I briefly touched upon the four classic temperaments and the importance one should give to knowing yourself better. Today’s post is an expansion on my own, primary temperament, the melancholic. I thought I would touch on this in greater detail to shed some light on this temperament such as their traits, perks, drawbacks and how to deal with the challenges of this temperament. I am using the following reference as I have found this one to be one of the most accurate descriptions of the melancholic temperament. I won’t be able to list all the information here so please continue reading on your own time!
Before I begin, I would like to reiterate why I am bringing this up. The answer is simple: it is very important to know how God created you. I know someone who is against doing these temperament tests or reading up on them because for them it is an unfair way of being categorized or put into some bucket. I find that to be a bit silly. If you have some sickness, wouldn’t you want to know what that sickness is exactly? Or would you rather not know what it is in order that your sickness is not categorized? Knowing yourself, including both your strengths and weaknesses, will be an invaluable guide in your temporal and spiritual life. In my own journey, this has really helped me to identify why I am different from the other temperaments and what are some of the pitfalls that I have to be mindful as I go through my spiritual journey.
Not only is this invaluable for yourself but you will be an invaluable resource to everyone around you. My wife is very familiar with my melancholic tendencies. As a result, she is able to see when I am falling into my usual traps and is able to help me. It goes both ways. If we stay oblivious to this reality of ourselves, we will always be mystified and confused by other temperaments, which will lead to unnecessary conflict!
Make the effort to know yourself and you will be able to see your fellow man in a different light. You will be able to see their natural strengths and you can help them out with their natural weaknesses. We are a body so let us be a United Body and help each other on our journey to Jesus Christ!
Resuming our discussion, let us start off by looking at the qualities of the melancholic (taken from the reference provided):
- Is self-conscious, easily embarrassed, timid, bashful.
- Avoids talking before a group; when obliged to he finds it difficult.
- Prefers to work and play alone. Good in details; careful.
- Is deliberative; slow in making decisions; perhaps overcautious even in minor matters.
- Is lacking in self-confidence and initiative; compliant and yielding.
- Tends to detachment from environment; reserved and distant except to intimate friends.
- Tends to depression; frequently moody or gloomy; very sensitive; easily hurt.
- Does not form acquaintances readily; prefers narrow range of friends; tends to exclude others.
- Worries over possible misfortune; crosses bridges before coming to them.
- Is secretive; seclusive; shut in; not inclined to speak unless spoken to.
- Is slow in movement; deliberative or perhaps indecisive; moods frequent and constant.
- Is often represents himself at a disadvantage; modest and unassuming
Do any or all of these qualities fit you? Well, you might just be a melancholic! Now, with anything, it is rare for one person to perfectly fit into one temperament as I also have choleric qualities but I speak for myself that some of the traits listed above apply to me very well.
You may read some of these traits and assume that the melancholic has a lot of weaknesses such as preferring to work alone or being deliberative, but that isn’t always the case. It really boils down to introversion and extroversion. A melancholic is typically an introvert and they are energized being alone, which is the opposite of an extrovert. So while a melancholic may prefer to work alone, they are able to work with others but they will eventually need their solitude in order to recharge their energy. All this being said, some of the traits listed are in fact strong weaknesses of this temperament, such as tending to depression. Many people may not appreciate this, but melancholics have a tendency to constantly brew on things, sometimes for weeks on end. They also can take very simple criticisms and make them the most painful wounds ever received! Once we enter into ourselves and stay there for too long, we can easily cause some damage to ourselves and inadvertently to others around us by our gloomy mood.
Let’s look at a very quick summary of the perks of this temperament (taken from the reference provided):
- The melancholic practices with ease and joy interior prayer. His serious view of life, his love of solitude, and his inclination to reflection are a great help to him in acquiring the interior life of prayer…
- In communication with God the melancholic finds a deep and indescribable peace…
- The melancholic is often a great benefactor to his fellow men. He guides others to God, is a good counselor in difficulties, and a prudent, trustworthy, and well-meaning superior. He has great sympathy with his fellow men and a keen desire to help them…
These are some very positive traits for this temperament and just as another bonus, many saints were melancholics for the reasons listed above! This is great stuff because not only do these traits allow us to have a relationship with God but we can also help others to go down this path if we are not encumbered by our weaknesses and are well advanced on the path of perfection.
Now let’s look at a very quick summary of the drawbacks of this temperament (taken from the reference provided):
- The melancholic by committing sin falls into the most terrible distress of mind, because in the depth of his heart he is, more than those of other temperaments, filled with a longing desire for God, with a keen perception of the malice and consequences of sin. The consciousness of being separated from God by mortal sin has a crushing effect upon him…
- A melancholic person who has no confidence in God and love for the Cross falls into great despondency, inactivity, and even into despair…
- The melancholic who gives way to sad moods, falls into many faults against charity and becomes a real burden to his fellow men:
- He easily loses confidence in his fellow men, (especially Superiors, Confessors), because of slight defects which he discovers in them, or on account of corrections in small matters.
- He is vehemently exasperated and provoked by disorder or injustice. The cause of his exasperation is often justifiable, but rarely to the degree felt.
- He can hardly forgive offences. The first offense he ignores quite easily. But renewed offenses penetrate deeply into the soul and can hardly be forgotten. Strong aversion easily takes root in his heart against persons from whom he has suffered, or in whom he finds this or that fault. This aversion becomes so strong that he can hardly see these persons without new excitement, that he does not want to speak to them and is exasperated by the very thought of them…
- He is very suspicious. He rarely trusts people and is always afraid that others have a grudge against him…
- He sees everything from the dark side. He is peevish, always draws attention to the serious side of affairs, complains regularly about the perversion of people, bad times, downfall of morals, etc. His motto is: things grow worse all along. Offenses, mishaps, obstacles he always considers much worse than they really are. The consequence is often excessive sadness, unfounded vexation about others, brooding for weeks and weeks on account of real or imaginary insults…
- He finds peculiar difficulties in correcting people…
What a contrast to the perks of this temperament! While the melancholic can fly to great, lofty heights, they can also fall into deepest pits as well. Once in those pits, they can have a very hard time climbing out. This is the great contrast of the melancholic.
For some melancholics, fighting the drawbacks of this temperament is a daily cross. I know this true for me. Here are some words of advice that have (and are still) helping me:
- Don’t look into criticism too closely. If someone criticizes, whether rightly or wrong, bear this with humility. Do not brew on this, you are wasting your energy.
- Balance your dark outlook with some positive ones. A melancholic at times only sees the bad in situations, others and oneself. Make active attempts to see the good in things. Everything thing the Lord has made is good, including people. So while we may only see the bad, acknowledge the good the Lord has placed in others. This will help you to foster a balanced outlook.
- If you feel yourself being tightly wound, stressed, or nervous, you may have let something small take root into your soul. See what you are brewing on and stop. You have to let it go.
- Above all, do not keep your thoughts to yourself. Seek the aid of those you trust and whose temperament is opposite to yours, such as the phlegmatic or sanguine. They can help bring you from your depths and help you to see that things are not as bad as they seem. They can only help to the extent you are open to them.
If a melancholic can actively work on fostering joy and charity for others, there will be less chance to fall into the drawbacks mentioned above. An active interior and sacramental life will be great spiritual aids.
For those dealing with melancholics, I hope this summary has helped a bit in demystifying this temperament. It is not sufficient to stop here. Keeping studying and looking into this as I believe this will be a great aid for yourself and for others. I believe the Lord will give us all the grace to overcome our natural drawbacks and while we may never be able to completely remove them, we will be able to bear our challenges with joy by the graces of our Lord.