By Demar Cornwall
A church may be defined as an institution or group of people coming together to serve the same Supreme Being. A church’s membership differs in size, ethnicity, gender and social class which contributes to personality differences within the body. One’s personality has a combination of characteristics or qualities that forms his/her distinctive character, especially those personal characteristics that make one socially appealing (dictionary.com). Personality psychology seeks to describe the person as a whole and attempts to understand the individual differences and the universal traits. One’s personality may consist of five (5) major aspects: (1) Extraversion (2) Agreeableness (3) Conscientiousness (4) Neuroticism (5) Openness (Cherry).
Since the church has to deal with different personality types it should be able to deal with the challenges that may arise. But what are the challenges? These challenges may stem from a sociological, religious and psychological point of view. In this essay I will attempt to explain how problems such as social anxiety and narcissistic personality disorder can affect the Church and the individual within the context of the Jamaican society, additionally the church’s ability to manage personality differences in general will also be discussed.
Social anxiety otherwise called social phobia, may be defined as the fear of evaluation or judgment in social or performance situations (Cuncic). Cuncic states that, social anxiety may be elicited by a number of triggers, including formal interactions, such as public speaking; informal interactions, such as meeting a stranger; situations requiring assertive behavior; or everyday actions, such as eating in front of others. It is an epidemic that causes one who attends church to leave shortly after arriving because s/he is unable to handle the crowd. People suffering from social anxiety often say that they feel nervous and awkward when they have to speak to others and are always concerned about what people are saying about them (Burger 209). They also have a problem when they are to meet new people or having to present to or address an audience and are always misunderstood by others. In some instances social anxiety affects a member of the church when s/he is placed in a certain post or given a certain task to do. According to Mormon Times, Dani Israelson had no problem with social anxiety until she was sent on mission in Jamaica. She stated that she became scared to get up in front of the class or when she was on teaching practice she would get nervous, as opposed to her “loud-mouth” and “super obnoxious” behavior in high school. In other instances ministers might walk off the pulpit while preaching, singing or reading the Bible because of this disorder. Social anxiety brings separation from the person it is affecting and the public and overtime without treatment would cause this barrier to become immovable/permanent.
The current treatment of social phobia or anxiety is exposure. According to Dr. Beckham, exposure, an initial goal of the therapist is to identify what the client is actually afraid of (16). He further states that it goes beyond simply labeling a situation such as, “public speaking” or “eating in public” but involves the full fear, which also includes for many people the fear of humiliation (16). The technique of public humiliation can be used by pastoral counsellors in the church to assist the patient or members of the church in confronting their fear. When an individual is placed in a situation where he/she has to encounter fears, the anxiety lasts for only a short period. This is because the anxiety begins to decrease and the brain is then in a position to tolerate its environment without fear. This is the process of habituation which is defined by Princeton University as being “abnormally tolerant to and dependent on something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming”. The Church should find programmes to help the persons in the group to face their fears. These programmes should be designed to enable one to more deeply “experience” him/herself as well as their relationship with God and the Christian Community.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is another form of personality issues that can affect the church and the individual. This disorder is described as having an abnormal love of self, an exaggerated sense of superiority and importance and a preoccupation with success and power. Symptoms of NPD ranges from a person being self-centered and boastful to being arrogant or having strong attitude problems. This disorder may be developed as a result of excessive pampering, abuse, neglect, trauma inflicted by parents or guardians among others (Cleveland Clinic). The Cleveland Clinic suggests that this disorder is rarely evident in the childhood stage by stating that it is evident in the adulthood stage. In some churches, NPD is evident in the leadership and membership. Using their religion and the gift God has bestowed on them to be seen by the membership as a “hero”. Even though testifying about how you overcome a situation or a trial is not Narcissistic Personality Disorder, someone who has evidence of NPD would be taking that situation out of proportion making it seem as if they were God; personally taking themselves out of the trial. NPD affected persons have little empathy for persons who are in need of help. A good example is in a case where a church member or leader goes to the person affected with NPD about a family member who died a few hours ago. S/he being full of him/herself or lacking of empathy would disregard the person’s feelings, perhaps say something that would hurt them more or “belittling” the person’s situation or amplifying their own. The aim of the NPD affected is always to keep the spotlight on him/herself. In addition, they are most likely to exaggerate about their achievement (Cleveland Clinic). For example, having a PhD in Theology so I am closer to God than everyone else within Jamaica or the church.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not curable but it is treatable. According to Mayo Clinic, personality traits can be difficult to change so therapy may take several years. Treatment for Narcissistic Personality Disorder is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which includes family therapy and Group therapy. A pastoral psychologist using Cognitive Behavior Therapy, should be able to guide the narcissist to become aware of painful feelings about him/herself that have led him/her to develop a narcissistic style and to become insensitive to the needs and feelings of others. If the narcissist is “unsaved”, being converted and accepting the Lord as his/her Lord and savior can also be used to break the tendency of being a narcissist since submitting to Christ is a sign of humility. It is to be noted however, that it will take a lengthy period to break this disorder and being a Christian does not mean you will be perfect. The pastoral psychologist’s role is to gently show the patient his/her faults and to identify ways in which he/she can break from habitual impulses which causes him/her to think only about him/herself. If the person is married, marriage counseling could be implemented to assist the patient’s partner to cope with the issue at hand. This also can be used to “gently” identify the faults of the patient. Very often spouses of a narcissist are affected with self-esteem problems and would help the spouse express his or her feelings to the patient which may improve his or her marriage. In the event that the congregation has several members affected with NPD, leadership could form a small support group including persons in the wider community in an effort to control this disorder within the community.
In order to manage personality differences/disorders in the church, the minister or pastoral psychologist should be able to help persons who are affected by disorders to understand the basis of their issue and how the church can assist them in controlling the disorder even if it cannot be cured. The minister/pastoral psychologist should also give the affected person space to reflect on the situation and allow the person to discuss his/her observations. If the case is beyond the expertise of the psychologist/minister, the matter should be referred to someone who is better able to deal with it.
Effectively managing the personality variables in the Church or society can greatly decrease time spent on ongoing interventions that may be necessary for pastor (s) or supervisor (s) to undertake, it can also increase efficiency of tasks given, and create growth opportunities for the Church membership. Management of personality differences is important for the smooth running of any organization including the Church or homes. Persons in leadership positions should be equipped with the necessary tools/knowledge for dealing with a range of disorders. The existence of such skill among leaders will minimize confrontations with individuals of opposite personality types and allow persons to work together in groups with a reduction of conflicts arising.
Some people like plans and structure; others prefer things to be open ended. Big problems can arise when you have people with opposite approaches working together. With tight-loose management you define the goal (what is to be achieved), the boundaries (finite amounts of time, resource, people etc) and any points in time where people’s work intersects or there is a need to pass on information. Once the differences are recognized then space should be provided for persons to work in their own style. People lose energy if they are forced to work against their natural patterns. (Bris) People have different personalities and as such should be understood, the Church must deal with the different personalities in their congregation so as to have, where possible harmonious relationships.
In conclusion, the church will always have issues or challenges relating to personality differences. Hence the need for ministers and or other member(s) of the church to be trained in pastoral psychology. In this society persons face different types of personality disorder which affect the church in general, since we are all as Christians, ambassadors for Christ, we need to ensure that the body of Christ well equipped to tackle these disorders. A church faced with obvious negative forms of personality differences will be unattractive in the eyes of the community and prospective members. Taking care of the church’s personality challenges makes the lives of its members less complicated and the job of the pastor or counsellor a bit lighter. It is crucial for leaders both to understand personality differences and its management. The implementation of this understanding would be attractive to the membership and may draw others who are in need of help to the congregation.
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