You’ve probably heard the idea that you resemble the company you keep. This theory appears in several idioms, including “Birds of a feather flock together” and “Water rises to its own level.” What about the claim that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, a quote attributed to motivational speaker Jim Rohn? Is it possible that your personality could change according to your friend group? Or any company you keep?

Let’s take a look at how this idea applies to personality theory.

How important is the company you keep in personality theory?

In personality theories like the Enneagram and the 16-type system developed by Myers and Briggs, the consensus is that your personality stays the same throughout your life. There are different ways your personality may change within your type, however, such as the Enneagram’s growth pathways (arrows of Disintegration and Integration) which represent the behavioral shifts each type makes in certain situations. 

When I think about my personality types (INFJ and Enneagram Type 4), I don’t see much influence in my traits from anyone I spend time with. Do I share some similarities with them? Sure. These similarities could be as simple as a shared love of dry, sarcastic humor or classic cinema. But likes and dislikes don’t equal your personality traits. Looking at my inner circle further, I can pinpoint a thread of general care for humanity. But is the company I keep the reason I am a Counselor personality type? Was I ever not an INFJ? No. I can’t say I was ever a different personality type. Instead, it seems I’ve sought out people with some shared traits because that’s why we get along in the first place!

I don’t think someone can change your entire personality, but I do think it’s possible for your behavior or habits to alter depending on who you’re with.

You may behave differently in varied circumstances

Yes, your behavior is related to your personality type, but that doesn’t mean you don’t adjust your behavior depending on the company you keep and the situation you’re in. A good example is to consider how you behave around your sibling versus your parent. Are you different? Do these people bring traits out in you that are typically dormant?

Perhaps you’re less playful and more stoic with your parents, in-laws, or distant relatives, while you are a bit more humorous and irreverent with your best friends. That’s normal, and a perfectly good example of how your behavior is an ever-changeable thing when you switch your audience.

Examples of changed behavior

I exhibit different habits or behaviors depending on who I hang out with. For instance, when spending time with a friend I’ll call L, I act more giddy, silly, and childlike — which is not my default attitude. I also have a friend, M, who pushes me to look inwardly and express my feelings with her, even though INFJs hate sharing their vulnerabilities with others and tend to avoid it at all costs.

How do your habits and behaviors change around others? In terms of personality type, there isn’t much research on this subject, but I can think of a logical way to look at it. Each person you spend time with has their own personality type, habits, and behaviors. Sometimes, a person you hang out with makes you feel safe, comfortable, and confident. Other times, you may encounter someone who makes you feel insecure, stressed, or uncomfortable. 

Feeling confident or stressed can easily affect your behavior and habits. Do you pull inwardly (like I do) when you’re more stressed? Do you strive to keep the peace or want to flee the situation? 

There are other factors that play into this idea, too. Does someone you spend time with have a more scholarly, intellectual approach? Are they very guarded? Think about how their personality affects your behavior around them. You might be surprised at the answers. Just like life events make you behave a certain way, people can too!

The Enneagram growth pathway as a study

I mentioned that my friend L made me feel playful, but L also makes me uncomfortable sometimes, and I notice the drama surrounding her life is a key factor. As an Enneagram Type 4, I “Disintegrate” to an Enneatype 2, “The Helper.” When this happens, I ignore my own needs and push myself too far in the other direction, overextending my kindness at the cost of my mental and emotional health. I feel more insecure, more closed off, and more dependent on others, which is an odd feeling for an independent INFJ.

This sort of dynamic between two people may feel like your personality is changing, but this is a normal facet of your personality in the Enneagram. Throughout your life, you’ll find yourself Integrating when you’re handling growth and change and Disintegrating when you’re managing uncomfortable stress. Integration and Disintegration are normal parts of you and help you grow; they always exist in the background and will wax and wane through different life events.

There’s no research that proves a person can force you into Integration or Disintegration like life’s circumstances. However, it makes sense that if you let someone’s energy affect you, you may experience a brief (or extended) change in your behavior.

What about the 16-type system?

Can your 16-type personality change depending on who you spend time with? Again, personality type theory asserts that your personality type is set. It’s the same one you were born with and the one you will leave this Earth with. But how can certain traits and habits in your personality type alter when you keep someone's company? 

Not unlike my example of sharing my vulnerabilities with my friend M, your 16-type personality is multi-faceted — just because you are habitually one way doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself another way under the right circumstances. To illustrate, an INFJ who prefers deep, storied connections might find an instant emotional connection with someone and throw all of their caution and prudence to the wind. When this happens, the INFJ will open up to this person, belying their desire to stay private with people they don’t know well.

I’ve been in these circumstances myself, and it always baffles me. Why, when I can't tell my decades-long best friends how I’m feeling, would I feel the need to reveal my life’s story to someone I don’t know well? 

Behaviors and habits can exist in flux depending on who you’re with, but that doesn’t mean your personality has changed. Instead, look at it more as an exception to the general rule. You have several facets to your personality, and even if one appears to contradict your Enneatype or 16-type personality, it may exist as a stress reaction or as an indication of growth.

In summary

Your personality type doesn't change depending on the company you keep, but you might notice that you engage in different behaviors or develop different habits around certain people. It’s normal to take on varied facets of your personality (which you may or may not know exist) when you spend time with specific people. Each person may bring something unique out in you, whether you realize it’s happening or not.

What’s most important is that you take a tally of your relationships and make sure none of them are harmful to you. Good relationships are reciprocal. You should help each other grow and live to your fullest self, whatever that means to you.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.