Do personalities change?

Started by

I wonder about this given the abusive personalities of so many parents that we read about here. What do you think about what I've learned and gained insights about over the years?

Research has shown that our personality traits manifest themselves more intensely as we age. Whatever we have been hiding behind a mask will become more difficult to hide because we are no longer strong enough to keep it from coming out.

Traumatic experiences can or do have an impact on our personality. This is why it is important to work through things instead of just burying them deep down inside.

It appears that any needed adjustments in our personality needs to be done early for the older we get the less open to change we are.

Sadly, we will not make such adjustments unless we see the need to. Some people chose to resist any input that they need to change anything about themselves for their entire life.

Family of origin issues often make it difficult to see the need for change and thus to respond to event in a healthy was instead of an unhealthy way.

All; to often, others can see the issues that we need to deal with but don't say so unless they feel it is safe to share their insights.

Of those who see the need to change, some don't because the work is too hard or too full of fear to face.

Basically, who we are has to do with the choices we have made in response to life's events. However, these responses do not take place in a vacuum. They are influenced by various social, psychological and other factors that we must become aware of and deal with appropriately,

This is one reason that boundaries are so important.

Otherwise, we are who we are apart from the grace of God changing the quality of character of who we are if we are open.


Interesting question. I can only speak to the issue from my limited exposure to my own elders and elders I'm around in volunteer work. My impression is that if a man was type A, controlling, selfish jerk as he ages he stays that way if not worse. And we hear so much about the narcissist mommies from hell, same thing, it doesn't get better with age. Add a good dose of dementia and the bad traits seem to be amplified. Anybody out there seen the opposite? Nasty, narcissist mom becomes Mary Poppins?
I have two examples-
One very nice man whos nickname was "Happy", became a violent angry person. My mother who was tightlaced religious, angry and judgemental became nicer. Of course now-a-days if she gets angry it takes music,backrubs and hugs to bring her back.....but one day that may not work?
The man was on medications- my mother is not.
I have wondered to myself if the "nice" man had "kept it in" for all these years...
I myself, being a quiet person who "takes it" - I worry that I will be one of the angry ones.... I hope not- I want to be the happy one that people like to take care of....
Sometimes beneath the surface of the quiet nice person are deep unexpressed emotions that can lead them to explode if they don't find a healthy way to release them.

I think it is possible for us to hide secrets from ourselves about how we really feel otherwise called denial. Everyone experiences some frustration. The question is how to you release it. Everyone has their own way to do this. I use to use exercise, Tae Kwan Do with the boys and power lifting over a decade ago. Now I go out to my Man Cave and vegetate in the complete quietness and peace of that experience weather I do anything productive or now.

When I feel emotionally in pain that is where I go also. This helps in between times until I see my therapist. Venting here sometimes helps, but I must be careful how deep that I share here. I feel some rather raw pain at times.
Do personalities change? I believe they can. But I have also learned they can revert, too. Brain injuries are strange devils, and once a behavioral filter is removed, there can be surprises lurking for those of us that didn't know the person in their younger years.
They sure can revert for the reasons you've listed. I know people in my extended family whose personalities change back to being like a little child around their parent for the parent has never had an adult/adult relationship with their adult child and the adult child has been groomed as a child to respond to the parent as if they were still a little child. This can be very frustrating to observe.
I think personalities can change, but for different reasons, specifically, combat. Whether it's called PTSD, shell shock or something else, war changes some people irrevocably.

I do realize though that your question was directed toward personality changes in the elderly. But personality changes happen to servicemen and women, to me that's an indication that personality changes are in fact possible.
I'm sure my personality changed following an almost fatal bicycle accident in college which fractured my skull, gave me a brain bruise, and damaged my left ear nerve. I'm not sure how, but I bet it did.

I even think that as a small child at 4 that my parents divorce and my response of ceasing to eat so bad that they had to put me in a major hospital changed the personality that I was born with.
I have been a caregiver for 8 years in private home health care and Assisted living. I have found the personality a person has whether mean or nice with dementia it just becomes intensified. My mom is kind to the in home staff but stubborn and combative with me. According to my aunt is was always stubborn and wanted to fight.
My favorite Christmas characters are Ebeneezer Scrooge and The Grinch. I am not a Christian but I do believe in the need for and possibility of human redemption. I like to think that a heart that is two sizes too small CAN grow! But I also think major changes are rare. Maybe that is way there are stories about the experience.

My father grew more mellow with age, because softer around the edges, and less absolute. (He did not have dementia.) Or was that just reverting back to a mellower personality he had before he had seven kids to support and health issues, back to a time before I knew him?

I don't see personality change in my mother, now age 95 (dementia). She has always had a very low pain tolerance and a fear of pain. She has pain often now so her episodes of fear and outrage have increased. But basically she is jolly, mild-mannered, and non-judgmental and a true foodie!

My husband's personality changed dramatically at the onset of dementia. Paranoia, belligerence, distrust, and fuzzy thinking in him were totally new to me. After the first few months of treatment his doctor said, "It is so nice to see his personality beginning to peek through the fog." And while the dementia continued, his personality did revert back to the laid-back, trusting, mellow guy I married.

I find myself, at 70, more patient and more tolerant than I was in my 20s and 30s. I don't know that my personality has changed, but my outlook has.

Can personalities change? I think so, but dramatic changes are the stuff of literature.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support