No previous post
No next post

A Deluge of Compassion

The scales fell from my eyes while I listened to a recent episode of The Catholic Coaching Podcast.

After taking Metanoia Catholic’s temperament assessment, I found out my main temperament is Melancholic. Off the bat, I was able to recognize many of those characteristics, seeing both the virtue and vice, and take it, somewhat, in stride. It made sense. However, I was feeling less enthusiastic about my secondary temperament – Phlegmatic. “Alright,” I thought. “The peace-keeper. Not very exciting, but that’s fine.” I think I even considered not listening to this episode because the Phlegmatic seemed just so….boring, but I love Matt and Erin’s podcast and decided to give it a go. And…I’m so glad I did!

When I listened to How to Accept and Love the Phlegmatic, I was taken on an interior journey, watching my younger self make so many decisions out of self-protection, watching that girl live out of a place of so much fear of making waves, and watching her lose herself because the tension of being different was just too uncomfortable. For the first time in my over 10+ year journey (that has included recovery from an eating disorder, a massive reversion to Catholicism and, now, this most recent transformation and growth pertaining to the renewal of my mind thanks to my participation in the Metanoia Catholic Academy to the point of becoming a coach myself) I was able to have compassion for that young girl I could not understand.  

For so long I have felt nothing but shame and embarrassment over my younger self. So bland that when friends tried to create nicknames for everyone in the group, I was “NKTBA” (Nora Kelly to be Announced) because they couldn’t think of anything! I can laugh at this, although, still feeling a twinge of pain in my chest because for the first time, I can now see where my Phlegmatic temperament took me when not refined by virtue. I became so passive, so afraid of hurting anyone or anything, so unsafe in holding my own opinion that I became a prisoner in my own body and a slave to the expectations of others.

I did whatever you said was best, whatever I thought you thought was best. I cried when I didn’t think to consider someone else’s needs. I couldn’t pick a radio station in case someone else disliked it, the thought of which created so much anxiety in me I couldn’t enjoy a song even if I loved it for fear someone else disliked it or was judging me for liking it. Most of the time it was easier not to like something rather than suffer the disappointment of having something I liked be judged. I was a husk of a human. So detached from my own wants and desires that, for the most part, I didn’t even know what I wanted and simply didn’t desire much of anything other than to not make waves.

I grew up in a somewhat contentious household. At that time, I decided it was not worth getting anyone upset, and I would stop at nothing to keep the peace. People-please, walk on eggshells, have no opinion, do what I was told, and work for the ‘A’ because anything less than that received too much negative attention. When I crashed the family car at 15, my airways nearly closed from panicking and hyperventilating so severely as my father reprimanded me for what happened.

The way my Phlegmatic temperament developed in young adulthood was someone who assumed everyone else was right. I was fascinated by those who were self-assured and confident. I realized in listening to Matt and Erin that I think my dominant temperament as a child and young adult was Phlegmatic. It just explained so much! I’ve often said that I lost myself in those years and now I am realizing why.

In the episode, they mentioned that their Unique Call to Sanctity Workshop would be very difficult for a phlegmatic. I laughed when I heard this, remembering how I called my sister to ask her what I was good at and what I enjoyed doing as a kid because nothing came to mind when going through this workshop myself! I had been acting out of obligation for so long that I couldn’t even think of things I liked, looked forward to, or loved doing. Dear me, I didn’t have any dreams, I didn’t even know how to dream. I was basically spending my whole life trying not to get in trouble!

I think there was also the subconscious belief that if you did have a dream that makes you vulnerable to that dream getting crushed or getting in the way of what someone else thought should be happening. That potential for emotional pain was too risky in my eyes, too uncomfortable. In the interest of maintaining that interpersonal harmony and not having to suffer the interpersonal distress of not being able to do something I loved, I chose not to love.

I fell for the lie that I was choosing the easier, softer way. I thought it was easier not to want anything, but I was dying a slow spiritual death. It was a kind of spiritual neuropathy where you don’t even realize you’re losing your grip on reality because the change is so subtle you don’t notice it happening and you can’t feel it in the typical way, so it went unnoticed. This false idea that it is possible to have perfect interior harmony within myself and exterior harmony with those I’m in relationship with was a cognitive distortion that I lived by but fed perfectly into many of the thoughts I captured in the last year:

“I’m not doing it right.”  Meaning if I had just done it the right way, things would have worked out.

“It’s all my fault.” Meaning I should have known better.

“I’m not okay.” Meaning there is discord and it is too uncomfortable for me to exist in this space.

The realization was sad, but also so beautiful. I could see how that girl could get so lost, could end up where she did, could struggle to use her voice and could tend toward despair, feeling that life was just happening to her and things were getting more and more brutal.

For the first time in my life, instead of looking at myself through the lens of shame and disgust, I felt compassion and tenderness for the girl who just didn’t know a better way and whose natural disposition easily bought into those lies. Now knowing what I know, I get to shed those lies, I get to cast them to the foot of the cross and I get to live in the Truth of who I am.

And thank God!