The Temperament God Gave You

The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord, by Art and Laraine Bennett. Published by Sophia Press.

The four temperaments: “Catholic astrology” or solid science? In this easy-to-understand, fun to read and often humorous book by a husband and wife team, we learn much about the ancient concept of the four temperaments, how they are, in fact “solid science,” and how they affect our personalities and our interactions with everyone around us. Most importantly, we learn how to use the best of our particular temperament to bring us closer to God and to attain our ultimate goal in life, our personal salvation. Understanding my temperament helps me to save my own soul while helping those that I love (even those that it’s hard to love!) achieve the salvation of their souls.

The concept of four temperaments dates to pre-Christian time, most researchers being of the opinion that the “father of medicine” Hippocrates (c. 460-377 B.C.) developed the first theory of personality. He classified personalities based on the four types of humors or fluids found in the human body: choleric — yellow bile from the liver; sanguine — red blood from the heart; melancholic — black bile from the kidneys; and phlegmatic — phlegm from the lungs. This is the reason that temperament types are stuck with these unattractive names. Nevertheless, the terms persisted throughout the centuries and into modern times, even with the so-called advances in psychology and psychiatry, up to and including Freud and Jung.

Here are the four temperaments and their basic characteristics: The Sanguine is eager and optimistic; the melancholic is doleful and pessimistic; the choleric is passionate; the phlegmatic is calm. Most people are a combination of two temperaments with one predominating. It is important to understand that we are not locked into the weaknesses of our predominant temperament, but, if we understand the negative characteristics of our temperaments, we can learn to adjust and accommodate so that we do not become slaves to them. In other words, we should never use the excuse that “I’m a phlegmatic” to be slovenly and disorganized in our daily lives, or “I’m sanguine; I couldn’t help it” for losing our tempers with our children or co-workers.

It is particularly important to understand our spouse’s temperament and those of our children. This is the way we can avoid “pushing hot buttons” and learn to compromise. Does your sanguine husband get so enthusiastic about a gardening project that he wants to tear up and replant the entire garden in one weekend? (You know from experience, of course, that the project will remain unfinished for months!) Does your phlegmatic teenage son leave his room in such disarray that you have to shovel your way in to hang his freshly ironed shirts? Your melancholic daughter is certain that she will never learn her lines for the school play! If you are the choleric parent, you may want to take over all projects and boss everyone around! Understanding the reason for your loved ones’ attitudes and behavior will allow you to be more accepting and perhaps help them to see that little changes might be in order. Compromise and understanding will go a long way toward avoiding clashes.

One of the strongest points of this book is the fact that it is very Catholic! The Bennetts seem to be strong in their Faith and expect their four children to be strong Catholics also. Art Bennett is a licensed, master’s-degreed family therapist in private practice; his wife Laraine has a master’s degree in philosophy and writes on family matters. Each of their four children is a different temperament type; so their home is a veritable laboratory of temperament study! They write with humor, love and deep spiritual faith in their Church. They are active members of their parish in Virginia, and seem to have a wide knowledge of the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and of the saints. There are many quotes from St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Popes and the Bible. (Did you know that St. Paul was a choleric and that most mystics were melancholics?)

After taking us through all the temperaments, they teach us how to deal with spousal relationships of different temperament combinations, relationships with our children and co-workers. There is a chapter on motivating ourselves and others. Most interesting is the chapter on discovering our secondary temperament — choleric/sanguine is very different from choleric/melancholic. Most important to the authors is the spiritual and prayer lives of their readers; so there is a chapter on how each temperament can achieve the greatest advancement in spirituality.

Finally, and fun to do, is an extensive list — 232 — of habitual tendencies, both positive and negative, that will give the readers clues as to our basic and secondary temperaments. Suggestion: Don’t check these off in the book. Make copies of the list to pass out to your family and friends. If you are honest, you may be surprised to find out what you are!

This is an interesting and essential book, not pop-psychology. It will help you to understand yourself, your spouse, your children, your friends and others in your life. It is an aid in getting yourself into Heaven and helping those around you join you there!

  • Dan Guenzel

    Editor:

    It is an interesting book and subject but I’m far from convinced that this is “solid science.” All four of those characteristics can be easily detected in any number of human beings. In my own family I can see several of my children with two, three or all four of these distinctive traits. Others I come into contact with can switch on a dime from “choleric” to “sanguine” to who knows what.

    It’s fun to read about but I wouldn’t base my life on it.

  • Dan: The temperaments are not “traits.” It’s more complex than that. Each temperament has a number of traits which characterize it. A “choleric” does not “turn on a dime” and cease being a choleric just because he is, say peevish and easily offended at times, even to the point of appearing wounded. While that’s not what cholerics are most known for, it is one of the traits of the temperament. He may well turn on a dime, but, the very dime-turning itself is often characteristic of a certain temperament. (For instance, the sanguine, who can easily go from one extreme emotion to another.)

    This science is so solid, that it has been used for generations in religious formation and spiritual direction.

  • The science on this is NOT rock solid. There are many psychological researchers and scientists who dispute the claims of this approach. The ideas stem from erroneous ancient sources and humanistic psychology.

    At best, this can be use as a clue to personality tendencies, but it cannot be use to LABEL people. Labeling people, which psychology/psychiatry loves to do, can be very destructive and damaging. It can even retard a person’s personality growth and development. It tends to tell people, “this is the way you are and that is the way you will stay.”