Have you ever wondered why you act the way you do? You respond to people and situations in your own unique way and secretly wonder if you are weird or different. But approximately one-fourth of the population responds in ways similar to you. Your personality is your own, but you have traits in common with those who have the same basic “temperament.” In this overview, I'll explain what the four basic temperaments are.
But you may wish to jump ahead. Click here to take our free temperament test. After you take the test, return to this page and the Main Temperament page to learn about your specific temperament.
Let's define a temperament.
Your temperament is a unique set of personality traits you were born with. They describe your most natural and instinctive behavior.
Hippocrates, a Greek physician called the “Father of Medicine,” observed four distinct temperaments. He called them Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, and Melancholy. Christian authors Tim LaHaye and Florence Littauer popularized them.
Many businesses use temperament tests to help employees interact, such as the DISC test. It helps those who work together better understand how to deal with the various personality types in the workplace.
I am thankful for the Greek temperament names and the naming systems used by other tests. But they don't mean much to me unless I study and commit them to memory. Fortunately, not all naming systems are difficult to use.
Gary Smalley and John Trent made a user-friendly breakthrough when they started using common animal names. The terms Otter, Lion, Golden Retriever, and Beaver are fairly self-evident. (Who doesn't know that a lion is the king of all beasts and clearly in charge?) This easy-to-learn terminology makes the study accessible to all, because simple is good.
Can I change my temperament?
Your basic temperament cannot be changed but it can be brought into balance by Christ living within you. Tim LaHaye's first book was called Spirit-Controlled Temperament. The Holy Spirit living within you helps you complement your temperament with the fruit of the Spirit.
With His help, you can overcome the weaknesses of your temperament and enhance your natural strengths. It's important to realize that the goal of studying the temperaments is not to pigeon-hole and label people. However, it's a great tool to help us recognize our strengths and weaknesses and strive for a Holy Spirit-transformed temperament.
Where does the Bible talk about temperaments?
Though the Bible does not refer to the four temperaments directly, they are part of the “image of God” in which mankind was created. The image of God includes such qualities as reason, personality, intellect, emotions, and the ability to relate to others. The Bible does, however, tells us a lot about God the Father's personality. We know He is...
- Strong, powerful, and authoritative, exercising might and dominion
- An awesome communicator, captivating and persuasive
- Merciful, compassionate, and loving
- Perfect, detailed, analytical, creative, aware of every jot and tittle
We see these qualities also in Jesus, the express image of the Father.
- Jesus was a strong, fearless, and bold leader, driven to right wrongs and do God’s will, full of vision for His Church.
- He was a “people-person,” outgoing, enthusiastic, attending dinner parties, meeting strangers well, being a wonderful storyteller and communicator.
- Our Lord was compassionate, gentle, sensitive to others, peaceful, steady, unshakable, calm, so that His disciples trusted Him.
- He lived a perfect life before God, did everything well, and knew every jot and tittle of the Scriptures. He was conscientious and zealous about knowing and fulfilling every detail written about Him.
What is remarkable about Jesus was that He manifested all four qualities equally. As humans, we are usually strong in two or three. It’s difficult to combine strength and compassion, persuasion and precision, but our Lord could. The more of these four behaviors we show in our lives, the more gifted and powerful a leader we become.
Why did God make different temperaments?
A group of people is having dinner. Each of the four temperaments is represented. During the meal, one person accidentally knocks his plate off the table. Somebody stands up, takes charge, and assigns people to get a rag, a broom, and a second plate of food. Another reaches over and comforts the person who spilled the food, saying, “Don’t feel bad. It could happen to anyone.” A third explains, “Now if you had kept the center of gravity of your plate two inches further forward, this would not have happened.” A fourth tells a hilarious story about how he spilled food all over himself in public and gets everybody laughing. What a team God has designed!!
The Lord gave you your temperament so you could work together with others as a team. You have strengths others don't have, and others have strengths you don't have. You need them, and they need you. By combining our strengths, we can accomplish more together than we can working alone. This is the principle of synergy, which is expressed in the body of Christ.
Let's briefly describe the four personalities.
- Cholerics are strong and powerful leaders—like Lions.
- Sanguines are outgoing and playful—like Otters.
- Phlegmatics are friendly and easy going—like Golden Retrievers.
- Melancholies are detail-oriented, technical, or artistic—like Beavers (the “engineers” of the animal world).
In the DISC test, for example, the D stands for Dominance, or Lion. The I stands for Influence, or Otter. The S stands for Steadiness, or Golden Retriever. The C stands for Conscientious, or Beaver.
Whatever you call them, these four temperaments are part of the image of God. They are distributed equally among mankind and observable in every culture.
Every person has strengths and weaknesses.
As the Holy Spirit comes into our lives in new birth, He accentuates our strengths and balances out our weaknesses. With His help, we do not go to the extremes we used to. Learn to rein yourself in when you go off on temperament excesses that are not well-received by others. For example…
- Lions tend to dominate and manipulate people.
- Otters love to talk constantly and often are not good listeners.
- Golden Retrievers like to go with the flow and may not voice what they think and feel.
- Beavers may share so many details they bore others.
Accepting ourselves and our mates as God made us.
God made us the way we are for a reason. While we can’t change our basic temperament type, we can learn to laugh at our natural tendencies. You can’t change your wife's or husband’s character traits. They are who God made them to be, so learn to love their strengths and help them balance out their weaknesses.
No person is purely a single temperament, such as only Lion or only Beaver, but is a unique blend of two or more. For example, there are Lion-Otters, Lion-Golden Retrievers, and Lion-Beavers. Though all are Lions, each blend has a different flavor. Your dominant temperament is blended with one or two secondary temperaments, and it’s the blend that makes each of us uniquely who we are.
Take the Free Temperament Test
Click here to take our free temperament test. After you take the test, visit the Main Temperament Page linked below to learn about your specific temperament.
Then, once you score your test, click on the page below to find out more. Be sure to take a look at the article on Temperament Blends.