Can People Change, Or Do They Just Lie? Understanding Personal Growth

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Sometimes, we can experience a shift in our thinking and behavior as we age. As a result, we can become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and strive to make changes to improve our lives. This transition is often known as personal growth or personal development. Trait theory, psychoanalytic theory, social-cognitive theory, and other theories attempt to explain the concept of personality. It’s possible that some traits may persist over time, while others may change due to life experiences and personal growth. Neuroplasticity generally allows the brain to make new connections and change throughout life. If you’re interested in pursuing personal growth, online therapy can be a helpful tool throughout the process.

Explore your capacity for personal growth

Theories of personality and change

Personality frequently plays a significant role in shaping who we are and how we interact with the world around us. It can influence our thoughts, emotions, and behavior, as well as the paths we take in life.

Various theories of psychology have addressed the ongoing debate around the stability of personality traits over time and the potential for personal growth. Some psychologists argue that personality is relatively fixed, while others suggest it can be changed and modified.

We may need to understand personality as a whole to examine the theories that explain how personal growth may occur. Personality generally refers to an individual's unique characteristics, including their thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors. It typically develops over time and can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, early childhood experiences, and individual life events. Personality frequently affects how we perceive and interpret the world around us, potentially influencing our decisions, relationships, and overall well-being.

Trait theory

Trait theory suggests that personality may comprise identifiable, inherent traits that influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These traits can be described and measured, providing insight into individual personality differences. Trait theory usually focuses on identifying the specific characteristics that make up an individual's personality while ignoring the underlying mechanisms that shape these characteristics.

Psychoanalytic theory

Psychoanalytic theory suggests that personality results from the unconscious mind, which may influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This theory, developed by Sigmund Freud, posits that unconscious desires and conflicts may primarily drive human behavior. According to psychoanalytic theory, personality can be shaped by our childhood experiences and how we resolve internal conflicts.

Social-cognitive theory

Social-cognitive theory suggests that personality may develop from the interactions between individuals and their environments. This theory typically emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between individuals' unique characteristics, environments, and the social and cultural factors that shape their experiences.

The stability of personality traits tends to be an ongoing debate in psychology. Traditionally, trait theory suggests that personality traits are relatively stable throughout an individual's life. However, it may be possible that certain experiences, such as major life events or significant personal growth, can lead to significant changes in personality over time.

Furthermore, other theories, such as social-cognitive theory, usually emphasize the dynamic nature of personality and suggest that individual behavior can be influenced by a complex web of factors, including our environment, social interactions, and cognitive processes. Such factors can often lead to significant changes in personality over time, particularly if individuals are exposed to new and diverse experiences.

Obstacles to personal growth

Personality can be a complex and multifaceted area of study that may be critical to our understanding of human behavior. Theories of personality and change, such as trait theory, psychoanalytic theory, and social-cognitive theory, can offer different perspectives on personality development over time.

However, certain barriers may prevent us from achieving our goals and realizing our full potential. Common barriers to personal growth and change can include the following:

  • Fear of change and failure: You may be hesitant to try something new or take risks for fear of failure.
  • Lack of motivation and self-efficacy: You may not have confidence in your abilities and feel unmotivated to pursue change.
  • Limited self-awareness and introspection: It can be difficult to make changes if you don't fully understand yourself.
  • Resistance to feedback and criticism: You may be unwilling or unable to take constructive criticism, potentially preventing you from learning and growing.
  • Societal expectations and pressure: Social pressures or expectations can lead to feelings of fear or insecurity that may hinder personal growth.

Learning to overcome these barriers can be essential to fostering personal growth and change. Developing self-awareness and understanding your motivations can help you confront the fear of change and failure. Setting realistic goals, monitoring progress, and seeking out feedback can also foster growth. Finally, recognizing that personal development may be a journey, rather than a single event, can provide a sense of motivation and give you the courage to embrace change.

While there may be a debate on the stability of personality traits, many experts agree that personal growth and change can be possible. With a commitment to self-reflection, an understanding of the barriers that can prevent change, and an openness to feedback, individuals may transform and improve their lives.

The study of personality may continue to offer us a deeper understanding of human behavior and tools for personal growth and transformation. With the right strategies and attitude, individuals can take charge of their development and reach new heights in their self-awareness, relationships, and life goals.

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Neuroplasticity and the brain's role in change

Neuroplasticity generally refers to the ability of the brain to reorganize and change its structure and function in response to new experiences and the process of learning. Neuroplasticity may be the basis for our capacity for learning, memory formation, cognition, and emotional control. This fundamental concept can be essential to our understanding of how we develop, grow, and change throughout life.

Neuroplasticity can significantly contribute to personal growth and change. Neuroplastic change can occur at the chemical, structural, and functional levels of the brain. Chemical change usually involves neurotransmitter production, while structural changes can involve connections between neurons in the brain. Functional changes may include reorganizing entire brain networks, which can lead to improved skills or behavior.

But how do these processes work to foster personal growth? When individuals are exposed to new and diverse experiences, neuroplasticity can create unique pathways of thoughts or behaviors. This process can help individuals form more effective habits, cognitive abilities, emotion control skills, and social behaviors. 

Through neuroplastic processes, such as synaptic pruning, new connections can be formed, and existing ones may be strengthened or weakened in response to these learning experiences. Such changes may mean our thoughts and behaviors can be modified through mental practice, experience-based learning, and exposure to new environments. Furthermore, research suggests that neuroplasticity can positively affect your well-being as you learn to adjust to new situations and become more confident in your decision-making.

Mental health should generally be maintained for neuroplasticity to be effective in supporting personal growth and change. Mental health can be important in helping individuals learn from experiences and gain insight into their own thought patterns and behaviors. Recognizing and managing stress, controlling emotions, and developing positive coping strategies can all be crucial aspects of mental health that may help you take advantage of neuroplasticity in achieving personal growth.

As the brain's natural capacity for reorganization and change, neuroplasticity can provide us with an invaluable tool for personal development. By understanding the neurological basis of mental health, we can use this knowledge to create changes that lead to positive growth and transformation.

How therapy can help with personal growth

Therapy can be an excellent way to gain insight into your personality and move toward your goals regarding personal growth. Working with an objective mental health professional who can guide you can prove to be an invaluable resource.

Online therapy can offer a safe and comfortable environment to explore new ideas and develop the skills needed to achieve personal growth effectively from the comfort of your home. With the guidance of a licensed mental health professional, you can learn how to use the brain's natural capacity for change to reach your desired goals.

With the help of evidence-based techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), individuals can increase their understanding of their thought patterns and behaviors and gain insight into how to make positive changes in life. CBT can influence neural plasticity, potentially helping individuals break through mental barriers and achieve meaningful changes. 

Online CBT is generally as effective as in-person CBT and may be a valid choice for those seeking the guidance of a licensed therapist.

Explore your capacity for personal growth


The concept of the personality and whether people can change has long interested those in the field of psychology. Social-cognitive theory, trait theory, and psychoanalytic theory may be just a few of several theories that attempt to explain personality and the possibility of personal growth. You may find that some of your personality traits persist over time, but others may change as you go through different experiences and achieve your goals. Online therapy can be a beneficial resource if you’re interested in getting professional help with personal growth.
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