Cultivating and nurturing good Christian friendship is an important part of Catholic spiritual growth. To be truly effective at nourishing our friendships, we need to be aware of the influences and attitudes that can damage our relationships. Many of these damaging influences grow out of our temperament.
Your temperament is your basic pattern of emotional response to the world. It is the most stable, unchanging part of your personality. But while we can’t easily change temperaments from one type to another, we can shape them. There are four temperaments. Each temperament has strengths for your character and relationships. But each temperament also has some pitfalls and dangers.
While people with a sanguine temperament are typically known as the most socially adept, even this temperament can cause problems in a relationship. Sanguine people can be social, charismatic and outgoing. They make friends easily. They are often the life of the party, or at least they are seen as pleasant and positive, so they are generally liked by people. But people with a sanguine temperament can also have trouble deeply investing themselves in their friendships. In other words, they may fall into the trap of quantity over quality – popularity over real friendship. They can also be impulsive, shameless, self-absorbed and forgetful. They can sometimes appear cold to people who want to have a deeper relationship with them because they have trouble focusing their hearts on the relationship. People with a sanguine temperament can also struggle with deep relationships because they aren’t always good at introspection. They can be very uncomfortable with silence and deep thought, and can sometimes even be uncomfortable with themselves.
Quite the opposite of the sanguine temperament, the phlegmatic temperament is typically introspective and reflective. People with a phlegmatic temperament are relaxed, quiet and calm. They make few friends, but they are better at forging strong, deep relationships. They also tend to be very faithful. Unfortunately, the negative sides of the phlegmatic temperament can be quite damaging to a relationship. Someone with a poisoned phlegmatic temperament can lack passion and enthusiasm. They may also become sarcastic, discouraging or even passive-aggressive. Since the phlegmatic temperament is low energy, people with this temperament are often tempted toward apathy and laziness.
People with a choleric temperament tend to be high energy but focused. They can be very dedicated and loyal friends, but they are also very practical. They can make good leaders, good planners and organizers, and motivators – making them wonderful sources of support. They often prefer facts to emotions, coming across as cold and pragmatic, lacking empathy. They can be impatient and inflexible, and even rude and tactless at times because of their focus on efficiency and facts. They can also find it difficult to relax or to enjoy themselves. They like to get things done, and may emphasize doing over being. They may be too busy for relationships.
People with a melancholic temperament share the depth of thought of the phlegmatic temperament and the organizational prowess of the choleric temperament. They are introspective, deep thinkers. They love knowledge and truth. They can also be creative, artistic, and excellent problem solvers. However, people with this temperament can also be prone to depression and moodiness. They can be perfectionists, expecting too much of themselves and of their friends. They can be difficult to please. The worse weakness of the melancholic temperament is its tendency to hold onto hurts. Melancholic temperaments are slow to be moved to emotion, but they are also slow to move out of their emotion. It may take a lot to get them angry, but they stay angry for a long, long time.
Making the Change
Cultivating your relationships often means making necessary changes in yourself. No one of the four temperaments is better or worse for relationships than the others. Work to fortify the strengths of your temperament and to avoid the weaknesses. Most importantly, we have to remember that our temperaments are primarily emotional reactions. We have the power in our relationships to make choices that go beyond our temperaments. A melancholic person may feel anger over a past hurt. But knowing that it’s just an emotion she can choose to forgive despite still feeling the anger. Someone with a sanguine or a choleric temperament can train himself to slow down and invest time in his friendships.
Fortunately for us, the love of friendship is a skill that we can learn. We can learn relationship skills that help us to accentuate the strengths of our temperaments, to avoid the weaknesses, and to make choices that go beyond our emotions.