CHRONIC ILLNESS AND YOUR PERSONALITY TYPE
Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday,
lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
How did you react when you found out you were officially unhealthy? Not unhealthy as in temporarily sick, but as in chronically I’ll-never-be-the-same, what-happened-to-my-life kind of unhealthy?
People react to crisis in different ways. If you’ve ever lived with anyone other than yourself, you already know that. Some jump into fix-it mode and immediately organize and start battling the problem. Others leave the scene and go do something random that has nothing to do with the crisis at hand. Some eat. Others cry. Some rage. Others shop. Some sit and stare at the TV. Others analyze.
And of course, since no one is officially in charge during the majority of crisis events, most of us end up getting frustrated at the way others are acting, or even the way we ourselves are acting.
Why do some of us start emotionally eating while our friends are attacking the problem? Why do some seem to ignore the problem altogether while their spouses are going on about the negative details so thoroughly it makes everyone else depressed?
Are we all slightly insane? Obsessive compulsive? Trying to make everyone around us miserable?
Well, I can’t speak for your particular family and friends on those questions, but in general, no, we aren’t acting the way we do because of some unnatural, subconsciously vindictive reason. On the contrary, most of us are just acting naturally according to the personalities God gave us.
Wow, you just went from being slightly insane to normal in three sentences. That’s got to make you feel good.
Each person is unique, as individual as a snowflake, only much more complex (and we don’t melt—way superior). Nevertheless, all our amazing complexities as humans have been narrowed down to four main personality types by someone much smarter than myself. Those types are titled Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholy, and Phlegmatic. People have different mixtures of these four types, but any given person usually has one or two that are dominate, and tends to follow a certain pattern of thought and behavior based on those dominant types.
See if you can find yourself: And by the way, every type has its strengths and weaknesses, so no deciding your type is great and everybody else’s is bad!
Sanguines—like to have fun. Sanguines are bubbly and fun-loving. They like to be the center of attention and tell stories, but tend to exaggerate and be disorganized.
Cholerics—like to have control. Cholerics are the ones who take charge, make quick decisions and like for things to be done the way they think is best. They make good leaders, but tend to be bossy and put tasks over people.
Melancholies—like to have things done right. Melancholies are smart, serious and sensitive. Most creative geniuses are melancholies with their attention to detail and deep creativity, but they lean toward perfectionism and depression.
Phlegmatics—like the easy way. Phlegmatics are easy-going, dry-humor, calm types. They love objectively solving problems and keeping peace, but have a hard time making decisions and have trouble being motivated.
Did you find yourself in one or two of those types? (If you want to study the personality types more in depth, the information in this chapter came from Florence Littauer’s book, Personalities in Power, used with permission.) I can’t tell you how much it helped me and my marriage to realize that my husband and I didn’t have to figure out whose reactions were right and whose were wrong. We were both acting according to the personalities we were given by God.
That’s not to say we’re excused to just act in whatever way comes naturally to us. Like I said, each type has its strengths and weaknesses, and each needs the tempering of the Holy Spirit to be balanced.
That being said, though, it was such a relief to find out that these strong emotional feelings I have in response to my health condition are totally normal for my personality type. I wasn’t falling off the deep end or losing my mind, and you aren’t either!
Let’s go more in depth on each of those four types, including how they tend to react to stress.
A Sanguine’s emotional needs are people related: attention, affection, approval and acceptance. They like to be optimistic and bubbly, and get depressed when life is not fun and no one seems to love them.
Sanguine’s reaction to stress: leave the scene, go shopping, find a fun group, create excuses, blame others.
A Choleric’s emotional needs are appreciation for accomplishments, credit for ability, and a sense of obedience. They like to achieve much, and get depressed when life is out of control and people won’t do things their way.
Choleric’s reaction to stress: tighten control, work harder, exercise more, get rid of offender.
A Melancholy’s emotional needs are space, silence, sensitivity, support and a sense of stability. They like to analyze, organize, and set long-range goals, and get depressed when life is out of order or standards aren’t met and no one seems to care.
Melancholy’s reaction to stress: withdraws, gets lost in a book, becomes depressed, gives up, recounts the problems.
A Phlegmatic’s emotional needs are a sense of respect, feeling of worth, understanding, emotional support and harmony. They are loyal, and get depressed when there is conflict, no one wants to help, or the buck stops with them.
Phlegmatic’s reaction to stress: hide from it, watch TV, eat.
I am a choleric with a little bit of sanguine and melancholy thrown into the mix, and zilcho in the phlegmatic department. I have lists and charts and whenever I digress health-wise I research more and fight harder and sometimes make myself worse, but I don’t care because I have to be doing something even if it’s the wrong thing! Being a choleric explains why I would rather have faced the risks of brain surgery than just live with my condition for life (which is probably one of the reasons God is not allowing me to have brain surgery, because it’s supposed to be about Him and His strength not about me and mine).
My husband is a phlegmatic with some melancholy, and I’m pretty sure nothing in the sanguine and choleric categories. He’s a wonderful listener, a fantastic helper, and great problem-solver, but when it comes to crisis, he just doesn’t react in any way that makes sense to me. His emotions don’t rise to the surface, he doesn’t attack the problem. Oh, he’ll analyze it with me for hours, but the information doesn’t motivate him to do anything.
This is incomprehensible to me, and I used to translate it to mean he didn’t really care, because if he cared, he would respond the way I do (of course, right?). Now, having learned the above, I know it is just his personality and has nothing to do with how much or how little he cares about me.
That’s why this chapter is in this book, because all of us assume people act and react for the same reasons we do, and we translate their actions to mean what they would mean if coming from us. This is a bad idea. It leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.
One of the last things you want is to be on your way to the hospital, annoyed with everyone you love because of the weird ways they’re reacting to this crisis!
Now that I know people react to stress differently, I can give grace to those who act in a way that feels unloving or uncaring to me. Sometimes it is because they care very much that they are acting as they do; it’s their way of coping and I should not expect them to jump over to my personality type just because that’s what makes sense to me.
It also shows me that I need God’s help to not just give my personality free reign, thinking my way is the best way. I need the Holy Spirit to temper my actions and reactions so I might please God in all I do, and so I can live well with others.
All of us need to give grace, to others and ourselves. We need to know the truth about ourselves, because the truth will set us free. And we need to pray for help from God, who is above our personalities and can help us rise above as well.
Maybe then we can get a little less frustrated with others (and ourselves) and not take personally what is really just personality.
This chapter is taken from the new release, You're Sick, They're Not: Relationship Help for Chronic Sufferers and Those Who Love Them. Click the title to order yours!