Monday, July 27, 2015

"Untamed Temperaments": O How Can I Change Thee?

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I'm a strong extrovert with mild melancholic tendencies. I only fall into melancholic tendencies when the exertions of being a Choleric-Sanguine push me past my limits.

Can anyone relate to this? 

Does it seem a little bipolar*?

My highs can be very high, but my lows are never so severe as to warrant intervention. They are just exhausting and require rest and rejuvenation.

The Temperaments chart above delineates a person's behavioral tendencies. People's behavior can be differentiated into four distinct categories of temperament: Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Melancholic. Each temperament has particular behavioral traits associated with it.

As I noted at the start, my primary temperament is Choleric -- you can all feel sorry for my husband and children now. I have tried over the years to rid myself of many of the choleric tendencies in my behaviors. Each time I would try, I would get angry and frustrated. I'd behave, in essence, more and more like a choleric!

Often, I would grouse, "Can it even be done? Can I possibly be rid of these nasty tendencies that drive me and others crazy?"

It certainly seemed impossible. I was praying, of course -- a bitter, tantrum-like prayer. Not so surprisingly, I wasn't making much progress (actually, no progress). It became necessary to ask myself if I was praying for the right thing?

I wanted those particular temperaments to go away and be gone for good. I didn't want to be responsible for them anymore.

I thought I would be better if I was different. Wouldn't it be great if I could be a Sanguine/Phlegmatic? That's a wonderful combination -- as if I could simply put on a new temperament as easily a I could change my clothes.

I realized that I was asking God to change the essence of me -- "who" he made me to be.

That couldn't be right.

What was I supposed to do with that nasty choleric list then? How would I be able to go on being that?

St. Augustine came to mind one afternoon as I brooded over my situation (he and I share some temperament traits). He's an inspiring saint, and offered many wonderful words to ponder. I found part of the answer I needed in this less commonly quoted phrase spoken by the dear saint:

Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.

This wasn't really a new concept to me. It had been recommended to me previously as a means of penance for Lent; I should try to cut down on something I found pleasant and stick to it, rather than abstain from it entirely. My confessor hadn't attributed the idea to St. Augustine. And I had never really applied it to anything besides my Lenten penances.

Imagine my delight when I recognized that it was a more universally applicable notion. It was an epiphany!

I didn't need to change temperaments! I needed to "temper" my temperaments, make them holy and gradually move to a more moderate expression of them.  I began to ask God to show me how to perfect my primary temperament.

I quickly came to this realization: I couldn't undo my temperaments, I couldn't "un-be" who I was. I would be destroying the fabric of who I am, and possibly undermining the purpose of what I was meant for in this life.  I needed to look at each of the attributes of the choleric temperament and find a way to make them virtuous. (I honestly believe that without the tenacity that comes along with being a choleric, I would have buckled under the strain of some of life's circumstances.)

For instance, aggression -- It doesn't sound like an attribute that anyone would aspire to. I didn't want to lose my edge, though -- I liked that don't tangle with the tiger part of me. So, what was I to do? I attempted with God's grace to refine its expression. I no longer felt compelled to make minced meat out of those who got under my skin. Instead, when I used that tendency to defend and protect, I'd start with a prayer and operate with love and with mercy; even if anger was necessary, it wouldn't be released in a negative form of aggression -- it now looks more determined and self-assured.

This choleric temperament is a gift, not a curse. And I have a responsibility to use it wisely.

Lately, it has become exceedingly commonplace to expect the world to conform to our whims. Accept me for how I am -- You -- accept Me -- whether my behavior deserves acceptance or not. There is very little, if any, personal responsibility for being good, or moral, or truthful. Concerning? Absolutely!

It unnerves me to consider: What if I had continued down the path of the "untamed choleric"? I'd have been miserable, angry, defiant, rebellious, etc. In actuality, I have already been those things (through my teens and early 20's -- I'll let you imagine that for yourselves). I know for certain that if it had continued unchecked, no one with any real joy would want to be around me; that would have been a great sadness to me because I truly love to be social (my Sanguine side) and yearned to be truly and consistently happy.

It would have been pointless, fruitless, and ultimately a detriment to me to expect others to accept the "untamed choleric". I would have been asking to remain in my misery -- a repellent to anything good, true and beautiful. I would have been surrounded my people of like temperament.

Sadly, I do notice many of them, they're hard to miss -- angry, depressed, leading others astray, good natured, but easily swayed -- and mostly miserable because they are trapped in their "untamed temperament". 

Beyond any doubt, I came to realize that the only way to be happy was to take responsibility for my behaviors that left me feeling angry and unhappy. God and I were finally on the same team in this regard; I wanted to perfect my temperament, and He wanted it for me all along.

I am grateful for my little epiphany. It helped me make a positive behavioral revision in my life (one that requires continuous attention). It allowed me to be strong and confident, with more obvious Sanguine undertones. I became more pleasant, and for that I'm sure many people are grateful.


That and prayer have helped me turn a corner to perfect and put to good use my choleric temperament. I now gratefully take what the Lord has given and employ it with his grace each day. Each day, I start anew to keep what is best, cast off what causes pain, anxiety, unrest.

It's been a life changer, a change that this Choleric/Sanguine can live happily with -- and so can everyone else around me.

For more information about the temperaments, I recommend: The Temperament God Gave You, by Art and Laraine Bennett.

*Bipolar disorder is real and requires medical intervention. The strains of daily life and the inability to control mood swings as a result of chemical imbalances in the brain must be addressed, of course. But, here I am speaking of behavioral tendencies more so than psychological diagnoses. 

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