Sunday, 15 November 2015

My Asexual Story

I recently heard some critique about how ”a blogger should have a face” so prepare to watch mine during this post. The pictures were taken by a friend, three years ago I think, but I chose to decorate the post with these because it's rare for me to look as energetic as in most of them. At least I think that lively pictures are more interesting to look at, and besides, only my hair lenght has changed since these were taken.

All of the photos are from my parents' yard. :)

The Asexual Awareness Week was already some weeks ago and I didn't do anything for it. I almost forgot the whole thing, which makes me feel kind of bad. So I thought I could do something more... personal, than what I usually do and share my ”asexual story” here now, because I've actually shared it with very few people, even though none of it is a secret. And asexuals can always do with more representation, even if it's this small. Nobody talks about us in sex ed. class so we still have to be lucky to even come accross the concept.

I will not explain what asexuality is here, so if you don't know, go pick up the terms here: AVEN - The Asexual Visibility and Education Network

I actually got inspired by two things: I finally got around reading Julie Decker's book The Invisible Orientation, which is exactly the kind of book we needed about asexuality. It would probably benefit many people on this corner of the globe too, if it was translated into Finnish *wink wink publishers*. Anyway, reading it certainly made me reminiscene quite a bit and awoke many ”if only I had know about this when” -feelings again. I really, really wish that asexuals of the next generations didn't have to grow up as invisible as we have to this day. Partly because I received the book at a good time, I was also inspired to choose an asexuality related topic for a presentation I have to give at school. That's the other thing that inspired me to write this post, because I had to do some research on the topic I hadn't really done before and I actually learned some new things myself.

So, all of that kind of reminded me again, how even the smallest outreach can have a meaning and the time and place when you first encounter a word that redefines your whole life, might be around the oddest and most incidental corner. It certainly was for me. And I was already 18 years old when it happened.

I suppose the first time I felt something was off, or that I wasn't part of something my classmates seemed to get intuitively, was when fifth or sixth grade biology classes gave everyone some kind of social approval to talk about this tabu that sex was to most untill that age. I still remember well how everyone, as far as I noticed, had this gleam in their eyes and excited blush on their cheeks when they finally had the freedom to talk about it.

I didn't feel I was fully able to get it but I tried my best to relate. Apparently, I didn't do too well. When my part in the conversation was approximately ”Do you think arousal is something that happens in your mouth?” and ”I wonder how on earth someone came up with sex in the first place?” everyone just stared at me like they couldn't decide whether I was mental or joking. I was left feeling very confused and it took some time to realize others didn't have to ask that kind of questions. They could relate anyway. I, on the other hand couldn't comprehend why someone would want to have sex if not for having children. Before those biology classes toward the end of elementary school I had no idea it was something people had a specific drive for.

Some asexuals do have sex drives but I still think this is an important thing to note. It is already taken for granted in elementary school that everyone intuitively knows what it is, what it feels like and where it directs you. It is an instinct, and that's why nobody really explains it. But even asexuals who have sex drives, may not be able to instinctively relate it to sex because it doesn't pull them towards any person. It is important that this is recognized as normal, it's important that schools will teach kids that there's nothing wrong with them if they don't relate. Especially because there's such a good chance that they're the only one in their class who doesn't.

At this point it's also relevant to mention I'm aromantic (=not feeling romantic attraction), because in my case it makes little sense to try to distinguish that experience completely from asexuality, although I always had a more intuitive understanding for romance, because I was always empathetic and romance was something everyone talked about since they were very young, unlike sex. I liked romance in fiction as much as any other kinds of relationships, so I actually bought into having crushes for quite a long time... sort of. I had a hunch that I didn't feel what others felt in that area. But I mostly tried to ignore it and relate my feelings to the boxes that were available.

In elementary school I got a reputation as ”the romance therapist who'd never had a crush” among my friends. It was justified. I always seemed to become the natural consultant for most of my friends and I know I usually gave good advice and analyzed people's feelings well. And it didn't make any difference whether those feelings were romantic or not. But at some point it always started to bug people. How was I able to give good advice if I didn't have anyone I liked? Because I evidently did understand romance, that was never called into question. Instead people figured I must be lying about not liking anyone for some reason like being childish or deliberately wanting to be stubborn. That time some of my friends came up with calling the people who didn't have a crush at the moment ”a skull” and the ones who did they called ”a heart”. I was sometimes referred to as ”perpetually a skull” and it was constantly implied that it wasn't ok. At some point the pressure became too much and so I started consciously choosing crushes for myself. Basically I just picked a boy I thought was kind and whom none of my friends liked at the moment.

Sometimes I did have ”squishes” (=”aromantic crush” basically an intense wish to get to know someone better but no desire to have a romantic relationship with them. More like a facination with one's personality). Which I of course tried to interpret as what my friends experienced when they had a crush on someone. This was rare, I can still probably count my squishes on one hand but when I had one in elementary school I tried my hardest to keep that feeling alive. It made me feel closer to all my friends. But eventually (already in middle school) I had to admit that it was different. When I was pushed to confess my feelings I had to admit to myself that I didn't refrain from it because I was shy. (Well, I was shy so I kind of tried that excuse too but...). The truth was that I had no desire to date the person, or kiss, or do anything remotely ”romantic” with them or even have that person in any way exclusively ”mine”. The only things I would've wanted to do with that person were the things I liked to do with basically any friend. I was not jealous when that person had a girlfriend, and when it turned out they had sent me a Valentine's Day card signed ”secret admirer”, I was sad.

It was in middle school when I first started to explain my experience to myself, and on occasion to others. I remember using the phrase ”My love just isn't physical”. At which my peers obviously rolled their eyes and figured I was just really immature. They used every opportunity to emphasize how sex made a relationship serious and real. That if I didn't want to kiss someone, I obviously didn't really love them. Or how my feelings for anyone could not even be taken seriously if they didn't involve that kind of physical intimacy.

It was also in middle school when the thought really struck me that I could never date anyone or get married. That was an inevitable conclusion for me then, because at that time I had finally fully internalized the message I'd seen implied eveywhere my whole life: that in a relationship, romance and sex were a given, those things were expected of me and if I couldn't do that, I could not really be loved, my feelings for anyone could never be as important as those of a romantic/sexual partner, and the general population would always figure there was something wrong with me. And I realized that to me, romance and sex were deal breakers.

I did not arrive to this conclusion hastily, like everyone seemed to think. If I ever tried to suggest something along those lines, I only got laughed at or pitied for my ”narrow-mindedness”. Everyone clearly thought I just woke up one day feeling like I needed to make a point of declaring sex "unimportant", or that I was scared of relationships, or that I was gay and couldn't admit it to myself. None of this was true, of course. I had tried to see people in a sexual way most of the time everyone else had been open about the fact that they did. It just never worked, no matter how much I tried. Just picturing closeness with someone leading to even kissing, only arose one feeling in me: NOPE.

Bear with my amateur ballet...

And it was not because I was touch averse. Not in the least. Being a dancer, it was everyday for me to be touched by both guys and girls, sometimes in a manner you wouldn't casually touch your friends. I just never thought anything of it, it always felt neutral so I wasn't even conscious about whether it felt like something or not. At some point I had to realize that for some people, dancing had some kind of romantic/sexual innuendo. (That was probably very slow of me, since I was into folk dance and the coreographies are often explicitly about courting, but... apparently I just took fiction as fiction and dancing as dancing.)

Anyhow, the truth was that I could not think of having sex with a significant other any more than I could think of having sex with a sibling. And for me, having a romantic relationship with a person was just as ridiculous as having a romantic relationship with my cat.

This is another significant issue I think the world needs to realize at large. Asexuals are not all indifferent to sex and that should be respected. If a straight person doesn't want to have sex with a member of their own sex, it's taken for granted that of course they wouldn't do that, it wouldn't make any sense for them to even try. But asexuals are still told to just ”get over it” and do it anyway and people act like it's only the asexual person's responsibility to compromise if they're in a relationship.

Some people still tell me the famous ”You can't know if you haven't tried”. But it is ridiculous. Nobody else had to try sex to know they wanted it in the first place. They tried it because they wanted it. When somebody says something like this, it is usually clear that they just can't comprehend that ”not feeling sexual attraction” actually means not feeling that pull towards anyone at all. Straight people didn't have to try sex with the opposite gender before they knew they were straight. And nobody told them to try sex with the same gender to prove they weren't secretly gay. Of course some people are okay with having sex with someone they're not attracted to, but some are not, and most people don't treat them like they should be. Asexuals should not be held to different standards. We can know our orientation just as instictively as anyone else.

Most of high school I actually lived in relative peace with the notion that dating was not for me. Because I had never felt it would enrich my life anyway, having a conclusion about it made me feel kind of free. The reason I needed the conclusion in the first place, was just because I was expected to date at some point. Changing school also took the peer pressure off for some time. One reason was just that I was naturally so low profile kind of person that in a new environment it took a lot of time for people to take that much note of what I was or wasn't doing. Another reason was that most people had sort of calmed down in the sense that they didn't have a need to talk about sex to as great extend as before. And one more reason was that even after new friends start asking about your love life ”I don't have anyone right now” often works for some time before it inspires more questions.

But the peace didn't last long anyway, because I was finally past the age my family considered too young for dating. They started to become worried about me, because I never "spoke about guys". Somehow, I suddenly seemed to be too old for not having had a boyfriend yet. I understand they were worried that I was socially insecure and that was why I didn't show interest in guys. Toward the end of high school my mother began to ask me constantly if there was anyone I liked, and she wouldn't take no for an answer. She wished she could have paired me up with some guys and even suggested she would find me a date online. At one point, my whole family seemed to think me and a friend of mine were gay. For other one of my siblings it took a long time to accept I wasn't lying when I said that it wasn't the case.

I tolerated the worry and suspicion for a long time, because I didn't have anything to back up my feelings other than my own word. I didn't have a clear concept to explain. I just figured I was in a state of not liking anyone and that I must be straight by default anyway. I was actually lucky enough to know another asexual through high school but at the time neither of us knew there was a term that fit us. We just sometimes bonded with statements like ”Not everyone needs to date” or ”You know what's great in bed? Books!”

But at some point I got tired of hearing how abnormal it was I hadn't dated anyone and how worried my mother was about my self-esteem. ”But you are beautiful and intelligent, so why would you not date?” I know that can be seen as an ignorant argument in itself but in my mother's case, she just honestly thought I didn't think enough of myself to approach a guy. All of that worry eventually made me want to explain myself better, so I suggested that there was a possibility that I would never want that kind of relationship. Of course I knew that it wasn't generally an accepted statement, that's why I hadn't been able to say it before. But it still hit me hard when I got just laughter. I was told I wasn't old enough to even speak about ”relationships” and that I couldn't possibly know because I had never even dated anyone.

I knew the only place these words were coming from was worry. My parents just wanted me to be happy and healthy, and those concepts just included having a partner, for them. It still hit me hard for a moment because I trusted my parents so much. I still do, I just mean that at the time their reaction made me feel powerless. If I couldn't explain it to even them, how could I explain myself to someone else? That thought started to haunt me, but luckily it was only a few months later when I finally came accross the word asexual.

I was suffering from a big bad case of writer's block. I hadn't been able to write anything worth much the whole summer, so I started doing something I almost never do: filling character questionnaires. One of them asked the character's number on Kinsey Scale (basically it has numbers from 0 to 6 to determine how gay, straight or bi you are.). I had no idea what it was so I looked it up and found a test. I didn't have anyone asexual among the characters I was writing about but I couldn't help but see if the test would be able to sort me. I was really surprised to find out the questions were actually applicable to me. So, instead of 0-6, I was sorted into category X: ”Non-sexual”. And somewhere beneath the test results was a link to an article about asexuality.

Upon seeing the word for the first time I instantly thought: ”That's me!! There is a word for me!”. And suddenly there was a whole community that had stayed hidden from me my whole life, even though it was founded when I was two years old.

So, how did my life change after discovering there was a sexual orientation where I could fit? On the surface, probably not much except that I started wearing a black ace ring in the hopes of accidentally running into another ace who might recognize it. And that when someone asked if I was dating, why I wasn't, had I ever dated, and why not, I didn't have to shrug my shoulders anymore. It wasn't really terrifying or anything for me to come out as asexual, because I hadn't really lived in the closet for a long time; I had tried to explain my feelings before. You get very similar crap when you say ”I'm not interested in dating” and when you say ”I'm aromantic asexual”.

But the asexual community still changed everything for me. I finally got confirmation that it was okay to feel the way I did. I could finally really feel without a doubt that I was ”normal”. I didn't feel scared of talking about my feelings to people anymore, because I had sources for educating them. I no longer fell into silence when someone questioned my experience because I could point to a whole community of people who had similar ones. I no longer felt alienated. I no longer had to fear I would be forced into therapy, because I didn't have any doubts about my own judgement anymore. I stopped feeling any obligation to form relationships in the way most people did, just so I could belong. For the first time, I truly felt free to live my life the way I wanted to live it.

Of course, this realization also made me understand that it wasn't foolish to think relationships didn't have to be so strictly defined. That there was an infinite gray area between the usual concepts of ”friends” and ”lovers”. That I could be open to any kind of relationship, because I was able to internalize that my feelings mattered as much as anyone elses. That I would never be obligated to do anything just because I was the one ”lacking” some feelings, or to ”prove” that I loved someone. That my ways of showing love were just as valid as anyone elses. And if someone didn't feel that way, then it would only mean that we were not compatible, it would never mean that I had to change or compromise by default. If I wanted to, cool. If I didn't, also cool.

I feel that I've developed a huge amount of strenght because of these notions.

Being a part of a minority is, of course, still not always easy. The suspicion and exclusion are there everyday. People's reactions haven't changed, just my own viewpoint, because I don't have to feel alone anymore. That being said, I do consider myself priviledged. I've never come even close to being a victim of extreme cases of acephobia, like ”corrective rape”.

I still get treated as a ”stubborn, naive child”. Most people apparently still think I will wake up someday with an overwhelming desire to bang. I get all the same bingo card crap other aces get: ”You just haven't found the right person.” ”Once you fall in love, you'll fall hard.” ”You only feel that way, because you didn't have ME in your bed.” ”Should you get your hormones checked?” ”Why are you so scared of love?” ”But procreation is the meaning of life!”

Grand jeté over the strawberry bed: Epic Fail.

My friends still often think I should be flattered when someone wants to date me, even when it's hardly for more than my looks, or they say I should try it anyway, because you never know. What they usually fail to understand is that I haven't canceled out the possibility of dating someone or having some kind of primary relationship. It just doesn't make any sense for me to date someone who wants to date me, period. I have to know they want to be my friend first. That's because I have no idea how much I could actually compromise when it comes to romance and sex if the other person wanted those. I am not indifferent to those things, they would mean a huge sacrifice from my part. So I really don't think I could do any of that unless the person was already inside my closest circle of friends. This shouldn't be so hard to understand. If you loved horror movies, you'd probably enjoy watching them with a fellow enthusiast, even if you hardly knew them. But if horror movies were a pain for you, if they made you throw up, or have nightmares about them for months, it would probably be only for the sake of your closest friends that you'd decide to endure one. It's really nothing more mystical than that.

I've been lucky to have pleasant experiences too; ones that have made me want to throw an ally-badge right in the hands of some people. Like when I told my dad that asexuality was a thing, and he accepted it right away. He actually sounded proud when he said: ”Well, I've got a pretty good scale! You're an asexual, your siblings are a bisexual, and um... a readneck”. Or when I run into someone online who wanted to have cyber sex with me but after I told him I was asexual, he got so interested in the concept that he stayed and actually asked me respectful questions for almost two hours instead of going to look for that cyber sex. Or when a friend of mine explained to her friend, who was hitting on me and not taking me very seriously, that I wasn't into dating. I had not asked her to do that, and she had only heard of asexuality a while ago when I explained it, so it was touching that she took it seriously so fast and was able to explain me to someone else, like it was the most normal thing. Or when my awesome roommate was inspired to make a presentation at school about how romantic and sexual orientations are distinct and don't go hand in hand for everyone.

I am also lucky to have a close friend who is asexual. It's not statistically very likely to know other aces in your immediate circles. It is very comforting to have someone you can always talk to, someone you know will always understand, someone who you can rant with as much as you feel like. And sometimes just being able to make an inside joke about cake or amoebas can save a crappy day.

I would like to note that I consider my experience of growing up as asexual without knowing that it was an option, to be a relatively smooth one. I think it is largely because of my personality: I'm usually so attuned into other people's feelings I don't spend a lot of time thinking of my own, and I may not be super aware of them on the spot, and that's why I never had a serious "identity crisis". Even though I felt the pressure around me, I was not usually so aware of my own identity that I would've really felt I was different from others.

Although I was not dense enough to not notice at some point that I didn't experience all the same feelings others did, I also didn't trust my own perception of my feelings enough to always believe that I wasn't. Sometimes even I took the fact that I could tune into other people's feelings so instinctively, as a sure sign that I must be experiencing these feelings for myself too; I was just not self-aware enough to notice. But evetually it no longer makes sense to claim this when your other feelings are something you always become aware of at some point. It had always taken me some time to separate my own being from others, so after I had a hunch that I was missing something they had, it still took me a long time to see that it truly wasn't there, I was just always picking it up around me. After I deliberately payed more attention to my feelings and focused on finding the romantic/sexual ones in different situations, I had to admit they just weren't in me, not for anyone, not ever.

So, the fact that I was generally more perceptive of others than myself probably did both: slowed down the understanding of my own orientation and saved me from possible depression. It was only right before I found out about asexuality that I had started to feel the impact of being different truly separated me from others. So I had real luck with the timing too.

Most asexuals don't seem to be as fortunate as me in this respect. If asexuality was more well known, it would probably save a lot of people from being pressured into a lot of things they only do because they think it's their responsibility, because otherwise they don't think they can belong, because admiting that you're different causes so much self-hatered, because they fear that there's something fundamentally wrong with them. Awereness can save people's relationships, it can save their self-esteem, it can literally save their lives.

If you've read this far, I thank you. I wish we can spread awareness, share our feelings with people who are similar and people who are different, accept the diversity of identities and life styles, understand people from their own perspectives and welcome people we don't understand as an opportunity to learn. Even the smallest effort can mean the world to someone.

Thank you.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

More Stages of Faith

My first year of studying theology, I came across James Fowler's Stages of faith -model in pedagogy class. My initial reaction was ”Wow, this really fits into what I've been thinking too” but that was it back then. I had just started writing a story about two characters whose faith and communication problems could be described very well with Fowler's model but I guess at the time I felt there wasn't really anything new to learn from it, the model just helped me organize my own thoughts better and I was satisfied with that. So I forgot about Fowler for about two years.

As you can probably guess, I found the theory again recently. It's even a bit ironic because apparently I had been using the note sheet about it as a book mark in my Greek grammar book. I hate Greek, but it was a pleasant surprise to re-encounter Fowler when I had to start studying for another Greek exam.

Fowler identified 6 stages that describe the developement of faith in humans. What one believes exactly is irrelevant, the focus is on how. Also, it's not supposed to only apply to ”religious faith” but also to more ”down to earth” kind, any kind, the experience of faith in general. Certain characteristics and crises are associated with each stage and seem to be somewhat supported by other theories about psychological developement. I haven't actually done that much research on this topic yet, but I feel like writing about my understanding of it now because I'm inspired. Heh.

It is possible that I left the theory alone because while I agree that it describes people's developemental processes well, I prefer to use communicational tools that don't so clearly define people by how mature they are or aren't. And since I think (and it seems to be commonly understood) that people don't always go through Fowler's stages the way he has described as common, and people often express characteristics from more than one stage, it is better to treat it as somewhat rough framework. Some people can be analyzed with it better than others. While I can think of people who seem to fit very well into one stage, there are also people who seem like they've skipped some stages altogether or partially fit into all of them. However, I'm not going to evaluate the whole theory based on that right now, I'm mainly interested to use it as a tool to reflect on my fiction. So I will just shamelessly use it where it works. :D

Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith

Fowler describes this mainly as the stage of pre-school children. I understand this to be the stage where all ”faith stories” you hear don't really have a differentiated meaning. It doesn't matter whether parents are telling their children stories from the Bible, from a picture book, or about Santa Claus, they're all taken as more or less ”the same stuff” and fantasy often mixes with reality. Around this age most children also have imaginary friends and can't sometimes remember whether something really happened or if it was a dream, so I think the theory fits well.

Fowler also says that this is the stage where the most basic ideas about possible God, or some other kind of center of faith are usually formed from what the closest adults represent to the child. I think it has very little to do with what they might explicitly teach about their own faith and a lot to do with how their relationship is with the child, how love and trust are present.

Religion is rarely the focus of my fiction but these elements of faith are certainly found in family relationships I write. For example, in my current project there's a character who took an exeedingly long time to realize her parents are not the representatives of ”the absolute truth”. Even though she doesn't believe in any consciously defined form of a deity, her parents definitely were exactly that to her untill she realized there was something she knew was true for her, and nothing her parents said could make it untrue.

2. Mythic-Literal Faith

This would be the stage most children move into around school-age, because they start thinking in a more logical manner; separate fantasy and reality. Fowler also notes that some people remain in this stage through their life. Stage 2 is characterized by focus on the stories that represent faith and those are usually accepted from one's faith community. The stories are understood literally, what matters is what happens in the story, and when some lesson is internalized from it, it comes from what the story explicitly teaches. There isn't much collective understanding of the meaning of those stories. Their importance or truth is not questioned because everyone acknowledges their importance and that gives the person a sense of belonging but it also separates them from people of different faith communities, different customs and traditions. A person in this stage tends to view those people as ”strangers”, somehow fundamentally different from them and their community.

Basically these are the people who are the most strict about the details of their faith and they often experience the later stages of faith in others as lack of faith. This is probably the most mundane example but it comes across well in the discussion of the interpretation of scriptures: The people in stage 2 don't see the literal interpretation as an interpretation at all. They think it is objective and that's why they're often unwilling to give room for any discussion about other interpretations. These people are also possibly the most devoted to the customs of their faith community and they practise their faith in the most concrete manner. The ”practise of faith” often more or less seems to equal faith for them, or at least has a significantly bigger part than it does in other stages.

This doesn't seem to be an uncommon stage to encounter in everyday life, so I obviously have a ton of characters who represent it too, but there's one whose story is particularly characterized by the crisis that will eventually enable her to reach stage 3. In the beginning of the story, her aversion to any expression of ”wrong faith” and the repression of her own ”impure” feelings is so strong she feels nauseated and dizzy whenever she comes into contact with something that would require critical thinking to face. However, coming into close contact with people she first views as strictly ”faithless”, eventually makes her stop covering her ears from other people's experiences bit by bit, because she starts to view these people as important to her. As she matures, she starts to accept that her faith is not something that should alienate her from people she's began to love.

Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith

This stage is characterized by the need to find some kind of balance between different ”faith groups” that one associates with. It often comes along in adolescence, because the person has become a part of a bigger social cirlce than just their own faith community. The teachings of that community are still more or less taken for granted and not something the people in this stage would examine critically or reflect on deeply, and anything that suggests contradiction in their beliefs is still often seen as a threat, something they should not even look at. However, they become more willing to see what they have in common with others and don't focus on what separates them as much as they used to. To relate to other people's experience better, they may also become inclined to give room to some ”loopholes” in their community's teachings which they previously saw as absolute. This may also be the first time they realize that not everyone inside their community has exactly the same understanding of every belief.

However, stage 3 people also need their social circles to be genarally supportive of their faith community, and if this isn't achived, they're likely to encounter a crisis which makes them completely reject the people who reject their faith. If, however, the teachings of their own faith community are seen as ”cruel” towards the people in one's circles outside their own faith community, the stage 3 people may reject their faith community instead. This kind of crisis may lead to developing to stage 4 but supportive social circles will probably make that growth less extreme and the people in stage 4 probably won't seem as radically opposite to what they were in stage 3.

In Fowler's theory, stage 3 is where most people remain. I suppose I agree, since it's evident that most of my fictional characters are in this stage, at least for the biggest part of their stories. My main characters often grow further though, because I'm a huge fan of growth. One character in my current project seems to illustrate some of the stage 3 behaviour particularly well. He's generally a friend to everyone and will even accept anyone intimately close but he becomes up-tight and passive-aggressive in front of anyone who he feels offends his sense of right and wrong. Sometimes he even expresses noticeable "holier than thou" attitude towards people who behave against his beliefs. He also acknowledges that he has feelings that are considered improper in his faith community and that he sometimes fails and does things that aren't accepted. He's probably uncommonly hard on himself though, when he does something wrong, and keeps very strict rules for his own behaviour, to the point of punishing himself. However, he doesn't feel the need to deny those things and he usually feels no conflict between him and people who do things differently. He doesn't feel the need to push his way on others even though he still thinks he's right and the others are wrong. He's willing to ”let people make their own mistakes” as long as they don't do wrong against him, and as long as he has the freedom to cover his eyes from things he deems "unholy".

Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith

When I read somewhere that people in stage 4 are typically considered less mature in faith by the people in stage 3, a metaphor I wrote in high school in creative writing class came to my mind. It was something along the lines: ”When you're a raw apple in a tree you look down on the ripe apples on the ground but when you fall down yourself, you realize you didn't rise from there”. It seems to apply to these circumstances pretty well. I think it might be the most apparent between these two stages because it's the leap from 3 to 4 where what one beliefs might change the most dramatically. It's no wonder if someone in stage 3 tends to see a stage 4 person as someone who has ”abandoned” their faith, since stage 4 is pretty much characterized by critical thinking and a tendency to look down on the beliefs one used to accept without question. Stage 4 is mostly the faith of adulthood, though it is noted that some people might enter it significantly earlier and some very late in their life.

In this stage people begin to approach the hard questions they have avoided in the previous stages. They reflect critically on beliefs they've taken for granted and "demythologize" them. They often express impatience towards people of earlier stages, who don't have the same standards for examining their beliefs or don't really examine them much at all. I understand this to be the point where people become less stubborn about their beliefs being the right ones, but rather their method to be the right one to determine the beliefs. They can be accepting toward other people's faith and may even start viewing any kind of belief system as right as long as it brings meaning to the believer's life but they're unlikely to support beliefs that aren't critically examined because they see no ”sense” in doing something that isn't deeply understood, or somehow ”consistent” with some principles, like the person's other beliefs.

I have a character who is pretty much an exemplar of this ”stage 4 pride”. His need to grow to stage 5 becomes so great exactly because he becomes too sure of his own judgement over everyone else's and can't understand other people truly from their own viewpoints. It's true most people around him are at ”less mature” stages of faith, there's quite a bunch of 2's and 3's to make him go crazy but as he views his judgement to be superior to some of his closest people who are already at stage 5, he begins to feel completely alone in the world. He is, however, able to contribute a great deal to the self-criticism of people who like to deny their unpleasant feelings and not reflect upon their flaws. He's able to solve many problems because he's such an independend thinker, but once it goes too far he begins to create more problems by solving them and he becomes unable to be critical of himself.


Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith

This is sometimes the last stage included in critical examinations of Fowler's theory, because the 6th stage is viewed as too ambiguos. It is mostly the stage of middle to late adulthood, though most people never reach it and some may reach it much earlier. In this stage the elements from all the previous stages seem to come together, and the earlier stages are not seen as opposing anymore. It could be said that the stage 4 skeptic sort of calms down and accepts that they will never have the answer to every question, and that the things people in stage 3 and 2 take for granted are not neccessarily meaningless. They may find new, more abstract and multidimensional meaning in symbolism, religious practice or other things that seemed to lose their value at stage 4. Stage 5 people have also become more certain of their own beliefs. Because they no longer feel the need to question everything, but are not stuck in a box either, they don't feel threatened by truly exploring other belief systems.

In my understanding, this is the stage where ”real” dialogy between people who believe differently first becomes possible. In the earlier stages people are still pretty much stuck in their own viewpoint (they don't realize they think in a box), so discussion is often seen as undesireable in the first place. (They may think they want to discuss but actually they only ”discuss” as long as they agree with the person and when they don't they either cover their ears/refuse to fully try to understand or push their own agenda.) What people in earlier stages lack, is basically the willingness to be uncertain or truly open their mind to ”what if's”: the feeling that understanding other viewpoints doesn't make theirs less valid but enriches it instead. While stage 5 people are actually more grounded in their beliefs than people in earlier stages, they also seem like they are less. That's because they have a more holistic understanding of beliefs and have internalized the ”basics” of them. They see what connects seemingly separate views and they're not blind to their own unconscious processes either. Because of this, people in earlier stages often see stage 5 people's attitude as ”sloppy” and the willingness to give space to alternatives and other people is seen as lack of dicipline or critique.

Stage 5 people may also start feeling ”smaller” than before because they realize the limits of human judgement. Basically, stage 5 people can embrace their inner child again: they're no longer fearful of including unexplained things in their life, and even being wrong/ clouded in one's judgements is not always seen as bad, but an opportunity to grow.

I suppose most of my main characters reach stage 5 at some point in their story and it's usually where I leave them be too, because they're no longer in the midst of those ”us vs. them” and ”me against the world” battles. (I guess stage 3 is the other stage where a person is most likely the feel a similar kind of peace, even though it may be more superficial in some sense, so it's probably the second most common place for me to leave characters.) Sometimes my characters move to stage 5 because they meet someone who they have to admit has more wisdom than them, which makes the stage 4 person ”admit defeat” and start feeling wonder, rather than suspicion about the world again. Some other characters move forward because they end up witnessing the life of 3's and 2's so closely that at some point they start forgetting to question everything and start relating to their experience instead.

The main character in my current project is mostly at stage 5. Because of this she has more patience towards other people's short comings than most, and she cares virtually nothing about who is ”right”. She's basically an embodiment of the ”Live and let live” attitude but her problem is that she begins to like things too simple, and reaches the point where she's trying to become too impartial and tries to hold on to that freedom by never choosing any answer: just experiencing and wondering about things. She reaches the crisis that will ultimately make her develop to stage 6, when she realizes that instead of all the difficult ”right answers” she could choose, there is only one thing that is absolutely wrong to her, one that will both cancel out all other possibilities and embrace them at the same time. When she realizes that, her faith and course of action become unshaken.

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith

According to Fowler, it is very rare to reach this stage of faith: it's basically where doubt dissapears and the person becomes an embodiment of their faith. Everything they have learned from the previous stages no longer demands constant attention or conscious work, they instinctively live their faith true. Their relationship to the ”supreme” or their ”center of faith” is no longer related to any particular circumstances. Instead, they feel one with it, it's always present to them in everything, and they don't have to look for means to connect with it: it simply is. Their experience of faith is no longer self-centered and they live their faith for the service of others in the best way they know.

The demeanor of people in this stage is described as noticeably loving and welcoming of others. They make people in their presence feel important and worthy, because their love and acceptance are unconditional: nothing anyone could say can shaken that acceptance. They basically take anyone's ”sacredness” for granted. There's no ”tabu” to them and there's no matter that is too small or too big for them to discuss and be willing to understand. In their community, they're probably known for their empathy and wisdom.

I have some characters who reach this stage through similar crisis as the character I described earlier and (oddly enough?) some who seem like they where born with this kind of faith. Pretty much all of the examples Fowler gives as representative of stage 6 are famous religious leaders he apparently had never met (because he couldn't find any representatives among people he interviewed) which may be the reason why some people are so skeptical about stage 6 altogether. I think the idea of all the stage 6 people being like Mother Theresa or Jesus himself is misleading, so I'll describe a character of mine who's very low-exposure and unambitious instead: definitely not destined to save her country or fight poverty or go around the world teaching her wisdom to people. (I also don't think that such acts require the person to be at stage 6.) This stage 6 character is a servant girl who lives very quiet and peaceful life, indeed in the service of others. She doesn't seem to have abilities to do much else, one can hardly praise her intellect, physique or even memory. Instead, her power is to inspire trust, love, hope, faith and the like in others by simply being with them. She seems incapable of experiencing desperation or depression, she's unconditionally trustful that life is meaningful and everything will always prove to be in their right place again. She seems endlessly patient and loving because whoever she's talking to, really is the most important person in the universe to her, and so is the next person: anyone's value is simply intrinsic.

This is actually where the reason I got interested in Fowler's theory again becomes relevant: I don't think that stage 6 is the ”pinnacle” of human faith. You might have noticed that the stages seem to move in cycles where ”absolute” and ”relative” approach to faith take turns at being more prominent. 2 is more absolute, 3 more relative, 4 absolute and 5 relative again. Stage 6 is merely the next form of more absolute approach and the people in stage 6 are not free from problems, or incapable of growing further. I think labeling stage 6 faith as "saintly" or the people as "holy" (which I've seen around the internet) is a problem because one should never forget that stage 6 people are every bit as much human beings as the rest.

The next crisis is when the stage 6 faith becomes depersonalizing. It happens when the person takes their willingness to live for others to a too great extend. What they need to realize is that they are not their faith themselves. They need to grow to feel the need to find balance between their connection to the ”supreme” and being a separate individual. Basically, they need to extend the love they give for others, to themselves.

I'm sorry if this seems exclusive, but I'm going to use some very christian language to illustrate my point better. This is just an example and it should be understood analogically. So a person at stage 6 is basically someone who lives for what they believe is the actualization of "the Kingdom of God": they bring it to reality. But the crisis happens when they realize that the only person they have excluded from that "Kingdom of God" is them. When they realize that they are an outsider, that they're someone who brings faith to others but in the end has no part inside it's actualization.

I've found that most sources don't mention any possibility of a crisis that would make people at stage 6 move forward, and that's basically why I propose:

Stage 7: Whatever-you-want-to-call-it Faith

I'm not even trying to claim that this is where the developement of faith would end. I'm simply trying to identify what I think is the next significant change in worldview that is caused by the negative aspects of the previous stage taking over. There could be an infinite number of stages and the ones that Fowler identified could of course be divided into more specific ones, or ”substages” and the like. For now, I will not attempt to take this theory further because I don't think my analysis can extend this ”seventh step” in a meaningful way, at least for now.

Of course, the person in stage 7 would not lose the intrinsic ”oneness” with their faith, or the unconditional love and openness to other people. At this stage the person becomes ”more than their faith”. At stage 6 they might have been the embodiment of their faith for other people but in this stage they are so for themselves as well. Their faith will include more personal approach without losing the universal qualities: they are as much in service of themselves as they are of their faith, and others. They no longer forget that they have the same intrinsic value as everyone else does. They don't experience their own individuality as something implicit anymore, but fully embrace it. Their faith now manifests as an unconditional love for oneself the same way it manifests for others. They are no longer detached from themselves for the sake of their faith, which makes them not only a ”tool” which actualizes the faith, but also one of those who benefit from it.

This is where the stage 6 servant girl is heading in her story. She encounters the crisis when she realizes she's only able to express detached and depersonalized love for other people: She loves everyone the same way. Even if she's able to embrace everyone else's individual qualities and love them for those, her love is never characterized by her own desire to be close to anyone. Eventually she has to admit the hard fact that she has been neglecting herself without having any idea about it. She has to recognize she has feelings that can't be fulfilled by simply living for other people, that she can't neglect herself forever, or she'll become hollow and lose the ability to bring meaning to other people's lives too. Eventually she internalizes an unshaken faith in her personal significance as well as others' and only after that she's able to form truly personal relationships.

This is as far as I can clearly see right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean I don't know any people or have any characters who might have developed further. After all, we do a lot of things intuitively without understanding exactly how, and I don't think it's possible to ever stop finding new viewpoints to my characters, or other people's, or real people for that matter.

To wrap this up, I'd like to say that I think any stage is a good stage to be in. The crisis that will make one develop further, only occurs when the negative aspects of the stage overpower the good ones. So, whether your stage is 2 or 6, or feels more like a blend of many, if you ”own” it, it's all good. You can't develop unless you feel the inner need to, and once you do, it can't be stopped. Nobody ever stops growing completely, and no one is ever ”ready”, so I think it's meaningless to pursue the idea that any stage is truly above another. After all, one wouldn't necessarily think that being a hundred-year-old is ultimately better than being a three-year-old.

I wrote this mostly for my own reflection, but who knows, maybe someone else will find something useful from it too. I might come back to this topic to correct myself once I've read more about it or found a new interesting angle but I guess I've rambled enough for now. :D

Just for feels, you can take a look at how happy these stage 3 and stage 5 persons are together:

Yes, the other one's an owl. Yes he can talk. Yes that's not very original. Don't worry, it's not meant to be.

Have a nice day! :)

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

MBTI Stereotypes

Because they deserve every face-palm they get.

I haven't yet made a post about the MBTI personality theory which I'm obsessed with. I figured I'd start with putting the general stereotypes in a nutshell because they're still out there and no good. Other people have probably done it better before and I'm still no typology expert, just your common enthusiast, but I feel like putting down the images people seem to have going around, and which I find ridiculous, unfair, harmful and totally biased. Not helpful to anyone who is really trying to understand the system and use it to understand other people better, not bash them.

If you're unfamiliar with MBTI, and interested, go visit Personality Café or something:

It doesn't really make sense for me to try to explain the basics in this blog.

Sometimes the stereotypes seem to have a seed of truth in them, by which I mean they are overly simplified and exaggerated descriptions based on general tendencies associated with certain cognitive functions and combinations. Others, however, don't even seem to be based on reality but misunderstanding the functions and dichotomies entirely.

It seems these stereotypes often come to life because some people internalize one-dimensional type descriptions/dichotomies, look for people who resemble that description, form some kind of an archetype about them and settle with typing people according to superficial understanding of their external behaviour, not taking underlying processes into account.

In the most unfortunate cases, people already have a bias against certain kind of people and because of it, start matching all of them with one/few personality types and then begin to see the whole type in a negative light. And of course, some people only seem able to type people with no views or traits opposing to their own to the same personality type with them.

In typology forums this shows in threads with a (sometimes direct, sometimes indirect) message like: ”Why are all ISFPs emotionally biased about everything?” or ”Don't trust an ESFJ” or ”ENTPs are useless trolls” and crap like that.

It's like some people really consider stuff like this relevant:

Feelers are emotionally biased crybabies and incapable of coherent thought.

Thinkers are cold sosiopaths and incapable of love and empathy.

Sensors are dumb and incapable of independent thought.

Intuitives are clumsy and incapable of doing physical tasks well.

Rather than rambling more about how untrue those stereotypes are, I'll get to the type-specific ones. If you're purposely creating one-dimensional comedy characters or something, then you might have some actual use for these but in typing real people they are seriously useless. But the more people are aware of them, the better. If you don't personally need to be reminded of this, maybe you can still find what I've gathered kind of hilarious. :D Or enraging...

I'll have my fictional characters starring as their types. Because fun.


All ENFJs are manipulative, backstabing goody-two-shoes who wrap everyone around their little finger, never say what they mean or act authentically. In conflict situations they always side with the majority. They want power but not the responsibility.


All INFJs are crazy conspiracy theorists and prone to mental illnesses. They're detached from reality and live in a dark world inside their heads. They're ineffective in any sensory environment and mess up everything they touch.


All ESTPs are reckless thrill-seekers who never think about the consequenses of their actions. Their life is all about dumb stunts, sex and motorcycles. Anything abstract or ethical receives no response from their brain.


All ISTPs are like ESTPs but antisocial, so they prefer playing video games, building useless objects and breaking things apart just to be able to put them back together. They never use whatever abilities they may have for any useful purpose.


All ESFJs are dumb blond barbies who blindly follow whatever rules and morals they have grown up with. They want to please people only so that everyone would love them, and the moment you turn your back on them they're already bad-mouthing you.


All ISFJs are spineless door-mats whose life revolves around one person (their lover, usually). They have no morals, personality, or passions of their own, they need someone else to complete them. If their love isn't reciprocated 24/7, they become obsessive stalkers.


All ENTPs do nothing but troll all over the internet 24/7. They talk inexplicable amounts of nonsense, and get nothing done. They're opportunistic freeloaders who can go to ridiculous lengths to escape all and any kind of responsibility.


All INTPs do nothing but sit alone in their room coming up with useless theories, wondering about trivial things, fancying themselves as the most intelligent personality type and comparing themselves to Einstein, while never coming up with anything anyone could really use. Have troubles remembering to take their weekly shower.


All ESFPs are foolish party animals who live only for having fun. They have no abilities, no sense of responsibility and no direction in life. They are entirely useless, except maybe as a clown if they get lucky.


All ISFPs are either hippies who smoke weed with ENFPs, or artists suffering from frequent emotional breakdowns, which they actually enjoy. Incapable of surviving among ”normal” people.


All ENTJs are narcissistic, abusive chiefs of some sort who wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they couldn't order people around as they please and take their anger out on their subordinates.


All INTJs are sosiopaths or narsissists who care about nothing expect themselves and their One True field of science. They think they're perfect, and that every brain fart they let out is an objective fact. They think everyone wants to be them.


All ENFPs use drugs, prefer one-night-stands to relationships and wish to live their life running around naked on a field while chewing flowers. They're incapable of keeping a job. Sometimes they might get serious but OH HEY A BUTTERFLY.


All INFPs want to be INFJs and a half of them pretend to be. They're the weakest and most emotionally biased personality type, they're all emos who do nothing but watch gore anime while cutting their wrists. They never leave their room but manage to fancy themselves as world saviors/figthers of justice.


All ESTJs are meatheads who gain a sense of power by ordering people around according to someone else's (ENTJ's) orders. They fancy themselves as the alpha male (all ESTJs are male of course) and their self worth competely shatters and they turn berserk, if this fact is questioned.


All ISTJs are complete robots. They're the people ESTJs order around. They're blind to everything except following the majority. If someone else didn't give them instructions and orders they would just rot and die.

…Gee, I wonder why some people think MBTI is about as useful as horoscopes?

Imagine if your average people where really like this. What a world it would be.