God-Given Temperament

First, I try to take the test without getting up to get a pencil. Then, I give in and get a pencil, only to be caught up in picking apart the details of each question, while trying to remember what my initial reaction was and then wondering if that would have been my reaction if I hadn’t been colored by childhood experiences. Finally, I give up, frustrated that I can’t even figure out my own temperament, let alone the ones in my immediate family.

A couple of months ago, my friend Laraine Bennett sent me a copy of the new book she has written with her husband, Art. I wrote her and promised a review of The Temperament God Gave You. This time, I tried again to take the quiz without a pencil and again, I gave up. But this time, I’d promised to write a review, so I conversed with the author a bit, got past my own stumbling blocks (which actually have a whole lot to do with my temperament), and kept reading.

The book is articulate and entertaining and full of wisdom gleaned over years of the authors’ personal experience as counselors, parents and mature Catholics striving for holiness. Unlike any other temperament book, this one is rooted in the ancient teaching of the Church. Not a tome of pop psychology, it is, instead, a guidebook towards holiness. The Bennetts help the reader discover the temperament given to her by God and then show her how that very temperament is part of God’s plan for sanctity.

Admittedly, I was still a skeptic halfway through the book. I resisted the idea that all people could fit into four different boxes: sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy or choleric.

As the Bennetts related personal and professional experiences, I began to see how temperament is part of the personality puzzle; the theory of temperament is not an exact science but an art of understanding. My epiphany came when I finally tried to discern the temperaments of my children. My eldest did the test himself. It was no surprise to me to discover the combination temperament that best describes him. He seemed pretty satisfied with the description of his temperament in the book and I was heartened to learn that I’d been parenting him pretty much as the Bennetts advised.

Encouraged by this success, I went on to try to unlock the keys to other children. One particular child is a puzzle to me. I’m never quite sure how to motivate him, what makes him tick; sometimes, I am even challenged to get him to smile. For him, I used an online checklist. I was amazed to find that he followed a consistent pattern, specific to one temperament. He was not a combination at all; instead, all those mysterious quirks that were seemingly unrelated, fit perfectly into the description of one temperament type. When I cross-checked that type with the description in The Temperament God Gave You, I found a very useful key to understanding my child. And when I skipped ahead to read what the Bennett’s had to say about combining a parent of my type with a child of his type, lightbulbs went off. So profound was the discovery, that I read no further, but put the book aside to look anew at this one particular relationship in light of my new understanding. I’ve spent a couple of weeks just mulling it over, reading and re-reading the parts of the book that pertain to me and to this child. So, I still haven’t finished a temperament book. But this time, I will.

There is still so much to learn. My husband has not yet taken his temperament test. I look forward to seeing how better understanding the temperaments in a marriage make that relationship stronger. I was a skeptic, but now I’m a believer. Understanding temperament can help me to facilitate stronger relationships in my family, to soften the inevitable rough spots of daily living with many other people, and most importantly to cooperate with God’s plan, at our very creation, for becoming what He intended all along.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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