Monday, September 3, 2007

Introverted Boundaries

It’s a crisp autumn day in Southern California (it’s actually 108 and humid and it feels like death – I blame Al Gore for this), and it’s time for a new season of blogging on Introverted Church. I have yet to hear anything positive or negative from my potential publisher about my book proposal, and so I didn’t do much writing over the summer. But I have a pronounced “hermeneutic of introversion,” and I find myself regularly interpreting experiences in light of my personality tendencies.

When I describe my current ministry to people, some of them envision me sitting on a porch swing, sipping lemonade, and chatting with pleasant and hospitable old people, who are reflecting gratefully on their younger days and weaving yarns about collecting rubber during the war. In truth, what I face about 80% of the time are people with anxiety, depression, anger, regret, and fear, feelings which are only compounded by parallel emotions in their family members who are watching them die.

For most people, to talk regularly with people undergoing these kind of intense emotions would be incredibly draining and even emotionally dehabilitating. Yet what I have found over the last few months is that I have a strong ability to keep appropriate distance from people while still entering far enough into their emotional worlds to help them feel that they are not alone. And while the job certainly gets to me and the stress levels that I feel manifest in certain ways, I find that I am able to keep a proper separation between my professional and personal lives. I am not certain how much of this ability owes to my introversion and how much of this is related to other personality features or gifts (or pathologies!).

In my conversations with other introverts and in my research, I have discovered that many introverts have gifts of compassion. My hypothesis is that the farther you probe into the depths of your own psyche, the more you are able to enter into the worlds of others. Because of this, there are a high number of introverts in the psychiatric profession. But I also wonder whether because, according to Carl Jung, introverts “find primary meaning within the self,” that we are better equipped to keep appropriate distance between ourselves and the emotional worlds of others who are suffering? If extroverts find energy and meaning outside of the self, does that make it harder for extroverts to separate their own internal worlds from the worlds of others?