Immutable Personality Traits Plus

First, I need to say that I have been having a lot of trouble with my modem and that is one of the reasons it’s taken me this long to write a post. In addition, my week has been extremely busy and has not allowed for much writing. When I post this, it will be after dealing with many frustrations with both computer and time!

As previously mentioned, I want to write something about Santa’s recent comment that referred to the show “Mad Men” as asking the question “Can People Change,” and whether I think literature has often posed that question too. I’ve been mulling over the general acceptance of the Five Immutable Personality Traits that Santa directed us to because that stance is mentioned in the article. I suppose a little review is appropriate here.

Even though none of us has made note of this well-known list, the traits have usually been identified by the acronym OCEAN, or some other arrangements of the letters. OCEAN stands for:

O – Openness to experience

C – Conscientiousness

E – Extraversion

A – Agreeableness

N – Neuroticism

You can read about how these traits became identified as immutable here. I would like to make clear that since the original composing of this list many studies have disagreed with whether they are immutable and, after further study, most psychologists agree that change often occurs within these categories due to many factors. These factors include age (generally accepted as after the age of 30), environment, health, marriage, and work. (I would add having children.) There is also a variability in the constancy of personality traits wherein certain traits stay consistent and others change. Therefore, the article Santa referenced was really being too perfunctory when it mentioned the immutable traits. The article states: “You can change your reaction to things, you can change your behavior to the people around you, you can become different enough that you  seem different, but underneath it all, you are still you.” Actually, the situation is much more complicated than that. Nevertheless, considering the scope of the article, we can use both positions: the one that considers change as it is represented by superficial modifications in behavior, and change as it is represented by more permanent and substantial permutations of one’s personality.

I say this because the article takes into account the aging of the cast as the show continued through ten years as well as the aging of the viewers over that time span. As we all know, as the years flow by, we begin to look older. Apparently, “Mad Men” is one of the few shows in which the aging of its stars has been incorporated into the show. Rather than trying to pretend that those years have not really passed, as most shows, including “Doc Martin,” most often do, the creators of “MM” decided to have the cast age along with its audience.

How have we changed? Who knows how many ways life has impacted us over the past ten years? (In my case, I only started watching “DM” in the past two years, but I can still say that a lot has happened in those two years.) Do life experiences change us? My answer would be a resounding “Yes.” Sheryl Sandberg recently wrote in her essay about losing her husband only  one month ago, she has learned a lot about loss and what to say to others, about some practical things, and that resilience can be learned, that connections to others change, and she has learned gratitude. If she can learn all those things in one month, just think what we’ve learned in two years, or ten! The writer of the article notes, she has changed throughout the time during which she’s been watching “Mad Men,” yet she believes she is the same person. She acknowledges that there is no clear yes or no answer to the question “can people change?”

In my humble opinion, I am not the same person as I was when I was in college, or since I had children and grandchildren, or since my parents have grown old and my father has died, or since some close friends have died. Those experiences have changed me in more than superficial ways. Perhaps my college friends I haven’t seen in decades would say I haven’t changed (except to have aged), but I know I have. Some events have softened me and others have made me tougher; I’ve learned a lot about myself and realized what is most important to me in life. The question is not whether people can change, rather how much can people change and what sorts of circumstances lead to those changes? If we look at the OCEAN traits, where can we find significant areas of change?

Openness: sometimes called intellect. Although someone may be open on some areas to new experiences, they may be less open on others. Again, in my opinion and based on personal observation, once someone is introduced to a new activity or lives through a momentous event, he/she can become more open. A trip, meeting a person of another culture, having an accident — many events can open one up beyond one’s usual approach.

Conscientiousness: High scores on conscientiousness indicate a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior. I think the operative word here is preference. We may want things to be planned, but life teaches us that plans usually have to be changed. We plan to have the baby after we graduate, but the baby comes early; we plan for the movers to deliver our furniture on a particular day, but they come much later; we plan to surprise someone with a special ticket to a concert, but they get sick the day before. If we’re rigid, we’ll be stuck over and over. Eventually we learn that we can’t control the world.

Extraversion: The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Even though I think this is one of the traits that is toughest to change, traumatic and/or extraordinary events can change one’s approach to the world in either direction. We know people withdraw under certain circumstances. I think, under the right conditions, people can also be drawn out and become more willing to participate.

Agreeableness: Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. On a large scale we know that strongly prejudiced people can have conversion events in which they become aware that their biases were based on false premises. There are also breakthrough moments when a person may realize that he/she cares enough about another to want to be more agreeable. Conversely, there can be major events that cause one to lose faith in others. (Bernie Maddoff may have caused a few of these changes.)

Neuroticism: Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. This may take a lifetime to change, but with regular and steady good outcomes, can change.

I haven’t applied these to “DM” because I am certain you can all do that as well as I can.

When it comes to literature, I can state unequivocally that most, if not all, great works of literature emphasize characters changing in some form. When I think back on the earliest novels, such as Pamela by Samuel Richardson, or Don Quixote by Cervantes, the characters are on missions to make changes in themselves or in the world. Indeed Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s tales were meant to be stories of warning, political commentary, and philosophical messages that would bring about change through shining a light on the authorities of the time. Presumably, those authorities would recognize the absurdity in some of their rules and laws and have some sort of insight into themselves. In terms of personality traits, many characters want to change to improve their chances to capture the hearts of someone they love. Don Quixote loves Dulcinea although he realizes he’s dreaming about her loving him back. Pamela is first the victim of her employer’s lust and then the victim of his guilt and desire to win her love despite their different social status.

The novel that perhaps has the most to say about someone changing is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Why does Kafka have his protagonist become a large beetle? It has a lot to do with personality changes, both those of Gregor Samsa and those of his family. And he is quite convincing that people can change!

Across cultures, across time, and across genres, change in how people behave, how they approach the world, and how they manage their fates has always been a prominent theme.

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that all of these personality traits are on a continuum, just as the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test demonstrated. Our personality traits fluctuate along the continuum and are not fixed.

I hope I’ve addressed what Santa was asking. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say about this topic. Also, I hope to have a chance to write several more posts in the near future. My internet connection should be repaired by tomorrow afternoon, fingers crossed, and I’ll be better able to post more in less time. Thank you for sticking with me!


Originally posted 2015-06-07 11:04:56.

25 thoughts on “Immutable Personality Traits Plus

  1. Maria

    Thank you, Karen, for this thought-provoking post. I find the question of whether people can “change” endlessly fascinating. For me the first question is, what does “change” mean, exactly? I don’t think we would say about someone who has gotten taller, for instance, that they have “changed”. So what changes – their behavior? beliefs? values? But since many of these changes are active choices to change (for instance, someone decides to start exercising), where does that come from? Why does one person change in a certain way and another not?

    To follow up on your statement: “Some events have softened me and others have made me tougher; I’ve learned a lot about myself and realized what is most important to me in life.
    I think that is certainly true for all of us – thankfully, since otherwise we wouldn’t be any smarter at 50 than we were at 5! The key for me here is “I’ve learned a lot about myself”. What I think happens is that our basic personality exists, that we can come to know it better, understand our motivations and feelings, and by bringing these to consciousness gain options over how we respond to and react to things. In that regard, yes, people can definitely change. I think many people would say the same thing you do here – “perhaps my college friends…would say I haven’t changed…but I know I have.” To me that says that people’s basic personality is the way it is. But that doesn’t mean what they do within the structure of personality is unchangeable.

    So I guess I see some truth in the original statement that “You can change your reaction to things, you can change your behavior to the people around you, you can become different enough that you seem different, but underneath it all, you are still you.” I do think you are still you. But you don’t necessarily only superficially change your reaction to things; with experience, reflection, therapy, whatever, your reaction actually becomes different.

    Just one more thought for whatever it’s worth: I don’t think I can think of a single person I’ve known over time about whom I would say they have totally “changed”. They may have grown, become more responsible, less worried, more serious – any of the many things in which people incorporate life’s changes, but they don’t seem like a different person.

  2. Post author

    Maria, thanks for the comment. I think my remarks about learning more about myself ended up sounding rather trite. What I meant by writing that is that not only have I learned much over the course of my life, as everyone ought to be able to say, but that the mistakes I made earlier in life in terms of how I treated others or how competitive I was for grades, winning, being the best, have been altered and differently prioritized. I still want to do my best under most circumstances, but being recognized means so much less to me now than it once did. I’m much more secure now, I think. That may not always happen with age. For me, though, it is a fundamental change that makes me a different person, and not one who just behaves differently.

    I guess that is the key question…what does it take to become a different person? I do know people who seem very different from what they were before, but do they feel different themselves? We are born with a set of genes and predispositions, most of which we cannot change. But I would contend that we can and do change constitutionally and at our core in response to various stresses and conditions. The studies that have been done to refute the establishment of the five immutable personality traits seem to bear this out.

    I don’t mean to be too insistent on this. We’re just exchanging opinions here. I’m so glad you’re still reading the blog!!

  3. Linda D.

    Hi Karen,
    Yes, I am back after an amazing, (much too short), visit to London and Port Isaac and area. Of course, Port Isaac was my favorite. Some of my pictures are on Facebook groups: Doc Martin Series 7 Spoilers and Discussion, Doc Martin Series 7 Spoiler’s Group, Doc Martin (Martin Clunes) Fan Club, Martin Clunes – Doc Martin Fan Group, Caroline Catz News and Talk ,and Doc Martin’s Cornwall. You would enjoy these groups I think! I told a lot of people about this blog too! I was SO lucky to meet most of the cast and get pictures. It was a fluke that I met a member of the crew who actually took me down to where they were filming! I had to carry 3 trays of coffee. It rained the only other day they planned to film outdoors so I was SO thankful. I did see some of the cast wandering around the village when not filming and had fun sleuthing out locations I heard about. My Facebook Page is Linda Flavelle Dwyer if you want to peek at photos! I’ll “friend” you!

    It is good to see the blog up and running again! This is a very thought provoking topic. I believe we CAN change and often do when we don’t like who we are or are made to feel we don’t measure up in the opinions of others. Having said that, I think we are born with certain genes and predispositions which help or hinder our attempts at change. I certainly have changed because of aging, experiencing many things, and because of education. I often “wish” to change myself and sometimes try, but not always successfully. I suppose I will die trying to be a better person!
    I think as a society, we have a hard time accepting people as they are – always thinking that someone needs changing. Here in Canada, we have just this week seen news stories about The Commission on Truth and Reconciliation which investigated and reported back to government about Indian Residential Schools – where native children were taken away from their villages, and families to be educated, by mainly churches. They were dressed as white children, not allowed to speak their native languages, and were kept from their families for long periods of time. They were abused physically, emotionally, and sexually and the results have tainted generations of First Nations People. As older teens they returned to their homes not sure of who they were, filled with shame, and having no experience of being raised in a family by parents. It has been described as “cultural genocide”. These individuals have experienced poverty, violence, mental illness, substance abuse, failing to be educated or trained, and an inability to overcome their issues for the benefit of their own kids.
    So, I wonder if in trying to change ourselves or others, while ignoring what you call “immutable personality traits”, sometimes leads us in wrong directions. Maybe if we were to know ourselves better, and accept who we are meant to be, we might experience real and lasting change just by being ourselves and playing that role well.

  4. Post author

    Welcome back Linda! Back home and back to the blog. I have seen your photos on some of the Facebook sites. You managed to meet quite a few cast members in one day. Thank you for mentioning this blog too.

    I really like your comments about the trials of the Canadian Indians. American Indians weren’t treated much differently here in the U.S. But that example makes a good point about change. We’ve seen numerous examples of babies being taken from their parents and brought up in wealthy environments and they thrived in their homes while still potentially feeling like they didn’t belong somehow. This sort of thing seems to indicate that genes are the most important element in determining our personalities, but that environment, etc. has a strong influence as well.

    I agree that we shouldn’t always feel that we have to change. The main concern is whether it is possible to change if one wants to. Accepting who we are is important to me too, however, if how we manage our lives conflicts with trying to interact with others, we may find it essential to modify our behavior. We got into this discussion because Ruth tells Martin he needs to change if he wants Louisa to stay with him. The key thing he needs to change, according to Ruth, is his belief that he deserves to be loved by Louisa. Is it possible for him to believe he deserves Louisa? Does that require him to change something so integral to who he is that it can’t be changed? That is the question.

  5. Santa Traugott

    I do want to respond, but am thinking still and now running off to a class. Your last question (in the reply to Linda) is really striking as well.

    Meanwhile — Hazel Markus, a social psychologist, said once “self is a verb.” Meaning, I think, that there are different selves in different contexts and different interactions. I think that fits in here somewhere — haven’t quite got it parsed yet.

  6. Maria

    Linda, your trip sounds fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing your pics – love the one of you and the Doc : ).

    Karen, I didn’t think our comments about learning more about yourself sounded trite at all. I think we are basically on the same page about the fact that people certainly change over time, although to what degree that constitutes a change in our fundamental selves is not so clear (at least to me). One thing that strikes me about the OCEAN traits is that they don’t seem parallel to me. For instance, extraversion/introversion seems to me to be pretty fixed. Since it’s useful in many situations to be extraverted, people can acquire “learned extraversion”, but I doubt that that changes their basic nature. Acquiring more ‘openness’, on the other hand, I think would be easier to achieve either through circumstance or even just by deciding that it would be a more interesting way to live.

    Your main question, though, is, “is it possible for him [Martin] to believe he deserves Louisa or whether that requires him to change something so integral to who he is that it can’t be changed?” To me, the answer to that is pretty clear: yes it’s certainly possible, but not without therapy. His not believing he deserves Louisa is just one manifestation of a whole personality construct and set of defenses that I think are impossible to change simply by willing them to be different. Of course he could just tell himself that yes, he does deserve her, but I don’t think he can REALLY believe it without working through some of his unconscious beliefs with professional help. I think he would be a good candidate for therapy, though – he is motivated, smart, and has the capacity for insight. Personally, I’d love a “Martin Goes to Therapy” show, but I’m weird that way, and I’m quite sure the show will not go in that direction!

  7. Santa Traugott

    I’m going to take the position that people can and do change and that it may be easier than we think. Although, a lot depends on how you define change, and what it is that is changing. I am going to answer from the position of a therapist (Abby may have a somewhat different take, it’s fair to say.)

    I raised the subject in the first place because I think the series itself asks that question, always implictly and sometimes explicitly. It is clear that it is to be the pivot point of S7.

    First of all, I was astonished to hear Aunt Ruth, a psychiatrist, tell Louisa in S5, that people don’t change. It’s true that psychiatrists see a lot of people with chronic, persistent and severe mental illness, e.g., schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Here they are managing meds and trying to alleviate symptoms, with no thought of affecting a “cure” per se — much as diabetes and AIDS are managed. So AR may be biased. These illnesses have a heavy genetic component, although we don’t quite know the mechanisms yet. For sure, complicated. Martin doesn’t have any of these (although sometimes he has looked to some, as somewhere on the autistic spectrum).

    Then there’s another class of disorders “of clinical interest.” These are episodes of depression, of generalized anxiety, or any other anxiety disorder, e.g., phobias, social anxiety; obsessive-compulsive disorder. Presumably, these are treatable disorders, from which people can recover. People get over phobias, even hemophobias. Episodes of depression resolve. social anxiety diminishes, people can learn to deal with generalized anxiety, and it can diminish. These are real changes, even if just returning to a more ‘normal” baseline. Some of these disorders have a genetic component. I’m pretty sure that people prone to anxiety disorders, and perhaps depressive episodes, will turn out to be “wired” in such a way that they are more susceptible to environmental influences that trigger these. They may, to a certain extent, always have to “manage” their disorder. I’m pretty sure that we’ll see that Martin’s depression has resolved in S7, and he’s back to his normally abrasive and socially clueless self.

    There’s another dimension of problematic mental health, and that is what is generally called (used to be called?) personality (or character) disorders. These are people who are seemingly locked into a constellation of personality traits, which make them not adapt very well to their environment. They don’t function very well, unless they happen to find the right niche. ( Often they do find it. ) Here, there are such concepts as the narcissistic personality (grandiose, entitled, lacking in empathy for others, deeply insecure), the anti-social personality disorder (e.g., sociopath); obsessive-compulsive personality (here’s where I would put Martin, if absolutely forced to pick a category), and so on. Perhaps the basis of these is the OCEAN list of wired attributes that Karen lists, but they have gone a bit haywire and gotten rigidly adapted in ways that hinder overall functioning. Perhaps at the root is a history of a very troubled or traumatic childhood, or deeply ineffective parenting, maternal bonding gone very wrong, etc. These personality disorders have been considered very difficult to “treat” — usually requiring long term interventions in the form of various kinds of talk therapy. They are thought to be at the core of a person’s self.

    There is gathering evidence, though, that even people with real, diagnosable character disorders can change their way of being in the world, of relating to their self and to others, without years of deep treatment. This comes from the recognition that a large part of dysfunctional behavior stems from dysfunctional thinking, and that the road to character change is through making conscious the automatic thoughts that accompany and drive inappropriate behaviors, and helping someone to reframe these in more realistic ways. So, slightly rewording Karen’ts question, do we have to have long-term therapy to accomplish the personality change that makes Martin feel like he does “deserve” Louisa, my answer is “no.”

    Going back a step: Martin’s character or deepest view of himself, seems to stem from disastrous parenting, that has left him with the idea that somehow he is unworthy of being loved, and is in some mysterious way, “bad.” There is no other explanation to a child of maternal abuse — the idea that he/she simply has a bad mother that doesn’t love them, and won’t keep them safe, being an annihilating thought, beyond contemplation. Hence, he thinks he is unworthy of being happy, and finds some way to sabotage every avenue that seems to bring him happiness — his surgical career, his marriage. It’s a strange kind of repetition compulsion, really at the core of his “self.”

    But I don’t think he needs years of psychoanalytic therapy to address this. A skilled therapist could help him bring these thoughts into the forefront of his mind, make them less automatic and more observable. Then help him work out, with his adult cognitive skills as opposed to his childish formulations, what the reality of the situation is. It would not be a breeze — I don’t mean to give that impression — it would require helping him recognizing the pervasiveness of these thoughts in many situations, teaching him each time how to reframe, supporting attempts to change behavior based on the new more realistic thought, etc.

    The reason that “session” with Aunt Ruth was so powerful and potentially life-changing was that it brought this thought — “I don’t deserve her” to the forefront for the first time, and I think he got a quick glimpse of how damaging that thought was, and also, how unrealistic.

    A good therapist might in fact, after a few preliminaries, start there, and begin working with him on that thought.

    My mind is whirling around, lots more to say, but way too long now. ‘Random thoughts:

    Briefly — yes, the best literature deals with change and the possibility of change, and the most satisfying dramas are those in which the character does ultimately learn and grow — the saddest are those, (it seems to me) when this doesn’t happen, and the character suffers as a result. And doesn’t Greek tragedy itself suggest that our suffering comes from fate itself, which cannot be undone or changed?

    OCEAN traits: the relationship between”wiring” and environment is very complicated. They are finding that genetic material often offers potentialities, which require some trigger to be expressed or suppressed. Very few things can be said to be directly determined by genes, even fewer by just one or two genes. I think, though, that certain potentials, for anxiety, depression, extroversion, etc., definitely are wired.

  8. Post author

    Once again, it looks like we all mostly agree that it is possible for someone to change in both superficial and core ways. It’s my turn to say that I want to give you a fuller reply soon, however, I am very grateful to you for clarifying the various categories and giving us a therapist’s view.

    Just one thing…I, too, thought it was strange to have Ruth say that people don’t change even though she usually treats the criminally insane. (I understand that pedophilia, and some other disorders, are pretty intransigent.) As I said some time ago, she told Caroline during her radio interview that she wouldn’t have spent her life as a therapist if she didn’t believe it works. As a therapist I would be surprised if you weren’t pretty convinced that what you were doing would make a difference and change people in valuable and significant ways.

    Thanks so much for your comments.

  9. Abby

    Gosh, there is so much I’d like to say about this topic, but I am limited on time. It seems that we are asking the age old question: is it nature or nurture? I have always thought it is both, and research points to the dance between the two as not very straight forward.

    For example, yes, we are born with a defined set of genes. However, attached to these genes are proteins known as epigenes which control the expression of those genes. And, these epigenes are affected by the environment. There have been studies of women who exhibit PTSD-like smptoms who have never suffered a traumatic event. What they have found is a change in their epigenetic material, which is a result of trauma experienced by their grandmothers. This is amazing stuff! (I think I have it mostly right, but forgive me if I have erred round the edges.) So, even though our genetic material is important to who we are, it is more complex than we once thought.

    I do believe that some people are born with nervous systems that are more sensitive than average. Why this is so is probably a combination of genes, epigenes, and the intrauterine environment. But, people with very sensitive nervous systems are more susceptible to adverse experiences, especially in their early years. So, for example, it doesn’t take much to cause a sensitive child to conclude they are not deserving.

    Which brings me to Martin. This belief, “I don’t deserve Louisa/to be a surgeon/happiness, you name it, is learned. He was not born with it, although, as a sensitive child he would have been more susceptible to an abusive environment than others. But, knowing his parents, any child of theirs would likely have concluded the same types of things. Another child, however, might have become a criminal or a substance abuser or committed suicide. It shows a great deal of character to have turned out as well as he has given the circumstances of his childhood (as dysfunctional as he is).

    Lastly, I’d like to say that the brain is very plastic. We can actually rewire our brains through mindfulness and changing our environment. Brain research is exploding, and the more I learn, the more optimistic I have become that people can change if they want to. The core person may remain, but profound changes can and do take place. As a therapist, I have always believed that, but I am heartened by what we have learned from brain science just in that last few years.

  10. Post author

    Thanks Abby. I have also read a lot about the plasticity of the brain and how so much of our previous notions about the brain are being revised. If you get a chance at some point, I’d love to read more of your thoughts on this topic.

    I am always at pains to make sure we keep ourselves from conflating the fictional characters with people in the real world. Therefore, I want to slightly modify what you say about ME having turned out so well. What we should probably say is that in this show ME is depicted as doing better than most under the circumstances we’ve been given, and that they want us to see that he has a great deal of character. As a therapist, perhaps you might be impressed by how he has turned out? What we are doing with all of our analyses is thinking in terms of how we can apply what we’ve been given about these characters and extrapolate to how this could work in the real world. It’s a worthwhile exercise because it is helpful to us to think about it and possibly use it in our own lives and because we can consider whether what they’ve done with the characters is in line with reality.

    So far, so good!

  11. Abby

    Yes, sorry, Karen! I am aware that we are dealing with a fictional character even though my wording didn’t indicate it. In real life a person with the background of ME could turn out the way BP has portrayed him….or not. Given his high powered family, he might very well have decided to outdo his father and grandfather in order to have a sense of self-worth. Or he might have completely rejected his family and chosen a path contradictory to their values. Sort of like Joan did. Or he might have completely given up, fallen into a deep depression, and never achieved his potential. It is also possible that he would commit suicide. But, as I said, I think it is fairly realistic that he would turn out the way BP has portrayed him: successful professionally while emotionally stunted.

    In real life, a person such as ME would likely not seek therapy, because he would view it as threatening. He also lacks insight and so would be unlikely to think there was anything wrong with him. It would take a life event of enough magnitude to shake him to his core to propel him to seek help. Of course, in the show that event is the real possibility of losing Louisa and James.

    I will be interested in how the marital therapy is handled on the show. Personally, given the depth of his problems, I don’t think marital therapy could effect much in the way of profound change. It might, however, help him develop some insight and make enough behavioral changes to save the marriage, IF Louisa is able to accept him as he is. She is far too emotionally reactive with him. She also needs to be very concrete and direct in expressing her wants and needs to him. As has been said before, he doesn’t do subtle.

  12. Santa Traugott

    That’s how I see it too. He just is not going to “do” conventional therapy, unless it is presented as virtually lifesaving or the ONLY way to save his marriage. Even so, if he started, it would take him quite a while to fully invest in the process, and there would be a lot of resistance. He would set it up so that he would make little progress, and then blame the therapist/therapy itself. It would require a skilled therapist, for sure, to keep him engaged and actually get him to look at some of the ways that his defensive armor is dysfunctional for him and to think about disarming even a bit.

    We saw that played out in the brief interaction with Dr. Milligan (who really rushed things, I do have to say).

    We have to hope that marriage counseling will be enough to make the behavioral changes necessary to salvage his marriage. I think it may be helpful in explaining enough of how he functions to Louisa so that she finds it easier to come to terms with who he is, and she may also get some guidance in dealing with him, in the ways that you suggest. I hope Aunt Ruth’s advice is trenchant in that respect also.

    It’s less clear to me what Martin will get out of marriage guidance (there are hints from MC that “he won’t like it”). Perhaps it will help Louisa explain to him, in unambiguous terms, what she needs from him, and what has gone wrong. I have a hope that it will help in equalizing the burden of blame for the deterioration of their marriage — that it’s not all Martin’s doing. Maybe Louisa acknowledging her own contributions to their dysfunction will make him feel less like a whipped dog. Truly, I would like to see him gain back enough sense of his own “self-worth” to be able to state clearly what HE needs from Louisa.

    OK, we are officially off-track here. But this is catnip to me.

  13. Post author

    You are both great!

    In my mind what they will probably do is continue to have Martin be awkward and resistant while also wanting to appeal to Louisa and make her happy, kind of like what’s been happening all along until he struggled in S6 to carry on. The scenes we’ve had pictures of at the beach with them having a picnic comport with that. He makes an effort to have a family outing, isn’t really that comfortable with it but tries, has to be calmed at times, yet does his best to make it work. I would have to assume the idea of going on a picnic was generated by the marriage counselor after hearing from Louisa that she’d like to do more as a family. She needs him to demonstrate how much he’s willing to make exceptions for her.

    I have to believe that they will come up with some major event that will cause Martin and Louisa to work together. The upshot will be they will realize they work well as a team and care about many of the same things. So, he won’t like the therapy sessions, and he’ll be difficult in some ways, but ultimately the two of them will end up having some sort of cathartic moment that brings them together.

  14. Santa Traugott

    Working together as a team — when push comes to shove, they’ve always done it. They are at bottom, a team, and they need each other. I agree that there will be a catalytic moment where they operate in crisis as a team once again, and this time, the significance of their ability to do that and the strength of their bond, really dawns on them. Beside that, most of the other stuff that troubles them, really diminishes in importance.

    Personally, I think it’s a crisis with Ruth’s health that’s going to bring them together.

  15. Linda D.

    What a great and informative response. MINDFULNESS! I love this idea and am trying hard to practice it. I too believe that we can do a lot for ourselves by being mindful and trying to shut out the negative thoughts. I have now learned about “epigenes” and was thoroughly fascinated by your explanation! We are so lucky to have you in this group.
    Brain research is such a fascinating thing and it will be excited to see what new research finds.

    Great post Abby!

  16. Santa Traugott

    Well, on the FB Spoilers page (Connie’s, not Leanne’s) someone has posted a picture of the marriage therapist. She appears to be in her early 20’s, and apparently makes house calls.

  17. Maria

    omg – a therapist in her early 20’s working with Martin?? And house calls to boot? I didn’t really expect them to treat this topic totally seriously, since it is, after all, a TV show designed to entertain, but this sounds to me as if they’re definitely going for the laughs at the expense of any kind of realism.

    Linda, I wanted to just make one small clarification which hopefully will make mindfulness easier for you. Actually, the goal of mindfulness (to the extent mindfulness can even be said to have a goal) is not to push away negative thoughts, or any thoughts, for that matter. Mindfulness is about just observing your thoughts as they float by, whether they are happy, sad, angry, neutral, or anything else, without judging them or trying to change or control them.

    The great thing about this that I’ve found is that eventually you find it working in daily life even without actively trying to and it lets you observe your reactions to things and making a decision about how you want to respond.

  18. Abby

    I think what Maria is talking about is mindfulness meditation, which is a type of meditative practice. There are many forms of meditation, and mindfulness meditation is a very good one.

    More generally, mindfulness is about being aware of whatever the present moment brings, whether thoughts, emotions, body sensations, or anything we perceive through our senses. The idea is to not judge or even think about any of it….not to latch onto any of it, but just to accept whatever the present moment brings.

    Sometimes people confuse this kind of acceptance with passivity, but they are not the same. Passivity creates an immobilization, which prevents us from working to change our circumstances. Acceptance of the present moment says, “This is what my current reality is, and it’s futile to argue with what already is. But I can mobilize myself to make the next ‘present moment’ more to my liking.”

    I hope that helps. If any of you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, I suggest the audiobook version of “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. He is an excellent teacher on this topic.

  19. Linda

    Thanks Maria! I see your point clearly. It is such a great thing – mindfulness. If everyone was mindful, the world would seem a softer place. Thanks.

  20. Linda

    I think that the “Martin does not believe he deserves Louia” theory is at the heart of the issue for him. As many of you have said so well, that belief is but one manifestation of Martin’s over-all feelings that he was a “bad” child or that he didn’t deserve to be loved. So deep are the wounds of his childhood that turning things around with Louisa will be very difficult. He has to “see” how his behaviour affects his relationships. Louisa MUST spell it out in a gentle way which will make him realize she is rooting for him and not just being critical. She has to be calmer and less reactive when dealing with him. Their ways of communicating with one another is at the crux of their dysfunction. They do not understand each other. They do not know about each other’s early lives or about people, places and events which shaped them. Understanding will come if they can be open with one another. Then, I believe, they will know better how to “change” in order to be better spouses and parents.

  21. Laura H

    So many great posts on the subject of whether M and L can change! Thank you, Karen, for spawning this topic and making so many great observations about the possibility of change. And the replies by everyone are so thought-provoking. It might be a likely guess that BP will go for the humor in counseling for M and L. Maybe that is what the audience is expecting…some comic relief from Series 6?
    I wonder how M and L would answer the question in counseling of what are your needs…what is not being met by the other person? Martin might be unable to give an answer to a question like that for fear of Louisa’s snap reaction, likely laced with criticism and defense. Does Louisa know what she wants? Martin is confused by her on more than one occasion and says he doesn’t think she knows what she wants. Evidence from past scenes tells us that she was attracted to M from her great respect for him as a physician and his “stick of rock” character. What we get time and again about Louisa is that she needs romance…Elanore laughs and says of Louisa, “You’re such a romantic.” Louisa reads fairytales to the children, could envision a wedding with horse-drawn coach, and can admire Penhale’s deception of his ex-wife as being based on romance.
    Viewing S4, ep3 recently, somehow I had missed M’s ability…or at least past ability…for passion and something akin to romance. He wrote a poem for Edith back in their first time together: “On my own no more, the beat of my heart echoes in time with another, and now sore with longing, it runs like a child to its mother.” This is romantic stuff:). Also maybe telling of Martin’s vulnerabilities? Would poetry written to Louisa give her the romance she needs and reveal some of what she needs to know about M? Would it give Martin a buffer to assuage his fear of expressing his feelings more directly? This wanders a bit from the question of change. Maybe change doesn’t have to be adding an aspect not there but enhancing or building on one that could be developed?

  22. Post author

    Laura, it’s so nice to hear from you again. Your observations about Louisa are very astute; she does mention romance several times. It seems that despite characterizing Louisa as an independent, strong female, they have thrown in several references to her softer side. She really does crave some affection from Martin. On the one hand she knows he’s not very good at showing his feelings, while on the other hand, she’d like him to overtly demonstrate how much he loves her from time to time. It’s not surprising that she needs that now and then; we all do.

    I found it quite unusual that Martin had written a poem to Edith. I haven’t decided if that was thrown in there to be amusing, or if the words should be interpreted as another reference to his longing for a mother, or possibly Edith was Martin’s first real love experience and, as a novice, he thought writing a poem was what one should do. When Edith reminds him of it, he barely reacts so it’s hard to know what to make of it.

    I think we can say he has definitely changed from the days when he wrote a poem to his love interest. What we know is that he was a sensitive little boy whose sensitive side was trampled by his parents and that when it came out again as an adult, it was squashed again when Edith left. Maybe we can say he learned his lesson and that is one of the reasons he holds back too much now. The difference to me is that this time Louisa and he decided to marry after trials and tribulations. She’s committed herself to him and this should be a dream come true for him. Instead it’s become a quandary to deal with. But here we are still talking about it. Mission accomplished!

  23. Amy Cohen

    I think I’ve stated my views on whether we—any of us—can change before. I firmly believe that we not only do change as you describe, Karen, over time and as we experience different phases in our lives, but that we can change deliberately—usually through some kind of therapy. We may not change our basic personality, but we can definitely change how we interact with others and how we control our impulses. Otherwise, the whole notion of cognitive therapy would be a hoax. And I’ve know too many people who have been helped by it to believe that it is a hoax!

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