Article - Entry

Can you change your personality?

By Megan Biffi, Integrative Enneagram Solutions | 6 November 2022 |

Introduction

Have you ever wondered if your personality stays the same throughout your lifetime? Whether an individual's personality type can change over time has been a source of much heated debate since Carl Jung's original work on personality types.

When introduced to the Enneagram, people often reflect on the idea that they had hoped to have been another Enneagram Type, for example saying "I would be so much happier if I was an Enneagram 7," and as a result, try to change themselves. This is partly due to a belief that their personality type isn't good enough.

While personality is a relatively broad term that encompasses many aspects of who we are, essentially it defines us and how we interact with the world. For example, when we talk about someone having a good personality, or a boring personality, what we are actually referring to is the type of behaviour they exhibit.

While there are numerous theories about what personality really is and how our basic personality traits are first shaped by experiences early in our lives, researchers generally agree that your personality becomes fixed in youth and the fundamentals do not change. Carl Jung's theory teaches us that individuals have an innate urge to grow and have everything they need within themselves to become healthy, effective individuals. Jung theorised that the first half of our lives is spent confirming and using our strongest preferences. The second half of our lives is spent developing lesser-used, type-related functions to add balance and depth to life.

This essentially means that while the fundamentals of our personality are set early in life, the way in which we express that personality can change. If this was not the case, then there would be no point to learning and development initiatives or coaching, after all!

In the Integrative Enneagram, we measure and reflect a diverse set of personality factors, some of which are enduring and do not change over time and some that are more changeable. It is important for clients and coaches to understand which should or should not be expected to change.

What Should Not Change

CORE TYPE: In line with the general consensus among personality theorists that our personality tends to stay stable over time, teachers of the Enneagram will also attest to the idea that once you find your home base or main point of reference within the Enneagram framework, your point of resonance or Type usually remains stable throughout your life. An Enneagram Type 9 cannot make themselves into an Enneagram Type 8, as hard as they might wish and try. Should your type change, chances are that you were mistyped to begin with.

However, while your point of resonance or Type usually remains stable throughout your life, you are reminded that you are not your Type but you have resonance with your Type. In other words, your Type is not a limiting box, but a reference point for developing insight into what motivates and drives your behaviour. It is the starting point from which we explore and access further self-awareness, development, and growth.

Fundamental to the teachings of the Enneagram is the theory of movement along the lines and wings around the circumference of the Enneagram. At a high level of integration, one moves towards the centre of the Enneagram, able to 'play' in the wings and the lines of stretch and release, holding your core type more lightly and fluidly. This tends to moderate the core motivations, behaviours, themes, and fears of an individual's main Enneagram type significantly and individuals at high integration may be more challenging to type definitively.

We experience this movement as manifesting and experiencing the characteristics of other Enneagram personality types. So, over time, we work towards being able to 'step into' other Types and access their unique perspectives and gifts. While, in effect, it may seem from time to time that we have become another personality type, we are still ourselves at the Core Type level.

What MAY Change, Slowly and Over Time

Personality psychologists who study large populations have found that, indeed, shifts in personality do take place over time. There are some shifts that are common to many people and seem to have to do with the general effects of getting older.

During the process of long-term personal transformation, be it through learning and development initiatives or coaching, you should experience certain changes. It should be emphasised, however, that the goal of this process is not to change who you are but to rather add balance and depth to your life.

The iEQ9 Questionnaire measures an individual's instincts, Centers of expression, and level of integration. These are the key areas that people are coached on and where you are more likely to see incremental changes in the balance and healthy expression of these elements over a long period of time.

INSTINCTS: One of the areas in which you could see change over time and with development, is in the balance of your instinct stacking. Enneagram teachers have identified three 'instincts', self-preservation (SP), one-on-one (SX), and social (SO), and we each apply these in a 'stack' which includes all three instincts in varying measures. Your 'stack' includes your dominant instinct at the top, your less-developed instinct in the middle, and your least-developed or repressed at the bottom.

Enneagram theory says that we develop our particular stack in childhood and that it remains mostly stable throughout our lives, though it can shift during times of dramatic change. Although we all have natural inclinations that tend to govern our behaviour, we also have the opportunity to develop each instinct more fully; this is where further change can be experienced. We also find that the third or neglected instinct may represent a weakness for clients, and coaching may focus on balancing a skewed stack by connecting more positively to the third instinct and balancing out the dominant. While the balance of the three instincts may change, it is unlikely that you would switch from one Subtype to another unless your scores for those two instincts were very close to begin with. In this scenario, you would have had almost equal access to both instincts, and may represent aspects of both Subtypes quite clearly as a result, and so rather than 'changing', you would be switching emphasis subtly.

CENTRES OF EXPRESSION: Another area where you could see change would be in the balance of your Centers of Expression stack. The Centers of Expression are behavioural and are determined by how we interact with others. We all have the ability to act, feel, and think but the energy and focus of our interactions may lead to others experiencing us as more of a thinker, more emotional, or a doer. From a growth and development perspective, the centre that we most exhibit is often out of balance or unhealthy in its expression in relation to the other centres. Coaching commonly works to calm an over-expressed Center and invigorate an under-expressed Center, changing the balance over time. For example, a client with little access to their Feeling Center might become more able to connect to their emotions, changing this result over time.

LEVELS OF INTEGRATION: Even though your core Type remains constant, one of the areas in which you would want to see change would be your level of integration. Levels of Integration or Levels of Development refer to the degree of self-mastery individuals have achieved in their personal development journeys in life. As a time-bound measure, it can change as you invest in your personal growth, as well as how your circumstances become more or less challenging. Integration is not fixed and you may move between high and low integration behaviours depending on context, development and self-awareness over time

More Short-term Measures

STRAIN PROFILE: The iEQ9 Questionnaire also includes a Strain Profile which reflects your subjective experience of the amount of stress you are experiencing in your present environment, work and home situation, health, and relationships. It is a snapshot that is specific to the time you completed the iEQ9 Questionnaire and can be expected to change quickly - possibly even months - if you make significant changes in your life and your stressors increase or decrease. Many clients consciously seek coaching to change their strain profile, so a positive change in this area is often a cause for celebration.

Summing Up

We have learned that we humans have a natural desire to grow and develop. Better yet, we have everything that we need within ourselves to become healthy, effective individuals. While the majority of us spend the early stages of our lives discovering and leveraging the strongest parts of our personality, many of us spend the remainder of our lives developing the lesser-used parts to bring balance to and create depth in our lives.

When we want to, it is entirely possible to change certain aspects of our personality, though generally not our dominant traits. This also holds true in the world of the Enneagram: while we have one core personality type, through movement along the lines and wings around the circumference of the Enneagram, we are able to transcend our Type and manifest characteristics of other Types. Thus, although we are likely to have one dominant personality type throughout our lifetime, we may experience the patterns of all nine Enneagram personality types.

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