At least once a week, I hear a new client say “This is just who I am. This is who I have always been. I cannot change who I am.”
Usually this is a defensive response to their partner who is asking for a change important to making the relationship successful. It sounds pretty hopeless doesn’t it???
First of all, saying “This is just who I am. Stop trying to change me” is a guilt trip because the words insist that the partner asking for change is somehow asking for way too much. It suggests the idea that, “you should feel bad for being so unreasonable.” You should feel guilty for asking me to change something that is such a part of me.
Second of all, saying “This is just who I am. I cannot change” suggests that there is so much permanency to the behavior or the habit or the trait that it is completely unchangeable. Whether intentional or not, this is a mental tactic that suggests to one’s partner or family member that there is no room for flexibility, negotiation, reconciliation, solutions or improvement. The partner asking for change may as well just accept that change is not possible. They should accept feeling hopeless and helpless about a behavior and accept that the problematic behavior is a permanent problem never to be repaired (*note that mental helplessness creates symptoms of depression and anxiety).
If your partner or a family member is saying this to you, this could be a mentally abusive and controlling response. If you are seeking systemic change in your relationship, do not accept this response. For example, I recently had a husband telling his wife that he cannot stop touching women because this is just who he is. She perceives he is inappropriate with women and even though he is a married man, she should accept it. I have had wives tell their husbands they cannot ever learn to initiate sex because that is just who they are.
In most cases, the “This is just who I am” defense is just a bunch of BS. Even if someone has a deeply ingrained personality trait that causes their behavior, people can still learn to adjust and change habits that are causing pain or neglect to their loved one.
Of course, we do need to make attempts to accept certain aspects of our loved one’s personality. However, this does not mean that behavioral changes are completely out of the question! For example, your partner might be spontaneous and not big on planning things. However, this does not mean they cannot learn to put a date night on the calendar every two weeks to make sure your relationship is prioritized… instead of spontaneously ending up going out with coworkers. Or your significant other might be very focused on care taking for the children because their personality is very protective, however this does not mean they cannot learn to be flexible enough to sometimes take time away from parenting to make vacation plans with you!
In fact, research shows that mentally healthy people work towards being less extreme regarding their personality traits. People who are extreme extroverts benefit from learning to sometimes be alone or to have quiet time at home with their family. Likewise, people who are extreme introverts benefit from learning to get out in a crowd and make friends!
The bottom line is this. If your partner or child or parent is saying “This Is Just Who I Am” don’t buy into it!!! Be persistent. Insist that this is not true, everyone can learn to make changes. If the behavior is a deal breaker for your relationship, put pressure on the relationship for change instead of accepting the BS.
If you are the one saying “This Is Just Who I Am,” then you should reconsider. This is a defensive response, and your defensiveness and inflexibility is a predictor for relationship failure. Even if the other person stays in relationship with you, they are still likely to withdraw. You will never know how close or happy you could have been together unless you are willing to make adjustments and be influenced by one another.
You can do this. Creating change in your relationship is hard work, however I wish you the best in overcoming hopelessness. No guilt trips. No BS allowed! For some additional guidance, schedule an appointment with myself or an associate at https://www.therapyportal.com/p/drstephanie/