We all know about the influence that comes to us from both heredity and environment. But nobody talks much about temperament–the personality’s wild card.
The Greeks spoke of humours–various phenomena that affected certain organs of the body–lungs, kidneys, liver, heart–and enabled or prevented good health. More recently psychologists have looked at those humours in terms of temperaments. The general consensus is that one of these four psychic energy levels dominates in each of us.
Phlegmatic is the least energetic. Fritz Kunkel calls him the Clinging Vine who has to depend on someone else for meaning in life. Melancholic has more energy but not enough to dominate, so when he’s overwhelmed he retreats into his shell like a Turtle. Choleric is the Nero, spitting fire and running the show (guess which one I was!). And Sanguine shines with creativity like a Star. The trouble is, unlike a celestial body which needs no audience, the Star temperament needs someone constantly applauding and supporting him.
Our temperament is not inherited and may not even correspond to that of either parent or any one of our grandparents.
We move around from one temperament position to another, depending on relationships and situations. But rather early in life one predominates and influences our personality perhaps even more than heredity or environment.
These temperaments can be seen to correspond to Carl Jung’s personality traits–feeling, sensation, thinking, and intuition and also to Northrop Frye’s literary genres of romantic, tragic, ironic, and comic. I found these temperaments to fit with the OK positions (Thomas Harris); Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development; the four basic elements–water, earth, fire, air–and others as well. We can gain insight into our personalities from pondering these grids, just as we can from thinking about the mottos we have adopted and the games we play.
We may by sheer will power change our mottos and games, but our predominating temperament remains the same. All temperaments circle the inner region of the psyche, but we are not able to touch the center of the Self (the Original Goodness) without a transformation. When we freely decide to cooperate with the transformation process by giving permission to an inner power to make us whole, we become this Original Goodness and thereafter no temperament rules our lives.