Personality in Pain and Suffering

Sharon: I’d like to delve into the intersection of personality and genetics, in the context of our ongoing discussions about pain and suffering. Today, I’ve woven in elements that touch upon the genetic influences on how we perceive and process pain.

Let’s ground our conversation in a Bible verse that emphasizes the universality of divine love: Jeremiah 31:3 – “I have loved you with an everlasting love. With loving arms have I drawn thee.” Regardless of our unique personalities and quirks, there’s a comforting notion that a divine force cherishes each one of us unconditionally. As we navigate the intricacies of personality, keep this verse at the forefront of our minds.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a renowned tool that categorizes individuals into 16 distinct personality types, each denoted by a combination of four letters. Here’s a brief overview:

  • Extraversion vs. Introversion: This axis gauges where individuals derive their energy. Extroverts thrive in social settings, while introverts rejuvenate through solitude and introspection.
  • Sensing vs. Intuition: This determines how one perceives and processes information. Sensing individuals lean on tangible data and sensory experiences, whereas intuitive folks are drawn to abstract concepts and rely on their gut feelings.
  • Thinking vs. Feeling: This dichotomy is centered on decision-making and emotional processing. Thinkers approach situations logically, focusing on objective criteria. In contrast, feelers prioritize emotions and often make choices based on empathy and the feelings of others.
  • Judging vs. Perceiving: This reflects how individuals interact with their external environment and organize information. Judging types gravitate toward structure and closure, while perceiving types remain open-ended, valuing flexibility and adaptability.

To delve deeper into your own personality, the PowerPoint I used to give this talk (appended below) contains a link to a free personality test. Taking this test will offer insights into your unique personality type and traits.

Another model worth mentioning is the “Big Five”, which encapsulates:

  • Openness: A measure of one’s willingness to embrace new experiences and abstract concepts.
  • Conscientiousness: Indicates thoughtfulness, impulse control, and goal-oriented behaviors.
  • Extraversion: Assesses sociability, talkativeness, and assertiveness.
  • Agreeableness: Captures trust, altruism, kindness, and other pro-social tendencies.

Every individual is unique. My brother, for instance, is an introvert who values solitude, especially when unwell. Similarly, I find solace in quiet reflection. Recognizing and respecting these differences is crucial for harmonious interactions and mutual understanding.

Then there’s the personality type of neuroticism, that’s a person who’s deeply emotional. They have chronic sadness, maybe moodiness, emotional instability, they have a lot of anxiety. And they often worry about different things. None of us are only one of these, we’re all made up of parts. And during our life, even these change, and we can be adaptive to the various different types of personality strengths that we have. Or we may evolve toward being more introverted or extroverted ish, as we go through our life, depending on our circumstances.

A question that often arises is: What shapes our personality? Personality traits are the distinctive features that set us apart. However, there’s no consensus within psychology about the exact number of these traits. This divergence is understandable, considering that psychology, being a soft science, does not offer the concrete certainties of hard sciences.

So, what molds these personality traits? Is our nature, our genetic makeup, the primary influencer? Or does our upbringing and environment have a more profound effect? The truth is, both genetics and environment play roles in shaping our personalities. The degree to which each contributes can vary based on the specific trait being examined.

Consider this: Are our personalities a product of nature (our genetic constitution) or nurture (our environment and experiences)? To answer this, researchers have delved into family studies, twin studies, and studies involving adopted children. These studies aim to determine the balance between hereditary factors and environmental influences on personality. One significant finding is that personality seems to be influenced by genetics to a degree ranging between 30% to 60%.

In one approach, twins separated at birth and raised in different families were analyzed later in life. This strategy aimed to discern the role of environment versus genetics in shaping personality. The findings? Both nature and nurture contribute to our personality, with these forces interacting in myriad ways to craft our unique character.

The well-known Minnesota Twin Study is often cited to underscore the genetic underpinnings of personality traits. However, it has recently come under scrutiny, with critics pointing out that vital control group data was left out. A 2018 study in the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry further complicated the picture, suggesting that interactions among over 700 genes significantly influence certain personality traits, even more so than cultural and other environmental factors.

While certain characteristics have been genetically linked to personality, it’s essential to recognize that our personalities are complex. Both our genetic blueprint and our environment play pivotal roles in defining who we are.

Recent studies have shed light on the genetic underpinnings of various personality traits and behaviors:

  • Infidelity: A 2014 study linked the way our brains process the hormone vasopressin to infidelity tendencies.
  • Insomnia: This condition appears to be genetically inherited, but uniquely, it’s only passed down from the maternal side.
  • Poor Driving Skills: Genetic links were found correlating with driving abilities.
  • Dentist Fear: An innate fear of dentists has genetic roots.
  • Pain Tolerance: Scientists identified genes that influence not the sensation of pain, but its perception.
  • Facial Expressions: These are determined, in part, by our genes.
  • Exercise Affinity: Those who don’t experience a “runner’s high” might lack the dopamine production gene.
  • Caffeine Response: Our reaction to caffeine has genetic origins.
  • Popularity: Possessing the 5-HT2A serotonin receptor gene might make someone more popular.
  • Procrastination: A larger amygdala in the brain is associated with a greater tendency to procrastinate.
  • Sweet Tooth: A 2018 Danish study found that a variation of the FGF21 gene might make certain individuals crave sweets more.
  • Optimism: Optimistic individuals might have oxytocin receptors that others lack.
  • Trust Levels: A 2017 study from the University of Arizona showed that trust levels in identical twins were more similar than in non-identical twins, suggesting a genetic influence.
  • Intelligence: It’s split down the middle: 50% is attributed to genetics and 50% to environmental factors and upbringing.

In summary, our genes significantly influence who we are, how we behave, and how we respond to the world around us. It’s a fascinating interplay between nature and nurture.

Some personality traits can play a role in determining risk factors and how individuals cope with challenges. To better understand how personality affects the way we handle suffering, I studied various coping mechanisms:

  • Problem-Focused Coping: This cognitive approach prompts individuals to actively seek solutions rather than getting overwhelmed by emotions. For instance, in the biblical story, when the queen approached the river, Miriam quickly offered her mother to nurse baby Moses, showcasing problem-focused coping.
  • Emotionally Focused Coping: Here, decisions are predominantly driven by emotions. Examples from the Bible include Adam, who, upon seeing Eve with the forbidden fruit, impulsively ate it without much thought. Similarly, David’s hasty decision to have Uriah killed showcases emotional coping.
  • Avoidance Coping: This involves either minimizing or denying the problem altogether. In the Bible, Elijah’s choice to hide from Jezebel or Peter’s decision to run away after denying Jesus are instances of avoidance coping.

It’s worth noting that we all might use different coping mechanisms at different times, and it’s perfectly normal. All these coping strategies may have genetic determinants that influence how we navigate challenges, particularly pain and suffering.

Pain, particularly chronic pain, significantly impacts our personality. It’s inherently challenging to measure and compare pain across individuals due to its subjective nature. Some people might find certain pain unbearable, while others might barely notice it. Research presented at the American Association of Neurology’s annual meeting in 2014 highlighted that our genetics might partially dictate our pain perception. The study identified specific genes that influence how individuals perceive pain, providing hope for a deeper understanding of various pain conditions and potential treatments.

Chronic pain can also negatively affect one’s overall outlook. A lack of optimism can make individuals feel trapped and helpless, especially when imagining a future dominated by pain. Constant pain serves as a relentless distraction and source of misery for most, further exacerbated by periods of relief followed by recurrence. Such pain can disrupt communication between brain cells, potentially altering personality by impairing emotional processing. This suggests that how we process emotions, whether healthily or destructively, might be influenced by our experiences with pain.

What’s the core purpose of our discussion today? Often, at the end of our sessions, we question the relevance of our topics. How does today’s topic fit with our Sabbath school class objectives? I believe there are several facets that can enrich our understanding:

  • Self-Understanding: Each of us is uniquely crafted by God. With individual genetic makeups and varied life experiences, it’s essential to understand ourselves. This comprehension is foundational to effectively reaching out and assisting others.
  • Empathy Towards Suffering: Recognizing the intricacies of pain and suffering, both from genetic and environmental perspectives, can deepen our empathy.
  • Biblical Insights: It’s crucial to connect our biblical teachings to understanding how suffering can refine our walk with God. Do we flee from God during hardship or embrace the lessons suffering brings? This has been a recurrent theme in our previous discussions.
  • Commitment to Help: Our faith calls us to aid a world in pain, showcasing our grace-inspired compassion.

Today’s focus is on the intersection of faith and personality. I find it intriguing that faith plays a significant role in the “Big Five” personality traits. For instance, enthusiastic and disciplined individuals are often more religious. Research suggests a positive correlation between open-minded spirituality and traits like agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extraversion.

However, it’s essential to remember that correlation doesn’t equate to causation. World religions emphasize that beliefs should translate into actions. Numerous studies highlight that religious beliefs and practices promote prosocial behavior and diminish risk-taking that can harm one’s health. Such behaviors often correlate with a strong sense of social identity and a tie to religious teachings.

To conclude, let’s ponder these questions:

  • How does our personality influence our faith-driven efforts to alleviate others’ suffering?
  • Are there specific personality types we might unintentionally avoid helping due to our own biases?
  • As believers infused with grace, can we better understand the diverse experiences of those around us who suffer?

David: It seems to me many personality traits can be distilled down to the primary categories of introversion and extraversion. Many characteristics might just be variations or subsets of these two primary traits. Sharon’s observation about extroverts gravitating towards religious practices is intriguing. Extending that idea, it might suggest that introverts lean more towards spirituality. 

Reflecting on biblical teachings, Jesus encourages solitary prayer, suggesting an introverted approach. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily align with the extrovert’s inclination towards communal worship, singing, and celebratory expressions of faith. 

While the Bible acknowledges and values both approaches, Sharon’s analysis offers a more nuanced categorization. It is enlightening, and fosters a deeper understanding of diverse worship preferences stemming from varied personality types.

Donald: What does “religious” truly signify? I’ve observed that Don rarely uses the term “religious.” Instead, he opts for “spiritual.” In essence, we assist with spiritual matters, not religious ones. The term “religious” conveys a stronger association with organized religion, implying a connection to church. On the other hand, “spiritual” feels more personal and private. While spirituality can evolve into religiosity, they are distinct. 

While this may not directly relate to suffering, I’ve often described our group to friends as being about “things of the Spirit,” a phrase Don frequently uses. I believe it’s vital to differentiate the two, and I’m not sure we’ve addressed this distinction as a group. If Don suggested we gather to discuss “religious matters,” I suspect our reaction would differ.

Sharon: I’d like to clarify that I was referencing the researchers’ terminology, not expressing my personal view. To me, the term “religion” carries sociological implications rather than psychological ones. I find it notable that you highlight the researchers’ focus on broader societal concerns instead of individual spiritual experiences. Personally, I lean more towards understanding the spiritual impact rather than factors of religiosity.

Donald: Yet, wouldn’t you agree that suggesting extroverts are more spiritual paints a different picture? What implications does this have for those who are less extroverted? Linking extroversion to church involvement implies that introverts, who might prefer a more personal spiritual journey, have a contrasting experience to extroverts who are eager to actively participate in church activities. 

This brings us to the topic of suffering. For instance, if an individual feels guilty for not attending church, they bear an emotional burden.

Kiran: I’ve often felt out of place at camp meetings as an introvert. There’s this prevalent expectation that you should bring someone to the church, and if they get baptized, the numbers would double the following year. This was a challenge I never seemed to overcome. My perspective shifted when I read Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. The book provides historical context, illustrating that in Europe, there wasn’t a distinction between extroverted religiosity and introverted spirituality. 

The divide primarily emerged in the U.S. during the 19th century. The author discusses a charismatic, extroverted preacher who gained popularity for his dynamic sermons. Yet, behind the scenes, an introverted church supporter played a crucial role in organizing and disseminating his messages. The public was more captivated by the extroverted pastor, adopting his approach as the model. This led to the dominance of extroverted religiosity, especially in American Christianity. Interestingly, this isn’t the norm globally.

Reinhard: When observing individuals with diverse backgrounds and behaviors, I draw parallels with professional education. Whether one studies medicine, law, or any discipline, the curriculum molds them, regardless of their genetic makeup or background. Similarly, the Bible speaks of unity and having a singular purpose. 

No matter one’s inherent disposition—be it introverted or extroverted—we are guided by the teachings we absorb. The Bible emphasizes unity, suggesting that irrespective of our backgrounds, we should strive for a shared understanding and purpose. Our goal is clear: to be devout followers of God. Any barriers in our behavior can be addressed. The essence of Christianity and our belief in God equips us to overcome obstacles, fortifying both our relationship with the divine and with our peers. 

When Jesus emphasized loving one’s neighbor, it was a directive that transcends our individual backgrounds and behaviors. The teachings of the Bible empower us to navigate any challenges, strengthening our bond with God and fostering harmony with each other.

David: I’ve been reflecting on our numerous discussions about the stages of faith and how they might correspond to shifts in personality. Sharon highlighted that personality traits aren’t immutable and can evolve as a result of life experiences. We’ve delved deep into the stages of faith in our sessions. While I can’t recall the specifics, I remember it begins with individuals having little to no faith or awareness of a broader universe. Then, in stage 2, they join the church, enthused by the sense of community. As they progress, they might enter a phase (3) of doubt. Ultimately, they reconcile their doubt, marking their arrival at stage 4. 

This journey seems to depict a transition from extraversion to introversion, which I find intriguing.

Kiran: I believe that aligning our minds with God doesn’t necessitate us all being clones of each other. Reflecting on Jesus’ selection of disciples and Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts, it’s evident that diversity is celebrated. This varied tapestry of personalities and skills can address a multitude of needs while still maintaining unity in faith. 

Many religious believers, irrespective of their religion, often hold the notion that if everyone conformed to a singular ideal, society would prosper. However, God’s design in creating diverse individuals hints at a grander plan. By embracing our unique traits and uniting under His guidance, we can achieve far more than if we were mere replicas of a single archetype. 

Over time, understanding personality types has eased my interactions with extroverts within the church. It’s fostered better communication and mutual understanding without necessitating a change in one’s core personality.

Carolyn: I’d like to emphasize the significance of pride. It appears to me that extroverts often display it more prominently. The adage “pride comes before the fall” resonates with many of us. I’m curious to explore the intersection of personality and pride and how they influence one another.

Kiran: I’ve encountered both pride and intolerance, and my experiences differ from the general perception. I’ve met many compassionate extroverts.

Donald: Carolyn’s point is thought-provoking. When I reflect on the nature of pastors, most seem to be extroverted. And where does pride position itself on the extroversion spectrum? Are the most extroverted individuals also the most prideful? It’s worth considering, especially when observing churches that disintegrate after losing their leading pastor. 

Reinhard’s insights and Kiran’s responses resonate with me. We often hear phrases like “one mind, one heart” and “good standing,” and they interconnect with feelings of unity, harmony, and even guilt. David emphasized the personal, spiritual dimension, which differs significantly from the collective religious or church perspective.

Sharon: While some extroverts may exhibit pride, the same trait can be found in introverts. I’ve come across scholars who boast about their achievements, despite being more introverted. Pride isn’t exclusive to one personality type. Both introverts and extroverts must grapple with setting aside their pride to serve humanity humbly and nurture their spiritual connection with God. It’s a universal challenge.

Carolyn: So, is humility innate? Is it an intrinsic part of our personality or a divine gift?

Sharon: It’s an intriguing question, whether humility is genetic or influenced by our environment. Children raised by humble parents are likely to emulate that trait due to their role models. Still, many character traits evolve as we grow spiritually and seek guidance from God. We can certainly enhance our character, not solely through our efforts but in collaboration with a higher power. 

Are humble individuals generally happier than those filled with pride? I believe that those who embody the virtues of God experience greater peace and contentment. A prideful demeanor often repels attention, while humility attracts it. Through prayer and emulating Christ’s teachings, we can evolve. Over time, with dedicated effort, our character can transform.

Donald: We often conflate certain traits, but it’s essential to differentiate them. Can’t someone be both humble and confident?

Sharon: Absolutely.

Donald: Exactly. While confidence is a trait we generally admire in others, pride can be off-putting. The line between confidence and overconfidence—or pride—can be thin.

Reinhard: I believe most families raise their children with the aspiration of success. Success isn’t necessarily tied to arrogance or presumption. However, our Christian teachings emphasize humility, compassion, and mercy. 

The contrast between believers and those unfamiliar with God’s teachings can sometimes be stark. The more we practice our faith and beliefs, the humbler and more faithful we become. 

Recognizing our origins and purpose helps us align with God’s desires for us. We’re taught obedience, humility, and love, regardless of our personalities or achievements.

This discussion has been enlightening, but I think we can delve even deeper. Some behaviors, even grievous sins, could be influenced by genetics and environment. This introduces complex questions about the nature of sin, personal responsibility, and our religious beliefs.

That’s a profound observation. Do we then blame the victim? The Bible alludes to the “sins of the fathers” affecting multiple generations. Could this be a reference to the genetic nature of sin? While we’ve touched upon these topics, there’s so much more depth to explore. 

However, our collective diversity and unity provide strength and perspective. If we were all identical, our world would lack vibrancy and depth. In the body of Christ, each of us plays a unique role, and together, we stand strong. Let’s reconvene next week and look to Michael to continue this enriching discussion.

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