Monday, April 19, 2010

Personality Gifts

Rarely do I have such an intensely interesting Abnormal Psychology class, though I must admit, studying personality disorders and what one means by "abnormal" is an intriguing feat indeed.

Tonight we talked about a Roman Catholic Mystical notion called "Personality Gifts." This is a reframing of many prevalent personality disorders into gifts that a person may use for the good of themselves and others. To begin with, this methodology takes a popular disorder, such as Histrionic Personality Disorder, and boils it down to a belief that someone may have, such as "you can't have everything you see." Then, interestingly enough, the healing path is a very cognitive-behavioral reframing of a person's seemingly overriding belief into something more positive. Acknowledging the truth of it and moving it in the direction of a positive behavioral solution.

"Take the knowledge that “ you can’t have everything you see” and show others, through your own faith, that all social life is just empty show and that no emotional fulfillment can be had except in Christ."

I'm quite skeptical of the underlying theological claims, and I'm not certain that boiling a person down to someone who always makes a choice is fair, especially in light of biological causes of certain disordered behavior. There have been genetic and chemistry-related issues found correlated, at the very least, to many disorders. A schizophrenic, for example, usually has very real medical issues that require medical treatment.

But a personality disorder, unlike a clinical disorder, develops throughout a person's life. Someone who is histrionic has been developing or has had that problem since birth or at the very least, a very young age. And still, medication is utilized in treating them, and often it works.

How much of how we try to deal with life is traceable to biology, and how much is traceable to our spirituality, our volition, and our freedom as human beings?

Is it really helpful to be fatalistic or to push one mystical solution or medical science as the thing that fixes all? If medicine could fix all cases of psychological disorder, then why is disordered behavior getting more drastic as medical science increases, and some merely need to think through their issues (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy)? If it is all a matter of choice, then why do some afflicted with personality disorders literally have no way out of them aside from medical assistance?

Is it possible that, as Jacque Lacan says, we really are not as simple as any reductionistic viewpoint tells us?

"THE French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, taught that all desire is the “desire of the Other.” [1] In plain language, this means that most of our unconscious life is a product of a variety of external social influences. The concept of personality, therefore, although a common term in psychology, really doesn’t mean much because any person is really composed of many diverse, fragmentary—and generally illusory—images of “self.” "
1. Jacques Lacan, “The subversion of the subject and the dialectic of desire in the Freudian unconscious.” In Écrits: A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977).

A person is not merely a set of biological predispositions, nor are they a set of spiritual presuppositions. A person is not a single personality, they're a mess of all sorts of influences, predispositions, and choices.

In light of this, is it possible that not only must we consider that sometimes medication is an adequate and necessary step in helping those in psychological distress, but that biology is never the only cause of a thing, even if it is a necessary treatable part? Furthermore, must we not also recognize that to simply label personality disorders as sin is an equal reduction of a person to their will, without any recognition of factors in their life that may be causing them distress that we can not measure with our theology?

My bias is to address a person philosophically, to bring them to a greater understanding of themselves and to help them function on as high of a level of awareness as possible. I must admit that I am biased against the medical practice toward psychological disorders. I must guard against reducing my thought to this, or I will do more harm than good toward the people I wish to help in my professional and personal life.

Because people are messy, and no two are alike.

Reference to "Personality Disorders: Christian recommendations for treatment" -

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