Monday, December 16, 2013

Your Temperament and Your Mental Health, Part 2: The Melancholic and Mental Illness

Click this link here for Part 1.

I read the book “The Temperament God Gave You” in college, yet I did not know it’s value until these past few years.  The most interesting discovery I made while reading about temperaments was that Melancholics are more prone to depression and anxiety than those with any other temperament.

Because the Melancholic values the “ideal”, things of this world often fall short of their expectations.  Their perfectionist tendencies drive them to keep rigorous routines or unrealistic standards.  And when they can’t maintain even one small portion of this lifestyle, they view themselves as weak failures.

The Melancholic’s heart is restless on earth and is often caught contemplating eternal life or, at least, caught with a book in their nose.  They have a difficult time “living in the moment” because the moment falls short of want they long for.

Small imperfections or failures are seen as catastrophes.  Melancholics are prone to illness, but they are also hypochondriacs because they are expecting bad things to happen to them at any moment.  A minor setback is seen as “the end of the world”.  This is why they can become self-absorbed and throw themselves “pity parties”.

Because of their sensitivity to suffering, Melancholics carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.  It is difficult to “lighten up” because injustices never leave their mind.  They feel personally responsible for solving problems like aiding the relief of world hunger or finding a cure for cancer.  Or considering the realm of faith, Melancholics feel personally responsible for evangelizing every human being on the face of the earth.

The surmounting tasks that the Melancholic feels he must do often becomes too overwhelming, for obvious reasons.  His lists are unrealistic.  However, it is difficult for him to prioritize and make decisions because everything feels important and urgent.

Getting started on any task is very challenging because of the imposed standard of perfection his places on himself.  Melancholics can think of a hundred ways something won’t work before they even begin a project.  They are already a failure before they start.

The Melancholic is extremely in tune with sadness.  He can pick up on others moods very easily which makes him very empathetic.  On the flip-side, they can often take things harder than person with the actual problem.

Melancholics have very low self-esteem.  They don’t feel like they deserve anything good.  Because of their keen awareness of faults and sins, they have a difficult time forgiving themselves, moving on, and learning from the occasion.

Social situations are very draining.  And stressful circumstances require a lot of energy as well.  The Melancholic needs more rest during these specific times, if not all the time.  The mind is always working at top speed which might be the explanation for consistent low energy levels.  The mind interrupts every experience.  Thinking and over-analyzing are constant companions.  But how does one “turn off” his brain?

The combination of perfectionism, pessimism, low energy levels, can often make the Melancholic feel incapable, inadequate, and undeserving.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

It’s no wonder that people with this temperament struggle with maintain good mental health.  Most of these descriptions are classic symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

I know it seems like this temperament has all weaknesses and no strengths.  Like a true Melancholic, I would focus only on the flaws if no one checked me.

On the positive side, Melancholics can be great contemplatives.  Many saints possessed the Melancholic temperament.  They can be incredibly creative because of their deep insight.  Once they finally let someone in, they make for loyal, compassionate friends.  And, Melancholics are very attentive to detail, often being able to work on the most tedious, detailed job without growing weary.  They are determined once they get started, and will see things through till the end.

I know each of the four temperaments has their own set of struggles and obstacles.  I am only picking on the Melancholics because of the link to depression and anxiety.  I think it’s interesting to know that I was prone to despair before I began to experience the symptoms of clinical depression.

Before I end, I’m throwing in a disclaimer; I’m not saying all Melancholics are depressed, just that, because of their nature, they are prone to it.  And I am also not saying that only Melancholics are the one who get depressed.  You could have any type of temperament and suffer from any mental illness.  Often times, mental illness can change your temperament temporarily.  The mental illness can override your natural inclinations and make you act “out of character”.

If you are a loved one of a Melancholic it is important to know that just because the he or she can be pessimistic, grumpy, and complaining most of the time, that does not necessarily mean he or she is unhappy (or has depression).  For the Melancholic, expressing certain feelings looks different than those with other temperaments.

First, encourage trust in your relationship so as to open up the lines of communication.  Once the relationship is grounded and solid, encourage the Melancholic express joy and hope in their daily life.  Finding even the smallest things to be grateful for is an essential habit to form.  And also, prompt them to affirm others often, especially the ones they love.  Gently remind the Melancholic of these things because guilt trips or pressure will only cause them to withdraw inward.

The tendency to depression will always be present in the Melancholic.  However, with good habits and a solid support system, mental illness will stay far away.

I hope that by better understanding these inherit reactions of mine as a Melancholic, I can better understand how to overcome the depression and the anxiety and any other obstacles associated with this temperament.  It is kind of like going to the source, instead of just treating the symptoms.

It may also help me to be kind to myself and cut myself some slack.  After all, God gave me this temperament.  Not that I need to use that as an excuse to stop bettering myself, but that I may use His grace to build upon this nature.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

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