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Trauma

Does Trauma Change Your Personality?

By January 19, 2023January 26th, 2023No Comments

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries defines personality as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character,” including patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Recent studies suggest that personality traits can be linked to differences in the thickness and volume of various parts of the brain. Many professionals ascertain that one’s personality is influenced by external stimuli (e.g., being exposed to different experiences, changing environments, etc.). Though the fundamental areas of one’s personality are largely thought to remain unchanged throughout one’s life, according to National Public Radio (NPR), they can and often do gradually shift across one’s life span. Personality change refers to a shift in the way one thinks, acts, and/ or feels. Empirical evidence has connected trauma to quantifiable changes in personality.

Trauma is defined as any type of distressing event or experience that can have an impact on a person’s ability to cope and function. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), further describes trauma as “an event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions…[that are] characterized by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death.” Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by ongoing stress (e.g., bullying, domestic violence, childhood neglect, etc.), one-time events (e.g., a violent attack, an accident, sudden injury, etc.), or life-changing events (e.g., sudden death of a loved one).

People are profoundly altered by highly unpleasant experiences. The effects of exposure to trauma in childhood, for example, have been repeatedly linked to the development of personality disorders and maladaptive personality traits. A 2019 study concluded that “retrospective accounts of people with significant personality pathology indicate that some develop these problems following exposure to severe trauma in adulthood.” Additional research examining reports of trauma in childhood and measures of adult personality found that individuals with a history of trauma have significantly higher levels of neuroticism and openness to experience. Psychology Today asserts that trauma exposure has the propensity to cause permanent changes in the brain, producing corresponding shifts in intelligence, emotional reactivity, happiness, sociability, and other traits that were once considered to be set for life.

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