Can People Change? The Dialogue Of Inner Change

Updated July 08, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Kelly Kampf

“Can people change?” is an open-ended question for many individuals, whether they’re thinking about themselves or others when they ask that question. You might’ve grown up hearing phrases like, “a leopard can’t change its spots” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” both of which suggest that people don’t change. However, through research, we are learning again and again that those old idioms are untrue. Despite the historical belief that people can’t change, there’s scientific evidence to back up the fact that people can and do change. You can change your behaviors, your thoughts, your work ethic, and even traits of your personality. The most important factor? Like most goals in life, you have to want change, and you have to put in the work to make it happen. How do you make it happen? One of the most critical pieces is often right inside of ourselves.

The Importance Of Positive Self-Talk

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To establish a dialogue for inner change, positive self-talk is crucial. What is positive self talk, you might ask? Positive self-talk is a skill that allows you to be optimistic toward yourself and speak to yourself in an uplifting way. If you want to develop positive self-talk, think of how you would talk to one of your most cherished friends or family members. Say that your best friend was putting themselves down or had a problem in their lives. How would you console them? What would you say to them if they were to say something cold about themselves, such as, “I will never succeed at work” or “I will never be able to manage money”? Most likely, you would give them a pep talk and tell them that you believe in them and their success. Positive self-talk doesn’t mean that you have to be entirely positive all the time. Be realistic with yourself and acknowledge when you do something wrong, but make an effort to talk yourself through it in a way that is productive rather than self-deprecating. Be honest and loving towards yourself to cultivate change. Even if it doesn’t feel natural at first, it will become more intrinsic over time. Positive self-talk leads to a healthier mindset, and ultimately, positive change.

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is mostly what we have to thank for the ability to change as human beings. The dictionary definition of Neuroplasticity is “the capacity of the nervous system to develop new neural connections.” What that means is that we can form new connections in our brains that allow us to think and react differently. You may have heard the phrase “train your brain,” and Neuroplasticity is why that’s possible. Our neural connections don’t change overnight, but if we think positive thoughts regularly and actively work to modify our behavior or responses, it will become more natural as time progresses.

For example, if you visit a new area, you’re not going to know how to get places at first. You will likely struggle, have to look at a map, ask for directions, and possibly get confused or lost. However, if you move to that new area and develop a routine there, suddenly, you are able to get places with ease. Likely, you’ll feel like you’re on autopilot. That’s because, without even knowing it, you have developed new neural pathways that make getting around easy. The same is true for other kinds of changes or adjustments. Think about it. The reason that it’s tough to develop a new habit or react differently than you’re used to reacting is likely largely because it’s new to you.

Change might be hard at first. Like making your way around in the new area, you might get lost, you might miss old habits, or you might struggle and have to ask for help. You’ll have growing pains, and that’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect all of the time. The most important thing to do is to be mindful of the things you do and actively choose to do what would be most productive for you.

What Makes A Person Wants To Change?

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Want is the most important thing when it comes to change, alongside the belief that you can change. With that said, though, what makes a person want to change? This question is highly individual, but there are some common denominators that could influence your inner dialogue and attitude toward change. The first is belief; you have to believe that change is possible. Often, people decide to make a change when they hit rock bottom or get to a place where they’re truly sick and tired of how they’re living their life. Belief in one’s self might ebb and flow, especially when you’re working to make a significant change in your life and have never known a life outside of it, but being able to visualize change and see it as an option is incredibly helpful. Again, this is where positive self-talk, as well as other tools like cognitive restructuring and mindfulness, may come in. You don’t need to hit rock bottom to change. It’s imperative to know that you can change it anytime and that you don’t have to wait until you are at the bottom of the barrel to make changes. Knowing that people really change can help you avoid getting to your own personal lowest of low, as can self-compassion and honesty along the way.

Can A Person’s Personality Change?

Personality may seem like the last thing a person can change, but research shows that personality change is actually entirely possible. A study conducted in the 1960s with a follow up that occurred 50 years later showed that personality can change. In this study of personality change, researchers looked at the big five personality traits. The big five personality traits are introversion v. extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism vs. emotional stability. It was found that personality change can occur in all of these areas. With this information, we can gather that it’s possible to change your personality. You can change your personality by actively working on personality traits you’d like to modify, or you might experience a personality change naturally. Regardless, it’s empowering to learn about the possibility of personality change in human beings. If we use our knowledge that personality change is possible, we can work to make it happen.

Can You Make Other People Change?

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While people can change, you can’t change people, nor can you make them want to change if they don’t want to. What you are in control of is your own actions, meaning that you can control your response. If you have a friend that is rude to you consistently and your typical response is to take it in silence, for example, you can speak up and let them know that you don’t like being treated that way. When you confront them, use “I” statements and explain the specific behavior that hurts your feelings. For example, you can say, “I know that you mean it as a joke, but it hurts my feelings when you call me names/say mean things about my partner, etc. Can you please stop?” If they aren’t willing to respect your boundary, it may be time to re-evaluate the friendship. Part of creating our own dialogue for inner change is sometimes being careful of who we surround ourselves with. Social connections are an extremely important part of our lives, and they can influence how we feel about ourselves. It’s important to be around people who treat you kindly and to be able to set boundaries when you need to. People really change, but remember that you can’t move anyone’s feet for them.

What Holds People Back From Change?

It’s true that change comes from inside of ourselves. That said, it doesn’t mean that change is easy or that people change without obstacles. Sometimes, there’s something bigger holding people back from change than not wanting to or not speaking to themselves positively. If there is an underlying issue such as trauma that’s causing someone to use behaviors, defense tactics, or coping mechanisms, it’s important to address the trauma. Often, working through trauma is the only way to get to the root of the behavior in place. Trauma is yet another thing that changes our brain. The good news is that we can use neural plasticity for positive change after or regardless of trauma. If you’re wondering why someone in your life hasn’t been able to change, the answer could be that there’s underlying trauma to address. If you have PTSD or have experienced a traumatic event, know that help is out there and that you can get to a healthy, happy place. Trauma is nothing to be ashamed of, and no matter where you are now, you can make it out on the other side.

Online Counseling

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One of the most special parts of life is the fact that, although we are dealt certain cards, we get to decide how to play them. Establishing a new dialogue takes some time, but it is incredibly rewarding. Counseling is one place to gain support during this process. Especially if you’re working hard and find that your old habit or behavior hasn’t changed, a counselor can help you work through roadblocks and develop new skills that you can use to get where you want to be. Whether you’re looking for individual counseling or couples counseling, the licensed mental health providers at ReGain are here to help. One of the most profound benefits of online counseling is that you can see a licensed professional from the privacy of your own home or anywhere else with a reliable internet connection. Search the network of online counselors at ReGain and find the perfect fit for you.


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