If you don’t already know, your temperament is your natural inclinations, behaviors, and responses to life. It is not your personality, your character, or your fate. Who you are is not limited to your temperament; your character is made up of your education, environment, free will, family of origin, habits, health, etc. Your temperament is, however, a general set of guidelines to help you better understand yourself and others.
There are four categories: Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholic. These four distinctions of human reactions date all the way back to the time of Socrates, Plato, and even Hippocrates.
Some people are skeptical of categorizing because they feel put in a box. The temperaments are not an excuse to sin or act in an uncharitable way. On the contrary, knowing your primary and secondary temperaments can help you develop your strengths and work toward overcoming your weaknesses. “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3) Knowing yourself can help you make changes for the better and become the best version of yourself.
It is difficult to pinpoint a specific temperament in the saintly man. On our journey toward holiness, we become more and more “centered” or “balanced”, living life in the intersection of the four. It is not about “changing” who you are, but more so about building on your nature. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Grace builds upon nature”.
There is much to say about the four temperaments. If you want an in-depth look, check out the book, “The Temperament God Gave You” by Art and Laraine Bennett. This book will help you figure out what temperament you have, and, in addition, by understanding all the different temperaments, you can learn how to better relate to your spouse, your children, and to God. For example, if you are a laid-back Phlegmatic and your spouse is a go-getter Choleric, or if you have a pensive Melancholic son and you are a fun-loving Sanguine. My favorite part is, probably because I’m a Melancholic, the practice advice given to deepen your spiritual life corresponding with the temperament you have.
For the sake of this post, I am going to simplify the four categories (speaking in terms of reactions) to fall under the main descriptions of either: quickly or slowly, and shallowly or deeply (if those are even real words). See my high-tech chart below. J
Deep/Personal Choleric Melancholic
Simplified, the Sanguine reacts quickly, has glass-half-full optimism, makes decisions easily, everybody’s friend, and loves to be the center of attention. Large crowds energize them and nothing seems to bother them. Sanguines are quick to forgive and forget, generous, self-giving, friendly, attentive, and communicative. Some possible weakness include: superficiality, easily distracted, and speaks before he thinks. People with the temperament of Sanguine need to understand Jesus is his truest friend and that love is the basis for rules and discipline.
The Phlegmatic reacts slowly and, most often, without a whim, reserved, sensible, tolerant, and dependable. Peace is their source of energy and they will do anything to avoid conflict. They are harmonious and peacekeepers, yet they are not strong leaders. In the midst of crisis, they stay calm and rational. The Phlegmatic can be dispassionate, detached, and overly scientific. They will aim to please to the point of fault, falling into peer pressure or sacrifice their values. What the Phlegmatic needs most is encouragement, especially to personalize the faith and realize that he has an important role in the Church.
The Choleric reacts quickly and intensely, is strong-willed, rational, highly energetic, enthusiastic, and very productive. Activity energizes the Choleric and wasting time is the most annoying thing. The Choleric’s strengths are: leadership, decisiveness, efficiency, and ability to grasp the big picture. The Choleric’s weaknesses are: quick to judge, domineering, overly ambitious, fear of intimacy, and prone to pride and anger. This temperament needs obedience, humility, and understanding, yet first needs to realize that he “needs” these things.
The Melancholic reacts slowly and deeply, values the “ideal”, is empathetic, introverted, and loyal. Reflection and solitude energizes the Melancholic and chaos is overwhelming. Strengths: precision, detail, organization, and consistency. They are the writers, poets, musicians, and artists of the world. However, those with this temperament can fall into scrupulosity, perfectionism, pessimism, and despair. Melancholics need supernatural hope, joy, prudent realistic goals, and not to forget to take care of their human needs.
If you're still unsure of what temperament you have, check out this assessment by Sophia Institute.
The point of all this is to help you determine what type of temperament you and your loved ones have. The more you can understand each other, the more you can avoid miscommunications and grow your relationships. The more you can understand yourself, the more you can grow in virtue and deepen your relationship with God.
Aaaaaaaaand.....Knowing your temperament can help you recover from mental illness.
I provided this brief analysis as a foundation because wanted to go into a little more depth discussing the Melancholic temperament (well, probably because that is my primary temperament). Also, I learned about some interesting things about possible links between Melancholics and mental health that deserved some attention.
But in order to create some suspense, you’ll have to stay tuned until next time for Part 2 of this post! J