As a medical doctor for gay men’s health and a gay person concerned with people’s inner conflicts, I’m often asked whether people can truly change. This is a question I’ve asked myself as well.
My answer is yes, and no.
Each of us has a unique personality. By definition, that personality is made up of innate traits and acquired habits. These habits may be ingrained to a point that we behave in predictable ways in a wide variety of situations.
This is what makes up our distinctive personality “style.” For the most part, once fixed (generally, around age 6 or 7), our core personality patterns generally don’t change very much.
Most mental health professionals agree that our deeply embedded traits and tendencies are ingrained by the time we’re adolescents. Yes, there can be some minor modifications after that, but our basic way of interacting with others is pretty much set by the time we’re 17 or 18.
To change the way you think or behave, it starts with the mind, or attitude. To change your personality, you just have to change your attitude.
What do I mean by that? Change how you feel, how you remember, how you analyse, how you judge or don’t judge. Change the way you think and you will act differently. People act differently once they change their minds.
A drug-induced detour
Here’s a personal example. I was once took a break after three pre-clinical years in medical school and moved to Bangkok. I wanted to make some easy money from being an English and Biology tutor in high school, as tutors can earn more money than any newly graduated doctor in the country.
During this time, however, I was also introduced to a circle of drug users. At first, I didn’t want to try, but then I changed my mind and that’s when my path changed. It started with once a month, then later, once a week for a while. Then, I was taking drugs almost every weekend. That’s all it takes to become a drug addict in a city like Bangkok.
Lucky for me, I took some time to think again and again, and I asked myself tough questions, like “Who do I really wanna be?”, “What makes my life more meaningful?”, and “Is this the best I want for myself and then for everybody else?”
Change for the better
The mind that wanted to do something good for the world won.
I decided to go back to school and quit drugs. I graduated from medical school and became someone who’s doing something for a lot of people, because when I’m doing that, I am doing the best thing for myself and it benefits a lot of people.
This is what I’ve learnt from my experience. If you want to change, you have to put in the effort. It takes a lot of fighting and telling yourself to stay focused. And finally when you’ve made it, nobody can take away your effort.
But to even be able to change, you have to first believe in it and you have to want it. When you realise that you want a change, you have to get to know a little bit about this “change”, and what it takes to change. You can also always speak to your family and friends for guidance or help if you need.
If you don’t have anyone to talk or write to, why don’t you write to me? I would love to speak to you about how to support you in your personal journey. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.