How much do we really change?

This is a question that came into my mind this week when I heard someone mention that old saying “a leopard never changes its spots.”

We know that from 0-7 years are imprint years that make a staggering difference on who we become and the values we then form in our later lives. But if someone has worked hard to improve themselves, we like to believe that change is possible. I’m not sure that we are as convinced of this possibility if someone has behaved in a totally socially unacceptable way. Is belief in change and forgiveness linked in someway? Do we believe that “baddies” cannot change because we cannot forgive them for the behaviour they have exhibited- even though we know that a person is not their behaviour and that all behaviour has a positive intention (presuppositions of NLP.)

Whilst considering this, I started to reflect on who I was as a younger child and who I am now. I wanted to establish whether I was fundamentally the same then, as I am now, or whether I had changed.

Of course some things have definitely changed- My ideas have evolved and I have gained more knowledge. I never used to eat olives and love them now. But what I was really interested in is whether there were traits in Little Me which could have predicted or lead me to where I am now.

Firstly, I had a think about where I am now, not just in terms of being a therapist, but as someone running a business- was Little Me already showing signs of this?

Initially I thought no. I used to be quiet and shy, I would cry easily and was quite sensitive. I was not always able to speak up for myself and had a bit of a fear of men (I think this had something to do with growing up without my dad at home.) I think all of these things have changed. I can still be quiet, but this is more through choice. I still like to check out a situation before making a contribution to it and now only cry easily if I’ve not had enough sleep!

I remember being told that I was always trying to twist things around. My mum had a horribly depressive period as I was growing up. I remember her getting very frustrated at me as whenever she tried to ramble on negatively as I’d respond with some smarty-pants answer about how things were much better than she could really see at that moment in time. This often would irritate her more but always seemed to get her thinking outside of the box of depression.

Thinking about me being that way makes me wonder if I was in fact a therapist from a very young age.

When I think back to being at school, I worked really hard. I was by no stretch the smartest or best, but I worked really hard and always gave it my best shot. I was nominated vice house captain and then house captain and my house won the sports day that year. I would also always step up to take the lead parts in school plays, despite being otherwise a bit of a loner. I didn’t have a best friend and was often working on my own little projects, which I’d then “recruit” friends into help me with! This part certainly sounds a lot like the Gemma I am now.

My mum said I should join a club to try and make some more friends as I couldn’t latch onto a best friend at school, which used to disappoint me. At about age 7 years I joined Brownies in an effort to widen my social network (which is like the younger version of Girl Guides.)

It really didn’t work out too well. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that we were in these little groups and that there was like a chief girl who was from my school who was at school, meek and mild but at Brownies had some sort of special powers to boss me about. I kept challenging the ideas she had because I thought mine were better. (I still maintain they were.)

After a few months, I’d had enough and gave notice. The Brown Owl (who is like the chief of the Brownies) asked why I wanted to leave and I told her that I thought we’d be doing more interesting stuff like making fires in the woods and cooking jacket potatoes on them. I told her that quite frankly I could make a Mothers Day card at home and didn’t need to dress up in brown to be able to do it. I also told her I thought it was a bit too religious for me and that I wasn’t keen on the colour brown.

You see the thing with Brownies, is that the uniform is (or was) brown with a yellow scarf. Brown and Yellow! I told the Brown Owl that these were not the sort of colours that girls of my age wanted to be wearing. I told the Brown Owl that she could significantly increase the number of girls joining Brownies if the uniform was pink with a silver scarf.

She said this wasn’t ever going to be possible.

To be fair I think she was probably right as we would all have looked like Penelope Pitstop or the women from the Sheila’s wheels adverts. Plus they’d have had to have changed the name to “Pinkies.”

Which sounds like a club in Soho.

So in conclusion; yes, I do believe we all have the potential to change, if the impetus and desire to do so are great enough. I also believe that ultimately, there are characteristics that are part of who we are as people, that will always be there. And that evolving as a person is about learning how to harness that which we cannot change and use it to the best possible effect and our advantage instead of only acknowledging those characteristics as faults that can hold us back.

By Gemma Bailey

4 Replies to “Do We Ever Really Change?”

  1. If we look behind the ‘stories’ in this article to find the central pieces that are ‘little’ Gemma maybe we could compare it with ‘big’ Gemma to see if anything had indeed changed.
    As children we only have limited experience of life and all Gemma’s self improvement work and training has undoubtedly given her many more perspectives on life, the universe etc.
    Do we detect a strong sense of self belief in the challenge of ‘authority’ at Brownies? Is there something showing her ability to look at things from a different angle in suggesting the change to pink and silver instead of brown and her ‘twisting things around’ to reframe her mother’s depression? How about a sense of self worth – not having a ‘best friend’ just because everyone else did.
    What have other people spotted lying beneath the metaphors of ‘little’ Gemma that tell us about her ‘belief’ structure, her values, her metaprograms?
    How can we then apply this to ourselves to get to know us better too? (modelling?)

  2. Hi Gemma – I agree that people can change although I think we still carry with us fine layers of unwanted or negative characteristics which are peeled away as we manage to confront them. I sometimes think it’s a shame that we do have to change especially when having to harden up to deal with amount of negativity that surrounds us.

    With my Dad being a contractor, I ended up attending 17 schools whilst growing up. I never had a best friend but being very creative I was always quite happy on my own. In my late teens I became quite attached to friends and boyfriends probably coming across as quite clingy. I realised that due to my family life I placed too much emphsis on my friends whereas most of my friends had a supportive family network to rely on. Like you I questioned everything from an early age especially when it came to religion. Why do I need to tell the priest in the box all my sins only to find out that I can commit them again and be absolved of them the following week? I couldn’t understand why a man was in charge of a whole religion with rules and regulations, telling them how they should live their lives.

    So in my 20’s I started to work on my personal development to understand myself more and to change the way I dealt with the negativity of others which used to have an incredible impact on me. As someone who is quite sensitive to the needs of others I’m still finding this a challenge at times but it’s a lot better now! So although I think we can all definitely change, some things just take a little longer!

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