Can We Change Ones Character
Or Are We Stuck Being Who We Are?
Penny Cohen, LCSW
Can we change ones character? If we can’t I wouldn’t be in the business of psychotherapy. How do I know we can change? Because I’ve changed my character, and I’ve observed many clients change their character as well. To gain answers to this title, “Can one change ones character or are we stuck being who we are?” it would help to define what character is, who we truly are, what it is we want to change, and why we want to change.
Character is our temperament or disposition. It can be positive or negative. The negative is the primal instinctive “reactive” traits we are born with. The positive character traits reflect our spiritual qualities. They come from our innately loving, wise Self – created in the image of God. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” If we are anything other than loving, wise and compassionate it is our ego, our persona, our reactive behavior, expressing itself. That’s what we want to shed – the instinctive unconscious often scared, unloving, false, burdensome parts of ourselves. Beneath these layers is our true self – our innately loving, wise self. When we are in touch with this part of ourselves we feel confident, secure and fulfilled from the inside out. To be true to ourselves and experience happiness we want to transform our negative character traits to our calling and live our reason for being. It’s living with love and sharing our wisdom.
My change of character began while going through divorce. I was a housewife and mother who had no career, no direction or focus and no sense of myself. At the beginning of the separation I was a mess. I felt completely lost and alone, and wasn’t eating or sleeping. One night overwrought with non-stop thought and lack of sleep I had a meltdown. I began crying hysterically. Animalistic guttural sounds spewed forth from my mouth as I ran into my bedroom. Shaking and trembling my knees crouched to the floor and my hands hovered over the bed as I automatically cried out, “God Help Me!” Totally depleted, I laid down. There was total silence. Suddenly I experienced a radiance surround me and enter into me. It was a tingly sensation, like soft pins and needles massaging my skin. Then an incredible warmth and joy filled my body. I was being bathed in love. It was the feeling of love without having someone to love. “This is true unconditional love. And it’s not something we do, it’s something we receive.” I thought. Then I heard a voice say I would write two books and do research.
After the crying I lost that high clear state. Contemplating the experience I realized I reached a higher level of consciousness and love. I was shown a glimpse of what and how this connection would feel and be like. I needed to know what happened to me and what it meant. The next twenty-five years were spent researching that experience pondering what I did to create it, and how to recreate that feeling inside me intentionally. And, more importantly, I needed to know how to maintain that love and connection in daily life and sustain it in interpersonal and career transactions.
While rereading my journal and pondering what happened I was guided to study a variety of spiritual traditions and practices including Parapsychology, Buddhism, Shamanism and Kabbalah. I also learned psychotherapeutic and interpersonal relationship methods. These included meditation, communication, energy psychologies and manifestation techniques. During that time I not only remarried, but began giving workshops on stress management, relationships, spirituality and Kabbalah internationally at professional conferences, universities and organizations. At age forty-eight, as a result of people asking me to work with them privately, I gained the courage to go to college and grad school, and became a transformational psychotherapist. And, serendipitously I was asked to write the Book, Personal Kabbalah: 32 Paths To inner peace and Life purpose. It was published by Sterling Publishing, 2005.
I now explain the spiritual experience as reaching a deeper level of love, a love that came from the core of my being – the essence of who I am. I call this the Higher Self, the part of the self that is connected to the essence of all life – the love and creative life forces in the universe – the part of the Self in potential in source. Some explain the Higher Self as Christ Consciousness. Kabbalists call the Higher Self the “yechida,” the self or soul within oneness. According to Carl Jung the Self is an archetype symbolizing the totality of the personality. It represents the striving for unity, wholeness, and integration; oneness. Carl Jung calls the oneness the collective unconscious. Richard Bucke calls it by the same name as his book, Cosmic Consciousness. Some call it love, Higher power, God.
The concept is that we are all one and yet unique even within the oneness. Our uniqueness is concealed within our Higher Self, which is part of the oneness. Our Higher Self knows everything about us from the beginning of time incorporating our potential. When we are in touch with our Higher Self we experience the essence of who we are; the deep loving part of ourselves, the part that feels secure, confident, whole, and intelligent. What emerges from that is an innate desire and the courage to express our uniqueness and be of service.
What separates us from our higher self and knowing who we are?
What separates us from our Higher Self is our unhealthy ego, which manifests in negative character traits, and acting out behavior rather than coming from our truth. The ego traits stem from an accumulation of memories and vows possibly from past lives, and our ancestral lineage. It also includes thoughts, feelings, beliefs and decisions we made on how to live life based on how we were treated in childhood, or the role modeling we had and the way we behaved in order to get attention. If we’re afraid of abandonment we behave in ways to defend and protect ourselves for survival. We look to others for external support. We take on airs and develop facades based on how we think people want us to think, say, or act, rather than what we really think, want to
nd make room for our higher Self to emerge. That’s when we come from our truth, our positive character traits and experience being loved, inspired and blessed.
So, is it possible to change our character? Only if we are committed to a daily process of meditation, reflection, perception reframe, emotional clearing, prayer, affirmation and mental rehearsal. And then it’s the practice of living with love in daily life by being tolerant of others, listening to others, speaking compassionately with others and adding value to others.
It’s important to note that transformation doesn’t happen over night. It takes time, patience, and practice – and an ongoing daily practice of processing our thoughts, feelings, speech and actions and forgiving them by letting them go and opening to receive unconditional love. When we are in a state of unconditional love we feel more loving in general. And when we follow what we love to do, our true Self emerges and our purpose comes to us and through us.
For instance I had a client who came to me with empty nest syndrome. As a housewife and mother she felt lost and alone – empty. Her marriage was in trouble. She wanted to find something worthwhile that she could sink her teeth into – something with meaning and purpose. However, she had some issues with feeling “not good enough,” “unsupported,” and was unfocused and undirected. She didn’t have a clue about what she loved to do.
As we worked through many of her issues and insecurities she began feeling more open and loving and began reminiscing about what she loved doing in the past. She loved art. In particular she was always fascinated with calligraphy and the art of writing. She had obtained a Masters Degree in Art Education and also taught art before her children were born. She decided to take some workshops in calligraphy and eventually began teaching it herself. And now she is writing a book on it.
She said she feels like her entire life has transformed. She has something to look forward to each day and her relationships with her friends and her husband have improved as a result of her feeling so good about herself. Although at times she still has doubts and fears, she has learned the tools to process them and open up again, and again, and again.
Therefore, it’s also important to realize that change of character is a process, not an end result. It’s becoming more of who we really are. As humans no matter how evolved we are, unless we’re at the highest level of enlightenment, emotional reactions, fears, doubts, and anxieties do crop up from time to time. To change our character to become our calling what we really have to change is the way we process information and behave. It’s about the daily process of transforming our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to keep us in a state of light, love and creativity. But even moreso, we have to take personal responsibility for the way we behave. And that takes communion and communication.
Therefore, my second book in progress is about just that. It’s learning how to truly be open to the Divine and manifest what we desire and live a life of pleasure. It incorporates ten declarations for transformation and happiness.
1.I believe there is extraordinary energy we can access, harness and direct for the good.
2.I commit to come from my Higher Self and find and fulfill my purpose.
3.I am grateful for the synchronicity of thoughts and happenings, take responsibility for them all by transforming them to the good.
4.I have faith that there is a system and a plan and what comes to me is a lesson to help my soul evolve and when I let go of control my soul guides my path.
5.I live in truth, beauty and compassion by seeing things in detail, being objective of others and true to myself and emanate from the essence of what is.
6.I have courage, inner strength and self discipline to live non-judgmentally and non-critically and say what I mean without being mean.
7.I live with unconditional love and grace by forgiving not just from the head, but the heart and living with loving-kindness.
8.I am a visionary by living with meaning and purpose and going the extra mile.
9.I live with wisdom by remaining in alignment with the flow and daring to dream.
10.I am at One with Divine presence, by living in the present and being and becoming all that I can be.