March 6, 2013

Boy Meets World Meets the Personalities

Last summer, I spent several weeks introducing Erik to all the wonders that are the seven seasons on Boy Meets World, and it was awesome! Boy Meets World is my all-time favorite show – I cried all the way through the seasons, and then cried for three days when it went off the air! (Okay, I admit it: I’m a bit of a crier…) But, the one thing I’d forgotten about was how evident the Personalities are in this show. Seriously, check out this breakdown:

Cory Matthews: Sanguine/Phlegmatic – loveable, devoted, eternal optimist, caring, wants to be loved by all, always seen as “the nice boy,” desperate to please, hates to disappoint, willing to look past obvious flaws to see the best in everybody.

Shawn Hunter: Melancholy/Phlegmatic – deep, sensitive (especially in later episodes), loyal to a fault, makes the most of his less than ideal circumstances and always has a plan, personable, dangerous/darker side, trust is of the utmost importance, protective.

Topanga Lawrence: Melancholy/Choleric – perfectionist, doubts her “too good to be true” relationship with Cory, not afraid to tell Cory and Shawn they’re being idiots, opinionated, leadership-oriented, focused on morality and always doing what is true to one’s self.

Eric Matthews: Sanguine/Phlegmatic – goofy, laid-back, heart of gold, always looking for the easy way out, focused on the present often to the detriment of his future.

Do you see it?? Crazy! Are there any other TV shows that demonstrate the Personalities? If so, please leave your suggestions in the comments section. I’d love to get in another good “case study” this coming summer! :)

February 13, 2013

Confessions of an Incurable Melancholy: Getting It Right

Hello, all!

Just wanted to drop a short note on here to celebrate my first day of answering a bzillion “How are you feeeeeling?” questions WITHOUT blowing a gasket! Hooray for me! :) Here is how most of these conversations went:

Sanguine Suzie: Hey, Laura! How are you feeeeling?

Melancholy Me: Well, as soon as I get my asthma back under control, we’ll be golden! (smile)

SS: Oh, no! Has it been bad?

MM: Not usually, but we had a fire alarm about a month ago and I breathed in a bunch of smoke. It’s been messed up ever since.

SS: Yuck!

MM: I know, I’m so over it. Ready to just get well and move on with more important things.

SS: Like having a baby!

MM: That is definitely on the top of the priority list.  (smile)

I had that same conversation – I kid you not – AT LEAST 15 times today. Had I not been so convicted about my attitude and rehearsed how to answer that one simple question, I’d have gone absolutely insane. As it was, I was able to give that one simple response to everyone I ran into and then move on about my business. Easy! And I wasn’t in a bad mood the rest of the day, either. I think I like this plan! 

I do realize I'm still not really answering anything about the pregnancy directly, but no one has seemed to mind today. So, we're just going to claim today as a victory and keep taking baby steps in the right direction. :)

The Personalities: An Overview

I need to apologize to my readers: I had written most of my “Confessions of an Incurable Melancholy” posts with the assumption that anyone who read them would understand The Personalities, which was mostly true when my only readers were family and close friends. However, now that more people are reading these posts, it seems like the perfect time to give a brief overview of the Personalities for those who may not be familiar with them.

According to this theory, The Personalities consist of 4 distinct types: Popular Sanguines, Perfect Melancholies, Powerful Cholerics, and Peaceful Phlegmatics. (For simplicity’s sake, I will only use the main type title, but the ‘P’ descriptors do help us remember them as we learn.) All of us are a unique combination of these four types, but generally we are predominantly one more than the others with a strong secondary. For example, my type is mostly Melancholy with a strong Choleric streak. My husband is largely Phlegmatic, but has a Sanguine side, as well. Let’s take a look at some quick descriptions of how to recognize each type and what some of their main traits may be. (Remember, these are generalizations – not every Sanguine is going to display every trait listed within their description, and there are many more I have not given here.)

The easiest Personality to recognize is the Popular Sanguine – fun, bubbly, charismatic, and sometimes flighty, these “People-People” are generally characterized by a loud voice, loud clothing (lots of bright colors and patterns), open mouth (always talking), and an open life (no secrets here!). Everything about the Sanguine is fun-loving and wide open. They love people and assume that everyone loves them right back. One of my husband’s best friends is definitely Sanguine and recently told us, “Oh, everyone loves me!” For the most part, that statement is true. It’s hard not to love a Sanguine, though their tendency to be forgetful or child-like can be irritating. But then they’ll apologize and charm you right out of your frustration, making it difficult to stay mad at them.

The second easiest Personality to recognize is the Perfect Melancholy, mainly because they are the exact opposite of the Popular Sanguine. Where the Sanguine lives life loud and wide open, the Melancholy is known for his quiet voice (and tendency to mumble), quiet clothing (traditional, no loud patterns or colors combinations here), closed mouth (doesn’t talk much), and closed life (operates on a “need to know” basis). These “Detail-People” are perfectionists, tending to focus on the individual trees, instead of the forest as a whole, and can detect a flaw in a single leaf faster than anyone else. My radiologist father is a Perfect Melancholy, and because he catches such small details, he is definitely the one you want reading your x-rays and CT scans. However, when a Melancholy spots an imperfection in her life, she can become depressed. These individuals are generally very intelligent, highly artistic, but tend to be moody when life isn’t as perfect as they would like.

Powerful Cholerics are the third Personality type and are usually recognized by their “powerful” presence, “powerful” walk, and “powerful” body language. When a Choleric walks into a room, the whole energy of the room changes: it either becomes charged with anticipation and a knowing something big is going to happen, or the atmosphere becomes incredibly heavy and stressful, depending on whether or not the Choleric is living in his strengths or in his weaknesses. Cholerics walk, talk, and gesture with purpose and intensity, especially when they’re focused on something important to them, so they can come off as bossy and unyielding if crossed while they’re on a mission. My residents often notice these traits in me at the beginning of the year when we go over policies at our All Hall Meeting and during fire alarms when I’m running around, yelling to get everyone to get out, and then trying to find out what happened, drill sergeant style. These “Natural-Born Leaders” also make decisions very quickly and often on very little information, making them perfect for taking charge in a crisis.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Peaceful Phlegmatics, the “Natural-Born Peacemakers.” Personally, Phlegmatics are some of my favorite people – especially since my husband is one of them! When I’m freaking out about one of those bzillion things in life that goes wrong, Phlegmatics are the ones who can peel me off the ceiling and help me calm down. I’m still not sure how they do it, but with their calming presence, calming voice, and relaxed body language, they simply exude peace. They are content with life and their place in it and are quite possibly the most patient people on the planet. One of my best friends and her now husband, another of my good friends, dated long distance for two years and were engaged – also long distance – for another year before finally getting married and moving to the same state. Because both of them were Phlegmatics, they were fine with the drawn-out courtship and were willing to wait for what they knew was God’s best for them. The trouble for Phlegmatics comes in that they can appear disinterested or unenthusiastic to the more expressive Personalities. Generally, Phlegmatics have to be identified by process of elimination. While the other types are overtly something – loud, quiet, strong – the Phlegmatic notes a distinct lack of anything obvious. They are the chameleons of the Personality world, able to fit in with any crowd and assume any trait as needed for the given situation. If you’re ever not sure what type someone may be, or they seem to be ALL of the other three, they’re probably Phlegmatic.

While these descriptions may help some of my readers understand the basics of The Personalities, they are by no means exhaustive. If you’re interested in learning more about The Personalities and how to use this information to communicate well with people of all types, check out Wired That Way by Marita Littauer or Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. I was trained in personality theory by these two women, and I highly recommend their materials.

One final, shameless plug: If you’re interested in having someone present The Personalities in an entertaining, informative, and interactive workshop, please let me know. I do these presentations periodically and would be happy to come talk with your Sunday School class, community group, or other event. Just let me know in the comments, if you’re interested!

I hope this post has been helpful for you in beginning to understand yourself and others. Keep posted for more adventures in the land of The Personalities!

February 9, 2013

Confessions of an Incurable Melancholy: The Log in My Own Eye

Now that I’ve gotten that pregnancy rant out of my system, I realize it’s time to take a step back and take my own advice. If all these well-meaning people are Sanguines (some of them aren’t, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to generalize), and their emotional needs are attention, affection, approval, and affirmation, I’m not doing a thing to help them feel loved by avoiding them or being cold when they ask me probing personal questions. To me, their nosey questions feel overwhelming, but since they aren’t the ones who understand personalities, it’s my job to cater to their personality styles. (How many times have I told other people that? Oh, how I hate it when my own lectures come back to bite me in the butt…)

If I’m the one who is uncomfortable, it’s my job to speak up and educate others about my emotional needs – check. As long as an impersonal blog counts… Still need to work up the nerve to tell people in person… It is ALSO my job to take what I know about their personalities and adjust my approach to them. So, instead of giving them a brusk, borderline rude answer and the cold shoulder, I need to find a way to pay attention to them, acknowledge their interest, and kindly place boundaries where I can be comfortable without hurting their feelings. So much easier said than done…

For the sake of my figuring all this out, let’s role play. Here’s how this situation would go prior to my log-in-the-eye epiphany:

Sanguine Suzie: (merrily popping into my office while I’m trying to work toward a deadline) Hi, Laura! How are you feeeeling??

Melancholy Me: I’m here. (Continues typing without making eye contact.)

SS: Good! Have you decided on a doctor yet? I heard Dr. So&So is really good. My best friend’s cousin said it was the best birth she’d ever had.

MM: Not yet. (Continues typing without making eye contact. Beginning to fume internally.)

SS: Oh, well you know, you really need to make a decision here soon. That baby’s going to be here before you know it!

MM: Well, it better not come before I make this deadline. I have a ton of work still to do. (Typing, typing, typing, fuming, fuming, fuming.)

SS: Oh… well… I guess I’ll let you work then… Bye… (Slinks out the door not quite as merrily as she entered.)

Not nice, I know. Definitely not proud of how I’ve been acting, but I’ve been so caught up in how I’m feeling internally about this pregnancy that I haven’t really cared. Now that God has my attention, let’s see if I can find a way to try that interruption sequence in a more appropriate fashion…

SS: (merrily popping into my office while I’m trying to work toward a deadline) Hi, Laura! How are you feeeeling??

MM: (taking a deep breath and looking up from the computer) I’m fine. Is there something I can help you with?

SS: Oh, no, just wanted to say hi and see how you’re doing. Babies are so fun!

MM: I’m sure I’ll feel that way once this one arrives. Until then, I have a ton of work to do. I’m sorry to cut this short, but I really do have to get this stuff done.

SS: Yeah, sure, no problem. See you later! (Merrily bops out of the office and down the hall.)

Huh… I was more polite this time, but I was also more up front about my need to work, and miraculously – the conversation and interruption were SHORTER! How had I forgotten this wonderful fact about Sanguines? When I stop and give them my full attention (remember their emotional need for attention?), they say what they need to say and are fine when they bump into clearly stated boundaries. No spirit crushing necessary! When I try to ignore them in hopes they’ll go away, they try harder to get my attention and the whole process takes much longer. I need to remember this lesson!

Alright, Sanguines – your turn to chime in. What did you think about how I handled that second role playing scenario? Would you have been hurt by how I talked with you? Any suggestions for improvement?

Melancholies – How else could I have handled the interruption problem? How do YOU handle it when you’re interrupted?

Here’s to learning and growing together!

February 7, 2013

Confessions of an Incurable Melancholy: Ambushed by Good Intentions

Once we announced we were expecting our first baby, it started. Well-meaning women (and men, at times) would stop me in the hallway or pop in to my office and ask, in that sing-song voice I’ve come to despise, “Soooooo… How are you feeeeeling???” People who have not talked to me in years all of a sudden come out of the woodwork wanting to know all the personal details of my pregnancy. I’m almost dreading the day I begin actually showing because I know everyone will think my belly is public property and can by fondled at any moment they choose.

As a Melancholy/Choleric, I am generally comfortable staying mostly in the background, quietly running the show. For the most part, people leave me alone and just let me do my thing, which is great by me. But now, all of a sudden I’m on everyone’s radar. If I enter a building, every woman within a 50’ radius knows and comes running to see how I’m “feeeeeling,” and there is no sneaking quietly in and out of meetings. It’s like I have a flashing neon sign floating above my head at all times declaring, “Pregnant woman here! Stop what you’re doing and come talk to me!”

I don’t generally like being the center of attention anyway, so I am becoming increasingly frustrated and agitated by all the interest I’m suddenly receiving. All these lovely, outgoing people simply want to celebrate with me and love on me, but I interpret the constant attention as bombardment and bothering. After several weeks of trying to hide and avoid people as much as possible, I’ve finally figured out the problem:

As a Melancholy, my most important emotional needs are support, sensitivity, space, and silence. However, I work with a lot of Sanguine people, whose emotional needs are attention, affection, appreciation, and approval. So, when all these dear Sanguines are attacking and fawning over me, they believe they’re giving me what I need, which in their minds is the same thing they would want in my situation: attention and affection. However, the Golden Rule only goes so far, and definitely should not be applied when deciding how to best support and love on someone of a different personality type. Doing unto a Melancholy as you would do unto a Sanguine, just doesn’t work. The heart is in the right place, but the actions don’t translate well.

In order to best support me as a Melancholy, I need the people around me to give me space to be my introverted self, silence to process new information and still get my work done (SURPRISE! Work doesn’t stop just because I’m running to the bathroom every 15 minutes), support when I bring an issue to their attention, and sensitivity to the fact that all this is completely new and slightly overwhelming for me, which means I need even more space and silence to process the newness of it all – a completely foreign concept to most Sanguines who don’t tend to know what they’re thinking until they hear themselves say it out loud and NEED people around to help them process.  

The other piece of this puzzle is that while Sanguines want to tell everyone their exciting news and have a hard time keeping a secret, we Melancholies only want to share our innermost thoughts and secrets with our closest friends. Sanguines will talk to a fence post, but Melancholies have to establish a level of trust and respect with someone before they’re really allowed to see the messiness and excitement of our lives. I don’t mind talking about the baby or how I’m doing with my best friends or others who have been actively involved in my life before a baby entered the picture. When someone who has been solely an acquaintance and has shown little interest in my life up to this point, all of a sudden is asking a bzillion questions and wanting to know everything about the baby and my birthing preferences, I feel used. You didn’t care about me before, but you care about me now just because I’m pregnant? No, I don’t think so. Just because I’m having a baby doesn’t mean I’m going to trust everyone with the thoughts and experiences that are closest to my heart anymore than I used to. Please don’t expect me to share openly with you – and don’t be offended if I don’t – if you have not been an important part of my daily life before now.

I realize this post may come across as harsh, but my intent is mostly to help my well-meaning acquaintances and coworkers understand where I’m coming from, why I can seem withdrawn and anti-social, and what they can do to help me feel more comfortable in this new stage of life. I do believe most people are genuinely excited and innocently nosey, but if they really want to support us Melancholies well as we usher life into this world, they need to understand the our unique emotional needs and how to adjust their approach so we won’t feel assaulted by their good intentions.

I hope it helps!

Question for you, readers: Are there any other Melancholies out there who have felt similarly overwhelmed once everyone found out you were expecting? How did you handle it? Any tips would be much appreciated from the Melancholy population out there!

November 27, 2012

Whitewashed Tombs

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Matthew 23:25-28

“I just want it clean, okay?”

I slammed the used micro-fiber cloth into the laundry basket, frustrated with Erik for not understanding the importance of having a spotless house when our guests arrived.

“I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” he countered.

I growled under my breath as I stuffed yet another arm-full of half-used bottle and a stack of washcloths from the bathroom counter into the cabinet below. He doesn’t understand. It’s a HUGE deal. What will they think of me if they see our house like this? It’s a mess! I don’t want them to think I’m a horrible housekeeper—

Frozen with the washcloths halfway to their intended spot, I remembered Jesus’ lecturing the Pharisees calling them whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside, but rotten and decaying on the inside. He also said they were like cups that had only been washed on the outside – clean on the exterior, but full of nastiness on the inside. The point was getting them to clean up their hearts, not just put on a show of religiosity.

Washcloths still in hand, I realized I was no different than the Pharisees. I was running around, doing everything I could to look like I had the perfect, clean home, when in reality, I was just hiding the clutter in every available cupboard and closet, where it appeared ready to burst forth at any moment and reveal my hypocrisy.

For me, cleaning… ahem, cramming stuff away… was only whitewashing the problem: all those heart issues like lack of self-discipline, lack of self-control, laziness, pride, and selfishness are the real reasons I often resort to last minute closet-stuffing. I don’t want to spend the time and energy to sort and keep our house clean, and I tend to have this prideful notion that my time is better spent on more “important” things. Cleaning seems like a waste of precious time on a good day and beneath me on the worst. How arrogant can I get?!

Oh, dear…

The next time we have guests over, I either need to get over my pride and let them see the mess we really live in on a daily basis, or I need to get over my selfishness and laziness and go organize our junk ahead of time, instead of just stashing it out of sight at the last minute. Maybe I should post Matthew 23:25-28 on our bathroom mirror as a reminder!

Does anybody else have tricks for keeping yourself motivated to clean and organize your home, not just closet-cram when company comes? How do you keep your heart in the right place? 

November 13, 2012

Lessons from HIStory: Nehemiah & Me

Nothing irritates me more than people ignoring the rules just because I’m not there to enforce them for a while. Maybe that’s why Nehemiah 13 bothers me so much – it sounds like my life! In this chapter, Nehemiah writes about all the things that went wrong in Jerusalem when he returned to the courts of King Artaxerxes. Storerooms in the temple had been repurposed as housing for a priest’s friend (and Nehemiah’s personal thorn in the side), which meant there was no room for tithes, so no one was giving food or supplies to support the temple workers, forcing the Levites to return to farming instead of taking care of the temple. The people were marrying off their children to foreigners who didn’t follow God, and they had gone back to working on the Sabbath instead of honoring it as commanded.

I can sympathize with Nehemiah’s plight. When I leave town for a few days, I’m terrified of what I’ll find when I return. Inevitably, my students set off the fire alarm, roommate drama explodes, and several students are reported for visitation violations. In our apartment, dishes fill the sink and overflow onto the counters, FruitLoops are ground into the living room carpet, and the trash can is bursting at its seams. Then it takes weeks to get everything running smoothly again. Oy… What is it about my absence that leads everyone to think the rules and procedures no longer apply?!

How ticked must God be when we ignore His “rules” just because He isn’t physically here with us? Nehemiah was furious, but God’s heart must have been completely broken.
Why are we so faithless? How do we so easily fall out of those routines and standards God set in place for our own good? When I find myself in a tight spot, I lie to get out of trouble; I disregard the Sabbath when it feels like there’s just too much work to do; and I’ll fill my mind with garbage TV instead of spending time thinking about what I read in my devotions that morning.  

The next time I’m tempted to get frustrated with my husband or students when they forget the rules, I should remember that I treat God the same way on a regular basis. While I can sympathize with Nehemiah, I’m really more like the Israelites than I would like to admit.