Why People Don’t Change Their Spots

We all know the phrase about people not being able to change who they are (their character), no matter how hard they try.

A leopard can’t change its spots

It comes from the Old Testament when the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah could not convince an evil shepherdess to become good:

Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evilJeremiah 13:23.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychology said that we can’t change easily because we’re afraid of taking responsibility.

Most people do not really want freedom because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened by responsibilitySigmund Freud.

New York City-based psychotherapist Katherine Schafler thinks that we face three major challenges to changing our spots.

Personal Responsibility

Blaming others, or our situation, for our unhappiness is something most of us tend to do. When someone else tells us what to do, we can always blame them when it doesn’t work out. But the moment we learn to take personal responsibility for our own lives is when true change starts to happen.

External Identity

It’s much easier for us to develop our identities around what happens to us rather than who we truly are inside. Outside circumstances like where we live, where we work, who we spend time with aren’t always how we’d like to define ourselves, but we often feel stuck with them and resigned to the way they shape our identity.

Familiarity is Comforting

There’s comfort in the things we’re familiar with. We may want to get a new job, but it will be uncomfortable to have to get to know everyone in the workplace again and to move to a new home and to get to know all the unfamiliar places and faces in a new town. It’s much more stressful to break out of a comfort zone than to stay in one. So more often than not, we stay where we are, even though we may feel desperate for change.

Changeable Weather by Gustave-Leonard de Jonghe (1829 - 1893)
Changeable Weather by Gustave-Leonard de Jonghe (1829 – 1893)

Change is as certain as the weather, so why not use change to our advantage instead of being its victim?

Can We Change Who We Are?

Sociologist Charles Cooley (1864 – 1929) theorized that a person’s self grows out of society’s interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others.

In his 1902 book Human Nature and the Social Order, Cooley coins the term “looking-glass self” to describe a concept whereby the way we see ourselves is like looking into several mirrors, each of which reflects someone else’s image of us back to us. Our parents see us differently to our siblings; our partners see us differently to old flames.

Filmmaker and public speaker Jason Silva thinks Cooley’s theory explains the fluid nature of how we see ourselves and why we like to change our personas on social media.

We are who we think others think we are

Video: 2 min.

Philosopher Julian Baggini takes this idea even further and posits that we don’t have a core self, but instead we are the sum of our experiences.

If we think of the Niagara Falls, it is forever changing, even as we stand there watching it. Instead of being permanent and fixed, it is fluid and free to change.

And this is the essence of how we can change ourselves.

When we free ourselves from the chains that keep us thinking we cannot change, our mind opens and lets us fly free to be who we want to be.

We are free to change as much or as little as our hearts desire and our minds allow.

Video: 12 min.

The mind is everything. What you think you becomeBuddha.

Dancer with a Mirror by Jean-Louis Forain, 1885

Sources: Businessinsider.com, PsychologyToday.com, TED.com, Wikipedia.com

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