Tag Archives: humours

Don’t take this whole introversion thing too seriously

-David Mein

Do you think you might be melancholic? Does this description match you?

Melancholic people are often perceived as very (or overly) pondering and are both considerate and very cautious. They are organized and schedule oriented, often planning extensively. Melancholics can be highly creative in activities such as poetry, art, and invention  – and are sensitive to others. Because of this sensitivity and their thoughtfulness they can become preoccupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world and are susceptible to depression and moodiness. Often they are perfectionists. Their desire for perfection often results in a high degree of personal excellence but also causes them to be highly conscientious and difficult to relate to because others often cannot please them. They are self-reliant and independent, preferring to do things themselves to meet their standards. One negative part of being a melancholic is that they can get so involved in what they are doing they forget to think of other issues. Their caution enables them to prevent problems that the more impulsive sanguine runs into, but can also cause them to procrastinate and remain in the planning stage of a project for very long periods. Melancholics prefer to avoid much attention and prefer to remain in the background; they do, however, desire recognition for their many works of creativity.

How about phlegmatic?

The phlegmatic temperament is fundamentally relaxed and quiet, ranging from warmly attentive to lazily sluggish. Phlegmatics tend to be content with themselves and are kind. Phlegmatics are consistent, they can be relied upon to be steady and faithful friends. They are accepting and affectionate, making friends easily. They tend to be good diplomats because their tendency not to judge and affable nature makes reconciling differing groups easy for them. Phlegmatics prefer to observe and to think on the world around them while not getting involved. They may try to inspire others to do the things which they themselves think about doing. They may be shy and often prefer stability to uncertainty and change. Their fear of change (and of work) can make them susceptible to stagnation or laziness, or even stubbornness. They are consistent, relaxed, calm, rational, curious, and observant, qualities that make them good administrators. They can also be passive-aggressive.

These are descriptions of the melancholic and phlegmatic personality types taken from the Wikipedia article on the four temperaments. The other two are Sanguine and Choleric. I took these two temperaments because, according to the Wikipedia article, melancholic people are also known as “task-oriented introverts” and phlegmatic people are also called “people-oriented introverts.”

The idea of the four temperaments comes from the days when physicians thought humans were filled with four types of fluids or “humours.” The theory, of course, is no longer taken seriously by the scientific community, but you will find blogs and websites where people discuss these different personality types and identify with one or another. Personally, I think I have more of a melancholic personality.

There is nothing scientific about this particular system of categorizing personality types, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. We no longer believe that different personality types are the result of an imbalance of humours, but the theory of the four temperaments was an early attempt at explaining something we all intuitively understand; basically, that some people are like this and other people are like that. Science has gotten better at explaining why people are different, but the fact that we are different isn’t exactly news.

I brought up the four temperaments because I think there is too much talk about the science behind introversion and extroversion. I don’t mean to disparage the science behind it, but we are always learning new things, and two thousand years from now, the way we talk about the brain will no doubt sound just as silly as theories of humours sounds to us.

On the other hand, I do mean to disparage your understanding of the science (and by you, I mean anyone who isn’t an actual doctor or psychologist). I’ve read various articles, including the part of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, that discusses the science behind introversion, but that’s a far cry from the four years (or more?) it takes to get an actual degree in the field.

By saying all this, I don’t mean to imply that science knows nothing, or that it’s pointless to learn about a subject if you’re not going to become an expert in it, but rather that we shouldn’t take this whole “introvert” stuff too seriously. Of course, reading about the psychology behind introversion is interesting as a way of understanding more about ourselves and how we work. I know it’s also usually very liberating to find out that there’s nothing wrong with being quiet and that introversion is just another personality type.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the science changes and we still don’t know everything about how the mind works, but it’s never been a secret that people are simply different, and there’s nothing wrong with that.