There is a part of me that would really like to believe that people can change. After three years of work in the field of psychology, often counseling others in dire situations and with much graver problems than I hope I will ever have to face, I have come to realize that at our core, we cannot change. The way our brains are wired–the thoughts we have programmed ourselves to think by engaging in a series of reinforcement and punishment scenarios throughout our childhood–, these things are fixed.
Yeah, that’s pretty depressing. I assert, after working with others in tough situations, and 26 years in my own head, that my first cognitive reaction(s) will always be what they are. In certain situations (let’s say dating, for example), I will always feel some level of competitiveness, insecurity, jealousy, and discontent. That won’t change, and in some ways, it’s freeing to say and accept it. Instead of trying to change myself, I can focus on other things.
I can focus on my reactions to my own thoughts: since I will always feel a gamut of negative emotions, I can learn to recognize them faster, sooner, and more effectively. I can learn responses to my own thoughts which help me move quickly through the negativity toward a more positive and/or realistic state of mind. After all, both Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (the big two therapy styles) don’t teach you how to stop thinking certain things; they teach you how to respond and reform the thoughts you have. It is therefore very freeing to stay that instead of fighting the negative thoughts I initially have when I start to feel connected to another person, I can instead add in a series of cognitive responses which help me not have the same negative emotions.
Similarly, I can focus on my behavior. I have come to realize quite acutely in the past year that my behavior is always within my control, no matter what emotions or thoughts I’ve got running through me. I am very freed by the fact that I can choose exactly how to display to others what I’m thinking or feeling, rather than having the perception that I am controlled by these things. I can not engage in those behaviors which reinforce my own insecurities, jealousy, competitiveness, and discontent, even as I feel them inside. Damn, that’s way easier than trying to stop myself from being who I am.
I think I’m getting older and more set in my ways, which is what makes me wonder if it is possible that I could ever change. I kind of like the person I am now: the person who admittedly has a pretty bad ‘first response’ to a situation, but has a solidly adaptive ‘second response,’ and an increasingly effective set of behaviors which help me get through the uncomfortable parts of life. I don’t think I can change, and I’m not sure I want to spend my life trying. I’d rather work where I have already been able to see results, and know that I’ll be happy–and less tired–at the end of every day (and my life!).