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Can I Change My Personality or Am I Stuck?

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The focus of the Winter 2011 issue of the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy (ASP) Newsletter is: Can I change my personality or am I stuck? It's an apt question for both spirituality and psychotherapy, since both domains speak to change and transformation. At the same time, though, spirituality and psychotherapy have sharply different takes on stuckness and change. The central issue in this divide is how each conceives "who am I?"

Here are my thoughts:

From the spiritual perspective the question (Can I change my personality or am I stuck?) is the problem. The question implies that changing personality is the main event --for us personally in our strivings, and in therapy as patients and therapists. It assumes that changing our personalities (a code word for ego) is the route to happiness and peace of mind.

But change speaks to the future. That's where change or becoming will happen. It's the belief that the real me is not here but there--somewhere in the future. This view exposes the illusion of change. As spiritual master Tich Nhat Hanh expresses it:

"Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life."

Self-Inquiry reveals another dimension of the problem by posing the question, "Who is seeking change?" If I am seeking to change my personality, then the I subjective state of being is looking at an object called my personality. Creating a new or changed personality, if successful, will generate a new or altered object that will have the same basic limitations of the old personality: they are both inert conceptual objects that the state of being falsely identifies with as ME.

Self-Inquiry spiritual teacher Mooji gives an insightful example of the pitfall of faulty identification of self with an object. He says, imagine someone knocking at your door and asking, "Who's car is that in front?" If it's yours you would say, "It's my car." You would not say, "I am that car." The example seems laughable. Yet in the case of the ego object we conclude what is precisely laughable: "I am that object (personality/ego)." In doing so, the I subjective state of being lodges itself in the object--you become the car, meaning you become totally identified with the ego self. That's when "stuck" enters the picture. Looked at in this way, changing or altering the object will not get you unstuck. Yes, it might feel better to be stuck in a BMW than an Edsel, but you will still be stuck in a false identity of self.

So let's dedicate ourselves not to change but to residing in our true nature--the original factory installed state of being.

Note: In my book (see below), Escape Your Own Prison: Why We Need Spirituality and Psychology to be Truly Free , Chapters Two and Three ("Who Am I" and "I/Me/Ego--Personal and Impersonal") explore the subject of change in greater depth with numerous real life examples.

Also, click here to see free Mooji video Santsangs.


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Bernard Starr, PhD, is author of The Crucifixion of Truth, a drama set in 16th century Italy and Spain. Starr is a psychologist, journalist, and professor emeritus at CUNY, Brooklyn College. At Brooklyn College Starr taught developmental (more...)

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