Eeyore 101

The Care and Feeding of Melancholics*

1. "Melancholic" is a temperament, not an illness. Simply because your melancholic seems introverted and inclined to see the down-side of things does not mean that she or he is sick or clinically depressed. Nor--extroverted sanguines take note!--does it necessarily mean that she needs "cheering up." She may be grumpy because she needs some time alone. Above all, it is important not to take a melancholic's moods personally (but see below #6).

2. Melancholics need time to adjust to change and may be reluctant to initiate change themselves. They tend to see problems where others (e.g. cholerics) tend to see challenges or opportunities. Melancholics tend to set themselves high goals but can get stuck second-guessing themselves as they consider potential difficulties. Setting clear goals is, therefore, critical for them. Melancholics typically find it difficult to take the first step in a new project, but once they get started will persevere to the end. They work well with "baby-steps" at the outset, but are also motivated by deadlines and solving problems more so than other temperaments. They are good at planning, but sometimes need help getting over the hump. As one spiritual director likes to put it: "Throw the melancholic into the water, and he will learn to swim."

3. Melancholics tend to take longer than other temperaments to make friends, but they take the friendships that they do form very seriously, sometimes to a fault, particularly if they feel their trust has been violated. Even with their close friends, however, melancholics tend not to be the first to get in touch. (This is something I know I need to work on.) Regardless, however, they need time to adjust to new social situations; they will feel more comfortable if they have been introduced properly and given some clue about whom they are meeting.

4. Melancholics are good with details, organization, consistency, precision and in-depth analysis, but this also means that they tend to need their space tidy in order to work effectively. Their high standards mean they worry about making sure everything is perfect and can risk missing the forest for the trees. If your melancholic gets caught up too much in worrying about one aspect of a problem, try suggesting that she look at the question from a different, perhaps larger perspective. Watch out, though: melancholics are also very good at globalizing difficulties. For melancholics, there is no such thing as the "small stuff." Everything is important! (You've heard this one, I'm sure.) Rather than attempting to minimize the obstacles for a melancholic, acknowledge them--and then reassure her that she is able to deal with them.

5. Melancholics tend to complain more about physical illness, aches and pains than other temperaments. However, telling a melancholic to "snap out of it" will not help, nor is it realistically possible that he or she can. Recognize that melancholics tend to have a lower level of energy and to need more rest than other temperaments and suggest that he or she take a nap.

6. Melancholics spend a great deal of time analyzing themselves which can lead them to consider those of other temperaments somewhat shallow. More than anything else, melancholics hate to feel that they have been misunderstood. It will not help a melancholic to be told that his or her concerns do not matter or are insignificant; this will typically only force the melancholic to be even more self-critical because, "once again," he or she has misread the situation. Nor is it easy for melancholics to accept compliments, despite the fact that they most definitely need them. Ironically, being so introspective, melancholics are extremely wary of succumbing to the sin of pride.

7. Melancholics do not like being teased and their feelings are easily hurt, unlike sanguines who enjoy a good joke. Being slow to react, melancholics may suffer more from the attention of bullies when they are children.

8. While melancholics tend to complain more than other temperaments, this does not necessarily mean that they want to be advised to give up. More often than not, they simply want to be heard. If they are asking for help, usually a kick-start will be enough: they need courage to get over the initial hump, not hand-holding for the duration of the project.

9. Melancholics long for the perfection of heaven and its ideals. They tend to be contemplative, pious and prayerful; compassionate, intelligent and introspective. But, as a corollary, they may also suffer more from timidity, scrupulosity, judgmentalism and despair. In comparison, cholerics tend more to zeal for souls, fortitude, self-will, anger and haughtiness; sanguines tend more to joy, mercy, magnanimity, gratitude, self-love, seeking esteem and envy; and phlegmatics tend more to peace, understanding, counsel, meekness, sensuality, sloth and complacency.

10. When confronted with a melancholic in a downward spiral, the most important thing to do first is listen and acknowledge the difficulties that she perceives in the current situation. Then reassure her that you know she is able to deal with them, better, in fact, than anyone else (she is, after all, the one who has identified them!). Be positive and show her the things that she has done well. She will then be better able to listen to any corrections you might think to suggest.

*Textbook: Art & Laraine Bennett, The Temperament God Gave You: The Classic Key to Knowing Yourself, Getting Along with Others, and Growing Closer to the Lord (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2005).

Comments

  1. thank you for the short text on the care and feeding of Fencing Bear. I will remember! Where can I test myself to see where I fall in this spectrum? (Though I suspect I know the answer.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you follow the link for the Bennetts' book and look at the preview, there is a full description of each of the four temperaments plus a "test" (actually just a diagnostic) for helping you define your stronger tendencies. I am actually a melancholic-choleric (melancholic with strong choleric tendencies), but closer to being a melancholic than anything else.

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