Archive for January, 2010

Rational Emotions


I tend to make decisions based on logic and reasoning, rather than on feelings and a desire for harmony. I think in very rational, intellectual terms. I approach situations asking the question, “Does it make sense?”

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test measures four dichotomies. One of those dichotomies is a pair of judging, or decision-making, functions: thinking and feeling. The thinking and feeling functions influence how we make decisions. Those who prefer thinking tend to decide things based on logic, reason, causal relationships, and consistency. Those who prefer feeling tend to come to decisions by empathizing with the situation, and attempting to achieve the greatest level of harmony and consensus. Everyone has both thinking and feeling functions to some extent, but the question is which function is more dominant.

My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ (introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging), and being a thinker, I tend to make decisions based on logic. I think objectively, and I weigh the pros and cons when making a decision. I often check my motives so as not to make a decision based unfairly on some emotionally weighted issue.

My friends know that I can be very empathic and understanding. While I do not have the natural empathy that a feeler has, I am able to logically conclude how someone may be feeling based on similar situations I have experienced. In addition, my intuitive function enables me to be sensitive to non-verbal forms of communication, which increases my sensitivity towards others’ emotional state. Having such an internal personality, I feel things deeply, and I can understand those feelings in other people. And I have learned how to be compassionate and understanding by listening to my friends and asking what they need. Finally, as everyone has both feeling and thinking functions to some extent, I have a fairly well-developed feeling function, particularly in comparison to other INTJs.

While I can easily appreciate emotions in other people, my bent toward intellectual analysis creates a lot of cognitive dissonance when I experience emotions myself. Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of discomfort created when a person has two conflicting ideas, feelings, or beliefs. For instance, if a woman is staunchly pro-life and then a dear friend has an abortion, the woman may feel very conflicted over how to best support her friend.

Because my analytical thinking is so strong, I tend to have the belief that my emotions are not valid, especially when my emotions conflict with what I rationally believe to be true. For instance, if I experience loss, I expect to feel grief and sadness, and that is okay. But if I feel jealous or sad and I cannot pinpoint a logical reason for it, I think that I do not have a right to those emotions. Paradoxically, I often reassure friends that their emotions are totally valid, and I speak truthfully; yet, at times I do not have patience with my own emotional reactions. We are our own worst critics, and it is very hard to be gentle with myself when I have emotions that I cannot rationally explain.

A related struggle for me is that at times it takes me awhile to figure out how I feel about something. This is frustrating to feelers, who are more in tune with how they are feeling, and especially to extraverted feelers who tend to process their feelings externally. I need to process through an event or situation internally and understand it before I can access and understand the related emotion. Again, this processing time is especially important when my emotions do not match the logic. It is very stressful for me to be pressured into discussing how I feel before I have time to process it, as I may not really understand how I feel.

God has brought me a long way in learning about myself and growing in my areas of weakness, as well as in my strengths. As I place myself in His hands, I have faith that He will continue to grow and sanctify me. I trust that He has given me my unique personality for a reason, for His ultimate glory. I struggle with my emotional reactions to experiences. But if you need someone to help you see things objectively, I’ve got your back.

Smoke and Mirrors


It seems like everyone around me is falling apart. My friends are depressed, anxious, and struggling with relationships, health, and life in general. A lot of people around me seem very insecure; they discourage others and attempt to create drama. Others are struggling with self-condemnation and feelings of worthlessness. One dear friend has checked herself into treatment for depression. Another friend has had a sick parent, health issues, and relationship issues, one after the other. Someone else told me she sees herself as a failure and suffers from feelings of anxiety and fear. Acquaintances are acting jealous and petty.

With very low humidity in the air, perhaps people’s brains are being affected by the static electricity. Every surface in my house gives me a shock. We are most comfortable in an environment where the relative humidity (the amount of water vapor actually in the air divided by the amount of water vapor the air can hold) is around 45%, and indoor humidity should not go below 30% (or above 50%). Today, the maximum humidity outdoors is only around 35%, and in the house, it has hovered around 30% for the last few weeks. My hair is crazy; it looks like I’m touching a Van de Graaff generator. I need some negative ions.

Incidentally, research shows that high levels of negative ions are a useful treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder if the negative ions are in sufficient quantity. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subset of depression (chronic sadness, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness) that is experienced seasonally, particularly in winter. Even for those who do not meet the criteria for a diagnosable disorder, the severely cold weather (temperatures in the teens) and limited daylight hours certainly affect people’s moods.

Additionally, people are likely suffering because of Mercury. Mercury is in retrograde, meaning that it appears to be moving backwards through the zodiac, and it has been since the day after Christmas (December 26, 2009). It will reach direct station again on January 15, 2010. In general, Mercury rules thinking and perception, processing and disseminating information and all means of communication, commerce, education, and transportation. Mercury retrograde gives rise to personal misunderstandings; flawed, disrupted, or delayed communications, negotiations and trade; glitches and breakdowns with phones, computers, cars, buses, and trains. And all of these problems usually arise because some crucial piece of information, or component, has gone astray or awry.

As Bloc Party sings in their song “Mercury,” “My Mercury’s in retrograde / This is not the time, the time to start a new love / This is not the time, the time to sign a lease.”

Snarls in communication abound. The Check Engine light in my car came on last week. Unresolved issues from my past are bubbling to the surface. Mercury is creating mayhem in my life. Wikipedia is not working properly, and I feel out of sorts, because where will I get my information now?

I am struggling with sadness of my own. I cannot even seem to articulate it or understand it. I am sad for my friends who are suffering. I am grieved over experiences from my past. I battle with a loneliness of unknown origin. I know intellectually that there is no reason for me to feel lonely. I feel like I am grieving something that is just beyond my conscious awareness. Like smoke, it dispels elusively.

My Pet INTJ

I am extremely fascinated with personality theory, and my Myers-Briggs personality profile is introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging (INTJ). It is important to understand oneself and others in order to better communicate and so that we can learn to appreciate our differences in strengths.

You can learn your personality type in about 15 minutes by taking a quiz at http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp.

Here is some basic information about INTJs, based on information from several websites, books, and my own experience.

1. INTJs know everything. We know what we know, and we know what we don’t know. In other words, we are aware of what knowledge we have as well as the areas in which we do not have expertise. This helps us to be self-confident, as we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses.

2. INTJs are perfectionists, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve existing systems.

3. INTJs love analyzing systems, whether it be systems of data, individual people, or organizations or groups of people.

4. INTJs are extremely independent, the most highly independent of all the personality types, and tend to be free from the constraints of authority and convention for their own sake.

5. Respect is extremely important to an INTJ, and others gain or lose our respect based on their behaviors and thoughts, rather than merely their rank or title. Authority figures and celebrities have no power, per se, but must earn our respect.

6. INTJs have a difficult time with social convention. We detest small talk and do not understand social rituals. We can come across as socially awkward at times. Small talk is boring to us, as it is competing with the intriguing voices in our heads.

7. INTJs are very private, and we process things internally. If we open up to you, we trust and respect you a great deal. We live inside our heads and have rich, imaginative inner lives.

8. INTJs are highly intuitive and are thus able to empathize with others.

9. INTJs love generating ideas and possibilities.

10. INTJs make up only 1-2% of the population.

11. INTJs want things to make sense. We want to be able to logically and rationally understand things, which may be elusive in interpersonal interactions.

12. INTJs make a lot of associations in their minds. One comment can lead to several rapid associations in succession, leading us to blurt out a response that seems (on the surface) to have nothing to do with the original comment, when in actuality, there was a complex line of thinking involved.

13. INTJs are immune to a lot of sales pitches because we are very skeptical. We do not get caught up in the emotional hype of marketing.

Table Scraps


Reinforcing behavior increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again. For instance, if you tell a dog to sit, and it does, and you give it a treat, the dog will be more likely to sit on command in the future. So it is with humans, as well. If a child is learning to ride a bicycle, and you reinforce the child’s behavior with praise as he learns to ride it, he will be more likely to continue the behaviors that preceded the praise.

Once a behavior is learned, constant reinforcement is unnecessary. Once the dog learns to sit on command, you need not give it a treat every time. And once the child has learned to ride the bicycle, there is no need for constant praise. Indeed, it sounds strange to tell a child, “Great job keeping the bicycle upright,” when he has been riding easily for a long time.

But variable reinforcement can be very powerful. This entails reinforcing behavior unpredictably, and not every single time. For instance, if you have taught a dog to jump on command, you may begin only reinforcing the highest jumps. With humans, gambling is the quintessential example of variable reinforcement. You do not know when you will hit the jackpot, but you keep trying because you know eventually a payoff will come.

That being said, I spend a lot of time thinking about reinforcement in human interaction. I am re-reading a book on operant conditioning, the use of reinforcers to shape behavior, and I came across the following text:

From “Don’t Shoot the Dog,” by Karen Pryor
We have all seen people who inexplicably stick with spouses or lovers who mistreat them. Customarily, we think of this as happening to a woman – she falls for someone who is harsh, inconsiderate, selfish, even cruel, and yet she loves him – but it happens to men, too. Everyone knows such people, who, if divorced or otherwise bereft of the nasty one, go right out and find someone else just like him or her.
Are these people, for deep psychological reasons, perpetual victims? Possibly. But may they not also be victims of long duration variable schedules? If you get into a relationship with someone who is fascinating, charming, sexy, fun, and attentive, and gradually the person becomes more disagreeable, even abusive, though still showing you the good side now and then, you will live for those increasingly rare moments when you are getting all those wonderful reinforcers: the fascinating, charming, sexy, and fun attentiveness. And paradoxically from a commonsense viewpoint, though obviously from the training viewpoint, the rarer and more unpredictable those moments become, the more powerful will be their effect as reinforcers, and the longer your basic behavior will be maintained.

I wish I could explain to others, even to myself, why I stayed in an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship for far too long. There was some extremely powerful emotional hook that pulled me back into the relationship just when I began to feel I had had enough.

If he had been cruel all the time, it would have been easy to leave. But inconsistently, he was fascinating, charming, and attentive. And so I put up with the cruelty, the lies, the manipulation, and the jealousy in the hopes that next time he would be his old charming self, and I would feel that all was right with the world.

I told him at times that I felt like a dog waiting for table scraps. I would do what he wanted me to do, waiting for him to finally give me the attention that I wanted from him. It was a difficult and very painful relationship.

Sadly, so many of the women in my life have experienced emotionally (and even physically) abusive relationships. But we are so overcome with shame and guilt over having “let” a guy treat us poorly that we do not talk about it. Most people would have no idea that these women had suffered so at the hands of someone cruel and abusive, because we hide our experiences out of shame that there is something wrong with us. It is unfortunate that our society is so quick to judge these women, labeling them perpetual victims or martyrs. And some of them may be, but most of them are strong, intelligent, compassionate women who are looking for the best in others. And they are stuck in the powerful hook of variable reinforcement.

I do not mean to make abusive relationships sound trite or like a cold, unemotional psychological process. There are many issues involved: identity, societal expectations about roles, childhood trauma, grief, brokenness, self-esteem, and so on. It is tragic to me that so many of us suffer in silence and shame rather than dialoguing about these issues in order to promote healing and understanding.

Favorite Quotes

C. S. Lewis (former atheist turned Christian apologist) from “The Great Divorce”
Both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. . . That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled with only dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.

Jean-Paul Sartre (existential philosopher) from “Nausea”
Suddenly the names of the authors he last read come back to my mind: Lambert, Langlois, Larbaletrier, Lastex, Lavergne. It is a revelation; I have understood the Self-Taught Man’s method; he teaches himself alphabetically.
I study him with a sort of admiration. What will power he must have to carry through, slowly, obstinately, a plan on such a vast scale. One day, seven years ago (he told me he had been a student for seven years) he came pompously into this reading room. He scanned the innumerable books which lined the walls and he must have said, something like Rastignac, “Science! It is up to us.” Then he went and tood the first book from the first shelf on the far right; he opened to the first page, with a feeling of respect and fear mixed with an unshakable decision. Today he has reached “L” – “K” after “J,” “L” after “K.” He has passed brutally from the study of coleopterae to the quantum theory, from a work of Tamerlaine to a Catholic pamphlet against Darwinism, he has never been disconcerted for an instant. He has read everything; he has stored up in his head most of what anyone knows about parthenogenesis, and half the arguments against vivisection. There is a universe behind and before him. And the day is approaching when closing the last book on the last shelf on the far left: he will say to himself, “Now what?”

Tim Keller (Reformed pastor) from “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism”
The Biblical view of things is resurrection—not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.

Sadness

Over the last few days, I have been struck with sudden lightning storms of sadness, of sorrow, unexpectedly and more frequently than usual. At those times, my emotions are close to the surface and I feel like crying. Yet, my life is going amazingly well right now. I feel a sense of joy, peace, and contentment in my heart and spirit that has been very elusive throughout my life, particularly until I became a Christian several years ago.

My spiritual walk is progressing well. I feel very close to God, and my time spent praying and reading the Bible has been rich. I have been gaining a lot of insight and wisdom through people, books, and meditation, which has led to a deeper understanding of God’s love and His faithfulness.

Physically, I have been blessed with health and fortitude. My workouts have been rewarding, and I am getting stronger. I have managed to avoid getting the cold or flu thus far this winter. I am eating healthy, and I feel energetic and happy with my body (at least, as much as is possible for a woman).

I am growing psychologically, and I feel emotionally healthy. I have been self-confident and goal-oriented. And I am, as always, striving for personal growth and increased maturity.
Relationally, I have been so blessed. My friendships are deepening, and my relationship with my mom is happy.

I am so thankful that God has placed so many blessings in my life. And while I do not wish to feel a sense of entitlement to these blessings, I do want to appreciate and enjoy the sweet spot in which God has me.

So why, when I feel happier and more content that I have felt in a long time, do I feel emotional and sensitive? In part, I think it is because on a subconscious level, I don’t really believe that I deserve to be happy or that I deserve good things in my life. I have struggled with depression for most of my life, and particularly before I became a Christian, so just feeling normal was rare. And now that I feel such joy, I do not know how to sit with it and just be.

Additionally, most strong emotions that I have experienced in my life have been sad and lonely ones. So now, when I feel strong positive emotion, my heart does not know how to respond to it. At times lately, I feel overwhelmed with thankfulness and joyfulness, to the point where my eyes well up with tears.

1 Peter 1:7-9

These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Licentiousness v. Self-Condemnation


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin.

There are many so-called Christians running around who are licentious, having reckless disregard for God’s law. They sleep around, lie, and cheat, declaring that “It’s all covered by the blood of Christ.” These folks believe that because God, by His grace, forgives us our sins when we confess, that they have the license to commit whatever sin they choose. They disregard the consequences, erroneously thinking that all will be well because of God’s grace.

The fallacy in this type of thinking is obvious to some. Paul says in Romans 6:1-4:
1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

True believers in Christ Jesus have a new life, a new spirit, one that grieves over sin and longs to be more like Christ. So we recognize that licentiousness is dangerous and has unpleasant consequences, both temporally and eternally.

However, many of us do not think about the opposite end of the spectrum: the sin of self-condemnation. Guilt can be a positive feeling as it spurs us to repent, but feeling overly guilty is just as sinful as licentiousness.

I used to think that self-condemnation was merely synonymous with poor self-esteem. I knew it was a sin to be self-critical, to dislike my personality or my appearance. God made me the way I am, and I am beautiful in His eyes. This statement is difficult to internalize as it is, and I am learning that in addition to poor self-esteem, self-condemnation entails feeling overly guilty, remorseful, and self-critical over past sin.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:10:
10Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

While Biblical repentance includes feelings of Godly sorrow, it does not mean feeling overly self-critical and regretful for one’s thoughts and actions. Self-condemnation can erroneously make us believe that we are in control of ourselves rather than believing the truth that God is in control, and it denies His power of grace and forgiveness. Self-reproach can lead to relying on our own strength to “just try harder” or on our own power to punish ourselves for our sins (how often do we sin and then feel guilty and commit five other sins immediately after?), rather than growing closer to Him and turning to Him with our needs.

I have learned personally that I have a weakness in the area of self-condemnation, and Satan can use that weakness to put a wedge in my relationship with God. While I know intellectually that I am forgiven, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1), at times I feel very regretful for past actions and choices. I am a perfectionist, and while I am learning to give myself grace, I often feel that if I am not perfect, I am a failure.

Intellectually, I know that I cannot be perfectly righteous in my own strength, and that I need God’s power and the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Yet I hate myself when I err or sin. But this self-loathing is not what God wants.

What helps me in this area is to meditate on what God has done for me, rather than what I have done or not done right or wrong. It helps to spend time in prayer and in Scripture, reminding myself of the truth. And it helps to talk to wise and comforting women in my life who can empathize and affirm the truth.

It is just as sinful to be depressed for two months over a small transgression as it is to lie, cheat, and steal, and callously expect God’s grace to cover it. Self-condemnation is just as sinful as licentiousness, and both fall to the sides of the path of grace and love on which God desires us to walk. I am thankful that through recent struggles, He has revealed to me my sins of self-reproach, so that I may rely more on His strength than my own, and so that I may grow in my spiritual walk.