Understanding temperaments - strengths and weaknesses
Each temperament has its own set of ingredients or attributes which show themselves as strengths or weaknesses depending on how we use them. They are fixed and complete. For example someone may have 10% of one temperament and 90% of another - the percentages are fixed but even within that 10% there will be the complete set of attributes.
These attributes are all good. We read 'God saw all that he had made and, and it was very good' (Genesis 1:31). That includes us and, although the 'sin principle' has come in and given us a bias towards wrongdoing, what was originally put within us was good. Jesus came into this world and, in his humanity, was the embodiment of all that we could have been and yet can be.
Generally, if Jesus is at the centre of our lives then those ingredients will be expressed as strengths. However, if we live for ourselves then those ingredients will come out as weaknesses - rather as opposite sides of the same coin. If we recognise that each of our weaknesses started life as a strength then we will quickly get in touch with what we are feeling in a given situation and, instead of using those feelings destructively, we will turn them around to produce a constructive result. The two main factors which determine whether we use our attributes positively or negatively are how secure we are in ourselves and our will - that is the choices we make and how we respond to the challenges of life.
A secure person does not need to be defensive or live in his weaknesses. He can go forward with confidence and use his strengths constructively.
However secure or insecure we may feel, we still have to make choices to respond positively to the challenges of life. In this way the ingredients within us come out as positive strengths and make our lives useful and meaningful.
The Melancholic’s sensitivity can be used constructively when he reaches out to other people but that same sensitivity becomes very destructive when the Melancholic turns it back on himself damaging his own self-esteem which in turn harms relationships.
The Phlegmatic’s calmness can be a great stabilising influence but the other side of that is the frustrating ability to ‘switch off’ when he needs to get involved.
The Choleric’s ability to set goals is an obvious asset unless it is so ‘narrow-visioned’ that he fails to take others with him
The Sanguine’s fun-loving nature is fine until he has to face up to situations that require depth and reflection.
Weaknesses are strengths gone to seed
If we work on the principle that our weaknesses are strengths gone to seed, it can change fundamentally how we feel about ourselves. If we feel we are rubbish then we will not be surprised if that is the way we act. Once we recognise that God made us good then we will see that, when we do get it wrong, it isn’t because we are rubbish but because we are mishandling what is good.
Let’s remind ourselves how this works. Our temperaments are ‘clusters’ of certain ingredients. Although there will be similarities between the Phlegmatic and Melancholic, and the Choleric and Sanguine, there is a ‘different feel’ to each of them. For example, the Phlegmatic feels himself to be fragile and is therefore self-protective. He has to work hard to constantly put the other person first and to give himself away. On the other hand, the Melancholic would more instinctively give himself away but tends to get into a muddle with handling his emotions and his negativity so doesn’t think that what he has to offer is worth offering.
The Choleric is strong and targeted whereas the Sanguine moves out in ever-increasing expansion. The Sanguine is ‘larger than life’ while the Choleric is narrow and focussed. Again, there are similarities but there is a completely different feel to both these extroverts and so there is a different set of ingredients for each of the temperaments.
Let’s take the Phlegmatic. He will feel tenderness – but that tenderness can turn into guilt. How does that work? Something painful happens to someone. The Phlegmatic doesn’t like pain – he feels it – but if he doesn’t look at it head on his tenderness combines with his feeling fragile so the tenderness turns inwards and becomes an undermining ‘feeling bad.’ His qualities of tenderness, warmth and empathy have worked against him because he feels fragile. The answer? To deliberately choose to put himself in the other person’s shoes and feel what they are feeling – a conscious, specific choice that will run against everything he feels in that moment. That will cause his emotions to ‘flow outwards’ – and as they do so he will feel less fragile and more ‘solid’ and not only feel better himself but will bring help and comfort to the other person.
The Melancholic’s wonderful sensitivity gives her an immediate connection straight into the heart of another person. But what if the other person doesn’t open his heart to that connection? The Melancholic’s negativity drags that sensitivity inwards so that it turns against itself in condemnation and quickly finds a reason within herself for the other person’s failure.
Below are two examples of how these principles work out in practice in two different temperament combinations:
Two examples -
This temperament mix has wonderful qualities of care and compassion. The Sanguine is kind and always wants to make things alright. The Melancholic's sensitivity and self-sacrificing nature means that he will do what it takes to care for the other person.
The problem comes when the Sanguine Melancholic is not sure of his own value. He will then use those qualities to attempt to make up for what is lacking in that value. Instead of that caring coming from a secure place it will take on unrealistic proportions and the person will feel responsible for just about anything wrong within his vicinity. Even if he doesn't feel that a particular wrong thing is his fault he will still feel that he has failed because he didn't manage to fix it - even if it is nothing to do with him. This becomes a burden of responsibility that is crushing. It saps the spirit and wears the person down. His care and concern for the other person is not always understood and appreciated and sometimes it is abused. The Melancholic, with his strong sense of justice, will know this is wrong but will feel obliged to continue. Over time, anger can build up and sit beneath the surface - sometimes coming out as an anger against himself. It is a short step from this mixture of care and anger to a self-destructive pattern that has the potential to destroy this lovely person.
This temperament has the valuable qualities of being able to feel things deeply as a Phlegmatic and then to pursue what is good and right as a Choleric.
As with the Sanguine Melancholic, the problem comes in if the Choleric Phlegmatic is not secure. The capacity to feel deeply turns into anxiety. The Choleric steps in to try and fix the anxiety either by working everything out in his Choleric mind or by a course of action that leaves feelings behind. He then develops endless activities which are designed to help him avoid the real issues.
Whatever mix you are …… see if you can work out how your qualities easily become weaknesses. What are those qualities and how do the weaknesses show themselves? Then you can choose to use who you are only for good. Always go for ‘the best’ over what appears to be ‘the good’.