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I Am Black & White…With a Cherry on Top

A (Not-so-brief) lesson on PERSONALITIES (aka “Better pull up a sofa and some protein before you read this.”)

I am a study in contrasts. I am a black and white thinker who loves to live in the grey area. I am all or nothing, but want it all. I am happy-go-lucky, and I am a worry-wart. I am optimistically pessimistic. I am positively negative. I am certain I can do anything but afraid that I can’t. I hate being a procrastinator so much I bought a book to fix it…and never finished it. I am the most social loner you will ever meet. I need to be loved deeply but don’t love deeply, unless I love you deeply. I forgive everyone but myself. I plan everything – including spontaneity, which I dislike. I’m sure I can go forever; until I stop, and then I’m sure I’ll never start again. I can be deeply shallow and deeply deep. I forget to remember things that I remembered never to forget, and I remember things that I was supposed to forget. I remember things exactly as they weren’t and have a hard time remembering things as they might have been. I laugh as hard as I cry and often cry laughing. I am skilled at making people laugh and am equally capable of making them cry (but, as an adult, have learned NOT to do that). I am impatiently patient and patiently impatient. I go when I should stop and stop when I should go. I believe that if less is more, then more is better and less is just unnecessary.

When things happen to me, I’m convinced that I deserved it, but I am frustrated when I don’t deserve what happened to me. I love to be the center of attention, but hate parties. I need to be alone, but I hate being lonely. I am an enigmatic foregone conclusion.

I am maddeningly complex, yet deceptively simple.

I am a sanguine. Ahhh, but it’s not that simple. You see I also have a “melancholy” side! What that means is, my “happy” car will be traveling down the road of life (without a care in the world) and then SUDDENLY (without warning, I might add), I’ll hit a patch of “sad” and my happy car quickly hits the sad skids. I hate it when that happens and…gosh..I never seem to see it coming. So, this means that I am a certified Sanguine-Melancholy (not to be confused with a melancholy-sanguine, which is an entirely different animal).

WAIT! Right about now, you’re probably asking: “What the heck is this ‘sanguine-melancholy’ junk?” Well, if you must know, “Sanguine” and “Melancholy” are two of the four temperaments (also known as humors) identified by Hippocrates (many moons ago.) In those days great thinkers were convinced that each personality type was directly connected to a surplus (or deficiency) of a particular bodily fluid (e.g., blood, bile or phlegm. Sorry, but it’s true), and that balancing these fluids would make people more emotionally stable. These four temperaments (sanguine, melancholy, choleric and phlegmatic) were widely accepted as a complete way to define every human being…until the early 80’s, when one was added to the mix (supine), but since I don’t know much about it, I’m going to ignore it in this post.

Suffice it to say, I have only my very best friend (Jan) on the entire planet to blame for this maddening (yet limited) knowledge of personality traits, for if she (Jan) hadn’t told me, I’d never have been bothered by it. Likewise…I’d never have been helped. So, you see, having knowledge of the basic “temperaments” is quite useful, because it can really help someone better understand someone else, even if that knowledge can sometimes be painful.

First of all, I’m a big believer in “intention.” Learning these character traits has helped me to better understand people who have different traits than my own, because I can see that my intention for doing something is often quite different than someone else’s. In other words, if I do something a certain way, my intention might be to hurt, yet someone else (or a different personality type) would do the same thing, but instead, be doing it without a thought of whether it will hurt.

Let me get this out there now: Anyone who is not a sanguine or a melancholy is cranky and uptight.

Okay, that’s not “completely” true….Cholerics and Phlegmatics are not (necessarily) cranky and uptight…I just feel that way because I’m not like them. But, it is helpful to note that cholerics (and to a lesser extent, phlegmatics) make the world go around because they keep law and order and make sure that things get done. Heck, they usually MAKE the laws and DEFINE the order. That means: We need them; they are great (and powerful) leaders for lots of reasons, mostly because they don’t allow silly emotion to muddle their decision-making, but also because they tend to be tenacious and energetic. You can see why I have a little difficulty interacting with them…they are

TOTALLY UNLIKE ME.

Hmmm…How can I explain this better? If you think of people like dogs (!!!), cholerics are like a dog that won’t let go of a bone (it IS, after all, HIS). Phlegmatic dogs will bury their bones (albeit, in a secret place) for safe-keeping and future need. The sanguine will loyally follow you to the ends of the earth (without really knowing why) while the melancholy will plunge into an endless fit of despair when you leave (because you are most likely never coming back).

Remember, I’m the sanguine(melancholy) which means that I always want you with me because if you leave you’re never coming back, but if you stay, you need to be nice, and oh yeah, sometimes I need to be alone and I worry that I will hurt your feelings.

Seems perfectly reasonable to me…except that CHOLERICS are the bane of my existence.

There, I said it. Happy?

Just when I think I’ve gotten everything ironed out, I add a NEW choleric to my world and end up going through the whole learning process all over again! To be fair, I can be equally maddening to cholerics, but I am not going to give them equal billing here…on my blog.

Here’s my story: For pretty much my entire life, I’ve been plagued by cholerics…starting with my daddy (who was actually a choleric-melancholy, but don’t get me started on that.)

As a rule, cholerics and phlegmatics approach things based upon what they know to be facts. They are not emotional about decisions; they make them because they are right. (Sounds very fair and reasonable…don’t you think?) They do the right thing and expect you to do the right thing – without excuse or explanation.

I, on the other hand (being the sanguine-melancholy) make a decision based upon how I and others will FEEL about it. (Don’t ask me how I know what they will feel; that’s part of my mystique). And yeah, I agree that it all seems sorta…silly…

After all…we’re talking about validating decision making based upon Fact vs. Feeling.

Given those two options, I’m betting most would choose fact over feeling, but – there’s a little more to it than that.

Let me toss out another metaphor: If we’re talking about cups, the choleric’s cup is always the biggest and is always overflowing. They really don’t consider whether anyone else even has a cup. The phlegmatic’s cup has just the right amount of liquid in it (whatever that amount should be.) The sanguine’s cup is always full, while the melancholy isn’t sure he even HAS a cup.

  • The choleric says: Do it my way. My way is the right way and there is no other way.
  • The phlegmatic says: I’m doing it this way because it is the right way to do it.
  • The sanguine says: I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do and because if I do it, everything will be okay.
  • The melancholy says: I don’t even know why I’m doing this…nothing will change, it’s probably not right, and it never will be, besides, someone is probably going to be disappointed with me.

Those are extremes, of course, and you should know that we all have a little of everything in us, so it’s very rare to find a “purebred” anything (though legend holds that they do exist!) Having said that, people do TEND to lean toward a particular trait, and this is what propels us through life.

Are you catching on?

I tend to put my energy into being sanguine, and am always surprised when the melancholy comes to town. I am absolutely withered by cholerics and just don’t understand phlegmatics. When I encounter a melancholy person, I try to cheer them up (even though I am one).

If we’re in the 100 Acre Wood, I am Tigger, Rabbit is Choleric and Eeyore is Melancholy. Perhaps Piglet is Phlegmatic, and Pooh is Supine…but I can’t be sure.

So, why am I talking about this and why does this matter in my Bariatric After Life™? As usual, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching to figure out why I do the things I do and why I think the way I think. Naturally, this whole “personality trait thing” factored heavily in my processing because I believe it is the key to unlocking my long-term recovery from obesity. i really, really do.

Here’s why: Growing up, my feelings were hurt ALL THE TIME (which is why I ate…to make myself stop hurting). Now, this was largely because I didn’t understand the intention behind anyone’s actions and generally ASSUMED that others were being mean (for no apparent reason!) Through great persistence (and occasional bashing) from my choleric friend, Jan, I now know that when my dad (a choleric) said something was “fine,” he meant just that. In other words, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, so it was…FINE. He wasn’t trying to hurt me or be mean. But, I didn’t know that then, so I ate.

That is because I was NOT fine with this answer, preferring to hear something more definite…like…”It’s GREAT! It’s AMAZING! I’ve never seen anything better.” Of course, a choleric wouldn’t waste time talking like that (unless it were true), but again, I didn’t know that when I was 8! I thought my daddy was tactless and rude, while he thought he was just…fine.

Growing up, I’m sure my over-sensitivity was infinitely frustrating to him. I mean, why should he have to qualify everything with an superlative? (Stupendously Fine! Magnificently Fine! Unbelievably Fine!) Did he really have to take an opinion poll to get an answer he already had? Why did he have to worry about how other people FELT every time he gave an answer? If he wanted to be mean, he’d be mean, otherwise…people just needed to know that everything was: FINE.

Poor dad.

But…I wanted harmony, while he wanted productivity. So, I ate.
I wanted peace, while he wanted action. So, I ate.
I wanted happy, while he wanted compliance. So, I ate.
He got mad, while I got hurt. So, I ate.

Sanguines are ALL ABOUT FEELINGS.
Cholerics are ALL ABOUT FACTS.
Sanguines are about MAKING PEOPLE FEEL BETTER.
Cholerics are about MAKING THINGS HAPPEN.

Of course, in those days, I didn’t understand the differences in personality types, and thoroughly believed that everyone should think, feel and behave the same way as I did.

When they didn’t, it short-circuited me. I thought they were doing it on purpose.

The sad part is, I believed it was my lot in life to be beaten up by cholerics…which makes it even WEIRDER to know that I married one! That’s right, MexiKen is a choleric (with a little melancholy thrown in for good measure.) Some would say I’m a glutton for punishment, seeing as how a choleric is like water to the sanguine’s flame, but you know what they say: we marry our dads and I’m no exception.

But really, there’s more to it than that. You see…somewhere, down inside, I am DRAWN to cholerics. I NEED someone who is stronger than me to keep me on task…to make sure I finish stuff. It’s like playing with a tiger: As long as I’ve got him by the tail, I’m okay, but eventually, I might get bitten. (The melancholy in me is certain I will eventually get bitten, but the sanguine is positive I never will…and doesn’t even want to think about it.)

So, I might need a choleric, but does a choleric need me? I mean, why exactly, would a serious choleric put up with a silly sanguine? Easy. Because they need fun in their lives and they can’t do it alone. It’s not how they tick. Imagine the king and his court jester: Make me laugh – NOW. Ha ha ha. Okay, now stop. (Yeah, that’s a choleric). Obviously, there’s a little more to it than that: They love our carefree enthusiasm and zest for life. They love how we can do stuff (without worrying a whole lot about the consequences.) They love our spontaneity. They love our silliness. But, they can’t stand our flakiness and oversensitivity. They can’t stand how we have to decide how we feel before we can even decide what to order from the menu.

Just to complicate things, every trait has its positives and negatives, and negatives from one trait often have negative affects on another (intentionally, unintentionally or otherwise). That’s where it gets really messy.

SO, with that said, can my problem with cholerics be fixed? How do I function in life if I know my negatives might rub someone else’s negatives the wrong way? What do I do if I don’t think I even HAVE negatives and can only see the negatives in others? How do people get anything done if half the population is hurt, while the other half is angry???

Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers (as I am clearly still a work in progress), but what I can gather is this: Each personality trait has to respect the other for both their strengths and weaknesses (that’s number one), but secondarily, all personality traits must work to overcome their own destructive weaknesses so that their strengths can shine through. They must each find a way to be the best version of themselves they can be.

This is a really, really tall order… one which I have learned cannot be handled alone. My personality traits are so deeply woven into my tapestry, only GOD can help me unravel the parts that aren’t stitched well. Only GOD can help me to overcome my deficiencies; only GOD can give me strength when I am weak, and enable me to embrace my shortcomings (without running away in terror). Only GOD can give me the grace to persevere through the harshness and triumph over doubt. Only GOD can give me strength NOT to eat when I hurt. Don’t misread this. I don’t think that God will “do it for me.” I believe that, in my prayerfulness and humility, HE will show me the way, grant me mercy, give me strength and offer guidance. Just like a parent.

Sounds great. How long does all of this work take? Two days? A week? Maybe a year? How about…a lifetime? Yeah, this personal growth is the gift that keeps on giving! Every person on the planet is unique, but I guarantee you, once you know and understand what makes others tick, you can solve (and even avoid) most problems pretty quickly (which can translate into recovery)….unless they are Supine…which I don’t get, so we’ll have to leave that for another post.

At any rate, this has gone on longer than a kinesiological-geometric-chemistry textbook, so I’ll end it with this: Sometimes, personality traits collide in a troubling way, but if we learn tolerance and compassion, we can (and do) work together for good.

Ultimately, we need all types to make our world go around: Cholerics, Phlegmatics, Sanguines, Melancholies, and yes…even Supine (though, I still don’t know what they do).

We need all types to make us laugh, make us work, make us think, and make us dream.

As I see it, my job (as a sanguine-melancholy) is to just do it…without worrying so much about how it feels, whether it’s perfect, or what others might think.

Your job (if you accept the challenge) is to learn more about character traits for yourself! The good news is, there are lots and lots of resources on the web. Heck, there are even TESTS you can take to help you determine what makes you tick (and gain a better understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.)

Google:

FOUR TEMPERAMENTS (also Four Humors)

FOUR PERSONALITY TYPES

SANGUINE CHARACTER TRAITS

Trust me! You’ll get an eyeful (and a brainful).

By the way, sometimes, I misinterpret stuff or just plain get it wrong, so if I mischaracterized something (Jan), feel free to tell me. Just be nice about it. Oh, and I’m eager to hear your personal tales, so if you know who you are, let me know how you’ve learned to be a better YOU! Success is about learning from others, so be bold and share!

8 comments

1 Thinning Man { 12.24.11 at 4:11 pm }

I am 2 months post surgery and loving life!! I am down 60 pounds from my peak weight and have not felt so good in ages!! You can read my story at:
http://thinning-man.blogspot.com/

All the best,
Thinning man

2 Alicia { 01.13.12 at 8:32 pm }

Goodness! That was a lot to tackle in one post! 🙂 I find that I am very similar in temperament to you. Although I may be a bit more melancholy/sanguine the process is still similar when dealing with those fact-based folks. I think the reason many of us turn to food to soothe our emotional state is because we have not learned how to deal with our own feelings. Those of us with "feeling-based" temperaments probably have an even more difficult time. I enjoyed reading your blog and have lots to chew one…which may keep me from chewing on lots. 🙂

3 bariatricafterlife { 01.13.12 at 8:53 pm }

Darn tootin' it was a ton to cover in one post — LOL. Perhaps it has something to do with how I felt about it… 😉 At any rate, I think you're onto something with the “feeling-based” temperaments and needing to soothe our woundedness with food. Of course, there's more to it than that…all of our childhood traumas and adult dramas…Anyway,l'll keep gnawing away at it, if you will! Eventually, we will figure out how to outsmart those weird cholerics…ha ha ha!

4 Sine { 03.07.13 at 7:34 am }

I'm in LOVE with this post. It just sounded like what goes on in my head all day. It's actually quite frightening to listen to my own thoughts written by you. Um. I'm a Tigger/Piglet with a bit of melancholy thrown in. I drive myself nuts because i like what i don't like and i don't like what i like. The way i see it, is as long as we all are different personality types at different times it should be fine – eg if we all hit the melancholy wall together – we are STUFFED.

5 bariatricafterlife { 03.07.13 at 2:16 pm }

Thanks for slogging through the post — all the way to the end. There's a lot of good info to digest, and it really helps me assess situations and diffuse my own (over)reactions 🙂

6 SINE { 03.07.13 at 8:20 pm }

No slog required, I enjoyed it immensely.

7 bariatricafterlife { 03.07.13 at 8:39 pm }

You are a glutton for punishment 😉

8 Sine { 04.15.13 at 6:10 am }

Well, it's kind of a relief actually to realize someone else in the world actually thinks like this.

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