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Monday, September 16, 2013

Will versus Personality

Perhaps those of you with a clinical background have something constructive to say.  Right now, I'm just thinking out loud.  Everyone is free to disagree or agree with what I am about to say.

I've been reading a 'professional' book about Codependency, which I have found very helpful in many ways, and 'out-of-the-box' in other ways.  But, one thing it did do is get me thinking about the psychological term 'personality' and how the Church really does not use a similar concept at all.

From all that I have read, the Church has never officially recognized any system of categorizing Personality, which Wikipedia defines as:

1. A set of qualities that make a person (or thing) distinct from another2. An assumed role or manner of behavior

I think it is safe to assume that the reason for this is that the manifestations of personality, whether we are 'Introverts' or 'Extroverts,' are really not impediments to salvation and the path to God.  Salvation and inner peace are paths all men can choose, no matter their personality traits.

What is interesting is that when you compare this with the 12 Steps, you notice the same approach: personality is not an issue, only sobriety.  And, the Steps can be worked so long as you are willing to work them.

I think the lone difference between the two is that the Church accepts the notion that those with significant personality problems that cannot be treated will receive their justice for their suffering in the afterlife, whereas those who are 'constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves,' as the Big Book categorizes them, simply can't get sober through the Steps.  That is completely understandable if you think about it: the Steps are narrow in scope and represent only one way to sobriety (though the most common and generally effective way, I might add).  

There is also the additional difference that the Steps deal with the limited issue of addiction and its underlying Passions, while the Church deals with a grander scale of all humanity, not just the 10% or so of the population with addiction issues.  

What this book, Understanding Codependency, Updated and Expanded: The Science Behind It and How to Break the Cycle, triggered in my thinking as, aside from a very well-thought-through explanation of addictions, but also the idea that addiction is a 'sub-personality' condition.  The process of becoming addicted and also being treated for it has to go on below the details of the personality itself.

Of course, as clinical types, the rest of the book explains treatment in terms of personality manipulation, which is why I became more and more disappointed with a great beginning.  These days, personality systems are an inescapable reality when dealing with mental health professionals.  It is really all they have to work with.

Personality theory is the only way a professional can understand what is going on inside us without directly experiencing it.  I also want to emphasize that just being an addict does not give anyone license to 'treat' others... most addicts do have profound personality problems that could use a lot of professional treatment to get through.

What I suppose I am saying is that professional counseling and the Steps operate at two parallel levels in the human person.  Since each level is part of the same person, they do influence one another, and so you can't really say that one is 'superior' to the other because malfunctions at either level can bring enormous amounts of misery to the whole person.

We definitely need both, and we should not try to use one system to cure problems in another.  Nor should we thing that problems in one are not effected by problems in another.  Again, humans are an organic whole, and the only way to successfully 'dissect' them is to kill them.  That's when psychology fails: when it tries to explain what goes on within man at a spiritual level, invariably it goes weird.  The more successful systems allow for spirituality.

When you let psychologists start teaching spirituality, you get humdingers like this:

The most precious part of us is our souls.  In fact, we are not in our bodies.  We are given our bodies as marvelous, beautifully designed Land Rovers for moving us around the planet.  We are inside there somewhere looking out, and God is driving.  More and more often we hear this great self-worth phrase: "I am me!  Hooray!"

Paging Dr. Plato...

As goofy and maudlin as this sounds, it is also entirely dangerous for the addict.  Dissociating from one's body in even the slightest way is disastrous for addicts, just ask our friends with food disorders based on body image.  Then again, these writers get to 'specialize' in one area, which spirituality can't do.  The truth of spirituality is its universality.

If it isn't true everywhere, then it is true nowhere.

Truth is never 'particular,' but this is a rabbit trail I won't put you through today.

This 'sub-personality' layer of humanity I think of as the will, and it is the will that the Church does take great concern with.  Human personality is ignored I think largely because it simply is too complicated and would take too much time and resources when people very often need short answers during those occasional moments when our ears open.

It is also the Will that drives our actions through our personalities.  Therefore, if you cure the Will, the forces of personality and the problems of personality, subside.  After all, if we are better able to manage our personalities, then we will be better able to be patient with others and also not 'crowd' people with the demands of our unmanaged, feral personalities.  Of course, a problemed personality requires both a cure of the Personality and the Will.  This is why 'Personality Disorders' are so phenomenally hard to treat.

I think that psychology and spirituality are both important to man's overall health, and I hope that counseling professionals and clergy can work together to help heal the many people around us who are ill and suffering.

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