Read an Excerpt
Your Personality TreeWith suggestions for individual and group activities
By FLORENCE LITTAUER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1986 Florence Littauer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWere You Born Like This?
The question "Who am I?" has been around since Adam wondered what dust he'd come from and the Serpent told Ere to eat the fruit of the tree of life so her eyes would be opened and she'd know who she really was.
Throughout the centuries people have been searching for a sense of identity and a feeling of worth. As a nation we went through the pangs of new birth and the struggle to come out an independent personality. With liberty and justice for all, we attracted people from around the globe to a land where they would live happily ever after; but somehow in our dream of fairy* tale endings, we lost the sense of who we were as individuals. As we grew up and began to look at ourselves, we didn't like the confusion we saw. The sixties brought an unpopular war and the beginnings of a national sense of self-examination. Who are we and how did we get ourselves into these problems?
Sociologists named the seventies the Decade of Depression, a discouraging and defeated time when the ME generation realized that in spite of their quest to find themselves, to do their own thing, and to search for their inner consciousness on a higher plane, they still didn't know who in the world they were. Months of mystical meditation didn't seem to stir up a life-changing thought, peace marches had not produced peace, and the flower children had lost their petals. President Carter, looking downhearted himself, declared we were in a "national malaise" and that announcement depressed the rest of us.
As the eighties crept in we began to wonder if we ever would find ourselves and so we rushed out to sign up for courses in self-help, self-improvement, and self-actualization. We bought life-long memberships in health spas, held hands in sensitivity groups, and gyrated around gypsy gurus. Surely the ME generation who had dragged through the Decade of Depression deserved a break today; but in spite of exercise and bean sprouts, we kept getting older, the sensitivity sisters showed little sensitivity beyond themselves, and the gurus were packed up and deported, What if we never got a grip on ourselves? What if we couldn't create heaven on earth? Fear gripped us, phobias replaced depression as the nation's number one mental health problem, and the decade was dubbed the Age of Anxiety.
What about you and me? We may not have drowned in depression or worried through our weeks, yet we tend to pick up the malaise and insecurities of others. We may be certain of life everlasting, but do we know who we are today? As I have taught leadership classes, I have found that education, money, prestige or a big house do not insure a feeling of worth. Even though we may have memorized Law One, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," few of us seem to believe it.
Yet it is true: God does love us and he has created us for a purpose. As David wrote to God in Psalm 139, "When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (vv. 15–16, NIV).
Yes, God knows us and he wants us to understand ourselves—not to be worried, confused, or depressed. He has made each one of us as a unique individual, and he uses our talents, personalities and gifts for his good purpose.
In the Bible Joseph was intelligent, charming, well-dressed, and had a gift for interpreting dreams, yet his brothers were envious of his abilities and they sold him as a slave. Because Joseph believed that God had an ultimate plan for him, he was able to stay optimistic even in difficult times and people saw that "the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did" (Gen. 39:3, NIV).
Even when falsely accused and put in jail, Joseph kept his faith and behaved in such a manner that he rose to the prison's top position and cheered up those who were depressed. Later, those same personality traits that had disturbed his brothers were what found favor with Pharoah, and his gift of interpreting dreams saved the land. When his brothers came before him he wept, forgave them, and relieved their fears. He told them not to feel guilty because what they had meant for evil, God had turned into good.
God took Joseph's inborn traits, his personality and talents, and used him to save an entire nation and his own family.
Esther was an exceptionally beautiful Jewish woman who was both exiled and orphaned. King Xerxes chose her to become his queen without knowing her heritage. Because of her godly behavior she became a virtuous example to the other women and was dearly loved by her husband. When an order went out to kill all the Jews, she was used by God to persuade the king to change his mind. Her Uncle Mordecai stated wisely, "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14, NIV).
God used Esther, when she was willing and obedient, to save the exiled Jewish race and her own family also.
In the days of the New Testament when God was ready to evangelize the world, he needed someone who was a Jewish Christian, who spoke and wrote Greek, and who understood Roman law. He chose Paul who, while he had never taken any charm courses or self-improvement seminars, fit the job description. He was raised in a Jewish home, was educated as a Hebrew scholar, and was both a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. He spoke and wrote Greek, understood the classical intellect and had studied philosophy. Because the people of Tarsus had been cooperative with the conquering Pompey, he had granted them Roman citizenship, thus making Paul a citizen with an understanding of Latin plus a comprehension of Roman law, its government, and the military. All God had left to do was knock Paul to the ground, bring him face to face with Jesus, and convert him to Christ.
Paul might not be acceptable in the Christian pastorate today, but God saw a man for all seasons and he had a plan for his life.
When Winston Churchill was called to be Prime Minister of England as the European continent was falling prey to Hitler's greed, he proclaimed, "My entire life has been but a preparation for this very hour." On his eightieth birthday Churchill summed up his contribution to his country by saying, "It was the nation and the race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion's heart; I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar."
How about you? What has God called upon you to do? Do you know that God wants to use your personality, your background, your abilities, your gifts for his glory? He created you for such a time as this, but he wants you to know who you really are so that you will be a genuine and sincere person, not one hiding behind a mask of confusion.
You may ask, "Do I have to sign up for some course or move to Jerusalem?" No, just read on and enjoy discovering your true self by uncovering the roots of your family's Personality Tree.
During the Decade of Depression and Age of Anxiety I have been teaching people how to find themselves by using the strengths and weaknesses of the four basic personality patterns. Many have asked, "Were we born this way?" This question has had sociologists working feverishly to ferret out the answers. They have tried to show us that environment is more important than heredity, that we are born as little blank pages for Fate to write upon. We've been told that if you change a person's dwelling place or standard of living, or put money in his pocket, you will change him. In spite of millions of dollars spent in moving people into new buildings, the experiment has failed We are not all the same; God created each one of us as a unique individual, a blending from our parents whether we are observing hair and eye color or analyzing personality.
In 1979 Dr. Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr., started a study in Minnesota of "Twins Reared Apart." Since then researchers have examined thirty-eight identical and sixteen fraternal sets of twins reared apart. The tests measured the physical, psychological, and intellectual abilities. The results showed amazing similarities in choices of clothing, food, and names; not to mention parallels in medical, behavioral, and intelligence traits.
Dr. David Lykken, a research team member observes:
Much of what we think of as human individuality—temperament and pace and all the idiosyncrasies that make you different from your friends—may relate a lot more to your particular genetic individuality than we thought.... The capacity for happiness seems to be more strongly genetically wired in than I had thought.. Little Mary's sunny disposition may be part of her genetic makeup, enhanced by—but not the result of her adoring parents' care.
The new thinking on old truths is that we are born as unique individuals. If we come prepackaged with certain blendings of our parents' personalities, isn't it our duty to the Lord to be as true to our basic traits as we possibly can? Shouldn't it be our goal to find out who we really are and take off any masks or pretenses that we may have put on for either self-preservation or a desire to be like someone else?
Think back to your childhood, to how you felt about your parents, to how you related with your siblings, to how you reacted from the heart before you built walls of protection from the hurts of the world. Remember, you were made for such a time as this.
Were you meant to be a Sanguine? Were you a cheerful, bubbling, happy-go-lucky child? Did you avoid chores and somehow manage to find friends who were willing to bail you out? Did you have little buddies who wouldn't go anywhere without you and who thought everything you said was funny? Did you have one parent who was always trying to get you down to serious business or one who couldn't understand why you wouldn't practice the violin? Did you get good marks in everything but conduct and penmanship? Then you are a Sanguine whose chief aim in life is to have FUN.
Were you created to be a Choleric? Were you in control of the family by the time you were three years old? Did you tell your mother what you would wear and refuse to put on what she had in mind? Were you able to observe from a young age that adults were bigger but not necessarily brighter? Did you get your school work done faster than the others and then wonder what was wrong with them? Did you become captain of the teams and president of the clubs? Then you are a Choleric whose compelling desire in life is to have CONTROL.
Were you designed to be a Melancholy? Were you sensitive to your surroundings and easily moved to tears? Did you line up your toys in rows and go around shutting drawers that no one else seemed to notice were open? Did you do your homework on time and even enjoy research projects? Did you practice your piano piece until it was perfect, but not want to play in the recital? Did you feel sorry for "poor children" and want to support the underdog in any situation? Did you get discouraged when things didn't work out the way you had in mind and no one else seemed to care? Then you are a Melancholy whose hope is to someday have PERFECTION even though that may be an impossible dream.
Were you born to be a Phlegmatic? Were you passive in your playpen and understanding if your bottle was overdue? Did your mother brag that you were a good baby and never gave her any trouble? Did you like naps? Did you do your school work on time but not look for extra projects? Did you get nominated for vice-president but not really care whether you were elected? Did you try to keep everyone happy and avoid getting into trouble? Then you are a Phlegmatic whose desire is to have PEACE at any cost.
The concept of the four basic temperaments is so easy to understand and quick to grasp that even a child can learn it. Bryan Taylor from Temple, Texas, was ten years old when he heard me speak on the temperaments. He brought his friends home to listen to my Personality Plus tapes, and later he did a school science project based on his personal analysis of his fellow students. For his project, this Melancholy child made a chart entitled "Questions Regarding Human Behavior." Each child in his class was asked to answer the following:
Suppose a play were to be done at Meridith School. How would you want to be involved?
1. I would like to work backstage ________ Why? ________
2. I would like to be student director. ________ Why? ________
3. I would like to be cast in a leading role ________ Why? ________
4. I would not want to participate ________ Why? ________
The questionnaire he showed me had been filled out by a student who wanted the leading role because "It would be fun." From Bryan's tabulations there were eight Melancholies who wanted to work backstage, fifteen Cholerics who liked the idea of directing the others, ten Sanguines who all wanted to star, and three Phlegmatics who didn't care to get involved.
When I saw how simply Bryan had taken my hours of teaching and reduced them down to four simple questions any ten-year-old could answer, I was impressed. I then asked him if he had won an award for his efforts and he replied sadly, "I would have but they ran out of ribbons."
Often we can tell a child's natural temperament pattern from an early age.
My two grandsons came equipped with the same parents, Lauren and Randy, but with very different personalities. From the beginning little Randy, Jr., was Melancholy with some Choleric: neat, organized, and in-charge. When I walk in the front door Randy says, "Sit here, Grammie," and I do. He then brings me his second-grade school papers and shows me 100 percent in spelling including the word Hanukkah. As we sit seriously together, four-year-old Jonathan, Sanguine with some Choleric, runs over the top of the coffee table in his Superman costume and is not content until he has disrupted our conversation on spelling and has managed to get Randy depressed.
Last Christmas Aunt Marita gave them a hamster named Ginger. Each boy was constantly opening the cage to see if Ginger was still alive, and often they would lose interest in her monotonous trip round and round on the exercise wheel and forget to shut the gate. Ginger, being bright, adventurous and always hungry would run away and look for food. One day Lauren opened the trash compactor to drop in an empty cereal box and screamed when she saw little beady eyes looking up from the darkness. It was Ginger happily munching on stale crackers and missing death by a moment Had Lauren turned the key without looking, little Ginger would have been as flat as a fur mitten.
From then on each time Ginger was missing, the boys would go to the trash compactor and there she would be, bright-eyed and bingeing.
One night I called on the phone and Randy, Jr., said, "Have you heard the bad news? Ginger is dead." I could picture her flattened out among the boxes and cans, but Randy explained, "She died in her cage. I went to play with her and she was dead." He then delivered a fitting eulogy and gave me the details. In his Melancholy way he told me how he and his father had found a little box in the garage, lined it with paper towels, wrapped poor Ginger in tissue paper, taken the box to a far corner of the back yard and buried her. "We had a funeral," he explained. "We'll always remember poor dead Ginger."
I was close to tears over his mournful musings of the memory of the hamster. When little Jonathan got on the phone, I said, sadly, "I hear Ginger died."
He replied, "Yup, she's dead all right."
"Did you have a nice funeral for her?" I asked, giving him an opportunity to share his version of the tragedy.
"No, we didn't have any funeral; we just dumped her in an old box with clowns on it, stuck her in a hole in the ground, threw some dirt over her, and that's the end of Ginger."
"Will you get a new one?" I asked.
"Well, we might get another one, but if that one dies too then it's bye-bye hamsters!"
I had to laugh over his simple Sanguine dismissal of Ginger's death as just one more event in a busy day while his Melancholy brother was in mourning.
What fun it is to understand others and have an explanation for their behavior!
Our aim in studying the temperaments is to assess our basic strengths and realize that we are people of value and worth; to become aware of our weaknesses and set out to overcome them; to learn that just because other people are different doesn't make them wrong; and to accept the fact that since we can't change them, we might as well love them as they are.
What pressure it takes off of us when we realize that we are not responsible for the behavior of those other people. How liberating it is when we realize God created us as unique individuals and we don't have to conform to someone else's image.
As Pam Phillips wrote after listening to my tapes, "I have been amazed, thrilled and set free by your teaching."
The study of the temperaments is not a theology but a tool to understanding ourselves and learning to get along with others.
Excerpted from Your Personality Tree by FLORENCE LITTAUER Copyright © 1986 by Florence Littauer. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.