What I Learned This Week: Having The Wisdom To Know The Difference

God, grant me
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr

In my counseling, sometimes people misunderstand what the difference is between their temperament, their character and their personality.  They try in vain to change their needs, thinking there is something wrong with them.  But you can’t change your temperament needs any more than you can change the fact that you need air to breathe.

A people person will never be happy doing tasks and vice versa. An introvert will never be happy acting like an extrovert.  Someone who needs alone time to think and regenerate will never be regenerated by staying around people all of the time.

However, when I teach people about their temperament, sometimes they think, “Well, I just am how I am and nothing will change that.”  However, that is not the truth, and I want to clarify that here.  You are more than your Temperament – you are also your character (learned behavior) and your personality (your mask).  Those things you CAN change.

Your Temperament is the biological needs that God put into your soul. These needs will never change.  They are just as real as your need to breathe, eat and sleep.  When you were a baby, you had these needs, before you had a chance to learn any behavior from anyone else.  Some babies cry the second their diaper is wet, others are serene and complacent with a soggy one. Some can sleep through a war movie, while others cry at any loud noise.  The same is true of your temperament needs.

Your Temperament has been defined as the raw materials with which God has made you.  It is how He uniquely designed you so you could complete your specific mission in the Kingdom of God.  There is nothing WRONG with your temperament, no matter what it is.  Some temperaments may present more challenges than others, some may have some internal conflicts, but God doesn’t make any mistakes.   He gave you EXACTLY what you needed to fulfill His calling on your life.  This design, and their inherent needs, will not be changed by anyone.

So you come out of the womb with these Temperament needs.  Then LIFE HAPPENS.  There are endless variables among the effects of care givers and physical environments, decisions made by strangers as well as family members, as well as other biological factors that affect your circumstances.

Maybe you are born to someone with a genetic predisposition to diabetes or addiction which affects you physically.  Maybe you lose a parent before you are old enough to know them, which changes how you are raised and by whom. Maybe one parent gets a new job and moves you and your family to somewhere far from your extended family, and the stress of that move causes marital problems between your parents, which in turn causes you stress.

From the moment you are born, you are reacting to your environment, your relationships and your biology.  You try different tactics to navigate life, protect yourself and meet your temperament needs.  You create LEARNED BEHAVIORS along the way, and THESE are the things you can change.

Even if your temperament makes you feel uncomfortable around large groups of people, you CAN learn to ADJUST your BEHAVIOR so it doesn’t drain you as much.  You can’t live in a hole in the ground, you have to socialize to some degree or another in order to make a living and live in this world. Not to mention, as a Christian, you are called to have contact with others in order to share Christ’s love, either with the unsaved so that they may be saved or with believers to encourage them.

What is the solution to doing things that are contrary to your Temperament? Learning behaviors that keep your Temperament needs met in a godly and balanced way on a continual basis. In this particular case, you can schedule yourself beforehand to spend an adequate amount of time alone to regenerate yourself.  Then you can socialize, or do whatever is outside of your temperament, for a short while without becoming drained, which leads to negative thinking and possibly inappropriate actions.

Your character is the sum of your Temperament PLUS your Learned Behavior.  Your Personality is the mask you wear to get your Temperament needs met.  If you want to be alone and someone is pestering you, you may decide to become sarcastic to make them go away.  If you need lots of people to like you, you may become the life of the party, the clown or the entertainer.  If you need control over people to get tasks completed, you may become a chameleon, changing into whoever you need to be to motivate others to help you accomplish your goals.  Whatever your Temperament need is, you will find a way to act to get those needs met.  Your Personality is another area that you CAN change.

So as you learn about your Temperament, remember that it is only the foundation of who you are.  You still have a layer of Learned Behavior stacked upon it, with the mask of your Personality topping it off.  If you are to fulfill God’s call on your life, and live a life filled with joy, peace and righteousness, you will have to learn to meet your Temperament needs in balanced and godly ways.

You will need to have the serenity to accept the Temperament that God gave you, but also the courage to change your Learned Behavior and Personality so that can keep your Temperament needs met.   Understanding this is the wisdom you need to de-stress your life and fulfill your purpose.

Your sister in Christ,