At a conference—in between sessions—the woman approached me and thanked me for my book, Personality PLUS at Work. It’s about the life-changing impact an understanding of the four temperaments can have on all our relationships.
“We heard you speak three years ago. Our whole family has been studying this! It’s amazing!”
Her smile quickly changed to a look of concern, and she shared, “But I don’t know what to do about my one son . . . ”
“What’s your concern?” I asked, hoping this would be quick.
I could tell she was, and she rightly defined herself as, a MELANCHOLY temperament. The Melancholies tend to perfectionism. They are, by nature, deeply loving, passionate, sincere, creative, and even genius-prone. They do not do well with people–especially their own children–who are flighty, silly, or who seem to want inordinate amounts of attention, affection, and affirmation.
But that describes some of the needs of the opposite SANGUINE temperament, and she told me, “My one son is a Sanguine and I just don’t know what to do with him.”
Uh-oh, I thought. This is not going to be quick. I knew I need to skip the conference speaker and stay with her outside until we could get to the real root of her struggles.
I’m a Sanguine—so I understand the tension with the opposite Melancholies. My other is CHOLERIC; I love to take charge, solve problems, and fix things. But my natural temperament is not an excuse for bad behavior; I’ve learned that it is much more important to be present to a person than to smile and say “Oh! That’s easy! It’s covered in chapter three of my book! I’ll pray for you!” and run off.Your temperament is no excuse for bad behavior! Click To Tweet
“My son is very sensitive. He cries at everything.”
“Hm-m-m. And when he does that, what are you afraid of ?”
She thought for a minute.
“Well, you can’t just use your temperament as an excuse and say That’s just the way I am. You have to work to be your best self and overcome your weaknesses, right?”
“Yes. Are you afraid your son is doing that? How old is he?”
“He’s eighteen. And he’s right here. Will you speak to him?”
Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that.
Christian came up shyly, introduced himself, and I asked him to sit. The three of us huddled for the next forty minutes as he poured out his heart to me. His patient mother listened.
I asked him, “So you think you’re Sanguine?” (True Sanguines are actually rare.)
Big grin and wide eyes. “Yes! I definitely am.”
“Me, too!” I smiled, reached out (Sanguines love affectionate touch), and patted his knee.
“Okay, can you tell me some of our Sanguine strengths?” I asked.
He was quiet and unsure. “No . . .”
Temperaments are how we image God in four complementary ways.
Sanguines are naturally quick to love and connect with others. I chided him gently and said, “This knowledge does you no good unless you learn your natural strengths and weaknesses! Don’t you want to know how awesome you are?”
I looked him square in the face with direct but maternal tenderness and continued.
“This is not just some pop-psychology, this is about how we are made in God’s image. These are the four ways that we, together, image God in a ‘holy communion’ of personalities. The Melancholies image a deep, mysterious, and rich part of him and we Sanguines reflect something of his light, sweet, joyful, sparkle. We are meant to image God together!”
His eyes suddenly filled with tears. “I never realized that.”
“You are not inferior to the Melancholies. You have great value, Christian, and are meant to bring your Sanguine gifts to the world. The world needs us!” I winked and smiled. He smiled, too.
It seemed his greatest pain was feeling unloved by his father. He handed me a private journal where he had written pages and pages of frustrations and longings for a close relationship with his dad. His father is a gentle, quiet double introvert (PHLEGMATIC MELANCHOLY) who can’t seem to relate to Christian and really didn’t see the need for such an effort. He favors the older son who is more like him and Christian never feels that he measures up. The young man has been desperate for his father’s time, attention, and affection and never seems to get it.
“This is very important stuff. Have you shown this to your dad?”
“He won’t understand. He will just get mad and tell me I should be more like my brother.”
I was seeing that Christian was also a PHLEGMATIC—they hate conflict, crave peace (sometimes at any cost), and never want to make waves. They will stuff things to avoid confrontation and rejection.
There was shift in me from tender mommy to tough teacher.
“Christian, honey, this issue with your Dad is actually part your fault!” I leaned in. His eyes got big.
“You’re a man, now. Yes, you need approval and affection, and to understand your emotional needs are not weakness. But you also need to begin to grow up and face your fears. You have actually deprived your father of the chance to love you rightly.”
I let that sink in.
“Yes, he does need to see you and love you for who you are. But how can he do that when you keep all yourself hidden inside the little boxes of these pages? By your avoiding possible conflict and rejection, he will never know you. And you are the only one who can change that.”
We talked for a long time and I explained that the real problems are never the personalities but the fear, ego, selfishness, and sin that manifests differently through them. I affirmed him, challenged him, and wrapped it up like this:
“Here’s what I want you to do:
1 – Read my book again and memorize all your strengths and weaknesses. Be thankful for how God made you.
2 – Ask God to help you know how much HE loves you so that you don’t always have to be begging others for love and affirmation.
3 – Be a man and ask your Dad if he will read your journal and spend some time with you. Take a day trip somewhere he likes. Take the initiative; invite him into your world. Ask him about his.
The worst that can happen is that he rejects you again or he does not respond, but that is between him and the Holy Spirit. Give him space and time. But YOU do the right thing, okay?”
He nodded, and we hugged.
* * *
Later that night at the conference banquet, he was all dressed up and wearing a tie. “You look so handsome!” I said. He beamed, and we hugged.
“I love you, Rose.”
“I love you, too, honey. Keep in touch.”
The study of the temperaments is a way into the depths of the human heart. It has been used as a spiritual aid for centuries by saints in the Church and we should use it, too. But like any study, it takes practice and more than just a quick look.
Are you avoiding sharing the deepest parts of your heart with someone out of fear of rejection? Have you let laziness or pride sneak in and take root? It’s not smart to keep going to someone who is closed to your goodness but, if the relationship is important, you have to risk the hurt. You owe them the truth of who you are.
You do that; let God take care of the rest. Find out more HERE.