We have written a few pieces on this subject in the past, but after working on the book Rhythms of Learning as a group, several of our readers have asked that I dig deeper into this subject.
In our series Crafting a Healthy Home Rhythm, I discuss mental health as an important aspect of having a healthy rhythm and home life for your family. Temperament is part of that mental health. Temperament isn’t something that Steiner invented, although today his work and the work that goes with Waldorf education is probably the most popular use of it. When we read about temperament, we are usually reading about it for the children. Most resources are written for the teacher to apply in the classroom and therefore have us as parents focusing our work completely on the child’s temperament. I believe this is very backward. My guess is that in Waldorf teacher training, they spend some time on this part of adult biography in their foundation studies, so the literature that is written, often assumes that the the adult has done this work for themselves or is at the very least working on it. Most parents are not in this position and generally only come to temperament as a means of understanding the place their children are in. Today we are going to take the first steps in working on yourself.
When we change how we look at things, things change.
As you enter this work, you have to already decide that it is for your own understanding of how YOU should act and re-act rather than how you will fix everyone around you! LOL. It is VERY tempting to label everyone and then leave it at that. There are authors that discuss ways to cater to children with different temperaments and I also think this is a backward practice. Our job as parents is to raise balanced children. Helping a child balance their temperament is a gift we are giving them. A gift that they can treasure and also give to others that work with them in the home setting and beyond. Children don’t balance overnight. Neither do adults. I like to live by the thought that when we know better, we do better. So keep this in mind, don’t feel guilty over what isn’t done, let’s just walk forward from here.
When I talk about balance, it doesn’t mean that we lose our true temperament in the process. Most people will always have one or two very dominant temperaments. The idea with balance is that at the end of the day, you can go to a social party and enjoy yourself, sit and chill on the sofa and be content, have empathy for your child’s plight AND be the bossy lady when needed. This series will be a big stretch for most of us. I am not 100% balanced all the time. When my melancholic teen son is whining for the 14th time about a math problem that I know he understands, then my empathy wants to run out the window and my bossy Mom hat wants to tell him just what I think about his lack of desire! It happens. Being balanced will make you overall a better parent, but it will be no means make you are perfect one. My hope is that it will help you be present more and ponder your actions and reactions more.
When we know better, we do better.
In general, in my study of temperament, I find it very safe to say that Cholerics and Sanguines have the most will – but their challenge is to tame it – while Melancholics and Phlegmatics have the least will – their challenge is to build it up and use it. If you are new to the temperaments, check out our piece on Temperament Parenting, you can find it on our blog at www.waldorfessentials.com and then come back to this series as we go deeply into each one.
I also want to point out that there will likely be times in this series where you won’t like me much! LOL, either you will not like something that I have said because it strikes a cord, or you will think my suggestions for remedy are too hard. Either way, please don’t take what I am saying as a personal attack, this is a long process and inner work is not an easy road (in fact the HARDEST road I have ever been on!) This will be a journey. Hopefully you are taking it in conjunction with other inner work. I highly recommend our Beacon Series, these are available in our store and are free to our Thinking Feeling Willing members. If you have questions as we go through, please feel free to ask me via email or on our blog or on our Facebook support pages.
Over the last six years, I have worked with hundreds of families through our consulting work. We generally start with homeschooling topics, but it nearly always goes to a work of guidance with inner work. Inner work is where I believe my gifts lie. I know the curriculum and can carry on a great conversation about the wonders of Rome, but what I really love doing is helping families work to achieve their highest loveable, awesome, glorious SELF through inner work and casting off the parts of us that just don’t serve that higher place. It is fun work at times but often very grueling work and sometimes it doesn’t feel very rewarding as we are walking through it. When we start seeing the Light on our path though, those moments stand out and help us keep going.
As I was pondering this series in my own meditation this week, I came across something that I have found so very different for each temperament and may be one marker that will help those who are still struggling knowing which one they are personally. I was prompted to look at how we each deal with pain. I am not talking about physical pain only, but emotional pain. I thought maybe we could start here. Take some time to meditate on it and then next week I will launch into our first temperament… the even-tempered Phlegmatic. I am starting there in honor of my sweet husband and two of my sons, it is the temperament that occurs in my home the most.
So in thinking about pain, I was drawn back to my divorce. Seems like forever ago and yet while the events are still strong in my mind, the choleric-sanguine that I am has moved past a great deal of the emotional trauma that came with it. It was nearly ten years ago. My big kids seemed so big to me then, but when I compare them to Sam, who still seems so little, my heart aches for what they went through. For many people, divorce isn’t as ugly as it was for us. The very choleric parts of me, had been through a lot with my former husband and I was ready to be done. However, the very unbalanced melancholic in him wanted it to drag out as long as possible. This refusal to move on, had him coming back two other times to fight, rather than move forward with his life and live in peace. How does that relate to our topic of pain? Well I will unfold it a bit…
When dealing with pain, emotional or physical, a balanced healthy choleric dominant person will generally recover fairly quickly and take on any pain from a very pragmatic “wrestle it to the ground” kind of place. A place of “this happened, I don’t like not being in charge so I am going to manage it and then not let it control me.” These people often have a very high pain threshold for emotional and physical pain. Emotionally they can appear to be stuffing their pain and in times of being unhealthy, they do stuff it or feed it with food, but often they also just want to get over it because feeling pain and being sad does not allow them to have the control they want to have over their lives. It is important for this person to acknowledge the pain and also find the lesson – if there is one in emotional pain so that they can learn from it and choose a different path the next time around. If you are choleric and struggling with inner work, step back and think about why. Do you have a tendency to just gloss over it? To not work on the pieces involving forgiveness? Asking for forgiveness and also giving it to others is a big weakness of the choleric. In the years when my own choleric went up balanced, I was very angry, not humble, rarely teachable, and just plain hot headed. Ask my children Ask my mother Ask my ex husband The choleric me didn’t want to feel the pain from my crumbling marriage so I often ignored it. Ignoring something never helps it. It was this ignorance on my part that probably let my first marriage carry on for about 15 minutes longer than it should have. I do remember the day when I realized my marriage was over. It was like someone smacked me in the head and I suddenly got it. From then on, the choleric me was on ONE mission. Get it over with so I could move on from the pain.
A balanced, healthy melancholic can have deep empathy, deep emotional ties and can be loyal. The hardest part for them is to know when to walk away and be done. Often, these are the people that should stay away from the news, stay off Facebook (LOL) and be very careful of those drama creating relatives. I realized in my informal research, that when reflecting on those that I know who are melancholic, their challenge is to say NO. Their challenge is to not take on that friend’s child when you are having a bad day or to turn off the news when there are shootings or bombings. The melancholic isn’t really interested in the event itself, but intensely worried about the people. The moms of this temperament tend to agonize over anything that involves children and it will stick with them for days or weeks. They don’t feel more pain than say a choleric, but they EXPRESS more pain. This can be a gift but it can also be a warning sign. The weakness in not saying no, either literally by telling someone NO or figuratively by turning off the TV, is that this empathy that can be so beautiful, can also paralyze you and can lead to depression. I have been known to say some really controversial things about depression. I don’t say them because I am callous (although that is a challenge of the choleric me!) I say them because I believe from the root that they are true. Let me clarify. When it comes to motherhood, I DO DO DO believe that depression exists. I believe that we are HIGHLY hormonal beings and that years of birthing, breastfeeding, pregnancy, etc can make our brains mush and leave us struggling to say NO and ask for help. Melancholics don’t ask for help any more so than the bossy choleric. The difference is the choleric needs to learn to be teachable, while the melancholic doesn’t want to put anyone out! A melancholic mom seems to be far more likely prone to boughts of depression while the choleric mom wrestles it to the ground and walks on. I wish that modern medicine would look at temperament when designing pharmaceutical relief! Temperament and sex. Men and women should NOT be taking the same drugs! At least with herbs you are control things a bit better and with homeopathics you are approaching things from a different angle so a hormonally charged mom of 4 that has been nursing or pregnant for ten years isn’t taking the same thing that a 40 year old man who is having a mid life crisis is! While of course there are exceptions, I generally believe that most depression in mothers comes from our wacky hormones. If you are in this spot and are taking treatment, do not feel like this is a weakness or like you are stuck! You will move beyond this place. A good first step is learning how to say NO and balancing your temperament. Not being able to say NO, isn’t necessarily an issue that came from your childhood. It could have been cultivated in a bad way from a parent that took advantage of the empathetic nature of a melancholic child, but in general your temperament already predisposed you to having this challenge. When we come from a healthy place, we have well developed boundaries and we know that the people that need the most help are the ones within our family. It is so easy to feel the emotional pain of a friend that needs a sitter or the activism that you feel like you should be doing. Rest assured, that friend will survive and the planet (or whatever the cause) will still be ok without you participating. Boundaries will challenge you so keep in mind that your first turn to empathy should be with your family. Are you struggling to meet the needs within your own home? Look at your outer obligations and then work to turn that empathy toward your immediate family first. Not your sister-in-law. Not your mother. I am talking about your husband. Your children. Then thinking about boundaries within your home. These are harder and we will talk about them more in depth when we cover the melancholic mom in a few weeks. It took me many years to understand the pain of the melancholic. As a choleric dominant temperament, my impulse is to get on with it. this became very apparent in my divorce. My former husband is an unhealthy melancholic. I struggled so much with this. The healthier I became, the more angry he was. To him, his pain was his calling card. I dreaded it when people casually asked him how he was, he would tell them EVERYTHING from the pain in his big toe to the fact we were struggling in our marriage. The answers were often the same for the teller at the bank or for his mother. The unhealthy melancholic wants an audience for their pain. To them the pain isn’t just theirs, it should be everyone’s. Everyone should be outraged by it. I give these examples as extremes, just like the unhealthy choleric isn’t right with their dismissal of pain in others, the unhealthy melancholic isn’t right in demanding everyone undertake their pain. Balance remember?!
Cholerics that are working on balance would do good to make a few healthy melancholic friends. For many years I avoided them like the plague! Now I find my friendships to be very edifying and humbling to me. We can learn from each other.
Sanguines feel pain differently than our two friends above. The sanguine often is very dramatic. While the balanced melancholic will shun away from asking for help, the unbalanced sanguine will shout for help off the rooftops. Their pain is quick, intense and then gone. Like the butterfly analogy for this temperament, it holds true in their expression of pain. My very sanguine clients that are learning to balance will send me an email full of drama and pain and then the next day send me one of peace and happiness! LOL… often forgetting that they were in so much pain yesterday. This short term memory with pain can be a great thing, but again like our choleric friends, it can keep them from fully experiencing the lessons and then have them working through them over and over. I see this often in the frustration of moms that are struggling with rhythm. Sanguine moms tend to struggle with rhythm. Choleric moms tend to struggle with rigidity. Melancholic moms agonize about whether they are doing it right. Phlegmatic moms just don’t know where to start and they may not really want to start anyway, at least not today. LOL. The sanguine mom has her strength in planning beautiful lessons and painting wonderful rhythm pictures for her home. Follow through is not her strength. Just like her pain, follow through can be very intense at first but then waning rather fast. She can have a great conversation with a melancholic mom about the horrors of the world one day and then totally forget to attend the peace rally they agreed to go to together. LOL… balancing the sanguine in us can feel like this insurmountable task! Sanguine is my secondary temperament. As the years have passed, I have watched this part of me stand front and center much more often than it did when I was in my 20′s or 30′s. The challenges are in sticking to a task. Being the planner that the sanguine is can be a great strength. Use that strength to make yourself a plan you can really REALLY stick to. For you, the rewards have to be plenty and the tasks have to start out shorter and get longer as you get better at sticking with them. Lengthening our attention span is of great importance. One of the biggest challenges for the sanguine mom is often technology! Do you have a smart phone Sanguine Mom? Do you find yourself pulling it out when you are bored in a conversation? Or maybe you stopped reading this in the second paragraph *wink*. Do what you do best… make a plan. Make this plan though with yourself in mind. Don’t make the same long plan that a choleric might make or the painstaking empathetic plan that a melancholic would. Make a plan that allows you to stop and change gears more often. If sticking to rhythm is hard for you, then break it up. Start with just getting up before your kids. That one won’t be too hard for most sanguines. Vary what you are planning to do each morning so that you don’t get bored. Make them things you are looking forward to. Perhaps one morning you are going to work on your painting alone, another you are going to dive into a book you have been meaning to start and another you are going to try some new yoga poses you had forgotten about. Changing things up will be the most helpful for you. Write yourself notes to keep you from forgetting why you are on this path. The biggest challenge of the sanguine is being a jack of all trades but a master of none. This is not what you want to pass on to your children! I fully believe you can master MANY things and this is what will build your will!
The pain of a plegmatic has been the most interesting for me. My oldest son is phlegmatic. He also has autism. There were many times when he was little that I brushed off behaviors thinking they were more autism than temperament, in fact, I had the hardest time decoding his temperament. Just like there are many markers of ADD/ADHD that are purely sanguine, there are also many markers of autism that are purely phlegmatic. The autism can trick us into thinking one is more choleric at times. I find that the phlegmatic will feel pain very deeply, much like their melancholic friends, but differently. The phlegmatic is concerned with comfort. Once they have been made comfortable, all talk of the pain subsides. I began to see the extreme differences between what I thought was my son’s autism and his very phlegmatic temperament when I married my love Erik and we had Super Sam. Super Sam is a picture of phlegmatic. So is his daddy. They can be very even tempered, generally don’t speak out of turn, fairly easy children, they tend to be slower… slow and steady. Another GIANT challenge for this choleric mom! Phlegmatics appreciate comfort above all. Warmth. Good food. Good company. A great TV show. I expect the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” was probably referring to a pretty phlegmatic man! The challenge of a phlegmatic is that they can appear apathetic and lazy. When unbalanced and not forced to rise, this can breed extreme entitlement and laziness. Someone should be doing this for them, why should they have to step outside their cozy zone? A balanced phlegmatic can enjoy being snuggled up in a warm bed with their little ones snuggled up to them, but also know that true comfort comes in a good work ethic. This balanced mom gets up and gets her work done so that she can enjoy the comfort. She struggles because those covers are SO cozy and warm. She just wants to stay wrapped up in them all day and sip cocoa and read a good long 500 page book or watch a really good TV series on Netflix, preferably something with 20 or so episodes so she can stay curled up in that blanket! LOL. The great parts about the phlegmatic mom is that once she lights her own fire – WATCH OUT – sing with me… this mom is one firrrreeee. LOL. (bad song, bad reference, LOL) Steiner described this temperament like the ocean. Calm and placid or raging waves. Both are good! The balance for you will be enjoying the good life, loving your body – even if it is slightly more robust than your melancholic friends, and knowing when it is time to get busy and work. You will struggle with discipline for your children, not because you can’t be bossy like the choleric or because you are worried you will harm their spirit like the melancholic or even because you forget to like the sanguine… you will struggle because you wait to long to respond and then it will take longer to get things under control. I am confident that you can combat this!
In the coming weeks we will go much deeper into each of these temperaments and I will talk about ways that you can strengthen yourself AND parent a household full of different temperaments. I will help you be able to reach your melancholic child that wants to whine about lessons, your bossy child that calls for you to be a strong leader, your sanguine child that forgets everything and your phlegmatic child that just refuses to write even. one. sentence. We will tackle this together!
Love & Blessings!
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