When you’re working with the mind and people’s beliefs, which hypnotherapy does, you’re working with personalities. Personality is one of those fundamental things and no amount of hypnosis is going to change that. If you have, say, a sanguine personality, then you aren’t going to be able to change to a choleric temperament, even if you want to, or vice versa.
Each personality type has its strengths and each has its weaknesses. No one personality type is better than another, although some types are suited to certain jobs, roles and positions than others. Some people are purely one sort of personality type, while others are a mixture of two (or even more!), with the proportions of the types varying from individual to individual.
It’s unclear how people end up with their unique personality type. Numerous theories have been put forward in the past, with astrology, body chemistry (both using the old theory of humours and the new theory of brain chemistry), birth order and genetics all being suggested as playing a role. It’s all a bit of a mystery how we end up with our personalities and nobody really knows exactly what causes one person to have a phlegmatic temperament and another person to have a melancholic temperament. You can get siblings – twins, even – with totally different personality types from each other and from their parents, so who knows?
Different sets of labels have been put on the different types. The traditional labels were coined in the Middle Ages or in the Renaissance, and were based on the theory of the four humours. According to this theory (which isn’t held to these days – hormones are held responsible instead), the four basic humours or bodily fluids were blood, bile, black bile and phlegm. Whichever predominated in your body gave you your personality, giving us the names sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic respectively.
These names aren’t very appealing, so others have been coined. One popular one uses animals to symbolise the different types, such as a lion for the choleric personality, a beaver for the melancholic, an otter for the sanguine and a golden retriever for the phlegmatic. Another, which is more poetic and is closely linked with the old Four Humours theory, uses the four elements (earth, wind, water, fire) as labels. Under the four elements classification, sanguine corresponds to air, choleric to fire, melancholic to water and phlegmatic to earth.
Oddly enough, our language seems to support the use of the four elements to describe personalities – both the good and the bad side. We instinctively call melancholic people a wet mess or a puddle of emotion on their bad days, but reflective on their good days. Similarly, a sanguine person can be an airhead, or they can be bubbly and breezy. Phlegmatics are rock-solid or they are stubborn as bricks. Cholerics are hot-tempered and fiery, or they are ardent. So in this article, we’ll use these labels. Incidentally, these labels have nothing to do with the elements associated with star signs, or with yin and yang as used in traditional Chinese medicine and therapies based on this school of thought such as EFT (emotional freedom techniques).
Characteristics: Dominant, passionate, motivated, ambitious and task-oriented
Strengths: Fire personalities are great leaders and have a lot of enthusiasm. They often encourage other people and try to “fire them up” about an idea. They tend to be quite strong-willed, stronger than some of the other types.
Weaknesses: Fires tend to be aggressive and to lack sensitivity, and they can have problems with anger management. Fires are the types of personality most likely to become pushy bullies. If they are confronted with failure, this can extinguish them and plunge them into depression. They can also suffer from burnout.
Key sayings: “The buck stops here.” “Follow me.”
Characteristics: Loners, perfectionists, introspective, thoughtful, analytical and cautious.
Strengths: Waters are usually sensitive to the needs of others and have a lot of capacity for empathy. They tend to be creative and imaginative and pay a lot of attention to detail. They tend to be highly organised and like schedules. They are very safety-conscious.
Weaknesses: Waters are the most prone to anxiety (thanks to their obsession with details, their tight schedules and their perfectionism) and to depression, caused by a lack of boundaries and a tendency to be overwhelmed by the problems and feelings of others. In the past, “melancholic” was used to describe both depression and this personality type.
Key sayings. “Look before you leap.” “I understand how you feel.”
Characteristics: Outgoing, friendly, sociable, impulsive, fun-loving, a people-person, optimistic and lively.
Strengths: Airs have great people-skills and are very hospitable and outgoing – they’re not shy. They are superb at jobs that require a lot of contact with the public – receptionists, salespeople, speakers, etc. They tend to have a happy outlook on life that often rubs off on others.
Weaknesses: Airs can be very impulsive and get themselves into trouble by not being able to say no. They can also have problems with commitment to a project or a person, as they tend to lose interest with something if it isn’t fun. They can also have problems listening to others, as they love to talk.
Key sayings: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” “Are we having fun yet?” “Party, party, party!” (plus many other sayings – Airs love to talk!).
Characteristics: Easy-going, relaxed, calm, consistent, steady, low-energy.
Strengths: Earths are very good at keeping calm in stressful situations, and they have a lot of patience. They are reliable and loyal. They are also great peacemakers, as they can stay detached and mediate rather than getting involved and taking sides.
Weaknesses: Earths hate change and can be very stubborn about taking on new ideas or new ways of doing things. They also have a tendency towards laziness and lack of motivation. They often lack ambition.
Key proverb: “Slow and steady wins the race.” “Keep calm and carry on.” “Just chill out and relax!”