Typology of Temperament

Venerate four characters: the sanguine who has checked volatility and the rage for pleasure; the choleric who has subdued passion and pride; the phlegmatic emerged from indolence; and the melancholy who has dismissed avarice, suspicion and asperity. – Johann Kaspar Lavater, Aphorisms on Man, c. 1788, No. 609

There are many ways to categorize people and personality types. One of the more ancient, temperament theory, has its roots in the earlier and now discredited four humors theory or humorism. The four temperamental categories – sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic and melancholic – relate to personality traits and tendencies and while the question as to from whence these spring has not yet been answered, I imagine that most would agree that personality types do tend to follow along certain lines or patterns of mixture.

Rather than debate the accuracy of this particular theory, my intent in bringing this to light today is to point to Lavatar’s excellent suggestion that each personality type faces certain challenges. With each collection of strengths there tends to be a corresponding set of weaknesses, and worthy of note are those who manage to overcome their weaknesses without compromising their strengths. Such imbalances may be overcome internally, but they might also be usefully counterbalanced  by your relationships with others, as long as they are not co-dependent.

Though I’ve long believed the old saying “What’s wrong with you is beside the point; what’s right with you is the starting point”, I’ve also found in my own experience that overcoming weaknesses in myself can be more gratifying than successfully employing my strengths. I love a good challenge, don’t you!?! We need not settle or resign ourselves to a flawed existence, in fact, when gaps, flat spots, immaturities and the like come to light, don’t throw your arms up or collapse in futility. Instead, say to yourself, “I have you in my sights…so, bring it on!”

The same goes for dealing with others. Rather than using weaknesses or tendencies you’ve observed as a reason to write the person off or conversely, to exploit his weakness, look instead to complement them with strengths of your own. If any one of us had the “whole package,” why then would there be so many people on earth?

5 thoughts on “Typology of Temperament

  1. Joy

    I loved your perspective in this post Gregg, it reminded me of the book of Revelation when the seven letters were written to the seven churches. In each letter it was those who “overcometh” who received the Lord’s blessing. But before we can overcome we must “have an ear”. How richly filled my world is with opportunities to overcome and do the first work. Thank you for your letters!


  2. Steve V

    At times it is wise to ask or seek counsel for the weaknesses or flat spots we observe in ourselves allowing the strengths of others to bring mutually benefiting complement. As we are open to being complemented we can in turn provide it for our world. Your words encourage the fulfilling state of wholeness. Thank you.


  3. Carol

    This is a great follow up to yesterday’s post on pretension. Just relax, start where you are and go from there. You only need one success in dealing with a weakness to know that old tendencies can be released. It can be done. All of a sudden you realize when that particular button is pushed, you are responding in a different way. I like your attitude towards weaknesses – to see them as a good challenge.

    One responsibility in my job is to train others and complementing them with my strengths is an attitude I will employ in the days to come. I think I’ve been creative in how to train them efficiently and effectively but it is an ongoing process. There is always something new to learn. I’ve sensed that there is more to be done with this opportunity and appreciate your words here. It brought another weakness to light that I need to address in myself. Won’t mention it here but thank you!


  4. Lady Leo

    Like it or not our past experiences and how we weathered them has had an effect on how we function now. This factor is one of the reasons we each are so complex in what challenges us. Realizing this, when faced with certain behaviors and character flat spots, in ourselves and others, it’s imperative to provide a surround that encourages maturity. I see this as steady, dependably non reactive but charged with the faith. Faith that we can change if we dedicate our attention to our own higher nature which encourages maturity through appreciation, forgiveness and our own repentance. These are powerful mechanisms that can take anyone through the most limiting of habits or proclivities.


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