Can Life Events Change Your Personality?

Many life events, such as a loss or a breakup of a partner, can change you in some way, but never radically. Actually, rather than really changing, you tend to take on new learning.
Can Life Events Change Your Personality?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 09 April, 2022

Losses, failures, disappointments, illnesses, triumphs, loves, and even sudden discoveries. Your existence is full of unexpected changes of direction, insurmountable happiness, and some inevitable tragedies. However, can your life events change your personality? Can your whole way of being change as a result of these intense experiences?

William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher. He claimed that the human character is like plaster. It never changes. Nevertheless, current scientific evidence suggests that people do change. Indeed, no one is immutable, we’re not beings programmed in advance like algorithms or sculptures that resist the passing of centuries and the elements.

As a matter of fact, change is a part of being human. Furthermore, this is decisive in any therapeutic process. Indeed, as a result of change, you acquire new skills and competencies to better adapt to your circumstances. However, in the face of each new life experience, you react in a different way and the variations, in reality, are never extremely intense or radical.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

-Leo Tolstoy-

A man thinking, depicting can life events change your personality?
Small changes in your way of being mean you’re better able to face challenges.

What science says

We’ve spent many years assuming that human beings can’t change their way of being. In fact, it was considered that we were fixed and inherited entities. Nevertheless, nowadays, psychology and any science of well-being seek to promote stable changes in the human being so that they reach fulfillment, balance, and existential satisfaction. In fact, the change is often seen as something that’s almost essential.

However, can your life events really change your personality? Is it possible that events such as betrayals, losses, love experiences, or traumas you experience change you? Science suspects that they do. Nonetheless, there are currently no clear and objective studies that prove this suggestion 100 percent.

An investigation conducted by the University of York claims that both environmental and genetic influences determine our personalities. Indeed, our personalities show both character traits and temperament.

Nevertheless, experts claim that it’s extremely difficult for our characters to completely change, but what do change are our ‘in-between’ qualities. These are those that lie just below the surface of the general traits that are usually analyzed,

Science claims that our personality doesn’t change 180 degrees after a specific circumstance. Naturally, aspects such as our system of beliefs and values may vary.

The same person, but with different beliefs

Imagine that someone who’s been with their partner for 20 years suddenly discovers that this person has been in a parallel relationship for a decade. As expected, something breaks inside of them. Nevertheless, does this mean that they’ll never be the same again?

Psychologist, Carol Dweck of Stanford University conducted a study that claimed that the intermediate qualities of our personality change, but not the general traits. The intermediate qualities are as follows.

  • Your belief system. Aspects that you previously believed or that guided your attitudes may be completely reformulated. For example, you might stop believing in eternal love or blindly trusting people without questioning anything.
  • Your perception of yourself and others may change.
  • Your goals, purposes, vital meanings, and purposes are reformulated.
  • You might change your coping strategies. In fact, any event might either bring out the best in yourself or subject you to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.

Can life events change your personality?

This remains a mystery. Indeed, when a group of people lives the same experiences, each of them reacts and acts in a different way. In fact, sometimes, even losing a parent is experienced differently by each sibling.

Therefore, science can’t predict how we all vary in the face of specific events. Consequently, if you ask yourself if life events can change your personality, the obvious answer is, not necessarily. For instance, some personalities are extremely resistant to change and others are more flexible and receptive, and their beliefs, perceptions, thought patterns, etc vary accordingly.

Sad woman in the living room
In the face of traumatic events, the desire for change can guide your transformation to overcome the experience.

Your desire for change drives advances in your personality

Every event of great impact, whether positive or negative, leaves its mark on you. This doesn’t mean that your personality traits are suddenly altered and that you become more neurotic, conscientious, or extroverted, for instance. What does happen is that with each determining experience, you have the opportunity to acquire new qualities and perspectives. This is what changes you.

You acquire attributes of social and emotional maturity and these allow you to mature. However, for that to happen, you must have a clear will toward change. Each vicissitude, each vital circumstance, has a maturing effect on you that drives you to move forward and continue learning.

In the end, you’ll realize that, despite the fact that you retain many things from the adolescent you once were, you’ve also changed a lot. You remain faithful to your basic personality traits, but there are also things that have changed and that allow you to become who you really want to be.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Dweck CS. Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2008;17(6):391-394. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00612.x
  • Bleidorn, W., Hill, P. L., Back, M. D., Denissen, J. J. A., Hennecke, M., Hopwood, C. J., Jokela, M., Kandler, C., Lucas, R. E., Luhmann, M., Orth, U., Wagner, J., Wrzus, C., Zimmermann, J., & Roberts, B. (2019). The policy relevance of personality traits. American Psychologist, 74(9), 1056–1067.
  • Johnson W, Turkheimer E, Gottesman II, Bouchard TJ Jr. Beyond heritability: Twin studies in behavioral research. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2010;18(4):217–220. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01639.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.