Is it possible to change one’s personality to stop wanting to draw attention to yourself. If someone is a person who purposely does things to themselves to gain attention such as faking bullying and purposely burning oneself, but that person wants to stop, is it possible for them to?
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You don’t indicate whether you are asking this question because you want to change yourself – your own behavior – or if you are asking this question because you want to know if someone else you are involved with can change their behavior. This distinction is not really important in terms of the answer to the question, which I’ll get to in just a moment, but it does put the question into context.
If you are asking because you want to know whether someone else’s behavior can change, that would suggest that you are frustrated with this other person, and want to know whether it is appropriate to blame them for something they can control, or instead, whether it is necessary to just accept that this person is helpless to act differently because it is unreasonable to expect that they can change.
If you are asking this question about yourself, well, that suggests that you are maybe wondering if you have control over yourself and how you act too.
The not so short answer to the question is, "Yes, people can change, but changing established behavior patterns is not easy. It takes a lot of work, motivation and time in order for change to occur".
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There is drawing attention to yourself and then there is Drawing Attention To Yourself. Lots of people desire to be the center of attention, and will monopolize conversations and act in attention-getting ways so as to accomplish this goal. Not everyone will tell lies in order to attract attention, however, and most people will not cut themselves or otherwise injure themselves for this purpose. That this person you are writing in about is self-injuring and lying suggests that they are dealing with a more serious issue than the average run-of-the-mill attention-seeking person.
A word about self-injury. There are people out there who cut or burn themselves for a variety of reasons. Usually, this self-injury occurs because such people feel compelled to punish themselves, or because they dissociate and want to feel something that isn’t numb or because they feel out of control and by injuring themselves they feel more in control or variations on this sort of theme. Most of the time, such self-injurers are not doing this to attract attention to themselves or to take on the roll of victim or sick person. It is important to distinguish between truly attention-seeking self-injury and regular not-particularly-trying-to-call-attention-to-itself self-injury. The former motive suggests a diagnosis like Factitious Disorder (commonly known as Munchausen’s Disorder), while the latter is more likely to be associated with Borderline Personality Disorder or similar. People who don’t self-injure are frequently horrified when they learn that someone is deliberately harming themselves and may assume this activity to be something designed to be attention getting just because no other explanation appears to make sense. It is important to not just assume that the self-injury is occurring simply to attract attention, however. It’s not always the case.
A lot of behavior can be usefully thought of as coping efforts; ways people act so as to negotiate their lives as best they can. So, someone who is acting in ways designed to draw attention to themselves is perhaps using attention-seeking behavior as a means of coping with the stress of not having enough attention focused on them. We have various names for this condition, including loneliness. Different people are able to tolerate different levels of loneliness. How much loneliness a person can tolerate is affected by many things, including their temperament, and what they have experienced in life (whether they have been abused or traumatized, for instance). Some people (particularly relatively sensitive people by temperament, who have also been abused) have a very low threshold for tolerating loneliness, and freak out when others would be calm, and act in frantic, often stereotyped (repetitive) ways to try to reduce their loneliness. Such people often lack coping skills, and may be relatively immature from a social-emotional perspective. They don’t know how to calm themselves down so as to think straight once they get emotional, and they don’t have a well developed set of ways to problem solve their way out of stressful situations. They only know what they know, which is to act frantically in order to try to get what they desire. Sometimes this means that they learn to lie to impress people to like them. Sometimes it means that they learn to injure themselves so as to attract caregivers, etc. In such cases, the people who act in such repetitive, outrageous ways are demonstrating that they do not know better ways to act; that they are lacking the coping skills that others have for dealing with similar situations in more successful ways. Clinicians usually classify such people as demonstrating one or another personality disorder.
If we think of personality disorders as instances where people haven’t learned how to cope with situations, it should be clear that people can (in many cases) mature out of having personality disorders by learning the missing coping skills that will help them to cope better. It’s not quite that simple. In addition to not possessing important coping skills, many people with personality disorders also do not have a sufficiently mature understanding of how the interpersonal world works to enable them to apply coping skills even if they had them. Maturing out of a personality disorder requires a person to develop both a more sophisticated understanding of the social world, and a mastery of coping and problem solving skills.
Sometimes this maturational process just happens as a function of time and experience. No one is born mature; everyone passes through developmental stages where through a process of time and experience they acquire the wisdom and skills necessary to negotiate life. Sometimes a person who has been handicapped by abuse or other issues simply needs more time than others do to catch up.
At other times, people with personality disorders get stuck in them, and they do not grow significantly in terms of their interpersonal and coping understanding. When this occurs, psychotherapy is in order to provide the boost that such people need to get out of their rut and back on their way. Various forms of psychotherapy have been developed to handle particular forms of personality disorder. For example, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. to help people who self-injure develop self-soothing and other coping skills so that they do not need to hurt themselves in order to get their needs met.
Based on the very limited information you have provided, it is impossible to say whether this person you are concerned about will simply grow out of it, or may require some intervention in the form of psychotherapy. But I do hope that this answer helps you to better understand what may be occurring for this person so that you don’t misunderstand them. Someone who is acting this way is not necessarily a bad person but more likely a frantic person who doesn’t know how to act in any more acceptable way. Someone who is trying, as we all are, to get by. This person requires your compassion rather than your anger. Which doesn’t mean that you won’t need to defend yourself or all foul when he or she places unreasonable demands on you or acts in ways that are unacceptable.
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