Nature of The Person

AdamFchrist, eternity, God, Mormon, spiritual progression 14 Comments

As part of my graduate program in counseling I have to write a personal theory, which includes process and goals of therapy, explanations for personality, psychopathology, etc. The first part, however, forms the basis for everything else: the nature of the person. I have been working on it for a while, trying to pin down exactly what I believe about the human race, and what is true about people across time and cultures. Here is what I have, with brief explanations: 

1-We are eternal.

The basic essence of who we are (i.e. intelligence) has always existed. We have been developing for eternity.

2-We are naturally compassionate and gentle, but seek to avoid suffering.

We are born with a predisposition to be kind and non-aggressive. However, sometimes in our pursuit of avoiding suffering we act aggressively or in negative ways towards others and ourselves.

3-We are a combination of our being, our spirit, heredity, and sociality.

Our being (intelligence) is our basic essence. We received traits of our mother and father (God) when we were given spirits, and from our earthly parents when we were born. We are also influenced by our environment. These four aspects make up who we are now.

4-We need choice, structure, and attachment to grow.

We cannot grow as much when our ability to choose is restricted. Consistent structure of some form (e.g. values, commandments, morals, etc.) is necessary to prevent chaos. We must also possess secure attachment to at least one other person. Significant disruption of any of these areas may result in neuroses, psychopathology, suffering, and essentially, damnation. This is why I believe in a Savior. One who can fix what breaks.

Are any of these points confusing or too simple? What do you think makes up a person?

Comments 14

  1. This is an excellent summary. I think the fourth point needs especial emphasis, that we are communitarian beings and that the gospel is a gospel of relationships (D&C 130:1 ff.).

  2. I strongly disagree with #2.

    My experience has been precisely the opposite. Humans are naturally cruel, aggressive, and filled with a desire for domination. It is only fear of suffering that leads them to become kind and compassionate in the hopes of averting wrath.

    When confronted with people or animals that are vulnerable and unable to fight back it is common for humans to indulge themselves in either violence (allowing them to feel powerful), or to engage in domination (sometimes disguised as “wanting what is best for you” but in reality is always about the feeling of power and control that they get).

    The reason you think differently is probably because you have never been vulnerable for long extended periods of time. Momentary vulnerability does not draw as much cruelty or aggression, because other humans fear retaliation upon your recovery. Only cripples can truly know how cruel humans nature is.

    My life has been an unrelenting lesson in this. From the repeated beatings by bullies at school (which only stopped once I began to fight back- only for them to start all over again whenever we moved), to the abuse heaped upon me by the teachers (locked in rooms for hours on end, or seizing my lunch money so that I had to go hungry).

    It continued on my mission, when my district which had previously been respectful suddenly turned on me as soon as I became seriously ill. Forcing me to go on splits when I had a high fever and nausea, refusing to go home immediately after so that I could rest, instead playing basket ball at the church. Staying up late at the apartment making noise while I tried to sleep. Ditching me at members houses, openly deriding me, and in every way showing that they hated me (mainly because I was obedient and they were not- never said anything before I got sick though).

    At BYU where the Honor Code Office expelled me on the grounds I was “engaging in disruptive behavior” (I collapsed on campus due to my illness and couldn’t move or speak- and this was considered “disruptive”).

    The EMT who repeatedly kicked me in the elbow during the ambulance ride while I was paralyzed and unable to speak (though completely conscious and aware of what was happening)- she kept saying I had ruined her day because I wouldn’t answer her questions and now she didn’t know how to fill out the forms.

    The other EMT who seized me by force because I was walking with a bad limp (partial paralysis sometimes occurred) and forced me to go to the hospital against my will (I’d been before and all they ever did was tell me to go home and go to bed and then charge me a bunch of money), threatened me with being institutionalized, and then forged my signature when I refused to sign the papers saying I accepted medical treatment. The hospital then held me prisoner for several hours, until I was finally able to escape during a shift change. To add insult to injury, the hospital then billed me, and to this day I am still engaged in a legal dispute with them over it.

    The same EMT later proceed to recruit 3 BYU officers into holding me down so that he could torture me into answering his questions (again I had been limping and was mute and unable to speak- I can’t begin to describe how frustrating it is to be tortured for the answers to questions that you would gladly answer if you could). Once I finally recovered my ability to speak I expressed my displeasure (without using profanity, I instead lectured them on how they were violating both my civil liberties and violating God’s commandment against unrighteous dominion- they laughed at me). The BYU police then handcuffed me and put me in a holding room for several hours, refused to answer my demands to know what I was under arrest for, and then finally released me and eliminated any records about the incident.

    These are but the highlights of a life filled with such evidences of the evilness of the natural man. In most of these instances there was never any “suffering” to be averted by the abuse heaped upon me. They did it because they enjoyed it, or because it was simply easier then being nice. None of these things would ever have happened if I had held some measure of power- it was my powerlessness that invited these aggressive actions. I might as well have been a bug that they decided to swat on whim, or because I was an annoyance.

    Forgive me my rant, but in my opinion, with a few exceptions, humans are evil, worthless and deserve to be cast into Hell, which is where I am certain the vast majority of us are going.

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    Cicero – Wow, I can see why you disagree, for sure. Obviously one’s life experiences greatly influence our theory. You can look at the creator of any major psychological theory (Freud, Adler, Rogers, etc.) and find that their lives all greatly influenced how they see the world. I greatly appreciate your “rant” here, and feel a little challenged by it, which was on of the major reasons I wanted to share my theory. I want to make sure what I believe is what I have thought out in depth, and allows me to view my clients through a lens that is mine.

    Maybe it seems like stretching a little, but my definition (which was not made clear enough) of suffering includes a lot more than the traditional sense. I cannot interpret your experience, but thinking about the people who hurt you makes me wonder how difficult it is for people to refrain when they are in power, and why that is. It seems that you believe it is because humans are naturally evil, while I believe it is because refraining often opens people to rawness, pain, and discomfort, i.e. suffering. This is also where #4 comes in, in the sense that many people have had significant issues with one of these areas–2 & 4 are closely tied.

    Thanks again–these types of comments really stimulate my thinking and force me to look at things from different angles.

  4. Well… evil might be overstating it a bit. Whenever I review my past I tend to become a little… passionate.

    It probably has more to do with human arrogance or pride. In a way it is both our curse and our glory. Out of all of God’s creations only humans have the potential to become gods like He is- however, that also means that only we have the potential to become an enemy to God (ie become like Satan).

    I am of the opinion that unless a person deliberately chooses to humble himself before God he will drift, and man’s natural arrogance tends to make him drift towards tyranny and rebellion against God. (Natural man being an enemy to God, and all that. Also the traditional Methodist thought of men as depraved beings without God’s grace might also be relevant). I have to say that I myself find it flattering to my ego to be in authority and have people do as I say. I only hope that my experiences has led me to be more careful about not using the authority I am given in an unrighteous way, and to be more cautious about choosing to exercise it.

    Note that I did not say: “Choose to become like God” which I think tends to get a lot of Mormons in trouble rather then helping. I said “humble himself before God”. It’s not enough to take the vessel of your life and put into it yourself all the godly attributes that are listed in the gospel, (we tend to shortchange things). It requires opening yourself to let God pour into your cup whatever He thinks belongs there and in the order He wishes.

    It’s probably why I get a little grumpy with some of the posters around here who appear to me at least as trying to choose to accept only those portions that they want in their belief set, rather then letting God put into them whatever He wants to.

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    Perhaps a better way for me to phrase #2 would be “born” rather than “naturally” as it does tend to get mixed up with the natural man. I think we “drift towards tyranny and rebellion” due to problems in 2-4, but not because it is an innate characteristic. Also, I would go more into the “natural man” here but it has already been done to death on this blog. 🙂

    “accept only those portions that they want in their belief set, rather then letting God put into them whatever He wants to”
    This sentence suggests to me the issue of pride. If one approaches their beliefs with humility, this can be avoided, imo.

  6. I have wondered about the ‘natural’ man for a long time. Is he an enemy of God, i.e. not compassionate, gentle etc.? I believe if he is an enemy in his natural state, it is because he is in a state of rebellion. There is a dualism in the universe and man, is there not? This dualism exists because of the requirement and necessity of choice. This allows for your #4.

    Could not agree more Adam with your statements, though my heart breaks when I read and hear things from Cicero and others.

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  8. Cicero darling,it has clearly been tough.As a family we too have struggled with much misinterpreted illness and consequent trauma.But i invite you to consider that as a family we have chosen to support each other through these experiences,not assert our power over one another.There are other ways of being in the world other than abuser or abused,victim or persecutor.We are here to overcome the world,the natural man by embracing more Christ-like qualities,but are able to choose to follow our natural,and functional,instinct for self preservation,or to succor the weak.The glass is indeed half empty,and it is also half full.I hope you will be able to access the good that is indeed in the world,do not despair.

  9. 3-We are a combination of our being, our spirit, heredity, and sociality.

    I use to believe we were 95% products of our surroundings- now I have kids it shocks me how much heredity plays a part in who they are.

    4-We need choice, structure, and attachment to grow.

    I see how the church needs structure but also doesn’t want us to be clones as well of each other. But in some wards I see the need to fit in as too strong where it stifles the individuality of the person

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    James – I think (as you may as well) that there is room for variance in the type of structure, what’s important is that a person has some significant values.

  11. Cicero
    I was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Oh, it’s not bad. The voices don’t tell me to start fires or run with scissors but they are really annoying. They speak French and I don’t understand French.

    Ok, that was a joke but this is serious. We all know about the still small voice and that internal voice that can’t decide between McDonalds or Burger King. Well one day I picked up a hitchhiker; a young girl about my age 22 – 23. As soon as she got in my truck and we took off down the highway this voice says “go ahead and rape her; no one will know”. This wasn’t the still small voice and it wasn’t me. My internal voice was so shocked it said “WHAT?” I was thinking to myself “where did that come from?” When the girl informs me she had just been raped. I asked her if she got the license of the car or if she wanted me to take her to the police or hospital. She said no just take me home. She didn’t want me to take her directly home but down the street. She didn’t want me to know where she lived.

    This has haunted me for many years. I didn’t know how to comfort that poor girl. Not a clue. There must have been something I should have done but didn’t. Do I tell her “Oh yea, there is a devil following you and telling people to rape you?” Why would a devil follow a poor girl and say those things? If I had joined the church earlier and done as I was guided; would I have been prepared? Would I have known then what to do? Did I do what was required of me? Pride may make you think you know everything and you’re prepared for anything.

    Cicero, if all of these things happened to you I can’t help to think it had to be a test. Don’t let the devil win by not forgiving them that sinned against you.

  12. Pingback: What is a person? « shenpa warrior

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