Changing Your Spots
We have all heard the expression ‘a leopard never changes its spots’; we can doubt if it is possible for us to change. If we can change, what parts of ourselves can we change and what parts stay the same? And for the parts of us that do change, how can you go about changing your spots?
When we think about it, people do change just through the process of growing from a child to an adult. Clearly, the man or woman is not the same as the infant and not just in size; people change aspects of their personality as they age. And yet there are people who seem, in essential nature, just the same as they were as children to the way that they are as adults – how can this be?
Temperament and personality
This is because there are essentially two aspects to people that we might call temperament and personality. Our temperament is our essential nature; it is something that remains pretty much fixed and recognisable from the time of birth. Parts of ourselves that relate to temperament include, broadly, excitability, studiousness and seriousness. In contrast, our personality is formed through interactions with parents and others close to us; therefore this is the area that we can make significant changes in through therapy. Aspects of this part of personality include that way that we relate to people and consequently the nature of the relationships we have with them. These parts of us have been shown to have a very high correlation with the style of parenting we received when we were young.
A cause for hope
There is a great deal of hope then, that in this key area – the way that we relate to other people – can be changed. These are changes that we can sometimes make for ourselves, and the one of the things that seems to make this possible are times of moderate stress. Moderate stress gives us the impetus to make conscious changes but also puts us in unfamiliar situations where these changes can start to happen unconsciously.
Another way that that people can make changes is through the process of psychotherapy. This change happens consciously through the acquisition of new skills and increased understanding about yourself; is also helped by the psychotherapist's personality. A therapist can be viewed as someone who is skilled and experienced in change; they are also wholly on your side and committed to helping you find a way through your difficulties.
– Tim Hill
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