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Because introverts can experience pressure to change, or be shamed by others, or even participate in self-recrimination, Adam McHugh has a chapter on Finding Healing in his book Introverts in the Church.

I’ll confess, I struggled with this chapter. At least the early parts. He begins with the words of Veronica who hopes that God’s glory might be displayed through her introversion, “not in spite of it.” That latter sentiment is how many feel; that their introversion is a flaw that hopefully won’t prevent God from using them. Introverts wrestle with self-doubt, often having received the messages of others which are critical of them.

“In an extroverted culture, introverts can become the silent screens onto which others project their insecurities.”

Psychological projection is a real thing, and introverts are often victims of this. People can project the worst possible reasons onto you for being quiet- arrogant, angry, independent etc.

“Living as an introvert in a society and a church that exalts extroversion takes its toll, and shame cuts deep into introverted psyches that are bent toward self-examination.”

I know what some of you may be thinking: snowflakes. That would be the point. You can’t see the wounds and think they don’t exist or cut deeply. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Just yesterday I told someone I’m highly self-critical. If I took Mondays off I’d probably destroy myself going over my sermon repeatedly and finding the mistakes, things I forgot to say, illustrations that didn’t seem to connect etc. in my sermon. It may have been a perfectly good sermon used by God in the lives of His people for exaltation, edification and evangelism but I can go on a personal crusade to evaluate each second of it. Many introverts, seemingly inactive, are busy re-living their moments in society discovering each moment they didn’t live up to the expectations of others or themselves.

McHugh spoke to 50 introverts (not a great sample size) but 49 of them expressed feeling reproached and maligned for being introverted. Because we internalize emotions, introverts are at a higher risk for depression according to psychologist Laurie Helgoe.

“While extroverts commonly feel loneliness when others are absent, introverts can feel most lonely when others are present, because ours is the aching loneliness of not being known or understood.”

He recounts the story of Mike whose introversion affected his experience of education. He didn’t participate much. When he didn’t he didn’t think quickly on his feet. People thought he was stupid. He got low grades due to the participation component. He works extra-hard as an adult to over-compensate. He develops expertise in a number of subjects so he won’t feel humiliated. He fights the fear of others thinking he’s stupid. Sound stupid? Yeah, but this is what sinners can do with those moments they have been humiliated. I’ve done it.

“The challenge lies in distinguishing between the healthy components of our personalities, those that are natural and to be celebrated, and the coping mechanisms that are the symptoms of our wounds.”

Making distinctions matters. Doing that can be difficult. It gets to who am I by nature and how have I coped with the pain of life. “Healing” is addressing those wounds so we can be free of the coping mechanisms. But is that always a good thing? Is the coping mechanism part of what makes one useful to God? I think of J.I. Packer who suffered a head injury as a child. As a result he couldn’t play sports and spent time in the library. After he conversion he became one of the great theologians of the 20th century. It is hard to say whether or not that happens apart from the accident. Do I love to read simply for the sake of reading, or am I still coping with a clear childhood memory of being “exposed” for not knowing who BTO was? I didn’t want to be humiliated again (more about my expectations than the reaction of the adult who asked trying to know me better). If you take that away do you take away my tools as a pastor? Difficult to say. But some introverts may ponder that for weeks while extroverts will just move on with a shrug.

He notes that there are two kinds of retreat. The retreat born of fear of engagement, and the retreat born of preparation to engage. The former seeks to avoid the pain of life and relationships, the latter is to gain strength to engage the world outside with “greater perspective and peace.” The former is about being captive to your wounds. The latter is about service to others.

He then moves to the shyness cycle. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. “Introversion is a natural personality trait where we go inside ourselves to process our experiences. Shyness, on the other hand, is a condition marked by fear or extreme anxiety in social situations.” Shyness is the result of wounds, in other words. You got whacked and are reluctant to get whacked again.

“Introverted wounds bleed in our minds and hearts, and bleed out in our behaviors, actions and relationships.”

McHugh starts to talk about the process of healing. If the wound is internal, you have to “journey” inside. But the healing, like for a physical wound that is infected, comes from the outside. Community and interpersonal relationships are important but not the essential element. He doesn’t quite say it, but to me it sounds like he’s speaking of union and communion with Christ as the source of true change. This is true of sanctification, and if this is a part of sanctification (putting our coping mechanisms to death and putting on new godly responses to life) then union & communion with Christ is the only source of true change for these wounds to our soul.

For instance, we shift our sense of identity to Christ. While we may be introverted, that should be not our identity. It is a data point, something to take into consideration but it can’t be the ruling factor in our lives. “I am a Christian, and called to participate in evangelization. How should I do that in keeping with how God made me?” is different than “I’m an introvert, do I still have to bear witness to Christ?”

Our union with Christ should also give us stability because it is an unchanging union. Through that union with receive the “double grace” of justification and sanctification. Status as accepted by God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and God’s on-going work in us imparting the righteousness of Christ to us. This is not where McHugh explicitly goes, but seems to be what is lying behind his words or at least my interaction with them. We are safe & secure in Christ.

“Our hope is in his work of freeing us from the false ways we identify ourselves and conforming us to the nature of his Son.”

On the basis of this union we experience communion or fellowship with Christ. One aspect of this is to offer up our wounds to Christ, asking Him to heal them. We confess our coping mechanisms, our sinful response to our pain, to Him and asking Him to help us disentangle ourselves from these sins.

Their is also the outward journey that must take place as we learn to love. To be conformed to Christ is to love others. If God is love (and He is as an eternal community of love), the summary of the law is love (and it is) then we are doubly called to love. And He will work in us to make us loving. Love requires relationship. This doesn’t mean becoming extroverted, but it does mean actively pursuing the well-being of others at cost to yourself. This includes being vulnerable. We take the wounds & sins we have entrusted with Jesus and share them with a few people (not everyone you meet) who love you and you trust.

We will grow in emotional intelligence, also called relational wisdom. This means not only having personal awareness but also social awareness. We are able to process our feelings, and read social situations. This encompasses both the inward and outward journeys necessary for us to become fully like Christ (don’t worry, the extroverts really struggle with the inward one).

In this chapter McHugh realizes that your experience of introversion is not pure. It has been affected by sin and misery. You are bent inward by sin. You’ve been hurt by others. You’ve put unrealistic expectations on yourself. To be a healthy church member (and for the church to be healthy), you do need to change and address the pain & sin (as one of my supervisors used to say with great frequency) of your life that shape you and your experience of introversion. So, this chapter forms a necessary hinge before exploring what a healthy spirituality looks like for introverts.

 

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