The question of whether personality changes with age has intrigued psychologists and researchers for decades. Personality is a complex and enduring set of characteristics that define an individual. While personality may be relatively stable throughout adulthood, we may all experience subtle shifts in personality.
Personality is the unique combination of traits, behaviors, and characteristics that make someone unique. It is often assessed using the Big Five Personality Traits:
Openness: Someone who is open to new, creative ideas. They may be the first ones to try a new approach or an interesting menu item.
Conscientiousness: Someone who is very thoughtful of others. They often plan ahead and stay organized.
Extraversion: Someone who is recharged by being around other people. They are often talkative and comfortable navigating social situations.
Agreeableness: Someone who exhibits trust, kindness, and affection. They truly enjoy helping others and may be empathetic.
Neuroticism: Someone who is emotionally unstable. They may have mood swings or exhibit signs of anxiety or depression.
Personality Changes with Age
Generally, psychologists agree that personality stays relatively stable throughout adulthood. For example, someone who is naturally introverted at a young age is likely to be introverted as they age. However, that doesn't mean that someone's personality is set in stone. Everyone could experience subtle or even drastic changes in personality — under the right circumstances.
Below are some of the factors that can cause a personality shift throughout your life.
1. Maturity- Naturally, we become more mature as we get older, and this could be the biggest factor in personality changes. As we grow older, we gain new life experiences, wisdom, and emotional regulation skills. This can lead to shifts in personality traits. For example, a highly impulsive young adult may become more risk-averse as they learn from their experiences.
Maturity can impact most of the Big Five personality traits.
Increase Agreeableness: While you might think that older adults are grumpy as a result of life's experiences. However, it's actually the opposite. As we mature, we generally increase our agreeableness, becoming more empathetic and compassionate toward others.
Increase Conscientiousness: With experience comes more conscientiousness. For example, parenthood or grandparenthood can cause us to think more about others. Life experience could also teach us to be more cautious.
Decrease Neuroticism: As we mature and overcome life's challenges, our emotional stability generally increases, reducing the neuroticism trait.
2. Environment- Life events and circumstances can shape your personality. Major life transitions, such as marriage, parenthood, career changes, and retirement, can lead to shifts in personality traits. For example, retirement may lead to increased openness to new experiences and decreased neuroticism. On the other hand, many difficult challenges in a row, like losing loved ones, can increase neuroticism.
3. Health Issues & Physical Changes- Aging often brings about physical and health-related changes that can influence personality. Chronic health problems, pain, and physical limitations can lead to increased neuroticism. On the other hand, maintaining good physical and mental health can support the stability of certain personality traits.
Traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders can change the brain itself and cause personality changes. Older adults who develop Alzheimer's or related dementia will experience personality and behavior changes as the disease progresses. Someone with high agreeableness may become extremely irritable and even angry.
4. Personality Disorders- Some personality changes may be more dramatic and related to the development of personality disorders or mental illness. Most of us will not experience such severe changes in personality. But conditions like borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder can lead to drastic personality changes. These types of disorders can increase the trait of neuroticism.
5. Cognitive Aging- Cognitive decline associated with aging can also have an impact on personality. We aren't talking about dementia here, but just the decline in cognition that happens as we get older. Naturally, this can be very frustrating. So, changes in memory, problem-solving abilities, and cognitive functioning can lead to increased neuroticism, decreased extraversion, and altered coping mechanisms.
Implications of Personality Changes
The idea that personality changes with age has several important implications.
Self-Awareness: Recognizing that personality changes can occur with age allows us to be more self-aware and proactive in managing these changes. It is important to embrace personal growth, self-improvement, and adaptability in response to life's challenges and transitions.
Relationships: Understanding that personality can change over time is vital for maintaining healthy relationships. Personality changes could cause individuals to drift apart or even come closer together. But if you are willing to put in the work to maintain a relationship, you can keep strong relationships for life.
Clinical Implications: It's important for mental health professionals to consider personality changes when assessing and treating individuals. Age-related personality shifts can impact mental health, and personalized treatment may be necessary.
Workplace: Changes in personality traits can influence career choices and job performance. For example, someone who becomes more open to new experiences may seek out career changes or creative pursuits. On the other hand, someone who becomes more conscientious may excel in leadership roles.
Healthcare: Acknowledging that personality changes with age impacts healthcare, too. Healthcare professionals must be ready to address the mental and emotional well-being of the aging population.
Dealing with Sudden Changes in Personality
While most personality changes will happen slowly and over time, some can happen suddenly. Traumatic events or health conditions are usually the cause of these sudden changes. If your personality or a loved one's personality changes suddenly, it can be hard to deal with. Here are some steps that you can take to handle these types of stark changes.
Visit a healthcare provider: Especially if personality changes are sudden, see a doctor. These changes could be caused by an infection, health condition, or side effect of a medication.
Try to understand what caused the behavior change: If you notice personality shifts, try to understand what could have caused them. Did something happen that had a lasting impact? Was there a disruption that impacted your mood?
Adopt an attitude of acceptance: Try to accept personality changes and adapt to them. Do not blame yourself or your loved one for personality changes.
Seek support: Find a support group with individuals who are going through similar challenges. For example, if your loved one has dementia, find a support group of other family caregivers.
Understanding the potential for personality changes with age is important to adapt to life's challenges and transitions. It is also a valuable step toward understanding yourself and others.