Can People Change Or Is Someone Stuck In Their Ways? Experts Answer This Question

Updated January 27, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Can People Change?

It's the first thing someone might say after breaking your heart: They can change if only you'll give them a second chance. And while you really want to believe them, you are left wondering, "can people really change, or do they just lie?" The simple answer is people can change, but it doesn't necessarily mean they will. Change requires having an openness to experience and a bit of hard work.

Can You Trust Someone Who Has Lied To You In The Past?

The simple answer is people can change, but it doesn't necessarily mean they will. Change requires having an openness to experience and a bit of hard work.

What Impacts People's Ability to Change?

Making changes in life isn't easy. It's much easier to just follow your whatever behavior comes naturally. But that doesn't mean you or others can't change. It's possible for any person to change-if they truly work to. There are a few things that impact a person's ability and desire to make changes in life. They include genetics, motivation, and personality. We will discuss these in more detail below.

Can People Really Change?

There are countless stories of people that have overcome substance abuse to find a better life, strayed in a relationship and came back to build it healthier than ever, or lived completely selfish lives and then made their life all about others. People tend to respond to others according to their own senses of conscientiousness and agreeableness. These stories prove that peoplecan change and move into a more positive direction.

In fact, research that looked at 200 studies found that with the right treatment, people are even able to change their personalities. So the question isn't really whether people can change as much as why some do but others don't. We'll explore that question below.

Everyone has areas they can improve in life. People really change when they want to. So whether you need to make changes in your life, or you're counting on someone else to make changes themselves, it is possible.

Can People Change Biologically?

Psychology Today states that much of what we are could be caused by genetics. Although the environment obviously shapes the way we think, there are also biological factors that account for supposedly 70 percent of differences.

That's to say many psychologists now figure genetics is more important than the environment. Another thought from the same theory suggests that people who are born with predominant biological factors tend to follow social patterns that are strongly influenced by their genetic gifts. You may have heard the phrase, “a leopard can’t change its spots.” In essence, the argument is that the environment cannot force someone to be something contrary to their biology.

However, the article in Psychology Today also went on to say that "biologically influenced" should not be confused with "biologically determined," which is the idea that society should accept negative behavior as something unchangeable. We are not programmed or hardwired to change a person’s original behavior. Even though some people are programmed for specific personality traits, there is still hope that society and the environment can reprogram negative behavior, and break bad habits, thus the spirit of change.

Breaking Down Personality Traits

Researchers have broken down the differences in people’s personalities into five major traits which are often referred to as the big five personality traits. The five traits include openness to experience, extroversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. These traits help to explain how people think and behave. When people are rated on personality tests, they’re rated as higher or lower than most people for each trait. Personality tests indicate that most traits tend to stay fairly consistent throughout adulthood.

In new research in psychology today, researchers have introduced a six-factor model known as HEXACO which adds the personality traits of honesty and humility to the original five traits.

The Role of Personality Disorders

But what about when it's not experimenting, and the negative behavior goes well beyond the experimental and youthful stage? There is the possibility that if the change is related to a major personality disorder, such as APD (antisocial) or NPD (narcissistic), then real change is only possible under professional supervision. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves reprogramming negative behavior, but even as powerful as treatment and medication can be, limiting conditions like APD and NPD can be very challenging. When they’re successful, it canchange your personality and friends and family are pleasantly surprised at how people really change.

It's important to ask what do you expect to change? If you are the one trying to change, or the partner of someone trying to change, do you want to change the nature of the person? Major personality disorders aside, the research on how and why people change has been promising. According to a study by the University of Illinois, subjects were tested to see if and to what degree they could "grow a new personality" over 16 weeks. The results were moderate. But one thing that was noticed was that the people that did show the most promise also wanted to change some aspect about themselves in their "real life" or true personality.

Mental Health Disorders and Personality Change

Borderline personality disorder is a condition where people have a drastic personality change. According to Psychology Today, borderline personality is a chronic mental illness with severe mood and emotional instability. Psychiatrists describe this illness as being at the border of psychosis and neurosis. The symptoms may include self-injury by cutting and suicide attempts. Because of the severity of personality change, it may seem that there’s no hope for people with borderline personality disorder. The disorder can often be treated successfully with therapy and medication.

How Can People Change?

With the right treatment for borderline personality disorder, people really change

Eating disorders are another condition that causes a personality change. An eating disorder isn’t classified as a personality disorder. Psychology Today describes eating disorders as psychological illnesses that are characterized by unhealthy, obsessive, or disordered eating habits. Eating disorders bring about emotional instability because it upsets the normal digestive cycle that feeds all other bodily systems. It’s challenging to treat eating disorders, but many people are successful after attending therapy and support groups.

Is It Safe To Change?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder where someone’s personality can change seemingly in a heartbeat. Psychology Today reports that some people still refer to bipolar disorder as manic depression. The symptoms of bipolar disorder involve drastic mood swings that alternate between severe emotional instability and depression. During bouts of mania, a person living with bipolar disorder experiences a emotional instability that includes a mix of irritability, anger, depression, and sometimes euphoria.

Therapists make a diagnosis of bipolar disorder using tests; therapy and/or medication are indicated for people that get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder may be classified as Bipolar 1 or Bipolar 2. Psychology Today describes Bipolar 1 as people that have had at least one manic episode which causes an extreme personality change enough to require hospital care. Bipolar 1 may include a major depressive episode, but not always. People that have Bipolar 2 normally have major depressive episodes that last at least two weeks along with hypomania. Hypomania is a mild or moderate type of mania that normally doesn’t require hospitalization.

How Quickly Can We Change?

The length of time that alternating moods last and the frequency with which they occur varies substantially from person to person. Where the mood fluctuation is frequent and it occurs at least four times per year, it’s known as rapid cycling. Rapid cycling is very difficult to deal with because of the extreme emotional instability and unpredictability.

Bipolar disorder can be accurately diagnosed with psychologic tests—therapy and medication are the preferred courses of treatment where bipolar disorder is indicated. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are challenging for the person living with it and their families to manage on a long-term basis, making it seem like it’s impossible for the person to change. In fact, with the right treatment protocol for bipolar disorder, people really change.

People Have to Want to Change

This lends credence to the argument that says if you want to change, not just in words but on a personal level, you will learn new behavior in a way that helps you achieve your goals which should include emotional stability. People really change when they want to and they’re invested in the process. If a person’s behavior hasn’t changed despite agreeing to do so over several periods of time, the odds of changing probably aren’t good.

Can You Trust Someone Who Has Lied To You In The Past?

If a person's goals are altered, their thoughts change, their behaviors change. If the goals of the person stay the same, and they want the same basic needs met that their current lifestyle allows, it's unlikely they will ever change. It’s not that they can’t change, the reason being, they are unwilling to change, so they don’t change. They find no advantage in changing. If promises work in calming a suspicious partner, there is no reason to change their thought processes or behaviors. All they have to do is make more promises, and in their subconscious, they probably know this.

If, however, they see the need to change to preserve what they hold precious, they will alter their goals and be willing to alter their lifestyle. They will change their thoughts, which lead to actions and look for a new way of coping with daily stresses. They may at some point, find situations or even people in life that drive them back to their destructive habit, whether it's drug addiction, a violent temper, or cheating.

Can People Change?

Yes. Getting professional help indicates a genuine desire to change, beyond empty promises.

A professional therapist approaches the situation with a clear objective: to change the thinking patterns and to help the patient learn productive ways to cope with stress. This is what online counseling, such as the services offered by BetterHelp, can help you with. This puts you in touch with experts trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other proven methods. BetterHelp can offer you a distinct advantage to traditional in-person therapy, working with your available hours and giving you the privacy of your own home for sessions-or wherever you feel comfortable. The best way to change permanently is to get someone's help. You can read reviews of BetterHelp counselors below, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Dr. Tassava is the best counselor I've ever had. She offers me real-life techniques and tools to handle my anxiety and stress. She has never once judged me for any of my issues and has honestly supported me through the most difficult time in my life. Over the past few months, with her support and guidance, I have been able to change my thinking, reacting and how I handle major anxiety and stress. I am so thankful for her. Not only has she changed my life for the better... honestly, she's saved my life."

"Mary Smith is very thoughtful and a great listener. I can tell she has a lot of experience dealing with many situations and people, which gives me comfort. She always stays on track with my concerns and goals, and always offers relevant suggestions and tools to help me to conquer issues. I definitely recommend Mary Smith to anyone who feels stuck in their toxic ways formed by difficult past experiences, but you want to overcome them. I believe Mary has the skills to help someone who really wants to change for the better."


So, the simple answer to the question "can people change?" is yes - with the right tools. Take the first step today.

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