I am almost never bored because I think that even the most common things are interesting to me. I think stories about every day life are fascinating because they give glimpses into how people live. I also am grateful to those who write stories or diaries about their lives because they give future generations a glimpse into how life used to be. I have a treasured memory of EJ and me visiting an older couple from our church–years ago, before JJ was born. We sat on the large wraparound porch sipping lemonade on a hot summer day as the elderly man described how, back when he was young, his family would have to stop to patch the tires on their car every few miles on their way to town because, back then, tires weren’t so good and “blew” easily. How interesting! Family stories are how we pass history down to future generations.
I enjoy writing about my own every day life but while I do my routine tasks, I am always thinking, thinking, thinking on deep levels. I rarely find routine tasks boring because the more routine the task, the more attention I can give to my thoughts. Thinking is sort of the background music to my life. I do not often write about my deep thoughts because I find it difficult to put into words the thoughts that I am thinking. In fact, this is the third day that I have tried to describe thoughts I have been thinking about all summer. After writing for several hours each day, I have given up in frustration, thinking “I can’t explain my thoughts! Who cares what I think and what does it matter anyway?”
The problem is that sometimes thoughts fill up in my head and if I don’t pour them out in writing, I can’t sleep. Grrrr. I once told JJ that the only way a person has to share who he/she is with another is through communication–whether spoken, written, art, etc.–and if he can’t communicate then it’s as if “Who He Is” is locked in solitary confinement. Sometimes that is how it feels when I am filled with thoughts that I cannot express: Locked in a prison with no ability to communicate Who I Am. Well, maybe sometimes I have a sort of morse code, but a simple tap-tap-tapping is entirely inadequate to express complex thoughts.
I have been thinking a lot this summer about personality traits and introverts/extroverts. I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test to learn my personality type and I found it to be very helpful to me. In our society extroverts are valued while introverts are often considered to be broken, flawed, deficient, inept–so it’s easy for an introvert to feel there is something wrong with her. Articles that affirm that we aren’t broken extroverts, we are unique people with amazing gifts, are refreshing, healing, and empowering. According to the Myers-Briggs Test, there are 16 different types of personalities. I learned that I am an INFJ, which is a rare introverted type that only 1-2% of the population has. I (and EJ) am also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Lights, noises, smells, etc., all get absorbed, processed and evaluated by HSPs. Unfortunately when there’s too much activity and noise around them, they can’t handle it for a great length of time. Emotionally, they are affected by much of the disharmony in the world. They feel another person’s heartache, they are aware of low levels of anger or resentment in a room, they are greatly affected by conflict, they empathize with other people’s problems, and they feel great sorrow over horrific tragedies.
People with INFJ traits are very deep thinkers who perceive the world differently and more profoundly than others. (No, we do NOT think too much, it’s how our brains are wired.) According to various websites, we take in tons of information through our senses, and we are sensitive to patterns and similarities, quickly seeing connections among disparate pieces of data. By seeing how everything is connected and interrelated, we are capable of discerning universal laws and structures. We constantly work to process and synthesize incoming data, like assembling pieces of a puzzle. (I have often said to EJ that I turn thoughts this way and that, trying to make sense of them and fit them together similar to trying to solve a Rubic’s Cube.) Eventually, we construct an impression or vision of what is happening. We also have the ability to read emotional expressions and body language.
Because of the way we connect, process information and read people, we are more skilled than most at accurately discerning what is happening in a given situation and we have uncanny insight into people and situations. We are usually considered to be very wise, insightful, and accurate in our assessments. In many cases, we do not fully understand the nature of an insight until we are given the opportunity to verbalize it. (You should hear how many thoughts that I pour out to my EJ!! And often I have to write things out to understand them.) We may have a hunch or a gut feeling, but the content of the intuition can remain somewhat nebulous until it is expressed.
All this describes why I need to express my thoughts and also why I sometimes find it difficult. I see many connections between many different things and I consider many different perspectives. The more complex the subject, the more connections and perspectives I see. Sometimes I see so many connections and interconnections, so many trails of thought branching off into others which branch off into others, and so many differing perspectives that a topic can become too immense, too complicated, too impossible to write about. It can be uncomfortable to be filled with thoughts but be unable to pour them out.
I feel more comfortable writing than speaking. I hate to be put on the spot with questions like “What do you think about this……” I’ve read that introverts might appear “slow” to some people because we need time to think, but EJ says that he believes I think so very fast that I need time to sort through all my thoughts and connections and perspectives when I am asked a question. I think he is correct. Writing allows me to sort through my thoughts better than speaking does. (I can totally relate to Tevye in the movie Fiddler on the Roof when he pulls back and appears to “freeze” time to work through all the perspectives of a situation.)
Thinking, processing, connecting, and working thoughts like a puzzle enables me to learn deeply. For example, in struggling to make sense of painful experiences like abuse or conflict, I process and question and puzzle, working through connections and inter-connections, until I can understand what forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation, love, etc., is and isn’t. Many times my understandings have been later verified through other sources. I was amazed to observe how many of the beliefs that I struggled to understand actually conform to ancient Hebraic understandings. (Maybe that’s why I love Hebrew so much–I relate to its many connections and perspectives.) However, my thoughts don’t always “mesh” with common teachings so I also find that I am often not understood when I try to explain my thoughts to people. So sometimes it’s very difficult to explain my thoughts.
In addition, I find that people tend to hear what they want to hear and it’s easy (for us all) to make assumptions without really listening to what is actually being said. For example, when I struggled with emotional abuse, many people assumed that I was dealing with a simple conflict that could be resolved if I “only just loved them more” rather than understand, as I sensed, that it was a serious battle against abusive control. They gave me advice that kept me in the abuse for a long time until my understanding reach the point that I could free myself. Also, at the last church we attended I really thought, processed, wrestled with, and questioned what the pastor was teaching and doing because it was extremely controlling–and I sensed deeply that he was abusive. My experience at this church was the worst and most painful church experience I’ve ever had, although I am thankful that it caused me to question, think, and process many things. I learned a lot and I am where I am now because of it. But it was very difficult. I have observed that whenever a person mentions abusive experiences like these, most people immediately conclude the person is being unfairly critical and they argue that no one is perfect, we ought not to judge, and (in regards to the church) we need to support and submit to our leaders. But unfairly judging is totally different from dealing with abuse. Jim Jones was a cult leader several decades ago who started out as a Baptist minister. I have sometimes wondered how many people remained in his cult because they were told “not to judge” when they expressed concern about his teaching as he transformed from a Baptist minister into a cult leader who led 918 followers to a Kool-aid poisoned death. It can be tricky to know when someone is being critical and when he has valid concerns, but I think we need to be discerning and wise and not too quickly leap to assumptions. I ponder thoughts like these all the time, but many times I can’t express them. For one thing, they can sound (or sometimes be) too critical. JJ and I have conversations about keeping balance. On the one hand, we are all imperfect people who have weaknesses, wounds, and failures, and we all need forgiveness and help at one time or another. On the other hand, we need to discern when a person is abusive, etc., so we can maintain healthy boundaries and, if need be, walk away.
I’ve learned that painful experiences can often lead to great understanding and growth. Many times the pain and struggle give depth and understanding to what was learned and leaving out those details diminishes the truth learned or victory gained. For example, a person can share her beliefs about forgiveness, but there is more understanding if her “audience” is aware that her beliefs were formed through great heartbreak and struggle. Leaving out the original experience or the struggle feels to me like jumping into the end of the story. It leaves out essential parts of the story. Yet, I also understand that we need to be very careful that we don’t publicly humiliate or hurt others. So sorting through what to share and not to share, how to give understanding without revealing what ought not to be revealed, can add to the difficulty of sharing thoughts.
In addition to deep, complex thinking, my personality type tends to be very gentle, deeply caring people who are often Empaths, meaning we deeply feel and are affected by the suffering of others. We are natural nurturers; patient, devoted and protective. We tend to be observers and listeners, we deeply understand people, we are concerned for people’s feelings, and we try to be gentle to avoid hurting anyone. For this reason, hurting people often come to us for love, acceptance, and advice. We are also very sensitive to conflict, and cannot tolerate it very well so we avoid it as long as we can. These traits explain why we often appear to be “people pleasers” who don’t stand up for ourselves. However, many times I don’t criticize people because I deeply understand their wounds, pain, and struggles. This reminds me of a Sunday morning several years ago when a woman severely reprimanded EJ for parking in a parking spot close to the church doors. She told him that he ought to be ashamed of himself for not parking further away so the old and disabled could have the closer spots. (FYI: He was not parking in a handicapped space.) What the woman didn’t know was that EJ usually parked in far away places for just that reason, but on that particular morning EJ was suffering such severe back pain that it was amazing he even made it to church or was able to hobble to the door. She had assumed that because EJ looked strong that he was. She might have been more empathetic if she had known EJ’s painful struggles.
I am usually slow to criticize because I realize that I do not always have all the facts and that suffering is not always visible. And sometimes I do not criticize because I DO know what a person is suffering, I know that he or she is fighting fiercely and bravely to overcome a problem or wound. Also, I know that God’s timing is not always mine, that no one can overcome every “failure” or “weakness” all at once, and growth and healing takes time. What I do instead is try to support and encourage them in their current battles. This is not “not speaking up” or “people pleasing.” This is love and understanding.
Of course, there is also another perspective to this: Love and understanding doesn’t mean that we have to accept insults or abuse from others. Healthy boundaries are, well, healthy. I have suffered abuse from people who I knew were deeply wounded, but I eventually learned that my accepting their insults was destructive to both me and them…
Anyway, people with my personality trait also have strong value systems, and we need to live our lives in accordance with what we believe is right. We will not violate our beliefs and values in order to fit in and be accepted. This is kind of difficult to explain because I am willing to change my beliefs if, after processing them, I discover them to be untrue, and I also believe people ought to have the freedom to make their own choices–and experience the consequences of their actions, good or bad. However, no amount of pressure will force me to believe or do something that I believe is untrue or wrong. One example is that I have come to believe that the Torah (Law) is not “done away with” as I was always taught, and I celebrate the biblical Feasts and Shabbat even though that puts me out of step with many Christian friends who believe otherwise. If asked, I will explain my position, but I will not try to pressure others because I think that is something they need to work out with God. If a person honestly seeks God, I’m confident that He can change anything that needs changing in them, but if a person is unwilling to change, no amount of “logical argument” will convince them otherwise. So I simply live true to my own beliefs and no amount of pressure, no matter what it costs me, will force me to unwillingly change my beliefs or actions. But sometimes I feel a great struggle within me when my love of people conflicts with my need to live according to my values. It can be difficult to reconcile the two.
All that I have written thus far is merely the beginning, the foundation, of what I have been thinking all this summer. I will now try to write the next part of the story. That may take days, hours, weeks, or never, depending on how successful I am in expressing my thoughts.