Friday, February 6, 2009

My Life in a Nutshell: What's Your Temperament?

I've been reading a lot lately about temperaments. If you have never learned about temperaments and, more specifically, your own temperament, I assure you it is a fascinating topic. There are so many quizzes available now in every form imaginable that use some aspect of your temperament to label you as one thing or another... my late favorite is a recent Facebook app asking the ever important question, "Which Disney princess are you?" But don't think this is anything new... the ancient Greek concept of the 4 humours each had a corresponding temperament, and that is the basis of the classical concept.

So what is a temperament? Wikipedia describes temperament as the genetic aspect of one's personality. It's the innate stuff that makes you so precisely you. One basic example of temperament is a person's tendency to be an introvert or an extrovert. It is your inherent, natural tendency present through your whole life to act in one way or another when presented with any given situation.

In trying to conceptualize temperaments, it's useful to think about what isn't a temperament. Your temperament isn't the result of being over- or under-mothered as a child. It's not related to birth order, whether or not you were home schooled, or anything else related to your personal life experiences. Rather, life experience and your temperament work together to form your present personality.

There are other ways to categorize temperaments, but the most straightforward method uses the four classical temperaments: choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic. Each one has it's own set of strengths and weaknesses, and having one temperament rather than another doesn't make you good or bad, it just explains why you may act or feel the way you do. Here's a very basic summary of each:

This temperament describes the classic "Type A" person. Extroverted, energetic, motivated and a leader by anyone's standard. These are people that get things done. On the flip side, they tend to place ideals and goals over personal relationships, causing them to be considered cruel or cold-hearted, and can be bad tempered and be moved to anger quickly.

Introverted but strong-willed, the melancholic is also a doer but can become obsessed with the darker aspects of human nature and the world, and thus can be predisposed to depression. They can be incredibly thoughtful and compassionate, but at the same time are classic perfectionists and tend to be overly critical of their work and very particular about their desires.

You could describe a sanguine as "the life of the party", spontaneous, charismatic and light-hearted. They can be emotional and flighty. They are very extroverted and social, tend to be fashion-conscious and will often follow the crowd. They can be easily distracted, off task, arrogant and impulsive. A fair-weather friend, scatterbrained and shallow.

Introverted yet diplomatic. Phlegmatics tend to be calm, peacemakers, rational and reliable. They are self content and sometimes their tendency to submit their own preferences to make everyone happy leave others thinking that they do not have opinions. Sometimes their contentedness can tend toward laziness and lack of productivity if left unchecked.

Since no one lives in a bubble... we all have life experiences... everyone's personality is the altered form of a temperament. A phlegmatic can overcome his or her introvertedness and lead to great aplomb. A sanguine doesn't have to be completely hedonistic and can be very principled with a properly formed conscience. A choleric can overcome his or her idealism and be more feeling while a melancholic can learn to temper the introspective tendency and be decisive.

The very best personality test I've found that uses the classic temperaments is a 107-question online test from 4Marks. You can find it here. 4Marks is a Catholic site but the test is very useful even if you are not Catholic. When you've taken the test, it gives you your primary and secondary temperament and describes each in detail. Another basic test is from Neoxenos, here. It is simply a calculator so you'll need to look elsewhere for more detailed information.

But temperament isn't just a cold hard fact of life.... it's really important! It can help you become a better person. Knowing your weaknesses can help you learn to overcome them. You can find out what motivates you and, just as importantly, what motivates others. Once you figure out the basics of the temperaments, you can size up almost anyone and use that knowledge to motivate them. This is so key in a work situation... I have a friend with a relative who keeps a cheat sheet of behaviors typical of each temperament in his desk so he can determine how best to keep his employees happy and productive. As a parent, knowing what your child's natural tendencies will be to any given situation can help you have a happier home. This is genius!

Of course, I am a sanguine (and incidentally Pocahontas, who wasn't really a princess) and my natural tendency is to get people excited about things that interest me, like temperaments, for example (Is it working?). I am artistic and like to have a variety of projects to work on rather than the same thing every day. My husband is even more sanguine than I am, and this combination explains why our house isn't super tidy but we don't care and why we throw spontaneous parties. We have trouble leaving social events even because we are having so much fun talking with friends. My oldest child is a choleric and must have her own way, and knowing this has helped us find ways to avoid the tantrums that happen when she doesn't get her own way or when plans change quickly. This is such invaluable information for getting along in the world... and it's free and easy if you know how to interpret it.

I just can't say enough about how absolutely intriguing this topic is... it applies to everyone, everywhere and at all stages of life. It's rare to find so universal a concept. For more detailed descriptions of each of the temperaments, there are many resources out there with great information, including the acclaimed book "The Temperament God Gave You" by Art and Laraine Bennett.


paperhill said...

This is very interesting, indeed! I'll have to take a look at one of the tests & see if I am what I think I am :)

Anne said...

I am a melancholic-phlegmatic. Who knew? (Also I'm Belle, but anyone could have figured that one out.)