The 'Truly Trying To Change Yourself' Approach To Changing Socially
This is the last of a three-part series of articles on overall philosophies people can have toward the question of if or how to change or improve how they act in social situations. The other articles talk about the approaches of not changing and being true to your inner tendencies, and making calculated changes for practical reasons. I also say in the introduction of all three articles that these approaches aren't an either-or kind of thing. For example, someone may decide to be true to themselves when it comes to wanting time alone, but pragmatically decide to learn to be chattier at work when the situation calls for it.
The gist of the 'truly changing yourself' approach
The aim is to try to legitimately alter some aspect of your personality or approach to social situations, so you can do better with people. It's contrasted to the pragmatic approach where you know deep down something goes against your nature, but you're willing to do it for the benefits it provides. Out of the three approaches to change this one has the biggest drawbacks when it doesn't work out.
Some examples are:
- Trying to becoming more sociable or outgoing
- Trying to learn to like being around people more often, and spend less time alone
- Trying to learn to like more crowded, hectic social settings
- Trying to learn to like lighter, fluffier types of communicating
- Trying to become interested in mainstream interests or activities like sports, dancing, or popular TV shows or bands
When this approach works
Out of the three approaches to change this one has the biggest drawbacks when it doesn't work out. I'll cover them in a second. Though when someone does manage to make truly changing work for them the results can be positive. Say someone decides they don't like that they're reserved, and that it would be better if they were more sociable and talkative. If they can truly change to become more outgoing they may enjoy their interactions more, and have more opportunities to make friends (it's not that staying reserved is inherently terrible, but in their case at least, moving away from it paid off).
There are people out there who will tell you things like:
- "I used to only want to hang around by myself all the time, but now I also really like being around people too. I'm glad I worked to change that part of myself."
- "If you had met me years ago you wouldn't have recognized me. I'm happy I put the effort into learning to be more outgoing."
- "I used to hate going to parties, but now I think they're really fun. I'm way more into it than I ever thought I'd be. I'm glad I worked to learn to like them.
- "I used to only be interested in local politics and had a hard time relating to most people as a result. I'm glad I pushed myself to take on some new interests. I now genuinely have a wider range of things I love talking about."
So like I said, this approach has worked out for at least some of those who have tried it. And now to get into the many pitfalls:
Many people are just opposed to this approach in principle
I bet a bunch of the people reading this recoiled when they read that last section on the benefits of this approach working. In many people's value system someone shouldn't have to change to fit into the social norm just because doing so would make their life easier. It brings to mind things like conforming and selling out. Their own views toward changing are more aligned with the 'Being true to yourself' school.
I totally see the point in this criticism. I do think though that everyone has the right to choose for themselves what's important to them. Someone may decide they don't like the personality or social orientation they were born with and wish it was different. To another person, who accepts, enjoys, or embraces the exact same traits, the idea that someone else may want to get rid of them can be hard to take.
Of course, I think it's very tricky for people to know what they want socially, which adds another layer of complication. Like if someone hates their default social style, did they objectively reach that opinion on their own, or have they unconsciously taken on the mentality of their classmates who used to tease them about it? Definitely no clear, easy answers here.
It's questionable how much you can actually change many things
A major flaw with this approach is that it's often not that easy to just change major parts of our personality or interests. Being pragmatic and picking up some surface skills or knowledge, that you can deploy when the situation calls for it, is one thing. Truly changing your natural tendencies is trickier. Our true nature may win out in the end. Or you could argue that even if someone seems like they've changed, they really haven't deep down.
Actually, the question of whether certain traits are changeable or not doesn't have an answer, and I wrote a separate article about it. In general though, I think sometimes some people can change some facets of themselves. But notice all those 'some's. It's hit or miss whether any particular individual has the power to alter a specifically chosen trait.
Many people become unhappy by unsuccessfully trying to change
This is the risk of this approach. When someone tries to change an aspect of their personality, they often hold the unspoken belief that their natural traits are "bad", and that the ones they're trying to acquire are "good". You could easily argue that the concept of one trait being better or worse than another is flawed. Society being what it is though, there are plenty of ways someone could pick up a message that certain approaches to socializing are "better" than others. If someone can't change their personality, they may feel lousy because then they're left with the supposedly flawed one they began with.
However, if someone just felt they'd prefer to have one trait over another, but believed both were equally valid, just different, then they probably wouldn't run into this problem. For example, someone may think, "It's totally fine that I don't enjoy parties, but I'm still going to give it a go and try to learn to like them."
Someone may also become unhappy because they believe they should be able to change, and feel like they're weak or a failure for not being able to. However, it's possible that they just may not be able to alter that part of themselves.