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Do You Do Temperaments?

August 21, 2011

I’ve been hearing about the temperaments for awhile – you know, sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic and melancholic – but never really paid any attention to them until recently. I know I had a book on my shelf once about it that I didn’t get around to reading and just passed it along after awhile. A number of my family and friends would talk about them and I couldn’t get straight which word meant which thing.

But a few weeks ago, the topic kept coming up in the randomest places, enough that I started to have a guess of which temperaments I had. During this random streak, I was at a friend’s house and she had a copy of The Temperament God Gave Me sitting out from the library. I picked it up and quickly read an overview of one of the temperaments I thought I was – melancholic. Wow. There was an awful lot of “me” on that page, including: “They are skeptical about what may appear to be simplistic labels and categories – such as the four temperaments.” (Ha!) – But really a lot more too, including the need to fight to achieve self-confidence and “Ironically, however, although small details can stump them, melancholics can often handle the truly big crises with grace and aplomb.”

I went home and ordered the book right away. I haven’t finished it, but have found it quite helpful overall. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, the temperaments refer to the part of your personality which is innate rather than learned. I had a sense that some aspects of my personality that were frustrating to me had pros and cons, but this really helped me sort some of them out and stop battling my own nature unnecessarily and try to work with what I have.

Upon further reading, I discovered that the other temperament I had suspected belonged to me – phelegmatic – was actually the dominant one. The section in the book entitled “Discovering Your Secondary Temperament”, which describes temperament combinations, including potential pitfalls, was particularly helpful. This paragraph particularly rings true (and I’ve been working on doing many of these things, especially in recent years):

This temperament combination can face at times a greater challenge to your confidence than other temperaments (especially the choleric or sanguine). For this reason, when you are facing a major challenge or have been given a multifaceted and demanding project, it will be absolutely critical for you to maintain your level of energy and motivation – not to mention your prayer life – to complete the project. You will want to anticipate the way your moods can get you off track and take concrete steps to maintain accountability in order to remain focused and energized throughout the task. Motivational tapes, exercise, a healthy diet, spiritual guidance, and a strong sacramental life will be critical.

I haven’t come close to finishing the book yet, but have found it quite helpful so far. The book is written by a licensed marriage and family therapist.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    August 21, 2011 3:06 pm

    I had read about the temperaments years ago – books by Florence Littauer (sp?). It was helpful for my husband and I in understanding each other. But the excerpt you give above looks even more in depth and helpful. I am also a phlegmatic/melancholy blend and that paragraph sounds very familiar. 🙂 It appears the authors offer very practical advice on working with our strengths and weaknesses. Thanks so much for posting about this book. I now must go order it. 🙂

  2. August 21, 2011 7:54 pm

    I don’t do them, though I’ve tried. I’ve read about them and it just doesn’t make sense to me. None of them really seems *me*, even in combinations with a dominant and secondary type. But the Meyers-Briggs temperament styles does the same thing for me, for me it helpfully describes strengths and weakness and helps me understand myself and others (I’m an INTP). I’m kind of fascinated why some people prefer one system and some prefer the other.

  3. August 21, 2011 9:08 pm

    For me it might be the presentation in this particular book that’s making the difference. I think I actually started reading a book on the temperaments more than ten years ago and it just didn’t click at all.

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