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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I have been hearing some priests talk about temperment recently. How useful a concept is this in psychology? Can it help me get along better with other people if I know what their temperment is?

 
Well, first of all, just for clarification, the word is temperament, with an “a” in the middle.

The term derives from medieval physiology and refers to one of the four conditions of body and mind: sanguine (i.e., cheerful), phlegmatic (i.e., apathetic or sluggish), choleric (i.e., irritable or quick-tempered), and melancholic (i.e., gloomy or depressed).

Modern psychology has borrowed the concept of temperament to refer to the underlying demeanor of an infant that allegedly precedes any higher level of personality development. The supposition here is that infants are “born with” temperaments, whereas personality is developed through social interaction. The problem with this supposition, however, is that it derives from a psychological world view that fails to comprehend the psychology of the unconscious.

Once we understand the nature of the unconscious, we might wonder, then, what the concept of “born with” actually means. Many persons assume it means a biological predisposition, something “hard wired” into brain chemistry and functioning. But it could just as well mean that the infant has been infected, so to speak, with the unconscious conflicts of the parents, beginning with the entire process of conception and continuing on through uterine development.

  

For example, I know of a case where the mother, in her second marriage (after a divorce) and in her late thirties, was literally desperate to get pregnant by her new husband. She spent thousands and thousands of dollars over a period of several years not only on medical fertility treatments but also on New-Age “therapies,” and she became almost hysterical in her attempts to conceive. And then, when she finally did conceive, her entire pregnancy was overshadowed by her intense worry that she might have a miscarriage. So is it any wonder that her baby was born choleric? Is it any wonder that the baby came into this world frustrated and bitter that she wasn’t conceived in an atmosphere of love, that she wasn’t conceived under the protection of faith and the Sacraments, and that she was conceived in absolute, naked desperation—desperation not for her as a person, but for a baby, any baby, at any cost? 

  

Consequently, I find the concept of temperament, and its focus on the descriptive imagery of surface behaviors, to be of little use clinically. To facilitate psychological and spiritual healing, it is far more useful to understand and heal the unconscious defense mechanisms that motivate a person’s behavior.

In other words, labeling a person as choleric, or quick-tempered, or impulsive, for example, does nothing to explain why that person is afraid of facing his or her painful inner emotional experience and why that person is always angry at others.[1] Such labeling can also foster the illusion that “That’s just the way I am,” as if it were an excuse for not changing your behavior. But if you get to the core conflicts and defenses that maintain your lack of emotional awareness and your desire to “push” others into seeing their own faults, you have the opportunity to heal those defenses and to radically change your social behavior and spiritual life.

As for “getting along better” with others, the concept of temperament is spiritually irrelevant. There is only one way to treat others: with love. Regardless of how others treat you, and regardless of whether they may be gloomy or sluggish or angry, you, as a Christian, must persevere in patience, compassion, forbearance, mercy and forgiveness. Love is love; it’s the same everywhere and every place, now and forever.

 
A Case Example

I had an employee who needed reassurance constantly; she was wishing I would “mother” her more or less, that I would “hold her hand” with each duty I gave her in the business. As a child, though, I disliked my father “breathing down my neck” and so in an attempt not to do this myself to others, I did the opposite. So I left my employee to herself, supposing that if she needed help, she would ask for it. In my mind, I was being thoughtful of her, and showing my trust in her ability to learn—but in her mind, as I know now, she felt that I was abandoning her, and did not love her. Eventually, she threw up her hands and resigned. I accepted her desire in this with much sorrow, but I thought she had to do what was best for her. A year later, she lit into me that I did not love her enough to “fight” for her, to explain my need for her to stay in the business. I was completely floored! She was angry with me for not showing my love, when in every way I thought possible, I had been showing her great love. Anyway, I read the book on the temperaments later, and realized how different we are from one another, and how our expressions of love may vary with our temperament. This understanding helped me realize there are different ways to respond with love, and what I would prefer for myself, could very well be much different for another.

This case illustrates two points. First, it shows us how frustrating it can be to deal with persons who have not done their own work in learning emotional honesty. You can find many persons like this in the world, and you can often find them asking God why they are treated so miserably in life. Yet the true answer to their prayers—an answer they are too afraid to hear—is that they cause most of their own problems. Your employee had plenty of opportunities to speak openly about her needs, and yet, instead of following the Four Steps of Humility, she kept her feelings stuffed away and hidden in her unconscious, until her resentment finally exploded in anger.

Second, this case tells you something about the psychological work you yourself have to do. You say it very politely, and yet the truth is that your father must have been overbearing and dictatorial. Most likely, you were furious with him, but, like your employee, you probably stifled your feelings, taking everything quietly and patiently on the surface, telling yourself that you were being loving, while the resentment boiled inside you.

And what is the proof of this supposition?

Well, you tried not to be like your father. Whenever you avoid something so deliberately, it tells you that there is more going on unconsciously than you want to acknowledge.

So, instead of treating your employee with real love, you treated her with one of your psychological defenses. And everything went downhill from there.

Therefore, the issue here isn’t that this woman had a particular temperament and needed to be treated in a special way. The issue is that both of you failed to live according to humility and love. Neither one of you really opened your heart to the other as Christian love demands. Instead you both closed yourself off behind your defenses, and you both suffered unnecessarily.

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes.

1. Most persons unconsciously develop a lack of emotional awareness as a way to avoid facing the dark, ugly emotions of hurt and resentment deep inside themselves. And to whom is that resentment most likely directed? Most likely, it’s unconsciously directed at their fathers. Why the father? Well, if you understand the proper family role of a father, you will understand that even if a mother tends to be harsh and critical, it’s still the father’s responsibility to protect the child from any abuse. If the father fails in his responsibility, then the child—in addition to the outward conflicts with the mother—will be unconsciously angry at the father for his failures, and the child’s consequent disobedience will be an unconscious attempt to “show” the father the “fruits” of his failure.

 

Who wrote this web page?

 

Healing
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition


by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.


A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
 
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
 
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
 
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites (including this webpage) is now available at your fingertips in book form.

 

Healing by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D. explains how psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury. But if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously— your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts. Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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