Updated: Aug 11, 2021
A Leopard Can’t Change Its Spots.
If ever there was a wholly untrue and misleading phrase, it was this. The problem with proverbs is that we simply accept them without question, and some of them, such as this one about how people are stuck rigidly in their behaviour patterns and personalities, are incredibly limiting and restrictive. How many times have you heard this adage and nodded internally, understanding it to be the case? How often have you spoken these words in relation to another person, fully believing that we are all destined to stay exactly as we are until the day we die?
At the age of fifteen, an eating disorder began to take hold over me. For the next seven years, it imprisoned me in its grip and governed virtually every waking thought I had. I would weigh myself multiple times every day, and starve myself for as long as I could manage before I was forced to eat something to ward off a fainting episode. If I ever did cave in and binge eat, I would then make myself sick, and promptly resume the self-imposed hunger strike once again. For most of my adult life up until my early forties, I was living with PTSD (unknowingly for much of that time) and the effects this had on me were numerous and significant: I drank excessively for years, partly because I was terrified of being in a house alone; I broke out in a sweat and suffered panic attacks whenever I was triggered by events that mentally took me back to the attack to which I was subjected - the attack that caused the PTSD; I sincerely believed that the attack had been my fault and that I did not deserve to be happy because of it. This in turn led to me self-sabotaging all aspects of my life, but especially my relationships.
From the age of thirteen up to thirty-five, I binge drank regularly because I felt compelled to self-medicate my low self-esteem, non-existent confidence and depression. The cycle in which I became trapped, of drinking to relieve the very problems caused by my drinking, felt as though it would hold me fast forever, that I would never break free from my self-destructive behaviour, and that I was destined to live my life that way until I met my (no doubt) premature death.
But finally, and thankfully, I arrived at the conclusion that I had to change the course of my life. So I quit drinking alcohol, and began the long walk of change on an entirely new and initially terrifying path.
Becoming accustomed to (and staying on) this new path took time, continual effort and determination, and a blind faith that whatever the future version of me looked like was worth fighting for, because the life I lived where all my ‘issues’ were running the show was proving too awful to endure any longer.
Eventually, I crossed a very noticeable line and found myself in new territory; contentment, self-worth and something called happiness.
Life has not been wholly plain sailing since I set to work on myself, but it has been characterised by a steady and very noticeable upward trajectory of brighter mood, greater personal responsibility, deeper fulfilment and tons more self-belief. With every challenge that I have faced has come the opportunity to learn something new, feel my emotions, tackle my fears and insecurities, and tread - sometimes with huge amounts of effort and feeling scared stiff of the outcome - into an exciting unknown. Life has subsequently turned into an adventure and a journey that I now relish and love deeply.
When we buy into the idea that a leopard can’t change its spots, we are telling ourselves we cannot change. And this is nonsense.
A good place to begin on your own journey of personal development is to write out a list of all the things that are currently causing you sadness, frustration and worry. What on the list can you work on? How could you reframe challenges so they look more like growth opportunities? How would life look if you stuck to a plan of continual and determined self-improvement? Could you seek help from anyone or anywhere to help you make the changes you are looking to make?
Now you have established what you want to work on, promise yourself you are prepared for stepping out of your comfort zone and into the uncomfortable, the scary and the strange. Because only when we step into this place, are we right in the middle of change and growth.