All posts tagged Personality

Racial Prejudice, Gender Stereotypes, Personality Types, and Love Languages

These four things would seemingly come to two sets of pairs: (1) racial prejudice and gender stereotypes, then (2) personality types and love languages. Whatever dangers may exist with the misuse of personality types and love languages does not compare to the damage that has been done by racial prejudice and gender stereotypes.

However, I believe the cultural awareness that continues to grow about prejudice and stereotypes can help us see more clearly a common misuse of materials like personality tests and love languages (which, for the record, I am not saying are bad). In this post, I want to try to draw three parallels that I believe are instructive.

  1. Each of these is a way of trying to make complex things simple.

From the earliest parts of our education we are taught to make complex things simple by reducing them to categories. This is helpful teaching a child to clean their room (trucks in one drawer; blocks in another). It is also helpful in scientific efforts like dividing the different family, genus, and species of different living things in a biology class.

In relationships and with people, this is often more detrimental than helpful. We use many simple labels for complex things that skew our ability to have meaningful conversations: White, Black, Asian, Latino, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Northerner, Southerner, Hippie, Extrovert, Introvert, Type A, Depressive, Addict, Bipolar, etc…; which leads to the next point.

  1. Each of these miss the person for the category… especially when over relied upon

We think we know someone because of the category they fit in; we confuse knowing something about them for really knowing them. I am a white, Southern, pastor, counselor, rural-born male who now lives in the suburbs of a major city. Do you know me? I hope, culturally, we are getting past the point where the answer would be yes.

But what if I told you I am a Type A, introvert, compulsively structured, detail-oriented, phlegmatic, who prefers quality time to receiving gifts and physical touch to acts of service, and highly values achievement so I am more given to anxiety than depression. Do you know me now?

We are more prone to say yes. But I have told you nothing (at least in this blog) of my wife, two boys, upbringing, hobbies, sense of humor, life dreams, shaping life events, health, religious beliefs, or many other things that would come with being “friends.” The things I have told you would probably not be the things that would determine whether we could be good friends. Yet we live in a day when a test that measures these traits would be believed to tell us whether we’re compatible.

  1.   The greater our confidence in any of these, the greater their danger

The more weight we give to things like personality tests and love languages (I choose those two simply because they’re most prominent), the less we hold ourselves responsible to ask good questions, listen to answers, value our differences, and build relationships around mutual sacrifice. Instead we insist people “accept us for who we are” and that they “meet our needs.”

Personally, I believe we can learn a great deal from personality tests and that we should learn how people close to us most naturally receive love. You can know a good deal about me from the things listed in the first two paragraphs of point two.

My concern is that these become short-cuts to getting to know and continuing to learn about people. When that happens, these useful tools become a form of relational laziness that will harm our relationships. It is not the harm of segregation or the suppression of women.

But it is the harm of marriages ending in divorce, children growing up without parents, and strained friendships because we thought a stereotype, personality trait, or love language could tell us and produce what only comes from getting to know a person and investing in a relationship. May we take the same time to get to know someone as a person who happens to have the traits of a particular temperament as we should getting to know a person who happens to come from a particular ethnic background.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.

Celebrating Non-Moral Marital Differences

The lifestyle of being a life-long learner will continually reinforce two key truths about marriage and your spouse. First, your spouse is different from you in ways that have no moral significance. Yet, the closeness of marriage tempts us to begin to think of our spouse’s differences as being “bad.” This reveals our tendency to try to “make our spouse in our own image.” It also reveals that we’ve lost the enthusiasm to learn about the person God has blessed us with.

“Worshipping God as creator in your marriage means that when you look at your husband or wife, when you consider your spouse’s personality and gifts, and when you think about how differently he or she is hardwired from you, you will celebrate the glory of God as creator, expressed in who he designed your spouse to be (p. 279).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?

The exercise Celebrating Our Non-Moral Differences is designed to help you think through and talk about this common marital pitfall. If you have been married for a number of years, a fruitful exercise is to use this chart to see how you and your spouse have changed over your marriage. In addition to marking where you are now, mark where each of you were on these variables when you married. Use a blue highlighter to cover the range between where the husband began and is now. Use a pink highlighter to mark the range between where the wife began and is now.

Second, your spouse is being continually crafted by God and you must continually pay attention or you’ll get left behind. Because we will be married to dozens of people over the course of a single marriage, we must commit to a lifestyle of learning our spouse or we’ll be as out-of-touch as someone with a cell phone from five years ago. A huge part of creating a gospel-centered marriage is enthusiasm for learning and participating in what God is doing in/through your spouse’s life.

The longer we are married the easier it can be to view the ways our spouse is different from us as “bad” (moral language) or as a sign of incompatibility (threatening language). This exercise is to help you see and celebrate the non-moral differences between you and your spouse. The attributes listed are neither morally good nor morally bad. Neither side nor the center is necessarily “holy.” If you view these characteristics as moral qualities it will be harmful to your marriage. Your responsibility is to celebrate how God made your spouse and put the gospel on display finding ways to express loving unity in the midst of non-moral diversity.

Instructions: Write your initials where you believe you are on each spectrum. Write your spouse’s initials where you believe he/she is on each spectrum. Compare your assessment with your spouse’s assessment. Talk about (a) ways the two of you have viewed your differences as “bad” and this has caused conflict, (b) ways that your differences complement one another well, and (c) how you have changed over the last few years.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.

The Myth of Compatibility

Too often we treat compatibility as it were a noun (something two people share – like a cupcake or eye color) instead of a verb (something two people do – like synchronized swimming or conversation). There is a big, often overlooked, difference between compatibility as a noun and a verb.

When I hear commercials for dating sites or listen to marriage seminars talk about compatibility, I often get the impression that these tests are like the blood work done before an organ (i.e., lung, kidney) donation. They allege to tell a couple if they are compatible with one another in some absolute or scientific sense. That is good advertising but not reality.

Think for a moment. Over the course of human history every combination of husband personality traits and wife personality traits have combined to make excellent marriages. Equally true, every combination of personality traits has ended in painful, bitter divorces.

Simply put – compatibility is not the make or break issue for marriage. It may not even exist in the way that the concept is popularly presented.

Are these tests bad? No. They usually do a good job in letting couple’s know what common challenges they will face based upon their values and preferences (less mystical words for “personality types”). From my experience, rarely is a couple surprised by what they find and any of their friends could have given them a similar assessment.

Should couples take these tests? Sure. They’re fun and usually provide a neutral language to discuss differences that would normally come out during an argument (a time when couple’s assign moral language – “good” and “bad”—to their differences).

So what’s my concern? My first concern is that a heavy emphasis on “compatibility” during the dating process opens the door to an “irreconcilable differences” excuse for divorce. The fact is we change over time. Who we are when we are dating is not who we will be on our 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, or if we are lucky 50th anniversary.

What happens to the marriage covenant when “compatibility” fades? What happens when the timid young professional becomes a confident leader in his/her field? What happens when the confidant young athlete ages out of being dominant with physical prowess and becomes insecure? What happens when we scored 23 out of 27 on our eHarmony test in our 20’s and only 13 out of 27 in our 40’s?

My second concern is that “compatibility” emphasizes personality matches over growing in godly character as the foundation of a good marriage. When we think we have what it takes, most people coast or look for new challenges.

Let me offer a contrast to the fact that every combination of personalities has made for both great and disastrous marriages. There has never been a good marriage between two prideful, selfish, lazy people. There has never been a bad marriage between two humble, other-minded, servant-hearted people.

I know those two categories don’t exist in absolutes. We are each a combination of prideful-selfish-lazy and humble-other-minded-servant-hearted. But hopefully you get my point. Character is the better predictor of marital success than personality.

Does this mean any high character person can marry any other high character person and have a great marriage? I would say no. “Spark” and “chemistry” are important to marriage and should not be neglected. But I would say that two high character people without “spark” would have a better marriage than two people who ignore the importance of character with “spark.”

So what is the take away? Learn all you can about your spouse, fiancé, or dating partner. Use personality tests to get to know one another if you like. Be able to predict every foreseeable difference you may have. But do not begin to think that “compatibility” is something you have (noun). Remember compatibility, if the word is to be redeemed, comes from pursuing the same thing of eternal value together – Christ, His character, and His glory.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.

C.S. Lewis on Temperament, Feelings, & Obedience

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“But though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity (p. 130).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I love the balanced and nuanced approach the Lewis takes to the subject of temperament (i.e., personality; disposition: lion-otter-beaver-retriever; Myers-Brigg’s Type Indicator, etc…). I would summarize Lewis’ thoughts on the subject in four statements.

1. Temperament is real. People are different. These differences can be classified in legitimate and helpful ways. Children are born with innate preferences and tendencies that remain constant across the life span, often withstanding even traumatic events or major changes in their social environment.

No one classification system “holds the market” on describing these differences. Each test and classification system embeds certain biases of the author which may distract from pointing people to greater dependence upon Christ. Some people will identify with the descriptions of one test over another; others will reject being classified at all (don’t tell them the tests usually predict that).

2. Temperament is amoral. Having one temperament is not morally superior or inferior to another. There is no “Jesus temperament.” I would go so far as to say that it is unhelpful to depict Jesus as the perfect balance of all temperaments (whether you have 4, 8, or 16 in your system). That has a strong tendency to “make God in our own image;” a tendency Christian counseling literature is prone to do.

Someone may be naturally melancholy (given to depression), analytical (given to anxiety), introverted (avoidant of biblical community), or judging (given to over-confidence). These dispositions would represent their most common temptations, and therefore be considered what Scripture calls “the flesh,” but the pervasive temptation would not be inherently wrong unless acted/fixated upon.

3. Temperament is a moral challenge. Our personality does make certain moral duties more difficult or less pleasurable to fulfill. However, God does not write a unique set of expectations for all 16 combinations of the MBTI.

I believe Romans 12:3 applies to this challenge. Paul warns against thinking too highly of ourselves – a common temptation for each person to think his/her approach is “right” or “obvious.” Temperament, like every other unique aspect of a person, has a tendency to be self-centered. Paul also says God has assigned a measure of faith to each person – meaning some acts of faith/obedience are easier for certain people.

4. Temperament is not who you are. The reason all these things can be true is that there is a “you” who has a temperament. Your temperament reveals the values that you most naturally hold. They were given to you (like your body, talents, and intelligence were given to you) to be stewarded for a purpose.

When we define ourselves by our temperament (or body, talents, or intelligence) we lose the sense that God called “me” to steward “what He has given me” for his glory and begin to fall into pride or insecurity. Both pride and insecurity begin to use God’s gift as a reason why we are the exception to God’s rules.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.

Personality Traits & Fruit of the Spirit

What is the difference between the personality (i.e., disposition, temperament, natural drives, unique innate pleasures, instinctive responses to relationships or conflict, etc…) that God gives every person at birth and the fruit of the Spirit which begins to express
itself in the life of a believer only after conversion?

Before we try to answer that question, let us first acknowledge that God is the author of both personality and the fruit of the Spirit. One is not carnal and the other sacred. One is not random and the other intentional.

We begin to understand the difference when we see God’s passion for unity in the midst of diversity. In Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 we see very diverse people gathered for a completely unified purpose—praising God.

There is no universal Christian personality. There is a universal Christian character portrait (the fruit of the Spirit). God does not have a preference for extroverts over introverts; nether does God like thinking people more than feeling people. God longs to see His character (i.e., image) reflected in the full breadth of human personality.

This is one of the implications of Genesis 2:15 we often miss. It was not good for man to be alone, because the purpose of man was to reflect the image of God in a unique way and no individual could accomplish this. Marriage was as much to humble the individual
human as it was to solve loneliness. We can only image God (our purpose and the only ultimately satisfying pursuit) in community.

With that said, we still ask, “What’s the difference?” I believe we can now say that personalities are imbalanced, but the fruit of the Spirit is necessarily balanced. Personalities are a portrait of the qualities we have in greater or lesser amounts. It is their uniqueness that makes them interesting, beautiful, and hard to understand.

The fruit (singular) of the Spirit is balanced. The fruit of the Spirit is not a virtue on a grocery list; as if we could pick up some and leave others. It is grammatically and inherently contradictory to say that we are stronger in some fruit of the Spirit than others. When we say this we are evaluating personality not the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit is the mark of how much God’s character has taken root and found expression in our personality. For this reason we can accurately say our weakest point in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is the indicator of the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives.

If we take this as a demoralizing guilt bomb, we have missed the point completely. It means we were trying to get moral bonus credits for our personality (which was also a gift from God and over which we got no vote).

The fruit of the Spirit does not call us to do more good stuff (works) in or to be a different kind (personality) of person, but to surrender more (gospel response) of who we are (personality) to God. It is as we are won by God’s character (love, joy, peace, etc…) that we imitate it ourselves and rejoice when we see glimpses of it in other believers. As this takes root, guilt gives way to worship, and effort is motivated by something that makes it feel increasingly less like work.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.

Life In/Under Christ – Ephesians 1:15-23

The Eyes of Your Heart (1:18)

How can two people look at the same thing or event and come away with very different conclusions? Culturally, this is explained through a system of beliefs called “relativism” which states that only perspective (as opposed to real, objective truth) exists. This belief system is summed up in the phrase, “What may be right to you may not be so to me; who am I to judge?”

Ephesians points us in a different direction for answering this question. People come away with different conclusions because of the varying conditions of their hearts. Our beliefs, values, agenda, priorities, hopes, allegiances, pet peeves, and affections shape what we see. Christians believe in more than objective truth. Christians believe that our hearts must be in tune with God’s heart in order to perceive and respond to our world correctly.

Application: When you and a friend recall a given conversation or event differently consider how the “eyes of your heart” (beliefs, values, agenda, priorities, hopes, allegiances, pet peeves, and affections) shaped the difference. Try to step out of your perspective and vested interest to ask what God’s heart for that moment was. Until we begin to ask questions about the “eyes of heart” we will not know if they are blind.

Hope to Which He Has Called You (1:18)

 

We are called to hope. That seems like a simple statement, but (to be honest) it caught me off guard. It seemed much more natural to say we have been called as God’s children (relationship), to share the Gospel (mission), or to live holy lives (character).  But it seemed a bit odd to think that we have been called to hope (disposition).

While I do not believe there is one ultimate personality – as if fully sanctified people will share the same sense of humor or risk-tolerance, it does seem that we are called to express our personalities (extrovert/introvert, optimist/pessimist, random/orderly, spender/saver) displaying a disposition of hope.

Reflection: This must mean that hope can come in many different “flavors.” Do you tend to think of hope as having one mode of expression? What about other virtues of disposition (humility, faith, love, courage, patience)? What do we lose when we assign these virtues

to particular personality types or modes of expression? Use you imagination to consider what each virtue (especially hope) might look like when expressed by different types of people.

Christ the Head

Any debate over what it means for a husband to be the head of his wife in Ephesians 5:23, should not begin until a study has been done of what it means for Christ to be the head of the church in Ephesians 1:22. The relationship of husband and wife are meant to mirror the relationship of Christ and the church. To start with husband and wife questions would be like learning about the Grand Canyon from a picture when you could take a tour by donkey back.

There is no way to answer the breadth of questions this subject creates and this goal here is not to debate skeptics. What can be offered is a process of reflection for the genuinely confused or those seeking a more complete understanding. Use the following questions to help you journey from Ephesians 1 (where Paul starts) to Ephesians 5.

  • How does Christ relate to the church in authority, compassion, guidance, allowing freedom/preference, sacrifice, patience, etc…?
  • What are other titles/metaphors/roles by which Christ relates to the church? How are these similar to, different from, or complementary with that of “head”?
  • How well does the church respond to Christ as her head?
  • How does Christ respond to the church in the midst of her struggles to submit?
  • What decisions do a husband and wife face where headship and submission are needed? In what situations should general obedience (actions, values, and disposition) to God’s Word make headship and submission largely irrelevant categories?
  • How should a husband relate to his wife in authority, compassion, guidance, allowing freedom/preference, sacrifice, patience, etc…?
  • What other titles/metaphors/roles does Scripture give for how a husband relates to his wife?
  • What should happen when a husband fails to be a Christ-like head? What should happen when a wife fails to respond in church-like submission?
  • What practical or theological questions remain for you about husband-wife relations?

As you continue in this study of Ephesians, pay careful attention to the relationship between Christ and the church to prepare you to accurately apply the marriage section.

Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.

The Same Personality But With a Refined Character

Have you ever heard someone defend their sinful actions with the words, “I can’t help it.  That is just the way I am.  God made me this way, so if it bothers you, you’ll have to take it up with Him not me”?  It might be appropriate to ask if you have ever used those words to defend your sinful actions.

How are we to think about statements like that?  God did make us unique.  Any parent of multiple children can tell you that there are parts of the human personality that are present and distinct from the earliest days of life.  I believe we can learn something of this from watching the life of Moses.

In Exodus 3, as God calls Moses to deliver Israel from their Egyptian bondage, we hear the words of one who is fearful and quite possibly socially intimidated (hence the stuttering).  Moses was more than willing to let someone else have the limelight.  Actually, in Exodus 4:13, Moses asked God to send someone else.

We see a very similar Moses in Exodus 32.  This time God is telling Moses that He has had it with Israel.  They have rebelled against him one too many times.  God offers to consume Israel in His hot anger and start over with the family line of Moses (Exodus 32:10).  Once again, Moses is not fond of the limelight.  Again, Moses requests that God not make him the focal point.

We see the same personality in Moses, but there is a definite refinement of Moses’ character.

In Exodus 3 and 4 Moses is motivated by personal fear and insecurity.  That aspect of his character that made him comfortable letting others lead was expressed in doubt of God, condemnation of self, and the pursuit of convenience.

In Exodus 32 the willingness to let others have center stage is motivated by a desire to see God have glory amongst the nations.  The same personality trait was present, but the focal point was God’s glory and not self-preservation.

This brings us back to the opening question.  God does make us with distinct personality traits.  Those traits are often discernable to others and can be relatively consistent throughout a lifetime.  However, sin is not found in a personality trait.  Sin is found in our motivations.  Either we are seeking to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves, or we are seeking to love ourselves first and manipulating others to play along.

We may not be able to change certain personality traits to any strong degree.  But we can change (by God’s grace) what we live for.  Repentance is more than saying we are sorry.  Repentance is seeing what our actions reveal about our heart (conviction) and committing to live for the love of God/others as evidenced by new action.

Go back and read Exodus 3-4 and then 32.  Listen for the aspects of the conversation between God and Moses that are the same.  Get to know Moses as a real person, not a transcendent figure of Scripture.  See how God changed him.  Then go back and read through the entirety of Exodus to get the unabridged version.

Now go back to the last time you heard (or said) the opening sentences of this post.  How does this reflection on the life of Moses allow you to acknowledge the legitimacy of the struggle while holding out hope/responsibility to change by God’s grace and for God’s glory?

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.