Are You a Phlegmatic?


To conclude our study of the four temperaments from the book The Temperament God Gave You by Art and Laraine Bennett, we’ll examine the peaceful phlegmatic.

God, in His infinite love and mercy, gave me a beautiful phlegmatic as a mother. When we, her adult children, come home to visit her and my dad, the red carpet is rolled out. Mom makes up the beds as if in a hotel, turning down the sheets, sometimes laying out magazines of interest on the nightstands, and always making sure the bathrooms are stocked with pretty soaps and toiletries. If the visiting party has children—which we all do—toys, gifts, clothes, or diapers are laid out on the children’s beds. Dinner is the favorite of whomever is visiting: beef paprika, chicken marsala, gorgeous chicken salad. Mom stocks the kitchen with homemade tea breads, gourmet coffee, and whatever cold beverage we haggard parents can dream of. And there is no work to be done. Should someone so much as try to bring a dirty plate to the sink, Mom’ll insist that he sit down and if challenged, will whisper, “Put that plate down before I cut off your hands.”

My mom. The phlegmatic, the “servant-leader”, whose only wish when we come home is that everyone gets along and has a good time. Which we all do. How couldn’t we? The only darkness that rolls over the weekend is when I start comparing myself to her and despair that I’ll never live up to her good example!

“Phlegmatics are reserved, prudent, sensible, reflective, respectful, and dependable,” write the Bennetts. “ They are not easily insulted or provoked to anger, nor are they given to exuberance or exaggeration in speech,”—maybe my mom a little. “They are loyal and committed, tolerant and supportive. They possess a hidden will of iron that is often overlooked, because they are such agreeable people. They have a knack for diffusing tense situations…they are known for their easy-going nature. They tend to be clear, concise, and thoughtful in speech and writing. They are excellent listeners and have great empathy for others. They are supportive friends, patient with difficult people and situations, and considerate at all times. They are accepting of traditions and rules, and will not ‘buck the system’…they do not, however, like conflict or confrontation” (p. 40).

So true. This is my mom—who has always been the ultimate peace-keeper in the family. At times, though, signs of her peace-keeping role have shown on her, like the time our family was attempting to launch our boat and my mom whispered to my dad that she could no longer inhale. Dad explained to her that it was simply conversion hysteria, sometimes suffered by people under great duress. She nodded, and the boat went in as planned. Never one to rock the boat, my mother has always done what was needed, quietly, mostly unnoticed, to help keep the family moving forward.

With regard to the spiritual life, the phlegmatic usually has little difficulty accepting the precepts of the Church but may need encouragement “internalizing” and “personalizing” the faith. “A good relationship with his pastor, youth minister, or even a spiritual director will help encourage the phlegmatic to take an active role in the apostolate of the Church. If the phlegmatic does not perceive the vital necessity of his own personal contribution, he may end up simply warming the pews on Sunday and never truly embracing his baptismal commitment to help spread the Kingdom of God” (p. 42). The Bennetts note that the phlegmatic might be naturally drawn to formal prayers and sacramentals and might consider stretching themselves in the spiritual life through engaging the imagination, such as picturing oneself at the foot of the manger. Finally, “a prayer group or a parish society will also provide some necessary encouragement, motivation, accountability and reinforcement to keep the fire blazing” (246). St. Thomas Aquinas was a phlegmatic.

Did God give you a little phlegmatic? If he’s seldom first on your parenting worry list, He probably did. “Count your blessings for a phlegmatic child!” write the Bennetts. “He is a joy—so peaceful, quiet, cooperative, reliable, and obedient that you will be forever spoiled!” (131). When raising a phlegmatic child, the Bennetts recommend helping children plan for the future, “give gentle reminders, make concrete, specific requests, praise them for their cooperation, good attitude, and achievements, and encourage them to develop social and leadership skills”. And they warn against ridiculing, nagging, “taking over for them,” and allowing them to “withdraw into isolation” (138).
And so there we have it—the four temperaments. Dearest Bennetts, thank you for the immense wisdom you have set down in your beautiful book! As for me, this book will remain on my nightstand for a long time to come.

“Know thyself, and thy faults, and thus live.” –St. Augustine (p. 4)

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Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer


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