Introspection: the impact of religion on personality.

Introspection: the impact of religion on personality.

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A friend has recent­ly revived my inter­est in the Myers-Brig­gs per­son­al­i­ty des­ig­na­tions. She’s an ENFP, and I’m an INFJ — experts say that our per­son­al­i­ty types mesh the best, which we find odd­ly fit­ting. She’s one of my old­est friends, the kind of per­son that you can go years with­out see­ing (not for lack of want!) but pick right up where you left off, even if you both have changed con­sid­er­ably. We’ve noticed in our 20-year friend­ship that our enthu­si­asm tends to fuel each oth­er, which makes total sense con­sid­er­ing both of us are NFs (iNtu­itive Feel­ers).

Dur­ing a vis­it a cou­ple of months ago, we were talk­ing about just how dif­fi­cult it can be to nail down your type. She relat­ed to me that she’d strug­gled with iden­ti­fy­ing var­i­ous aspects of her per­son­al­i­ty, as she exhibits dif­fer­ent traits in dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios (work ver­sus home, for exam­ple). This led to a dis­cus­sion about how nature ver­sus nur­ture can affect the devel­op­ment and exhi­bi­tion of per­son­al­i­ty, and I just haven’t been about to stop think­ing about it since.

When I first took the test sev­er­al years ago, I was new­ly mar­ried and still a fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­t­ian in the Ply­mouth Brethren move­ment. As I elab­o­rat­ed in a recent post, Ply­mouth Brethren pride them­selves on being able to sup­press their emo­tions in favour of what they deem to be rea­son (as described by their lit­er­al­ist inter­pre­ta­tion of the Bible). When I was still an assem­bly girl, I was often praised for my thought­ful­ness, lev­el-head­ed­ness, abil­i­ty to study the Bible as I was taught to study it and come to the same con­clu­sions that dis­tin­guished preach­ers came to. Friends from that time often com­mend­ed me for my abil­i­ty to “make the right deci­sion” even if it was hard, usu­al­ly with a bit of awe in their voic­es, as if I were doing great things for God.

I’m not sure if any of these peo­ple real­ly real­ized what was hap­pen­ing. I mean, I cer­tain­ly didn’t. But the real­i­ty is that I was con­stant­ly work­ing to change who I was, fun­da­men­tal­ly, in order to fit the pic­ture of Assem­bly Girl that I was sup­posed to fit. Or, as I’ve said else­where, I was sup­posed to be invis­i­ble so oth­ers could see Jesus. This nec­es­sar­i­ly meant squelch­ing emo­tions, ana­lyz­ing every thought and action, study­ing to prove myself accept­able to God and the author­i­ties He’d placed over me, and get­ting rid of every­thing I thought was com­ing between me and my Lord.

There were two great music purges I went through, throw­ing away lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of dol­lars worth of Chris­t­ian music I felt didn’t hon­or the Lord. I dropped out of my con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian school after decid­ing that my class­mates were too world­ly to be good influ­ences on me. I stopped per­form­ing music pub­licly because I rea­soned that I was tak­ing a lead­er­ship posi­tion by doing such and that wasn’t my place as a woman. I sep­a­rat­ed from friends I felt weren’t as seri­ous about their rela­tion­ship with Christ as I was. I cur­tailed my lan­guage to be total­ly above reproach (unless talk­ing to myself: I saved the most abu­sive lan­guage I knew to describe myself). I spent most of my spare time read­ing my Bible, lis­ten­ing to ser­mons from my fel­low brethren, and grow­ing clos­er to the friends I felt would bring me clos­er to the Lord.

I delib­er­ate­ly sequestered myself from every­thing and every­one that I felt con­vict­ed weren’t pleas­ing to God, no mat­ter how much per­son­al pain it brought me, and I ratio­nal­ized my deci­sions every step of the way with every Bible verse and assem­bly apolo­getic I could think of to jus­ti­fy this gas-light­ing and silenc­ing of my true self.

So…when I first took the Myers-Brig­gs per­son­al­i­ty test, still thor­ough­ly embed­ded in the fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion of my youth, I scored as an INTJ, rather than an INFJ. In ret­ro­spect, it’s no won­der I skewed more heav­i­ly to Think­ing rather than Feel­ing, since I was taught to fear and dis­trust feel­ings. Feel­ings were often con­sid­ered sin­ful, bring­ing guilt and shame, where­as Log­ic (Accord­ing to the Word of God) was holy and true, bring­ing sta­bil­i­ty (sup­pos­ed­ly). I didn’t under­stand that divorc­ing feel­ings from think­ing the way I had been taught to do was utter­ly dam­ag­ing both to myself and oth­ers, not to men­tion rip­ping con­ver­sa­tion­al rhetoric out of its con­text and real­i­ty.

The thing is, I could nev­er total­ly erad­i­cate my Feel­ings. In fact, in some way I acknowl­edged this as I start­ed col­lege and began train­ing for my career as a graph­ic and web design­er. I explained it thus: I had Art Mode and Pro­gram­ming Mode. It was near­ly impos­si­ble to switch from one to the oth­er on a whim, but whichev­er I found myself in would be the medi­um I’d excel in. I jus­ti­fied this to myself by say­ing that I was using my art­work and graph­ic design for the Lord. With­out this jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, I feared that my art­work and design work were just like the feel­ings that fueled my cre­ativ­i­ty: unre­li­able and worth­less. In fact, a big part of the rea­son I allowed myself to go into graph­ic design in the first place was to help spread the gospel with­out being in a lead­er­ship posi­tion, along with being able to have a career that wouldn’t require me to leave my home when I got mar­ried. (Oh, how naive I was!)

As I began to rec­og­nize stunt for my entire life began pour­ing out of me intu­ition that I’d always had but deeply dis­trust­ed kicked into high gear, and I hon­est­ly felt like I was becom­ing an entire­ly new per­son. I kind of think I was becom­ing a new per­son; or rather, I was dis­cov­er­ing who I’ve always been at my core.

It took a while, and I’m still not all the way there, but slow­ly I lev­eled out, became more sure of myself, learned how to iden­ti­fy and express my feel­ings with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly being snow­balled by them. (It’s def­i­nite­ly a work in process, though.)

And to my sur­prise, as I became more con­fi­dent, start­ed set­ting my own bound­aries, express­ing myself and embrac­ing my full per­son­hood feel­ings and all…my faith sim­ply wasn’t able to make the cut.

I feel a bit odd say­ing that. Usu­al­ly it’s not feel­ings that leads one to aban­don the faith of their child­hood. And don’t get me wrong, log­ic and rea­son­ing cer­tain­ly played a rather large part in my decon­ver­sion, a top­ic I hope to con­tin­ue to explore in my writ­ing. But per­haps it was the real­iza­tion that fun­da­men­tal­ism demo­nizes human expe­ri­ence and emo­tion while priz­ing unyield­ing devo­tion to an ancient book (under threat of eter­nal vio­lence) that made me real­ize that Chris­tian­i­ty as I knew it was nei­ther log­i­cal nor safe.

So. When I retook the Myers-Brig­gs test a lit­tle fur­ther into my redis­cov­ery of myself, I was sur­prised to see that while my score for Think­ing vs. Feel­ing was pret­ty even-keeled, Feel­ing won out. And I was amazed and relieved to see myself reflect­ed in the descrip­tion of the INFJ. The INTJ had nev­er quite fit, nev­er quite helped me under­stand myself bet­ter. But now that I’ve shak­en off some of the con­fines of the tox­i­c­i­ty of my reli­gion and am delib­er­ate­ly cog­nizant of pow­er struc­tures and their affect on indi­vid­u­als and cul­tures, I’m very hap­py to have found myself. And I can’t help but won­der in what oth­er ways reli­gion impact­ed my per­son­al­i­ty, and how it might impact the per­son­al­i­ties of its adher­ents — for good or for ill.

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