I majored in psychology and sometimes I felt out of place in my classes. I was a Thinker in the midst of people who felt called to study psychology in part because of their deep connection to their own feelings. They were empathetic and emotional. I was calm and curious. After years of sitting in classes with my Feeler peers, I told a professor I didn’t think I was cut out to be a therapist. I wasn’t connected with my emotions enough. He disagreed. I appreciated his perspective of what a Thinker can offer hurting people and the benefits of being someone who has naturally healthy boundaries and won’t carry the pain home with them. He did a good job at helping me see that just because I didn’t have big feelings didn’t mean I wasn’t connected to my own emotions and that my ability to regulate myself might help me teach others to regulate.
While I didn’t go on to pursue more education and become a therapist, I felt encouraged to take my strengths and bring them to people who needed me. We went into group home work where I was able to love and invest in the boys we worked with. We were able to do that job longer than most couples, which I think in part was because of my Thinker tendencies (and the grace of God). During these years I was first introduced to Connected Parenting techniques and they seemed to be ideally suited to a Thinker parent. It required a level of calmness and an ability to detach from a child’s behavior in order to see their trauma that felt intuitive to me. I could see value in the way I was made and how I parented these kids.
While doing group home work, a coworker was taking a seminary class and had to do a project where she studied the spiritual gifts of a population. She gave us all a test to fill out and the results didn’t surprise me. I was high in administrative gifts, low in mercy. That’s always a nice thing to hear, isn’t it? That you’re low in mercy? While you’re raising a houseful of hurting boys and working with their families?
Over the years I’ve wrestled with being someone who is “low in mercy” and also has been called to the work of compassion (for me, that’s meant years of work with kids, in foster care and foster parent support). Sometimes it makes me feel like a fraud or an outsider, but I’ve also learned a lot and I’ve seen why Thinkers are needed in the world of helping the hurting.
The chances of me burning out are fairly low. I naturally tend to have good boundaries when it comes to dealing with difficult or hurting people. I know my limits. If I do get in over my head, I can detach a little and recharge. I can look at things pretty rationally and not feel overwhelmed by a problem. I’m willing to take the risk and say things that are hard, but are true and need to be said. My fear of what other people will think about me or will feel does not determine what I do. In fact, sometimes I don’t know enough to have the right amount of fear about what other people will think about me or feel about what I say.
I am able to love hurting people without taking on all their struggles. I can hear pretty horrifying things and still sleep just fine at night. I can be a calm presence when others will panic. I can problem solve without feeling depressed at the enormity of the problem. I can love people where they’re at and if they decide not to change, I don’t have to take it personally.
But there are struggles for the Thinkers who live in a Feeling world. Sometimes we read as disinterested or uncaring when that’s not true. We may care tremendously, but we don’t cry when we hear your story or immediately offer to fix your problem. Or we DO jump directly into problem solving and forget to pause and sit with you in your suffering. We may find ourselves struggling with our own feelings of discomfort when we interact with people with Big Feelings. We can feel inadequate and confused about how to be comforting because we don’t have a lot of our own emotions.
We have healthy boundaries, but they can also lead us to burn bridges quickly and quietly. Don’t care about changing your self-sabotaging decisions? Fine. But I’m not going to sit here and watch. We can hurt people we love unintentionally and unknowingly. We spoke truth without knowing how it would sting. We weren’t sensitive enough to be diplomatic or careful.
Thinkers who get involved in compassion work have to learn to embrace our strengths and work against some of our natural weaknesses. We can’t use them as an excuse, but as an opportunity for learning and growth. I have been able to see beautiful results when I stretch myself outside of my gut instincts and natural responses.
I’m thankful for that professor that encouraged me to continue pursuing the work I felt passionate about, even if it didn’t totally make sense to me at the time. I’m thankful for the spiritual gifts inventory that showed me that when I’m able to express mercy and compassion towards people that would normally inspire my right fighting righteous anger, that is not my personality. That’s the Holy Spirit working through me. I have had to intentionally learn how to be empathetic because it doesn’t come naturally to me. God is able to use me to be more than my limited personality traits and life experience. I can operate out of both the natural strengths and passions I have and also out of the unique things I’ve learned because I’ve been called to do work that seems to generally be reserved for the more emotionally connected types.
I’m thankful for what I’ve learned through these experiences. For others who feel like maybe they aren’t suited for the work of foster care or other elements of compassion work because they too are “low in mercy,” I want you to know you may have an important role to play. You may be the right person with the right skillset to do just what needs to be done.