People can do anything they want to. That’s the power of free will. The trick is making them want to change.

Its all about effectively asking this question. Otherwise you’ll get alot of grey answers outside of relevant context.

shilolo's avatar

Well, speaking for myself, I was desperate and determined to change. That said, many people don’t have the willpower to change, just like many people don’t have the willpower to diet. Motivation is everything. I was motivated to change for self-improvement, and later, I was motivated to stop flirting so as to not irritate my girlfriend :-)

robmandu's avatar

I like the exchange between @shilolo and @osullivanbr.

I agree people can change… but only if they motivate themselves to do so. Each person has to make the decision for himself… and no amount of cajoling from outside, even for the very best of reasons, will make a real dent.

osullivanbr's avatar

Spargett: I really don’t thing you can make someone else want to change though.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

As to the phrase, “Once a cheater, always a cheater” I don’t think that it’s necesarily true, but I fully agree with how it was used in the context:

I don’t think that if a man (or woman) cheats once, they’re bound to do it again, but if the person cheated on me, there is no way in hell I’m going to subject myself to letting them do it to me again.

I feel like if s/he doesn’t respect me enough not to cheat on me once, s/he will continue to disrespect me in that way or some other way. I won’t put up with that.

marinelife's avatar

I think with regard to cheating it very much depends on the person. I think a person can sometimes, for a variety of reasons, make a bad decision and cheat on someone that he or she really loves. Realizing all that he or she is about to lose, the person can resolve to never cheat again and mean it.

On the other hand, I know a man who cheated on his fiancee while engaged, married her anyway, and then engaged in serial infidelity. He had elaborate rationalizations for his cheating mostly around the fact that he did not and had not ever loved his wife, but I am confident he would cheat in any relationship he was in.

I have seen people, myself included, make significant changes to their personalities. That is really the only to change behavior from within. You have to change the underlying issue.

That said, I also believe such change is difficult, and when evaluating a situation, it is best to go with the past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

nikipedia's avatar

@wildflower: Good point. I wonder to what extent you can “fake it ‘til you make it”—how much changing your behavior can actually change your thought processes, joys, fears, etc.

marinelife's avatar

@niki I think it can. I like to think of old behaviors as a broad wide well-worn path. New behaviors involve pushing past branches that poke you, tripping on undergrowth, etc. and are a lot harder work. If you persevere, though, you end up with the broad wide path of new habit.

wildflower's avatar

I think that depends on the person. Some will focus on their behavior pattern and eventually suppress the undesirable trait to the point they’re no longer aware of it (I’m not sure that means it’s gone). At the other end, you have those who behave differently than they feel – I suppose this would potentially lead to psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder or schizophrenia.

nikipedia's avatar

@wildflower: Cognitive dissonance maybe, but the other things you mention have clear (well, sort of) etiologies based on other stuff, like genes, abuse, etc.

wildflower's avatar

True. Which is why it depends on the person in question.

nina's avatar

-How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
-One, but the lightbulb really needs to want to change.

An old joke. But really, we change all the time. For some things – all it takes is a decision.

lovelyy's avatar

People don’t change, they just find better ways to lie to us.

marinelife's avatar

It was interesting that we had this question. While I was driving home tonight I heard The Story with Dick Gordon on NPR. Tonight, it was the story of Jabari Aali Shaw. He is a testament to how much a person can change. Here is a link to his story (There is a link there if you want to hear the episode.)

cyrusbond's avatar

I’m going to quote Ben Harper here…“People dont change, they just reveal.” those are pretty much my sentiments.

Zaku's avatar

People don’t usually change but they can. But it’s them choosing to change, not you making them change. Trying to make someone change usually leads to resistance and reinforcement of what you want to change. So can validating or helping them, or pointing out how they are as a problem. One way to create room for change is to let go of your ideas about them being some way, accept them for who they are and be open to them handling it themselves. But maybe it’s your problem, not theirs. If you can’t accept them for how they choose to be, then maybe you consider choosing to disengage from them.

ebenezer's avatar

it’s not looking good for me. My brain seems to make a decision even before I rationalize it. Utter humiliation is probably my only hope. But I manage to remain cryptic. And cope.

I think change happens, somewhat unpredictably.

I don’t have a phone at work.

girlofscience's avatar

You said the other day that I’ve had 20 different lives.

skfinkel's avatar

Changing behaviors that we like or are comfortable with takes great willpower and strength. There has to be a really good reason, because we like to be comfortable. If you are uncomfortable or miserable in some way, now there’s some impetus for change. But, it’s still hard.

I think if a person’s life depended on it, you might see a quick response—like if someone learned they were diabetic, sugar might just be off the diet. But even then, probably not so easy, especially if the effects are not immediate.

ninjaxmarc's avatar

you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Zaku's avatar

More evidence cats are smarter than dogs. ;-)

urugeht's avatar

I believe that if you really want to change your past behaviours and you try really hard, then it’s possible.

ninjaxmarc's avatar

but curiosity killed the cat

wildflower's avatar

but cats have 9 lives…

Bri_L's avatar

yes they can. I am proof.

tulsane's avatar

Generally, I dont think they can change BUT in regards to cheating….I think if they cheat on someone once, they werent in love enough..if they find the right person they wont cheat. I know this because I am one of them:) I know people who have changed alot but through very very very hard work. So…yes people can change but something life changing or threatening has to happen to make them.

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