Personality was once thought of as set for life. The grumpy old lady down the street was probably a surly child. The angry boss most likely a hot-tempered elementary student. So went the reasoning.
But now we know that personality can bend, reshape and change direction, many times, over a lifetime. Experience, education, and necessity, among many other factors, can change the course of the river of personal traits and qualities.
The Addicted Personality
When personality was thought set, a lot of research was done to try to uncover “the addicted personality.” The thinking behind those studies was something along the lines of trying to discover a predisposition for alcohol and drug abuse. But in all honesty, addicts come with many personality traits. If you’ve ever sat in group therapy you know that some addicts are shy, some bubbly; some grow hostile easily, others the most laid-back person you’d ever meet; some are depressed and others quite joyful.
Even the idea that there’s a set of experiences that lead to addiction has been disproven: some addicts come from broken homes and others were raised with a silver spoon. The stereotyping you see in movies doesn’t really apply to addicts. Sure, barriers such as cost and ease of access may make people of certain income levels more likely to use certain substances. Or accessibility in a neighborhood of one kind of drug, when that neighborhood is also predominantly a certain race, makes for statistical trends in who might use which kinds of drugs (by age, gender, race and socioeconomic background). But there’s no one “type of person” who becomes an addict.
Addiction, Unemployment, and Other Personality Changes
Addiction does lead to exhibiting certain characteristics, and it can be a bit like a chicken-and-egg-which-came-first scenario: did you start using because of emotional or physical pain or depression, or did you develop emotional or physical pain or depression because of use? Those kinds of questions have some limited use, and during recovery, you may find yourself examining all kinds of unhealthy patterns and behaviors.
Research also suggests that personality can change as a result of unemployment, making one less:
- Conscientiousness – Less attentive to detail, particularly over longer periods of unemployment.
- Agreeableness – While men in the study grew slightly more agreeable when first unemployed, over time it lessened. For women, there was only less agreeableness with unemployment.
- Openness – Lack of work led to be less open and communicative. Researchers speculated that stigma around unemployment fueled this change.
Unfortunately, attitudes around unemployment likely make these traits worse. If a person without a job is demonstrating less agreeableness, people say, “That’s why you can’t get a job.” In actuality, these traits reverse when someone becomes again employed.
Encouragement for Addicts
While the language of some treatment programs talk about “powerlessness to change,” and that idea can be useful and humbling, the reality is that you can change. Just as changing the patterns of addiction, those long-term habits, takes time, self-patience and practice, changing personality takes work and persistence.
At moments of frustration, inspiration for addicts in recovery can come in many forms. Some find solace in encouraging words for addicts. Others find themselves in meaningful work, which can make struggles of periods of unemployment even more difficult.
Here’s a quote: Gandhi said to, “be the change you wish to see in the world.” The same could be said, on a smaller scale, about our own changes, “Be the change you wish to see in yourself.” Act like the person who would get that job. Demonstrate to yourself the person you want to be. The rest will follow. Connect with us and stay inspired.