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Posts Tagged ‘biochemistry’


In the first chapter of his book, Introverts in the Church, Adam McHugh left introversion (and extroversion) undefined. He aims to rectify that in the second chapter of his book. He approaches it both psychologically and scientifically (yes, you read that right), and then identifies some people in the Scriptures he thinks are introverted.

Before we go any farther it is better to think of both introversion and extroversion as continuums. You can be more or less introverted (extroverted). This means it is not a uniform experience for all who fall into the categories.

He begins with noting that inside of each of us a little Freud and a little Jung battle for our soul. He’s kidding, of course. Freud considered introversion unhealthy pre-occupation with the self on the slippery slide to narcissism (let’s ignore the fact that extroverts can be narcissistic). This means it is just plain bad. So, people who are introverted can feel shame about, as though there is something wrong with them.

Carl Jung, on the other hand, thought both introversion and extroversion were normal and healthy. Sadly he sees this as part of his collective consciousness theory. I think he defines it well even if he gets the source of it wrong. He was, generally speaking, far more optimistic about humanity and less sex-obsessed than Freud. One primary way of thinking about introversion is that one gains power from the self (rather being alone), while extroverts gain power from others (rather being with others).

The nature vs. nurture debate emerges as well. Freud saw these traits as the result of nurture. Jung saw them as hardwired into us, the result of nature. Either way, you can blame your parents (okay, just kidding).

“Introverts are targets for a variety of misguided arrows: we are shy, reserved, aloof, reclusive, melancholic, self-absorbed, passive, timid, social rejects, misanthropes, and the list goes on.”

McHugh notes that they are not so much categories as two separate forces within each of us. We all have a capacity for looking in, and one for looking out. We have them in differing measures. He sees them as a preference, just like handedness. I’m left-handed. I write, eat, throw etc. with my left hand. When I started to play guitar I was advised to play left handed, that way my dominant hand would made the chords. Still didn’t feel right. One of my sons is a lefty, but he throws righty. We thought he was going to be ambidextrous, but he does most things lefty. But a few righty. So you have a preference, but it isn’t absolute. The degree of introversion (extroversion) may be influenced by family and culture.

In Jung’s theory, as developed by Myers-Briggs, this duality is part of a constellation of factors that “work together to shape how we act.” The other dualities are sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, judging (structure)-perceiving (flexibility/spontaneity). So, no two introverts are identical. They may take in the world in different ways, make decisions on different criteria and need different environments to work.

Back to introversion. “Introverts are energized by solitude.” As he notes we are charged from the inside out. It may be completely alone or with a few good friends. But time in crowds are draining. Extroverts need interaction with others to gain energy. Along time drains them. They don’t make good monks.

These, again, aren’t absolute. I gain energy from alone time. But eventually I need to use that energy. Eventually I need to be with people. Each year I’m home alone for about a week while the rest of the family is on vacation. The first few days are great. Then it is not so great. I need social interaction that I’m not getting at home. So I’ll invite people over or go out a few times. Not every night mind you.

Introverts tend to process things internally. Our minds are often incredibly busy places. We need to filter information, and can experience sensory overload. I never liked studying in libraries, and can’t work at a coffee shop. I’m too distracted by all that is going on. Introverts and extroverts have different filtering systems.

I do have times when I have to process thoughts externally. I’ll talk them over with my wife or a friend. I’ll blog them. These help me think they through for when I finally express my ideas in my vocation. Sometimes I’ll just talk to myself or use a white board. Just because we aren’t making noise doesn’t mean our minds aren’t busy places.

It is helpful to understand these things about yourselves in order to avoid “introvert overload” and think there is something wrong with you, or get angry with others. One reason (among many) I don’t do conferences is introvert overload. I find that I am wiped out near the end and just want to be alone. When I go to General Assembly, I try to find time to be alone as well as with my closest friends.

Introverts tend to prefer to depth over breadth. I have a few very close friendships, or at least did. Being a pastor is difficult and I don’t live near my closest friends. If you are friends with an extrovert, you can often misunderstand the relationship and put too much of a burden on them. Many/most of your relational needs may be met in that relationship, but they are seeking to meet those needs in many relationships. This can lead to a sense of betrayal. Introverts can set themselves up for this if they don’t understand the relational dynamic.

Introverts also like to understand a few things deeply. Extroverts seem to prefer to know a little about a lot. Again, not absolute. At times I will drill down on a subject, reading a number of books to understand it better. There are somethings I know little or nothing about. But you’ve all met the guy who knows something about everything. Extrovert.

Jung argued for nature over nurture. It turns out it was (mostly) right. McHugh gets into the science of this that is now available through brain mapping. The one “flaw” is that we already know these subjects are introverts or extroverts. Which came first, the results of the mapping or the introversion. Are our brains the result of years as introverts or did our brain “cause” the introversion? The chicken, or the egg?

But brain mapping does reveal some very important information that indicates this is not simply psycho-babble. There are biochemical differences. First, introvert’s brains are busier places. The scans register more activity. They also register that blood flows differently in those brains. Introverts have more blood flow which moves along longer paths more slowly than in extroverts’ brains. It flows to other parts of the brain, focusing on internal things like “remembering, solving problems and planning”. Extroverts’ brains have more blood flowing to parts that process sensory experiences, in other words processing the world outside.

Chemically they have different balances. Extroverts use more dopamine. This helps them to generally think and act more quickly under pressure. It helps them access short-term memory. Introverts rely more on acetylcholine which makes them feel good when resting and thinking. This may explain why introverts pull up memories more slowly, and often don’t think well on their feet. They often prefer writing to speaking since it gives one time to properly process their thoughts.

I’m not sure why he included a section on echoes of introversion in the Bible. Yeah, Jacob was probably an introvert and Esau an extrovert. It is helpful to know that God made, redeemed and utilizes both introverts and extroverts.

Let’s think about this for a few moments.

Introverts will likely prefer smaller churches so they don’t feel lost in the crowd. There will be a manageable number of relationships.

Introverts will likely prefer churches with quieter worship. When worship feels like a concert, introverts experience sensory overload. I like concerts, but I need more space, quiet, in worship so I can think, pray. This points to the fact that they will worship differently. That’s alright.

Introverted churches will worship differently. They will avoid having sensory overload. There will be times of quiet for reflection. It won’t be busy, busy, busy. That’s a good thing too, for some of us.

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This weekend I read Zack Eswine’s short (140+ pages) book Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression. I wasn’t depressed, but I was preaching on Psalm 42-3 on Sunday. I had been meaning to read this book earlier, but other volumes always seemed to jump to the front of the queue. So, with a long weekend, the time was now.

I had already done much of my preparation and even written the sermon when I started the book. I added a few things as a result of the reading I’d done by Saturday night. I also changed my introduction.

“I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Charles Spurgeon

What I discovered is that many people have never heard a sermon on depression. That is depressing. Just about everyone struggles with depression at some point, but for some it is commonplace and debilitating. The Psalm in question is one of the places where we learn that godly people can be downcast. It is no sin, but a manifestation of living in a fallen world.

Eswine’s book is written, or seems to be, with the depressed in mind. The chapters are short since often their attention spans are short. This is no tome, but meant to encourage people and let them know they are not alone in suffering from this malady. He also points us to Jesus who knew such negative emotions as the Sin-Bearer.

“Broken hearted one, Jesus Christ knows all your troubles, for similar troubles were his portion.” Charles Spurgeon

There are three main sections of the book: Trying to Understand Depression, Learning to Help Those Who Suffer from Depression, and Learning Helps to Daily Cope with Depression.

Old SpurgeonThe first section helps some to name their experience. That may sound strange, but let me explain. For years I would get bad headaches and would want to sleep. These were different from what I was used to. One day someone told me they were migraines. I never would have imagined that I had migraines. Other people get those, not me. This is how many think of depression- that’s for other people. Eswine takes some of the mystery out of depression by reminding us how common it can be, and various ways depression is experienced (just as the Psalmist seems to do).

He brings us often to Spurgeon who struggled with depression all of his adult life. This is important for us to see that being depressed itself is not a sin and that real Christians can and do get depressed. There are also a variety of causes of depression: body chemistry, spiritual problems and circumstances. These interact with one another, and all are traced back to Adam’s sin in Eden. We are embodied spirits, so there is interaction between physical and spiritual realities. Not every depression is caused by spiritual problem, but every depression will have spiritual consequences. Because some have a genetic predisposition to depression means that they have a weakness, not that they are weak people. We all have weaknesses. But we don’t want to point a finger and condemn those who suffer as weak.

“Our misery has poisoned us with a tragic arrogance. Our pains have deluded our reasoning.”

In the second section he notes that diagnosis is not the same as a cure. There is no magic bullet for depression. It doesn’t take away the struggle, but helps us to understand some of the dynamics of depression. We can start to analyze ourselves and say “That’s the depression talking.” Depression obscures reality. It even lies to us (“It will never get better.”) and we struggle to sort out fact and fiction, like Peeta in The Mockingjay we have to ask “Real? Not real?”

He reminds us that not all who seek to help are helpful. Sincere people can do harm while they seek to help. We are also reminded of the Man of Sorrows who is able to help because He has experienced these cruel realities.

The third section is largely about coping with depression. He discusses feeding hope, one of the spiritual realities depression robs us of. Pouring out our soul, and filling it with truth is important. But it isn’t a cure-all. He mentions other ways we can care for ourselves in depression: rest, laughter, medication etc. Taking medication doesn’t make you weak or weird. You are not a 2nd class kind of Christian. It is the use of appropriate means, particularly when combined with other means like counseling. The medication helps you to function so you can talk, work and relate to others. I recommend keeping DVDs and books that make you laugh. They can serve as another life preserver when you feel like you are sinking down. These things are not substitutes for Jesus unless you use them to avoid Jesus.

“Our way of fighting is to hide behind Jesus who fights for us.”

There is also the dark reality of suicidal thoughts. Many in deep depression consider ending the deep, unending pain they feel. It doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians. It just means their suffering is incredibly profound. Eswine handles this wisely.

There are benefits that come from such sorrow. These are not reasons to choose depression, but the good God works out of our depression which we might not experience any other way. We are able to exhibit more empathy with those who suffer. We are also better able to understand our weakness and profound need for Christ in all things.

“Perhaps, nothing in life reminds us that we are not God, and that this earth is not heaven, like an indescribable distress that sometimes defies cause and had no immediate cure, or no cure at all.”

I would recommend Zack Eswine’s book to pastors and counselors. It is not technical but is written quite simply so the former can understand depression if they haven’t experienced, and helps the latter to communicate about it simply. It is also a good book for those who suffer. They will remember they are not alone, but always upheld by One who was acquainted with sorrows. He draws much from the words of Spurgeon, as well as William Cowper and others.  It is not an academic treatment, but a very heart-felt one.

P.S. If you leave a comment about how depression is demonic, I will delete it.

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