Entries in personality; change; trauma (1)



Many of us [all of us?] have experienced a time when we want to change what we are doing but don't seem to be able to change our behaviors or thoughts. It can feel like our brain's are working against us...therefore the question of "whose side our brain's are on."  So what is up with our brains? William James stated that: " In most of us, by the age of  thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again." [from The Principles of Psychology, 1890, by James]. A summary of years of research regarding personality [How Much Can You Really Change After You Turn 30? by Melissa Dahl from the New York Magazine; 2014/11] indicates that by 30-35 years of age it is set and not likely to change much after that. This seems to mean that behavior patterns are stable and more resistant to change as well.  Paul Costa, Jr scientist emeritus at the laboratory of behavioral science at the National Institutes of Health is reported to have indicated that changes in personality come much more slowly in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Now Brian Little, a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Cambridge [England] indicates that even though up to 50% of our personality is genetically derrived, we can still choose how we behave even if it is at odds with our core personality traits. However, Little believes that we will feel anxiety if we deviate from our core personality traits and will feel depleted and need to return to our "real selves" to let go of the anxiety.  

So, does any of this apply to patterns of behavior that are caused by traumatic events and become part of our daily coping with life?  It does seem that the patterns that we establish as children at harder to modify compared to later ones. These patterns related to traumatic events don't seem to be part of our core personality traits although those core traits must influence how we cope and what patterns that we establish. This may be why some people who are traumatized develop obsessive coping patterns while others are irritable and others over think and others are people pleasers, etc.  

So, does this mean that traumatic experiences can cause us to cope and develop stable coping patterns that are difficult to change but are not part of our core personalities and not really who we are? And why does our brain resist changing patterns?  Well, some of those patterns are essential for sustaining our lives in the next few minutes like body temperature, respirations, heart functioning, etc. Maybe this is why our brains are cautious about changing patterns.  In addition, when we are traumatized and learn to cope to reduce the liklihood of being traumatized again, our brains are going to want to be sure that it is ok to change this coping and that we will not be overwhelmed like before. 

Therefore, it is a good thing that our brains maintain patterns and our brains really are on our side.