The four Temperaments Theory

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Before the dawn of modern psychology, there have been many attempts at classifying human personality and behavior into types or categories. One of the most famous, to this very day, is the theory of the four temperaments.

The four temperaments theory is based on the ancient four humors theory. The Greek physician Hippocrates believed that human moods, behaviors and emotional states were a consequence of the existing balance between four body fluids: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The dominant body fluid dictated an individual’s temperament; therefore, dominating blood made a person sanguine, dominating yellow bile made a person melancholic, dominating black bile meant the person was choleric, and finally, phlegm meant that the individual was phlegmatic.

The sanguine type is characterized by energy and vitality; a very social type, they thrive being in contact with other people and make friends easily. Sanguine individuals are warm and pleasant, gifted with empathy and a keen social awareness. They are active, optimistic persons and constantly feel the need to experiment and try new, exhilarating things. They are balanced and easily adaptable to changes in lifestyle. However, this type has a tendency towards superficiality and frequently lacks of perseverance. Sanguine individuals tend to be fickle and quickly lose interest in new activities; they also tend to be chronically late and find it difficult to complete long projects.

The melancholic type is emotionally deep and withdrawn from society. Melancholic individuals thrive on spending time alone, sometimes reflecting on philosophical issues they consider important. Because they have an intense, rich interior life, they are analytical and artistic, focused on doing things right in life and benefiting society. They don’t get too involved in social interaction and usually develop few, but long term friendships with carefully selected individuals. Though they are very sensitive and creative, they find it hard to sustain long term effort because they lack energy. They are perfectionists preoccupied with their own flaws, frequently overcome by insecurities.

The choleric type is very energetic and a true born leader. Choleric individuals love being in control and commanding others, to the point of being over controlling. They are frequently inflexible, stubborn and always want to do things their way. They are decisive, but with a tendency towards being reckless and impulsive. Because they are dominant and strong, they usually stand out in groups and manage to steer others in the direction they choose. They tend to be passionate about the causes they care about; however, they have a tendency to get too involved and invest excessive amounts of energy in their endeavors. They have a natural inclination towards overreacting and exaggerating. In social interactions, they can be arrogant and frequently become overbearing.

The phlegmatic type is laid back and relaxed, seeming to dispose of unlimited patience. Phlegmatic individuals are constant in their activities and thrive on routine. They perform best on work requiring long term effort and determination. They are not easily adaptable to new situations and prefer the comfort of the familiar and well-known. They also prefer solitary activities and keep social interaction to a minimum. They tend to exhibit a type of tolerance based on indifference and detachment that keeps them from judging others’ lives. Phlegmatic individuals usually prefer to be steered by others and be told what to do, because they feel comfortable following others’ orders. Though they are perseverant, calm and true diplomats, their lack of involvement may be frustrating to others.

Despite the differences between temperaments, there is no ideal type an individual could belong to. Each type has its own strengths that need to be encouraged and weaknesses to overcome. The best way to use the four temperaments theory to your advantage is by becoming aware of your own type and learning how to nurture its positive characteristics and control the negative ones. Though temperament is innate and cannot be changed, it can be educated and perfected in time through self-analysis and practice. Thus, you can control your temperament, improve yourself and become a happy, balanced person with a fulfilled emotional life.

More about this author: Anja Emerson

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