Tag Archives: personality

Physiology Phriday: Repetitive thoughts?

Have you ever been tortured by a repetitive word, sound, phrase, song, or the like run through your head? Does it happen only during the day? At night when you wake up?

In psychological studies, there are a number of ways people talk about these experiences. Sometimes folks talk about intrusive thoughts/imagery, but this is usually in the context of PTSD or OCD studies. Others talk about rumination or repetitive thoughts, usually in the context of worry, depression, or anger. Finally, another batch talk about hallucinations in regards to psychotic disorders.

But what is going on in the more mundane repetitive thoughts? Diagnostically, they probably fit a bit more in the OCD genre than anything else (like counting, ordering, etc.).

1. Stress is usually a factor. They happen more frequently the more distressed a person is. It means the person is on higher alert than normal. The repetitions may be directly related to the stressor or may not. What is not know is whether the repetitions are a consequence of stress or a mediator of stress. What is known is that when a person, under stress, experiences repetitive thoughts salient to the stress, feels responsible to fix the problem, and attempts to suppress repetitive thoughts, their ruminations are MORE likely to increase.

2. Neuroticism is probably a factor as well. Sorry folks: those with anxious and depressive tendencies have more repetitive thoughts than others.

3. Emotional intensity as a native trait of the person may also be a factor. There is some evidence that individuals with strong emotions have a greater predisposition to PTSD (and therefore intrusive thoughts) if exposed to traumatic events.

But what to do about repetitive thoughts? Have you found anything helpful? There are certain things that are NOT helpful

1. Ruminating over the thoughts (Ugh, I can’t believe I’m still having that thought)

2. Trying to solve the problem they may be attached to

3. Trying not to think about pink elephants

Okay, so maybe those things don’t work. What does? Sad answer? We don’t know. Distractions do for a short time. Some actually give in to them and repeat them outloud to try to quell them. The more it is possible to pay them little notice, the easier it is to let them slide on out of the mind.

Maybe try to consider them an interesting mental quirk–like the lovable Monk (TV detective) 🙂


Filed under Anxiety, counseling science, Depression, personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology

New personality test for kids?

Personality testing for kids used to be based on parent report. Not a particularly valid method in my book. Yes, the PIC and the PIY (youth self report) provide good data, but they are long and highly influenced by adult models of personality.

So, here’s a cheap and quick personality test: your child’s tooth is loose. Does he (a) allow it to stay hanging by a thread for days, or, (b) work incessantly til he rips it out out even when the root is intact (consequently bleeding for an hour when he should have already been in bed?

I have both children. It is highly reliable. Now to just figure out what the test means.


Filed under Psychology

Science Monday: The end of Psychopathology

No, we haven’t found the cure for psychological problems. We’ve just come to the end of the course today. We’ll be looking at the problem of Borderline Personality Disorder. In order to understand personality disorders, we need to have an adequate understanding of both biblical anthropology (who does God say we are) AND the self (how we experience ourself and the world and so develop a consistent identity). Given that we live in a fallen world where deception rules the day, it is helpful to see how we tend to develop our self identity.  One such theory is called Constructivist Self-Development Theory. In short, the authors suggest the self is made up of

1. Frame of Reference: (one’s identity, worldview, beliefs, etc.)
2. Self-capacity: (inner capabilities that allow the individual to maintain a consistent coherent sense of self and to manage emotions)
3. Ego resources: (ability to conceive consequences, set boundaries, and self protect–ability to develop interpersonal strategies)
4. Sense of safety: (self-perception, trust, control, and connection to others)

This theory (and I haven’t done justice to it in this small space) suggests that these 4 areas work to help people form cognitive schemas that enable them to interpret events and memories from past events).

I like the theory’s attempt to address matters of safety and internal resources. Some people seem to have an innate sense of organization, boundaries, and ability to manage emotions. Others struggle more. In both cases, we develop a coherent sense of self as we construct our sense of ourselves in the world. Those who grow up in more chaotic and destructive environments have a much tougher time getting a bead on themselves and others. The world just doesn’t make as much sense.

The problem is what is not said or explored. Frame of reference, in my opinion, comes not only from experiences but also from God himself (Romans 1). We construct our perceptions of self but not in a vacuum.

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Filed under counseling science, Doctrine/Theology, Uncategorized

Mirroring yourself and why you can’t

We all believe we have a decent grasp on reality. We can read the emotions and motivations of others and accurately evaluate our self. But in point of fact, we operate mostly through assumptions and perceptions of others and our self. Some of us more closely approximate the truth, others less so. Those who have a better grasp of reality tend to be folks willing to test out their perceptions. Without becoming too dependent on the opinions of others, they ask what others are thinking and feeling without preemptive assumptions. When they hear these experiences, they spend more time trying to understand and less time defending their own opinion. They ask for feedback and consider what they hear without denial or acquiescence.

Why is it hard for some to avoid preemptive assumptions about self and the world? Why is it that some use repetitive relational scripts where they accept and play a role in most of their relationships? As children, our sense of self and other builds from our interactions with important figures in our lives. If we are exposed to relentless criticism (we are bad) or neglect (we don’t matter), we are likely to try to conjure up our own sense of self.  Some personality theorists call this a lack of appropriate mirroring.

Most then fall into one of two response types: I must be right all the time or not responsible for my failings (though I fear I will be found out to be a failure), or I am never right and am only worthy of shame (so I fear and avoid people at all costs or allow others to use and destroy me since that is all I am good for). Of course some vacillate between the two.   

Is there any hope for us who find ourselves trapped in these scripts? Some personality theorists would say no. But, they are wrong. There is hope for us, but it is not a hope in safety. What do I mean? There is some safety in playing out the script as we always have. We know we will be rejected, we know that we will be mistreated or misunderstood, and we know how we will respond. There is comfort in the known (even if we hate it at the same time). What is unsafe is to put down our repetitive thoughts about self, fears about what others think, and just begin to observe the other in our relationships. What is it that they think? Feel? Desire? Believe? I liken this to having conversations with another where we no longer talk to them with a mirror in the middle. When the mirror is present, we are relating to them but constantly assessing ourselves, noticing our feelings, etc. When we remove the mirror, we have the opportunity to only see them and have our self go to the background. This, of course, causes us to feel small and vulnerable. Hence why I said that it does not feel safe. And yet, the very act of connecting to another without the mirror positions us to potentially receive more accurate feedback about ourselves.

I’m reminded of the biblical text in James about the man who looks in the mirror and then promptly forgets what he has seen (1:23). We forget when we listen to things but “forget” because other things are speak more powerfully to us–seem to be more true. The text goes on to say that we remember what we have seen and heard when we are open to the the perfect truth. So, we will have God’s power to change from building our own mirror to that of a more truthful image when we keep ourselves close to God, his Word, AND when we connect to others who also reflect God’s true character.  Misappropriating CS Lewis, its not a safe option, but it is good. 

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Filed under christian psychology, counseling

How much does personality influence views on theology?

My last two posts cover the effect of personal stories on the positions we take in areas of controversy. One particular controversial area for our seminary has to do with “the missional turn” we are taking as an institution. For those not familiar with this idea, you can explore more by going to our president’s Missional Journal. But here’s the controversy in short. Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, theologians disagree about how the church should reach this generation and the next. Some see evangelicalism as highly deficient in its understanding of the Gospel, of community life and our purpose in the world, and our relationship to God. The system is broken and needs complete overall. Others acknowledge that much of the church is “me-driven” but that our theological systems are just fine even if we need to refine their application to everyday life.

Enter personality differences. Continue reading


Filed under Doctrine/Theology, missional, Missional Church, personality