Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Are You a Phlegmatic?

To conclude our study of the four temperaments from the book The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett, we’ll examine the peaceful phlegmatic.

God, in His infinite love and mercy, gave me a beautiful phlegmatic as a mother.  When we, her adult children, come home to visit her and my dad, the red carpet is rolled out.  Mom makes up the beds as if in a hotel, turning down the sheets, sometimes laying out magazines of interest on the nightstands, and always making sure the bathrooms are stocked with pretty soaps and toiletries.  If the visiting party has children—which we all do—toys, gifts, clothes, or diapers are laid out on the children’s beds.  Dinner is the favorite of whomever is visiting: beef paprika, chicken marsala, gorgeous chicken salad.  Mom stocks the kitchen with homemade tea breads, gourmet coffee, and whatever cold beverage we haggard parents can dream of.  And there is no work to be done.  Should someone so much as try to bring a dirty plate to the sink, Mom’ll insist that he sit down and if challenged, will whisper, “Put that plate down before I cut off your hands.”

My mom.  The phlegmatic, the “servant-leader”, whose only wish when we come home is that everyone gets along and has a good time.  Which we all do.  How couldn’t we?  The only darkness that rolls over the weekend is when I start comparing myself to her and despair that I’ll never live up to her good example!
“Phlegmatics are reserved, prudent, sensible, reflective, respectful, and dependable,” write the Bennetts. “ They are not easily insulted or provoked to anger, nor are they given to exuberance or exaggeration in speech,”—maybe my mom a little.  “They are loyal and committed, tolerant and supportive.  They possess a hidden will of iron that is often overlooked, because they are such agreeable people.  They have a knack for diffusing tense situations…they are known for their easy-going nature.  They tend to be clear, concise, and thoughtful in speech and writing.  They are excellent listeners and have great empathy for others.  They are supportive friends, patient with difficult people and situations, and considerate at all times.  They are accepting of traditions and rules, and will not ‘buck the system’…they do not, however, like conflict or confrontation” (p. 40).

So true.  This is my mom—who has always been the ultimate peace-keeper in the family.  At times, though, signs of her peace-keeping role have shown on her, like the time our family was attempting to launch our boat and my mom whispered to my dad that she could no longer inhale.  Dad explained to her that it was simply conversion hysteria, sometimes suffered by people under great duress.  She nodded, and the boat went in as planned.  Never one to rock the boat, my mother has always done what was needed, quietly, mostly unnoticed, to help keep the family moving forward.  

With regard to the spiritual life, the phlegmatic usually has little difficulty accepting the precepts of the Church but may need encouragement “internalizing” and “personalizing” the faith.  “A good relationship with his pastor, youth minister, or even a spiritual director will help encourage the phlegmatic to take an active role in the apostolate of the Church.  If the phlegmatic does not perceive the vital necessity of his own personal contribution, he may end up simply warming the pews on Sunday and never truly embracing his baptismal commitment to help spread the Kingdom of God” (42).  The Bennetts note that the phlegmatic might be naturally drawn to formal prayers and sacramentals and might consider stretching themselves in the spiritual life through engaging the imagination, such as picturing oneself at the foot of the manger.  Finally, “a prayer group or a parish society will also provide some necessary encouragement, motivation, accountability and reinforcement to keep the fire blazing” (246).  St. Thomas Aquinas was a phlegmatic.  
Did God give you a little phlegmatic?  If he’s seldom first on your parenting worry list, He probably did.  “Count your blessings for a phlegmatic child!” write the Bennetts.  “He is a joy—so peaceful, quiet, cooperative, reliable, and obedient that you will be forever spoiled!” (131).  When raising a phlegmatic child, the Bennetts recommend helping children plan for the future, “give gentle reminders, make concrete, specific requests, praise them for their cooperation, good attitude, and achievements, and encourage them to develop social and leadership skills”.  And they warn against ridiculing, nagging, “taking over for them,” and allowing them to “withdraw into isolation” (138).  

And so there we have it—the four temperaments.  Dearest Bennetts, thank you for the immense wisdom you have set down in your beautiful book!  As for me, this book will remain on my nightstand for a long time to come.

“Know thyself, and thy faults, and thus live.” –St. Augustine (p. 4) 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are You a Sanguine?

She jumps, she spins, she twirls.  She laughs and dances.  She gives hugs and kisses and asks for them often. She’s quick with a smile—unless she’s in the middle of getting mad all over.  But before sadness can settle in for too long, something else catches her attention and her cares have blown over like clouds scattered on a summer day.  She is our affectionate, fun-loving, expressive baby girl—the sunny little gift God gave to her sometimes stubborn, sometimes too-serious choleric and melancholic parents who are sometimes sorely in need of the reminders to smile, to enjoy the moment, and to be affectionate with their loved ones.

Art and Laraine Bennett, authors of The Temperament God Gave You, describe the extraverted sanguine, “The creative, fun-loving, high-spirited sanguine’s natural tendency to look on the bright side, to enjoy people, and to seek out adventure sometimes results in a label of superficiality and frivolity.  But the world is a brighter, more joyful place because of the inspiration, enthusiasm, and fellowship he provides.”  They  continue,” Relationships are extremely important to sanguines; they are warm-hearted, compassionate, generous, and eager to please.  They are energized by large groups, and cooperative and accepting of others,” (p. 37).

Interacting with sanguines is such a joy for me, as they are completely opposite of my melancholic temperament.  I am naturally prone to sadness and they to joy.  I struggle with reaching out to others and they do so readily and warmly.  A smile can be work for me some days, and the sanguine’s whole person can’t help but smile and radiate joy.  I have some sanguine friends and family, and I am always uplifted after our get-togethers.  God is so good for having gifted the world with sanguines!

Just like with every temperament, though, the sanguine must struggle with some natural flaws.  The Bennetts write, “Weaknesses of the sanguine temperament include the tendency toward superficiality (due to the immediacy of their reactions and their creative imaginations), inconstancy (due to the short duration of their impressions), and sensuality (lacking the perseverance to withstand temptation once their passions are aroused).  Because he places such a high value on relationships and pleasing others, a sanguine is often tempted to forsake what he knows is right in order to fit in with the crowd” (38).

In the spiritual life, sanguines excel in their firm grasp of faith being that of a relationship with God instead of a set of spiritual precepts.  The Bennetts write, “A sanguine should follow a program of life that includes placing his trust in God first and foremost, strengthening his personal relationship with Christ, and developing control over his emotions, and consistency and perseverance in his spiritual resolutions” (241).  Our beloved St. Peter was of the sanguine temperament.

Finally, when raising the sanguine child, the Bennetts stress the importance of maintaining a loving relationship while helping him develop the right priorities in life.  They write, “So long as his spiritual and intellectual formation is given in the context of a positive relationship, the sanguine is eager to learn.  Sanguines need cheerful guidance, so that their butterfly-like natures won’t lead them to disorganization, superficiality, and following the crowd.  Give them an attractive goal to work toward, so that they can learn the value of hard work and discipline” (127).

So, sanguines, thanks for all the smiles you’ve given me and the world!  And next week I’ll finish up with our final temperament: the peaceful phlegmatic. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are You a Melancholic?

I remember being a tiny girl and noticing that even when I was really happy, like if something great had just happened, I was never totally joyful—something always seemed to be hanging over my head.  I once asked my mom if that was normal—to always feel a little sadness along with great happiness.  Mom looked up from her newspaper, frowned, and suggested that that was the human condition.  We wouldn’t be totally happy until we were in heaven.  I nodded, then wondered sadly why we had to spend so much time down here.

Sensitive, principled, faithful, pious, diligent, attentive to detail, the “melancholic so longs for heaven that everything on earth falls short” write Art and Laraine Bennett in The Temperament God Gave You. “The melancholic, more than any other temperament, tends to value the ideal—whether it be truth, beauty, or justice, and all that is noble” (p. 33).  

Yes!  Absolutely!  This was me!  I quickly devoured the entire chapter, eager to learn more about my natural tendencies and completely awed by how well the Bennetts could describe me without ever having met me.  Unbelievable.  Also heartening was knowing that perhaps a quarter of the world saw things as I did, which made me feel immediately and immensely better, as I have always been intensely introspective, which has at times begged the question: am I crazy?

No, but complicated, according to the Bennetts.  “The melancholic’s reflective nature, combined with his goal of reaching perfection, will cause him to note all the difficulties of a new venture or a proposed project, worry about all the possible negative outcomes, and pinpoint errors and injustices. The effect can paralyze the melancholic…the melancholic longs for perfection and, failing to achieve that, may begin to lack self-confidence and become despondent.  He sees problems where other temperaments (such as the choleric) see challenges or opportunities.  Ironically, however, although small details can stump them, melancholics can often handle the truly big crises with grace and aplomb” (34).  Once I was deep in melancholic mental turmoil, and I took a break for a moment to boast to my choleric husband that I was given the most complicated temperament and wasn’t he lucky to be married to someone so interesting and complex, and he remarked, “God is simple.”   

Melancholics, probably, might find this post deeply interesting, and the rest of our dear readers might simply have a headache by now.  From experience, it’s hard being so wrapped up in thought, and the Bennetts have great advice on how to harness the natural strengths in the melancholic temperament to progress in the spiritual life.  “Because of their introversion and their tendency to pessimism, melancholics  can become excessively self-absorbed.  They should fight to achieve self-confidence and to place their trust in God “ (35).   The Bennetts write, “A strong spiritual life, with frequent reception of the sacraments and an intimate relationship with Christ, will help dispel the feelings of depression that can afflict the melancholic” (237).  Also, “They need to strive to become attentive and generous to others in need (fighting against the temptation to self-pity).  Self-pity is a trap that can keep the melancholic in a myopic, unproductive lifestyle” (35).   Again, how do they know me so well?

The Bennetts also recommend entrusting all negative thoughts to God, endeavoring to serve Him “generously”, and reflecting with gratitude on all of the great blessings God has placed in one’s life in order to cultivate joy. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is a great guide souls can look to on how to live a saintly life as a melancholic (235).

Finally, if God has placed a little dreamer/ thinker/worrier in your nest, the Bennetts recommend giving your child enough quiet time each day to process the day’s events, emphasize the importance of treating the child with justice and gentleness, as he will be deeply wounded by any injustice done to him, motivating him by helping him over any initial obstacles when starting a new endeavor, and helping him to see the big picture (114-121).

To brighten things up a bit, next week I’ll feature the sunny, fun-loving sanguine temperament and the spiritual life, and tips on raising them, all thanks to the Bennetts.   

“Become what you are!”  John Paul II


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Are You a Choleric?

I am not, but I close my eyes and for a minute I am transformed.  I am intelligent, quick-witted, driven, determined.  I see an obstacle in my way and immediately my mind and will lock into high-gear, and I plow through whatever had been obstructing my progress.  It’s the end of the day, and the list of tasks I accomplished that day is far longer than what I had gotten done in a month as regular me.  I am not discouraged.  I am energized—or angry, given the day—and I go to bed looking forward to conquer tomorrow.  Wow.

I open my eyes, and I am not a choleric.  I am melancholic me again, prone to discouragement and pessimism.  But I have so much admiration for the choleric.  In fact, I even married one.  And today’s post is dedicated to highlighting the great strengths of my choleric friends, a few of their weakness, and some special considerations when raising one, all which comes from my most beloved book The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett.  Listed below are simply a few tidbits from a most extraordinary book, which I strongly recommend to anyone looking to further her study in the field.

The mighty choleric:  “Whether at home or on the job, the choleric will take charge and get many things accomplished in a short time.  The choleric reacts quickly and intensely; decisiveness is his hallmark. In addition, he is extraverted and self-confident, comfortable taking charge of people as well as situations.  Opposition is never a stumbling block, but rather, a further incentive to action. Dynamic and direct, the choleric has a keen mind and thinks independently.  He will always let you know what he’s thinking” (p. 30).

My husband’s temperament was on shining display this weekend, as he deftly arranged for a team of family and friends to help landscape our yard.  As I stood back, shocked at what was unfolding, my husband quickly organized the group to plant ten—the original plan was three—trees in our backyard, and then tore up the entire front of our yard, removing old bushes and shrubs that were on their last legs.  I ended up simply watching the flurry of activity, lost in amazement.  My husband in a few hours had transformed our average-looking yard into something spectacular.  And it would’ve taken me that same amount of time just to decide who to call to help me in the first place!

St. Paul, St. Therese, and St. James (a “Son of Thunder”) were all cholerics, who “can be great saints…or great sinners” (230).  If you are a choleric, thank God for your numerous gifts and drive to utilize them, but be on the lookout against willfulness, seeking to control others, anger, haughtiness, or superiority (231).  The Bennetts recommend frequent reception of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession, and fostering a deep prayer life, without which “you risk blind activism, the egotism of individualism, or an apostolate founded on pride and vanity rather than on the pure love of Jesus Christ” (232).

Now, should you, as we did, find yourself blessed by the arrival of a tiny bundle of energy and agendas, the Bennetts have some excellent advice on how to raise the choleric child:

                Compassion, meekness, and forgiveness are key virtues to teach your choleric child.  Cholerics are natural leaders, but they need your help in learning the subtleties of interpersonal relationships.  They need to learn to let other, more thoughtful children have a chance to speak.  They need to learn not to interrupt or always to speak for everyone your choleric child to appreciate the mystery and depth of other people—and himself...
                If you are becoming frustrated with a strong-willed choleric child, it is sometimes helpful to remind yourself not to get caught up in secondary power struggles; whether the child is not doing what you want.  Ultimately the goal is not to attain what you want, but to enable our children to do what God wants” (109-110).  
So, if you are a choleric, thank God for your mighty temperament, and set to work doing lots of good for Him.  If you’re not, stay tuned in the following weeks when we cover the remaining three temperaments.