I remember being a tiny girl and noticing that even when I was really happy, like if something great had just happened, I was never totally joyful—something always seemed to be hanging over my head. I once asked my mom if that was normal—to always feel a little sadness along with great happiness. Mom looked up from her newspaper, frowned, and suggested that that was the human condition. We wouldn’t be totally happy until we were in heaven. I nodded, then wondered sadly why we had to spend so much time down here.
Sensitive, principled, faithful, pious, diligent, attentive to detail, the “melancholic so longs for heaven that everything on earth falls short” write Art and Laraine Bennett in The Temperament God Gave You. “The melancholic, more than any other temperament, tends to value the ideal—whether it be truth, beauty, or justice, and all that is noble” (p. 33).
Yes! Absolutely! This was me! I quickly devoured the entire chapter, eager to learn more about my natural tendencies and completely awed by how well the Bennetts could describe me without ever having met me. Unbelievable. Also heartening was knowing that perhaps a quarter of the world saw things as I did, which made me feel immediately and immensely better, as I have always been intensely introspective, which has at times begged the question: am I crazy?
No, but complicated, according to the Bennetts. “The melancholic’s reflective nature, combined with his goal of reaching perfection, will cause him to note all the difficulties of a new venture or a proposed project, worry about all the possible negative outcomes, and pinpoint errors and injustices. The effect can paralyze the melancholic…the melancholic longs for perfection and, failing to achieve that, may begin to lack self-confidence and become despondent. He sees problems where other temperaments (such as the choleric) see challenges or opportunities. Ironically, however, although small details can stump them, melancholics can often handle the truly big crises with grace and aplomb” (34). Once I was deep in melancholic mental turmoil, and I took a break for a moment to boast to my choleric husband that I was given the most complicated temperament and wasn’t he lucky to be married to someone so interesting and complex, and he remarked, “God is simple.”
Melancholics, probably, might find this post deeply interesting, and the rest of our dear readers might simply have a headache by now. From experience, it’s hard being so wrapped up in thought, and the Bennetts have great advice on how to harness the natural strengths in the melancholic temperament to progress in the spiritual life. “Because of their introversion and their tendency to pessimism, melancholics can become excessively self-absorbed. They should fight to achieve self-confidence and to place their trust in God “ (35). The Bennetts write, “A strong spiritual life, with frequent reception of the sacraments and an intimate relationship with Christ, will help dispel the feelings of depression that can afflict the melancholic” (237). Also, “They need to strive to become attentive and generous to others in need (fighting against the temptation to self-pity). Self-pity is a trap that can keep the melancholic in a myopic, unproductive lifestyle” (35). Again, how do they know me so well?
The Bennetts also recommend entrusting all negative thoughts to God, endeavoring to serve Him “generously”, and reflecting with gratitude on all of the great blessings God has placed in one’s life in order to cultivate joy. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is a great guide souls can look to on how to live a saintly life as a melancholic (235).
Finally, if God has placed a little dreamer/ thinker/worrier in your nest, the Bennetts recommend giving your child enough quiet time each day to process the day’s events, emphasize the importance of treating the child with justice and gentleness, as he will be deeply wounded by any injustice done to him, motivating him by helping him over any initial obstacles when starting a new endeavor, and helping him to see the big picture (114-121).
To brighten things up a bit, next week I’ll feature the sunny, fun-loving sanguine temperament and the spiritual life, and tips on raising them, all thanks to the Bennetts.
“Become what you are!” John Paul II
Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer