can people ever truly change?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about change, specifically about how it manifests in individuals. By and large, there are two camps: those that think people can change — and those that think they can't. Young me would have easily fallen into the former group, hoping that my awkward, insecure, teenage-self could change into a confident, just-fundamentally-better version. As I've grown, in all senses of the word, I've realized I've naturally gravitated towards a belief that falls somewhere in the middle: I believe people can grow — but I'm not sure they fundamentally change. 

And yet, I make that claim knowing I am not the same person I was in high school; nor am I the same naive college freshman; nor am I even the slightly wiser just graduated version. Am I different because I've grown or because I have changed? And are they ultimately that dissimilar?


Last summer, not long after college graduation, I was getting drinks with a friend I hadn't seen in months. We went to high school together but went to college separately, only seeing each other in brief interactions. 

"Have I changed?" I asked.

He considered it, for a moment.

"I don't think you've changed, exactly. It's like, the Amber before would have seemed on the verge of saying something and now you always say what you want. It's like you've just become more yourself."

I was, quietly, pleased with the answer. It was partially true: I was more myself — but I still had areas in which to grow in. At the time, I was struggling with the post-grad transition and would often slip back into anxiety-induced spirals; and, I still struggled with not taking these feelings out on loved ones. But, I had been sensing glimmers of the person I was growing into, someone who was still very much me, but with the sharp edges sanded down and the natural glows beginning to shine brighter.  


Three months ago, I wrote a blog post while very much in the midst of several life changes. Being on the other side of them, it felt natural to explore how they've affected me. And so it would feel remiss of me not to address the obvious: change often begets change. A change in life will naturally result in a response, whether there is resistance up front, or complete acceptance, or something in between.

I realize this sentiment seems contradictory to what I wrote earlier; but changing behavior as a result of a life change seem to me a part of personal growth. I was talking to a friend of mine, whom I often turn to for life advice because she is on of those people that seems wise beyond her years, and I asked her if she thought people were capable of change. What she said touches on the nuanced differences between changing behaviors, and changing who you are:

"I think who a person is at their core stays the same. Their experiences, environment, and nature make up their essential being. But I’ve seen behaviors change—from something as simple as waking up earlier all the way to reaching out to an estranged relative after many years. When a behavior changes for a long period of time, it’s fair to say that that person is capable of change. Not changing who they are, but changing the course of action they choose."

So basically, yes and no.

I for example will always be a competitive — sometimes an overly-competitive — person. But as I've gotten older, it has become easier recognize how much of that particular trait to have on display. Is growth therefore dependent on self-awareness and a certain level of control? Once again — yes, and no. 


For so long, I have been a change-resistant person. And so there seems to me a certain kind of irony that for so many years, there was so much about myself I wanted to change, and so much I convinced myself that I could. But somewhere along the way in the last few years, those preferences have largely switched: I welcome healthy doses of life change, more able to recognize the benefits and positives than before; and, I've embraced who I am by focusing on growing the qualities I love, and keeping the others in check - but not trying to eradicate them completely. The desire to change lessened as my confidence grew, an inverse relationship I wish I had been aware of many years ago.

Change, for better or worse, seems partially reliant on an external party's acknowledgment, and rooted in perception and perspective: you can see the same person, but have the way that you see them shift. I've been learning that when others want to grow, and are trying to grow, it as much our responsibility to be open-minded and give them that opportunity without boxing them into our own assumptions, as it is for them to make an effort. 

I was at a bar recently and the person I was with pointed out something behind me, but I struggled to see what they saw. I just saw an empty table and bench. After a while, I realized they were pointing out what made up the back to the bench — it was a door, turned sideways. I felt silly that it took me so long to notice. This is a complete oversimplification of the point I'm trying to make, but it does show the influence of assumptions and perception. I saw what I assumed was there. The door might no longer be utilized as such, but that doesn't change that it still is — or was — a door, at the same time that it is also the back to a bench. (Who would have thought I could philosophize about a bar bench?)

I am not sure that I am right about anyyyy of this. In fact, I could completely see the argument that people can change. It seems to me those that think they are capable of change will often find others to be capable as well. Similarly, while I don't think people can fundamentally change, I think they can grow.

Is this all a bunch of overwrought, slightly rambling thoughts? Basically — yes, and no.