When I was a young teen, it was the “four temperaments” that were making the rounds and people were often labeled and boxed up. (“Oh, you’re just a melancholy. Loosen up!”) I was loathe to take any of the personality tests so when people would ask, “What are you?” I would shrug and never tell.
It wasn’t until I was older that I admitted the truth: the few tests I did take behind my bedroom door left me downright confused. I didn’t fit into any of the boxes. I was a choleric, sort of. Except that while I can take charge, it actually makes me horrendously nervous and I put it off as long as possible. I was slightly melancholy, in that I am slow and thoughtful on many fronts, but I was also sanguine because I greatly enjoy groups of people and making new friends. I also tended to be phlegmatic in the way I was loyal and slow to judge and incredibly stubborn. And the lists of negative tendencies? Oh, my. They all fit.
In fact, when I filled out the “test”, the numbers were all within a single point of each other.
I was terribly jealous of those who knew their personality and claimed it. I, apparently, had no personality at all. Talk about boring.
But over the years I learned something:
1. It’s actually a good thing when your personality type is less defined.
Learning to be balanced when you have a strong “type” can be difficult. When you’re more even-keeled, it is less likely that you will ostracize people by being overwhelmingly one way or another. I also realized, at the same time, that God created us all different. None of us completely “fit” in one box or another so it is foolish for us to ever think that we’ve “pegged” someone or even ourselves.
We are also in the process of being changed moment-by-moment, day-by-day. The Bible says that we are “clay in the Potter’s hands”. So even if you are a definite personality type at one time, that may change over the years.
2. We need to be careful in labeling other people’s personalities.
I learned this point on a crisp winter day in North Port, Florida. We were working at cleaning up an elderly widow’s yard; spreading mulch on the flowerbeds, carrying buckets of weeds back to the woods, planting bulbs for spring. There were a dozen people working and the level of efficiency was minimal at best. Finally, after some time had passed and no one seemed to be stepping up to bring a bit of organization, I called everyone together and suggested that perhaps we’d work better in groups. Everyone seemed agreeable so we paired off and started to return to the assigned tasks. It was then that someone laughed and pointed a finger at me, “Well, well, aren’t you just the little choleric?”
Looking back with maturity on my side, I’m quite aware that it was not meant as an insult. In fact, it was probably meant as a compliment.
But the fact is that I was hurt by the statement. It seemed like I was being accused of thinking too much of myself and taking control where I had no right to be. What I heard was not the positive side of this personality type, but the negative.
In fact, it would be a long, long time before I could be thankful for my ability to organize groups of people to accomplish a task. And I learned an important lesson:
People are not the sum of their personality types. And labeling can, in fact, hinder rather than help.
3. Your personality type and the weaknesses you may deal with are not excuses to sin.
The third thing is possibly the one that I am most passionate about. I remember, distinctly, being a young teenager and watching a scene unfold where a peer would manipulate everyone around them to get what they wanted and when confronted, would shrug and say, “Well, I am choleric after all.”
Your personality type and the weaknesses you may deal with are not excuses to sin. If you are gifted in leadership that does not give you an “excuse” to abuse that position. If you are gifted in being extroverted and outgoing, that does not give you the excuse to be flippant or harsh with others. If you are more laid-back and easy-going, that does not give you an excuse to be lazy or ignore your responsibilities.
In the end, no matter what label you may fit (or not fit) under, you are still responsible for you.
And in the same respect, you do not have a “right” to your personality type. These labels are not here for you to claim and wear as a badge.
Too many times I have heard people say, “They just don’t understand my personality.”
This line of thinking is dangerous and immature. It is a victim mentality where you are an innocent left to the devices of those around you. This is simply not true. Through Christ Jesus we have the strength and ability to change negative thinking and poor habits. We have the ability to acknowledge truth over lies. We don’t have to believe we are not understood because no one is showing us love in the one certain way we want it. We can learn and grow and change.
So, by all means, enjoy reading about and taking personality tests. Laugh over how accurately a description may “fit” you. But dear ones, do not forget that personality studies should be addressed with a measure of maturity and used to expound our knowledge rather than limit us.