These are the technical names of four fears I used to have. I got over the first one when my memories of the movie by that name mercifully began to fade. The second and third ones I conquered because needles and blood are non-negotiable elements of blood/platelet donation, which I am now happily able to do. The last one I overcame because I prefer to get my exercise amidst the beauty of nature rather than climbing stairwells in an attempt to avoid elevators.
Lest you think I’m fear-free, I want to talk about a remaining fear that has proven much harder to eradicate: the fear of being misunderstood. This fear came to the forefront a month ago when my whistleblower identity was revealed and I began speaking publicly for the first time. I was able to speak freely because I had nothing to hide and was simply a messenger of the truth, but soon learned that people could and would misunderstand me. People attributed ulterior motives to my actions, ascribed meanings to my words that I did not intend, and took my remarks out of context.
This proved a challenging experience for me especially since I soon learned there was little I could do to combat the problem. I couldn’t very well issue a stream of statements that amounted to “That’s not what I meant!” When Bishop Malone issued his statement comprised of my prior emails to him, it was very tempting to respond with a detailed defense explaining what I was thinking as I wrote each of those messages. I quickly decided against that for two reasons: first, this isn’t about me and second, I knew by then that even my explanations could be misunderstood. I would just end up clarifying my clarifications.
In the weeks since, I’ve devoted much time and prayer to fighting this fear of mine. While I can’t say it has been eradicated, I’m much better off than I was this time last month. I have come to realize that my fear of being misunderstood is in many ways associated with the perfectionism I’ve endeavored to keep at bay since struggling with it during childhood and adolescence. In addition, I recognize that I care so deeply about the matter at hand that any misunderstanding is amplified in my mind because of the significance of the issue. Most importantly, I discovered the best remedies for this fear: humility and trust.
It is humbling to have your words, motives or actions misunderstood. You instinctively want to defend yourself. As a lifelong logophile, I also want to defend my words and offer any needed clarity. It is quite humbling to accept misunderstandings and move on. In doing so, you have to entrust any misunderstanding to God. The Creator of my heart knows its depths far better than I ever could. He therefore knows full well the intentions and motives behind my words and actions. This passage from Proverbs is especially comforting right now: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He will make straight your paths.” Just as I must not lean on my own understanding, I likewise cannot focus on others’ misunderstanding. The Lord who can make straight my paths can certainly make the most of a misunderstanding.
These lines from Saint Francis’ beautiful prayer are ones that I repeat often at this time:
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be understood, as to understand!
P.S. Best name for the “fear of being misunderstood” that I can come up with is parexigisiphobia, which is a spelling bee word if I ever saw one.