After reading about the Princeton experiment it got me thinking about my own personality and how it has “changed” over the last number of years.
When I was in high school I was super involved in my youth group’s student leadership. I had big dreams about going into ministry and, looking back, I can remember how much of my identity was rooted in my role in the youth group. I remember taking personality tests that listed me as an extrovert.. I loved that I was an extrovert. I loved going to church and talking to everyone there. After services I would wander the foyer and “work the crowd”. I loved being surrounded by lots of people.
When I went to Bible College and began to explore the more artistic side of myself, I realized that, no, I was an introvert. Definitely an introvert. I loved sitting in my room and journaling (or at least the idea of journaling). I found myself most at peace when I was surrounded by my few closest friends.
Did I originally define myself as an extrovert and play that up because that’s what I thought a good, influential leader did? Did I become an introvert because that’s what I thought the best, most creative artists were? Did I invent myself around whatever self-concept seemed the most profitable at that time?
I remember writing those personality tests and remembering all of my outgoing, social qualities. I remember agreeing with my Old Testament professor when she said that I was drained, not energized, by large groups.
We, as people, are always reinterpreting the past to justify the present. It’s why, when seeking a divorce, a spouse will say “I never really loved you”. Somehow it is easier to say that than to admit that something changed along the way. Our minds will always show us the memories that prove what we want to be true, and hide the ones that would contradict (at least until those contradictory memories prove valuable).
So, am I an introvert or extrovert? Did I use my memories to fit the most appealing self-concept of that time. Am I even now reevaluating all of my memories to fit into a “new and improved” self-concept? (Probably.) What does it really mean to “find your identity in Christ”?
Some of you may think “does it matter?” And the answer (at least to me) is yes. It matters because I don’t want to be a slave to my unconscious. I don’t want to act and then justify later. I want my mind to be renewed… but my patterns of thinking and acting won’t change unless I can take those patterns and “hold them up to the light”. I don’t think that psychology is a purely humanist effort. I think questions like these, “who am I” and “why do I do what I do and respond how I respond”, can be more of a dialogue with God about the truth of the human condition than just self-actualization. In fact, if there is to be any real character growth, I think it has to be a dialogue with God… otherwise, we will just continue to justify habits and frailties.
So, I come back to the question – who am I, really? Who are you? Who are we?