Why you should know your temperament

Are you easily moved by every new stimuli that comes along, or are you hyper-focused? Are you easily ruffled, or rarely angered? Are you serious or fun-loving? And do these differences matter in your spiritual life?

The Ancient Greeks identified four classic temperaments. They believed everyone had one dominant temperament, with some people having a secondary temperament. Catholic philosophers in the Middle Ages adopted the idea. Spiritual directors to this day use these distinctions to help their directees grow closer to Christ.

Fr. Conrad Hock wrote:

To know the temperaments of our fellow men helps us to understand them better, treat them more correctly, bear with them more patiently. These are evidently advantages for social life which can hardly be appreciated enough…

It is of the greatest benefit furthermore to recognize fully one’s own temperament. Only if one knows it, can he judge correctly himself, his moods, his peculiarities, his past life.” (The Four Temperaments, available online)

I receive emails daily from people looking for help in the spiritual life. Since I know few of them personally, knowing their temperament is a great help. I can then give them at least some general suggestions about their next step.

Many of you know that my current writing project is developing a plan to help you be your children’s spiritual director. I am writing a booklet with templates, reading lists, and lesson plans for each of the four temperaments. I do not have any deadlines for publication yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

After I had spent months working on trusting God, I realized that I was working to overcome the weaknesses of my temperament. I am primarily phlegmatic, but very strongly melancholic as well. It’s almost a 50/50 split. Melancholics, as the graphic above notes, tend towards despair. The antidote is learning to surrender everything to God.

Once I realized that, I began to look at the most prevalent sin of phlegmatics: sloth. This is a really hard one for me. I don’t mind difficult intellectual work, but I dislike physical exercise and housework. I need to be healthy for the sake of my husband and children (let alone to honor God with my body). I also need to pay close attention to the duties of my state in life (married with kids) in order to mature spiritually. So I will be tackling this over the next several months (years?).

Take a good look at the state of your soul. Is the prevalent sin of your temperament holding you back? Are you ready to join me in fighting your baser inclinations? I will share with you what works for me and my children. I invite you to do the same.

Connie Rossini


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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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15 Responses

  1. Theresa

    How ironic that I looked this up a few days ago and took a temperament test and came up melancholic…*gasp*…such a surprise! LOL!

    So, I can see where my predominant sin is easily.

    Are you writing four different books or one that will address each temperament? I find children are harder to gauge with seeing what their temperament is. I think my youngest (10 yrs.) is a mixture of sanguine/phlegmatic.

    I look forward to reading more on this.

    • Connie Rossini

      Theresa, I am going to write them as four separate booklets, but when I am done with the last one I will also bundle them together. So you can choose to buy one or two or the whole set. I read somewhere that age nine is about the point where a child’s temperament becomes clearer. My 3-year-old is definitely an extrovert, but I can’t tell if he’s going to be primarily choleric or sanguine yet. He says he’s choleric. LOL. You can see we talk about these things a lot. My boys always analyze the temperaments of Disney characters, etc. Actually, it’s a great way to dig deeper into a story. My eight-year-old is probably phlegmatic/sanguine. However, he lashes back at my choleric (the eldest), as another choleric might. So I’m still a little confused there. But my 10-year-old is really easy to peg. He’s almost completely melancholic, a temperament I know well. And I have to say, all prejudice aside, melancholics are easy to raise. They are always trying to be obedient and good.

      A sanguine/phlegmatic would be difficult to motivate at school. She’d be scattered and easily distracted, and not follow through much on her work. But she’d be a lovely person with lots of friends, compassionate, generous, and happy. As far as your prize for your book review, I can give you the book on sanguines instead, if you prefer. I will also cover the mixes in it (sanguine/phlegmatic and sanguine/choleric).

  2. Theresa

    That sounds like a great offer Connie…thank you so much!

    She does well with school at home but I do have to push her a bit since she rather be buried in a book or her Legos : ) She is easily distracted and has mild sensory issues and may react intensely to certain stimuli but it doesn’t last too long. She is thoughtful (contemplative), sweet, wants to please, talkative,social and has an innocent joy about her that finds her constantly giggling. She keeps her melancholic mom in the present moment and gives me much to smile about : )

    Great post…I love reading about these.

  3. franciscanmom

    I always find conversation about personalities fascinating! I know I’m a melancholic.Pretty sure my younger son (the only one still in the house) is choleric.
    But every variety of personality has its own gifts, and it’s good to know how to approach people of different temperaments.

    • Connie Rossini

      Yes, I’m trying to see my kids’ temperaments as something with both positive and negative sides, and steer them to the positive. Whereas before I would have just tried to eradicate bad behavior. It’s a challenge!

  4. Lydia

    This is great. Years ago my spiritual director had me read “Personality Plus” by Florence Littauer and it was a revelation to me and very enjoyable. (There is one for children and couples too) This was before “The Temperament God Gave You” (which I still haven’t read!) I’m Phlematic/Sanguine and I really suffer with the same problems you mentioned. My husband, mother-in-law and 11 year old son are all combinations of phlematic/sanguine. And we get along so well because of it. My mother is choleric/melancholic and I find it exhausting to deal with her. It is nice to understand why. I think it is really important to figure out how to work with your temperament and I’m looking forward to what you write.

    • Connie Rossini

      You must have a very peaceful household. The thing I didn’t like about The Temperament God Gave You was they said people could only be a mix of 2 temperaments. Others say you can have a little bit of a third. I know I have a few choleric traits too, which might be due to growing up with parents who were sanguine/choleric and choleric/melancholic. It could be habits more than temperament. But I think people are a little more complex than the book indicates. The first time I read it, I didn’t think the authors would understand my character at all. I almost felt like they were saying I was bi-polar to have some of the traits I did. They didn’t recognize that you can be slow to react to some stimuli in some situations, and quick to react in others (for example). You are just either slow or quick. It was when the diocese where my dh works had an evaluation using the DISC system that I started to understand myself. He brought home materials summarizing the characteristics of people with mixed temperaments, and I was able to point to one and say, “That’s me!” What a relief! I wasn’t such an oddball after all. Then I was able to go back to the Bennetts’ book and see myself as Phlegmatic/Melancholic. I began to understand the roots of some of my behavior that seemed choleric but was actually melancholic. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m getting closer.

  5. Barbara in Tx

    How very helpful to have you talk on this. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon the temperaments too and it has helped. But I thirst for more understanding on it. LOL! I have a household of predominately melancholics, with a phlegmatic/melancholic husband. Of the six children, most are melancholic/phleg, to melancholic/choleric. Right now we have much turmoil of the older children (21,19) rebelling against dad and I…….too religious, not giving them freedom, etc. With reading your article and pulling up the other writings on it, I’m working toward creating a sense of positiveness and counting our blessings. We melancholics are so very prone to negativism and despair, that I’m hoping I can pull all of us back up. But especially through lots of prayer time and Adoration time too! Any tips at all would be greatly appreciated!!!! 😎

    • Connie Rossini

      Barbara, blessings on you! You must have a very serious household. Both melancholics and cholerics have high ideals and aspire to greatness. Usually I would think that melancholics would be the least likely to rebel, as they are the most dutiful. So perhaps you do need to give them a little more freedom, while of course always upholding standards of morality, Church attendance, etc. It’s hard to say when I know so little about your parenting style. You didn’t say what your own temperament is. With your husband’s temperament mix, I suspect he might be too demanding at times, although he may be laid back enough from his phlegmatic side to counteract that. Not to make this an advertisement, but I think my book Trusting God with St. Therese is especially helpful for melancholics. I am much more light hearted now than I used to be. It may also help to invite a little comedy in. Try funny books (we recently enjoyed Five Children and It by E. Nesbit–I’m not sure how old your younger children are), movies, etc. The Dick Van Dyke show is something our whole family appreciates. Sometimes melancholics just need to let themselves go and have a good laugh over trivial things. If the older ones have a choleric side, they would really appreciate being able to take charge, maybe having a say in coming up with reasonable rules. This could actually start at quite a young age. I would emphasize to them their potential for greatness. If you have other family or friends that can be role models to them, they may be more open to that. How about praising and encouraging them as much as you can in the areas where they excel? At some point, of course, we just have to let our kids make their own mistakes. With their melancholic side predominating, they will most likely come around. I hope something in all this helps! You’ll be in my prayers.

      • Barbara in Tx

        Thank you so much Connie for you prayers and your helpful words! So sorry, yes, I’m melancholic too. I agree with you that it’s not normal for melancholics to rebel. Only one daughter that leans toward choleric will rebel at times. I have your book, Trusting God with St. Therese and I can’t wait to crack it open. I’ve ordered the first season of The Dick Van Dyke show and know that we’ll enjoy it too. Another fun series that we’ve enjoyed together is Get Smart. Anyway, back to our issue……..my husband leans toward the phlegmatic side, so I’d describe him as laid back. We’ve thought that we’ve worked hard to provide a loving, caring, home schooling atmosphere for our six children of 21yo girl, 19yo girl, 16yo girl, 14yo girl, 12yo girl, and 10yo boy. The 2 eldest are in college on honor’s scholarships and excell at their academics. We felt that we had always worked hard in our home school to have outside activities, though youth group, musical opportunities, and children’s theater. Up until a year ago we ‘thought’ things were fine. We found out that our eldest was having some sort of relationship with our violin teacher. He’s in his mid 60’s, married, and was one whom we considered a grandfather figure and mentor. The relationship seems not to have included intercourse, but everything else. We feel that she was manipulated by him and she says that she at one point tried to tell us, but couldn’t. We found out through her younger sister who worked to pull it out of her. Okay, so this rocked our boat and is still rocking it. We immediately had her go to confession, and due to this it seems that she’s resenting anything religious. She does continue to go to Mass at college we think, but seems to feel that she shouldn’t go with the family to Friday Mass or Adoration. Friday Mass and Adoration has always been a family tradition for us…….are we being too hard on them. We try to explain how wonderful our faith is to be able to go to Christ in Mass and Adoration. My husband does read the Mass readings after breakfast, while everyone is still at the table, and each of the kids has a devotional that they have chosen to read from too……saint or what not. Our faith is so important to my husband and I, we can’t imagine not passing it on to our beloved children. So, our eldest daughter has been going through a lot this past year, and when home this summer it was very difficult. To my husband and I, we feel that the eldest two do have their freedom being off at school most of the time. We are paying for quite a bit of their expenses, but they do have jobs to help out. This summer my husband and I found a counselor for my eldest daughter due to the continuing problems, even leaning toward depression. I would try my darndest to talk with her, asking questions, working on my listening skills……offering to take drives places so that we could just talk. She still didn’t find that helpful. She felt that this counselor was helping her and they asked me to come to last week’s appointment. It didn’t go well, I felt I had been called into the principal’s office and was reprimanded for some issues that my husband and I had already changed our stance on (as a result of one of the daughters talking to us) and another issue that I felt should have been discussed with her father and I and not on issue we needed to discuss with the counselor. Anyway, I felt that this counselor is not home school friendly, or large family friendly, or even Catholic friendly. My daughter feels that this was the only safe haven she’s had and hoped that this would be a place to work things out. So, I’m pretty lost now. She’s discouraged, we’re discouraged, too many melancholics!!!!!!!! 😎 As school continues and she works more hours, and even hopefully she’ll gain some college friends, and last but not least God’s Grace……everything will be fine and as St. Teresa said, ‘All things are passing away…” She used to not be anti-religion, around 13-14 she would choose to go with me to daily Mass and it was such a joy. Anyway, it’s hard but I know that God is working greatly on my dying to self and working to get me to see more of the joy of even the little things. And….like you mentioned, working to make me lighten up. This tends to pull all of us down, but through Christ we will prevail!

        Thanks again Connie! God Bless you and your family!

        • Connie Rossini

          Wow, you have been through quite a trial. It sounds like you have really done your best (given the mistakes and failures that happen to all of us at times) to raise your kids right.

          I know others who have gone to see their kid’s counselor and felt like they were in the hot seat. As a melancholic, you probably need a little time to think through what was said. Looking back after a week, can you see anything you can gain from the session now? I know I initially react negatively to a lot of things that don’t seem nearly so bad after I have gotten used to them. Is there anywhere you can bend? Just a thought. It would be a shame if this didn’t work out, when your daughter found it a safe place to talk.

          I would probably be satisfied with her going to Sunday Mass and not push her to go to Adoration, etc. She is an adult now, and these things are wonderful, but optional. You wouldn’t want the optional to turn her off to what’s necessary. But use your own judgment.

          • Barbara in Tx

            Thanks again Connie, you’ve given me many wonderful thoughts to consider. Your input is greatly appreciated.

  6. Father Sam

    Really great topic Connie. Good reminder too for the prevalent sin category for each temperament. (I too am a phlegmatic. πŸ™‚

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