Seeing a list of my strengths is a vastly different experience than seeing a list of my weaknesses. That being said, I am incredibly aware that I have a great many flaws. There are probably areas I overlook, but as a melancholic, I am pretty introspective alongside possessing a generally critical nature.

I had my seniors take a temperament quiz at the beginning of the semester, partly for fun and partly so I can get to know them better. As they read through the descriptions they gave for their temperament, I was surprised to hear many of the lamenting the list of weaknesses for their particular temperament. Some commented that they were pretty harsh in the assessment of weaknesses and others were a bit more defensive as they said they didn’t have a bad temperament or were a bad person. Nobody, however, complained that they had an excessive list of strengths.

It made me wonder why they were so bothered by an impersonal test telling them which weaknesses they might possess. I wasn’t bothered by it. It was easy enough to read through the list and admit that I lacked in that area or recognize that I didn’t struggle with that particular flaw. Had they never considered what weaknesses they had? Were they bothered even considering that they might have weaknesses? What moved them to pull back as though someone had specifically told them where they fell short?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I’m not sure if the weaknesses rang a little too true or if they all felt wrong based on the person they knew. It seemed, however, that they needed to be reminded that we all have areas to work on, things that are just a little more difficult for us based on our personality. And so, having never made this connection before, I connected their temperament to the faculties of the human soul, to our intellect and our will.

I spoke about how our intellect allows us to learn about ourselves, to know who we are and what we are like. We learn if we are fast or slow reactors and how neither of those is perfect for every situation. By understanding our temperament, we can acknowledge if we are introverted or extraverted, if we need a little time alone or a little socializing to regain our calm. While important to learn about the world around us, it is incredibly important to also learn about the world within us.

From our intellect, we can then apply our will. What are the ways that God has gifted me? How can I use these gifts to build up the Kingdom of God and glorify the One who made me? It is also crucial to use our will to choose to grow in the areas where we are weak. What are my weaknesses and how might God desire to enter into those places so as to create new growth? The weaknesses might be more difficult to take stock of honestly, but it is an important part of growth.

We don’t get a free pass to not work on something simply because it is a common weakness associated with our temperament. I told this to my students as I reviewed some of the natural shortcomings of the different temperaments. Sanguine students don’t get to tell their teachers they didn’t finish their homework because their temperament finds it difficult to follow through on projects. Cholerics don’t get to be mean and short with people simply because their temperament is more likely to bulldoze people in favor of efficiency or implementing ideas. When we know what is a struggle for us, we can learn to work on that particular area or understand how we respond to situations.

I’m a melancholic through and through. Nearly every word about melancholics on that temperament quiz website is true about me. It is easy to let the self-knowledge lull me into being comfortable. Knowing I need time alone, I can curl up in my home and never desire to leave it to join the rest of the world. And I can be pretty okay with that cocooned life. That is part of why I have a small group of girls at my parish that I work with weekly and why I go into prison. I need to be pulled outside myself, I need other plans that ruin the quiet solitude I almost always desire, I need to make a sacrifice of time when it is one of my most treasured commodities. I’m not perfect about fighting against my weaker inclinations (see also under melancholic–struggles with perfectionism, self-criticism, and saying no to new ideas), but I know that there is so much work that needs to be done interiorly.

Perhaps phrased more positively: the Lord has room for much growth within my soul.

May 2020 be a year of growth (I wince a little as I write that) and provide a deeper understanding of who we are.

Take the quiz! What is your temperament?

Photo by Oscar Cadiach on Unsplash

One thought on “The Gift of Self-Knowledge: The Good and The Bad

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