Keep in mind, that nobody is 100% any temperament. We all have aspects of all four in us, but we’ll tend more towards some than others. That doesn’t mean they’re solely like this, and depending on what the secondary temperament is, these traits will change. Paired with air, for example, choler becomes much more flexible, more easy going. Paired with earth, choler becomes harder, more set in stone. We’ll get into the combinations in a couple of weeks, but I wanted to put the reminder here because it’s easy to forget that this stuff, like everything, is not a set-in-stone science. We’re all different, have different combinations of things, different life experiences that bring them out, different socialisation patterns that make our behaviours different. It’s all in the nuance…
Fire as an element:
A flash in the pan, a slow-burn, the thick slow crawl of lava as it crawls down a hillside. A meteor, a lightning strike, a raging churning forest fire. Fire as an element is ferocious in its display. Place matter in front of it and it’ll burn through it on principle, because it can, because that’s what it does, the very purpose of its existence is to consume. But what comes after that consumption? Volcanic ash is fertile ground, the scorched earth rich with ash and minerals. Forest fires leave room for plants to sprout; some plants can only sprout after the seeds have been burned.
Let it get out of control, however, and it is all-consuming its ferocity: a supernova, blasting through forests without a back-thought, blasting through homes and collected memories with the flick of a wrist. And let’s not forget about man-made fire: an abomination, really, in its ability to decimate, melt structures, leave a crater in the earth and our collective history. Our world’s collective shell-shock for the atrocities we can commit with fire rattles through us and serves as a warning: never again. Fire out of control is a horror because it doesn’t just destroy, it decimates. It melts skin from bone and building from foundation and is the alchemical force that renders substances unrecognisable from their original form: something we want in small quantities but on a massive scale is abhorrent.
Transmutation: it’s the fire in alchemy that turns lead into gold; it is the holy fire that purifies, and it is fire that transforms: dough into bread, house into home, lead into gold, lump of rock into liveable planet, affection into passion. A fire in the hearth heats water, bakes bread, warms a house, is the light around which we gather at the dead of winter. It is fire at the center of the earth and fire at the center of our solar system. Without it, life as we know it would not exist. It is that burning passion that drives all life forwards, the fire of will; the fire in the drumbeat of the heart, rapping out the rhythm of life with each ferocious beat.
Fire in the personality:
Simple laws of entropy: that which is moving keeps moving. That archetype of this straight-shooting, on-a-mission type of forwards movement has to manifest somewhere, and it does so in fire. Where others spend time researching, make sure that all the pieces are in place before embarking on something new, cholerics start first and figure it out later. A perfect example of this: a friend of mine opened a restaurant a few years ago. The inside of the restaurant was ready to go, though the rest wasn’t quite finished, so he opened. A storm hit on his third night, and he spent hours up on the roof patching holes, while people ate inside, surrounded by buckets. Yes, he opened before fully ready, but he made it work anyway. This character trait has to do with the innate confidence that cholerics have in their own abilities. Melancholics tend towards sorting out all the details beforehand so that the only unknown variable is their own ability to complete the task at hand; cholerics tend to launch in quicker because they are confident that they can turn all that fire onto problems that emerge, and get through them with sheer grit and will if they have to. Where the melancholic says ‘if I plan this out well enough, it’ll happen’, the choleric says ‘I will MAKE this happen’.
Those traits which are coveted by society: moving forwards quickly, perfect focus, steady burning energy, drive, they all fall under the choleric umbrella. For this reason, many of us at a young age, in learning that this behaviour is a societal ideal, start pretending. Our value in society is determined by how productive we are, and we all want to be valuable. There’s no model of value for other types of behaviour (imagine, for example, if we valued people based on how many ideas they came up with, or how well they connected with other people, instead of just their achievements)— we have these coveted choleric traits, and then we have ourselves, and often, a wide gap between the two. So many of us spend our lives, and vast amounts of energy trying to change ourselves to be more: more focused, more driven, more efficient, more productive. We come up short, and try harder, and are often completely exhausted as a result. You’ll see a lot of people who come across, at least at first, as cholerics, but its good to look deeper: how do they respond to conflict— does it energise them or do they need to summon resources to do it? Are they exhausted? A primary choleric rarely gets truly exhausted. Usually, they’ll be tired, they might need a few days or a week to recover from something, but rarely do you see a choleric who is completely and totally burned out, and if it happens it’s usually after a very long time of continuous and stressful work. But usually, it’s just not in their nature: they exist to move forwards, and so if you put more fuel in front of them, they’ll find themselves energised again.
Cholerics move forward facing everything in their path with a passion, bravery and intensity that ignites the world around them. They thrive on challenge and are at their most comfortable when they meet a bit of resistance. When they meet it, they get to summon that inner fire to push through it, and it is when they feel this fire that they feel the most alive. These are the people who, if you want to encourage them to do something, rise to the occasion when told ‘well it’s probably going to be really difficult, you might not be up for it’. They will, on hearing about something someone else has done, think ‘I’m going to do that too, but better!’ because they thrive on competition.
By ‘competition’ I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way. It can be a Conan-the-barbarian type of ‘crush your enemies’ competition, but it can also be incredibly healthy. I think of competition as a way to help elevate a field: seeing one person do something well, the choleric will strive to do better the next time, and another choleric will try to do better than that, and so on. I think the difference between ‘healthy’ competition and ‘crush your enemies’ competition lies in the focus: it can be a tool for refinement, where there’s no actual winner but everyone gets better because of the overall atmosphere, or, it can be something one uses to hurt and belittle others. I think the difference lies in how we value ourselves and our achievements, and how we treat those we are in ‘competition’ with. You’ll see healthy competition at the end of an important sports game, say, the world cup final, where the losing team shakes the hand of the winning team, hugs are often exchanged, amid triumph and tears. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking thing to watch, because everyone has given their all, and yet one team did do better than the other, but at no point does the winning team throw their hands up on their foreheads in an L-shape shouting ‘LOOSEERRRRR’ to the other team, nor are most competitors under any illusions that their time at the top is permanent. At the same time, you can see over the course of time, how this competition makes the field as a whole progress. Look at gymnastics: 100 years ago gymnasts weren’t nearly as skilled as they are today. Every year, the things gymnasts as a whole do become even more mind-blowing, because the competition keeps them striving to do better. The choleric might not necessarily be focused on the bigger-time-picture (unlike the melancholic, for example, who is often operating from a longer-time-scale perspective*), on the progression of the field as a whole, but that is the end result of their actions. Cholerics in society keep us moving forwards.
I think that the concept of refinement is a really important thing for cholerics. Transmutation. That hearth of contained fire can turn dough to bread, lead to gold, and at their most actualised, you’ll find cholerics applying this energy to themselves in the form of a discipline, especially the martial arts. Sending naturally aggressive people to learn to fight seems counter-intuitive on the surface, but martial arts, according to my choleric martial artist husband, is not a lesson in fighting, but a long lesson in losing. He says, “Every year that you study you learn how much further you have to go, how little you actually know. Furthermore, like the samurai who seeks an honourable death, or the spartan who wants to die in battle, studying martial arts takes that ferocity, that fight, and turns it into a constant battle for discipline; a tool for refinement of the self.” This, in a way, provides that ‘hearth-like structure’: something stable and solid and humbling on a daily basis. I do think that this can apply to other physical disciplines too, though, especially those in which there is both an element of competition and of loss.
Cholerics do not do very well with being still for long periods of time, and often need a lot of physical activity, as well as to be progressing towards things. Holding a choleric back from their course, stopping them moving when they feel they need to move forwards, they start to self-combust from within. A choleric, ready to go, stands by the front door rattling her keys while everyone else gets ready. It’s deeper than impatience: it’s that they have started on a course and they are being held back. I know a choleric (*cough* not me *cough*) who walked home, 6 miles, from a party, at 1am, simply because nobody else was ready to go and she was. I know another choleric who was told to hold off for a couple of weeks on starting a project that he’d already started and he bounced between depression, anger and listlessness for the entire fortnight until he was set loose on it. And that’s really what it is— a setting loose. Picture a cheetah with its prey in sight, as it bends its legs to launch itself forwards, and then someone slaps a leash on it so that it can’t release all that energy. It has to go somewhere and does so in tension and emotional lability.
Yes, cholerics can be combative. They love a challenge and to push forwards against resistance. To those who are not choleric, this constant pushing can feel aggressive. Watch cholerics interact with other cholerics: choleric men, especially, upon meeting other choleric men, will naturally push each other, almost as if they are testing the waters: a nudge here, a push back, another push back, and then, satisfied, the two will settle down and get along well. It’s not a machismo thing— these aren’t like extras from Jersey shore waving their pecs around shouting ‘WHATS UP BRO’— it’s more of an energetic thing. I think this is the least understood part about cholerics. It’s not [usually] personal, it’s just that they are at their most comfortable when meeting resistance, as if the resistance gives their lives structure. Like fire itself, they need fuel to burn through, and to feel the exhilaration of meeting challenges. When a project is done and they have nothing left to do, a moment of listlessness will happen, where they feel their foundations slipping. No goal? What do I exist for if not to move towards a goal? Who am I if I’m not moving forwards? The best way for them to get through this is to find something they love to replenish their energy and relax.
[Balanced] cholerics are really good at relaxing. It’s an interesting thing because you’d assume that they would want to work themselves to death, but unless they’re super stressed (or out of balance), they are phenomenal relaxers. It might be because they are so good at being fully *on*, that they can switch *off* when necessary too. When someone isn’t a primary choleric but feels like they should be, they often overcompensate for the fear of not being driven enough, by not allowing themselves to be still or to take rest time. Cholerics I know, when finished with a project, will take time: my husband plays video games, a close friend will spend a weekend in a hammock reading; another will go and chill in some hot springs; another spends an hour or so every afternoon napping in the sun in his back yard (ah, Southern California). If out of balance, they will start launching themselves into new products immediately. This burning, combustible energy, is much like a fire in real life: with a steady supply of fuel and oxygen and a nice hearth to contain itself in, it will burn steadily, warming everything it comes close to. A fire with too much fuel, too much air, not enough support, will burn out of control, consuming the world around it at a more and more rapid pace, until it exists solely as smoke or steam, as arrow and target, as fire and fuel, consuming endlessly. Contained, however, grounded by the hearth, they burn steadily and healthily. When they start to get out of balance in this way, it tends to affect all areas of their life, and they start on that road towards burnout.
Societally, the choleric temperament is what we think of as typically ‘masculine’: it can be difficult to be a choleric woman in our society (it’s also very difficult to *not* be a choleric man in our society). While men are often raised with this ideal of being forceful, driven, and in control; women are raised with the opposite: be compassionate, loving, nurturing, passive. Our value as humans seems to, come from whether we’ll be a good productive worker (male) and good mothers (female). For women who are driven, focused, and like specifics (instead of general feelings about things), this can create a massive hole of self-loathing and feeling not-good-enough. The fact of the matter is that a woman who is driven and goal-oriented isn’t broken, she’s just more choleric. Similarly, a man who is gentle and emotional isn’t broken, he’s just NOT choleric. This dynamic often comes out between non-choleric and choleric friends, and in female friendships where empathy is assumed to be a given. Where some people discuss their problems or feelings as a means of self-expression, cholerics are incredibly solution oriented. Empathy isn’t the choleric’s first inclination (though they can definitely learn and adapt), and this is the cause of a lot of hurt on both sides: the non-choleric friend is hurt that the choleric is offering solutions instead of simply offering support; the choleric feels hurt that they’re thought of as uncaring when they care deeply. To make matters worse, because they appear tough on the surface, it is often assumed that they can take serious criticism. Cholerics enjoy critique, advice, things that help them move better towards their goals. They, like most people, do not enjoy a carelessly thrown out character critique, especially when its of something that is so inherent to their nature, and it can wound them deeply.
Call the choleric friend when you need help figuring out a solution to a problem. If you are simply looking for comfort, empathy and a listening ear, it’s worth mentioning this beforehand so that there isn’t misunderstanding— giving them specifics on things that would make you feel better can be really helpful. Something like ‘I usually appreciate the advice you give me but today I really just need someone to listen, so that I don’t feel alone.’ Call your choleric friend for a post-mortem after a failed job interview, to go over it and figure out where you could make changes for next time. Call the choleric friend when you’ve had something fall through and need help putting together a plan. Call the choleric friend when you want help moving, because they will show up and work straight through until its done. Cholerics can be really misunderstood when it comes to friendship because they’re so inclined to action. But, they show their love in different ways: look at what *they* value and see if that’s something they share with you. Usually, it’s time. A busy choleric friend who is focused on her business and works most of the time? If she takes time to call, hang out with you, spend time with you, you can guarantee that you’re important.
The fire in the hearth that warms a house from the inside, and the fire at the center of our solar system, is the same fire that burns bright in a fire person. Don’t worry, it burns in everyone, without exception, but in the fire person it hovers on the edge of blinding, consuming, driving them forwards often without them even realising WHY, just this need to do, to be, to achieve. Yes, cholerics can come across as assholes sometimes, but they can also be intensely passionate, driven, protective, fierce. They will guard those close to them with a ferocity that burns, they will pursue their dreams with passion and confidence, and wake up in the mornings raring to go. Yes, they’ll spout their opinions often. Yes, they need to be doing something, a project, always, or they will languish. But the flipside to that is that they have energy to spare, and should you be lucky enough to be swept along on the journey with them, the passion is contagious, the light in their eyes casting a glow that in turn lights the rest of us, the burning embers at the core of them that lights them from within and casts that warmth and light on anyone who is lucky enough to be close by.
-The in balance choleric is enthusiastic and driven. Inspiring to those around them, and generally helping to move projects forward.
-Action driven, a balanced choleric will not hold back on starting new projects!
-Incredibly encouraging, if you take an idea to them they’ll help you run with it, provide feedback and ideas to help make it better.
-Expressive, balanced cholerics will tell you how they feel and you’ll always know where you stand with them.
-Passionate. A choleric who loves you will love you passionately, defend you to the ends of the earth, and have your back for anything.
-If one plan doesn’t work they have no problem discarding it and finding a new one— the goal is the most important thing, not staying attached to previous plans that might not be working.
Out of balance:
-Will become extremely combative in arguments.
-Can be incredibly bossy.
-And selfish to the point of being hurtful.
-The need to be doing something can get out of control, like a fire burning too brightly, instead of taking necessary down-time in between projects, the imbalanced choleric will constantly be working towards bigger and bigger things, tell you just how much they’re doing, and how much more they want to do.
-Can become quite myopic in world view.
What to know if you are a choleric:
-Understand that not everyone in the world is like you: that is not everyone can focus for as long, work for as long, be as quick, and driven, and focused.
-Not everyone has your innate confidence.
-Empathy is a skill that can be cultivated, and will benefit you greatly when it comes to friendship and family. In cultivating it, you’ll find people are actually more willing to listen to your advice when they feel heard and understood first.
-Try to cultivate a discipline to keep you grounded, and to take rest in between projects.
-Not everybody loves unsolicited advice; though some people definitely do! Try to save said advice for those who enjoy it.
What to know if you have a choleric in your life:
-Its not personal. Repeat this to yourself a few times, and again when they hang up on you with an ‘I gotta take this call’ or don’t hear you ask them questions when they’re working. It’s not personal when they give you criticism on your work that took you hours to do, and its not personal when they tell you no.
-If you want them to see your point of view on something, pose them a series of questions instead of providing them with a point of view that is counter to their own— the second they hear something they disagree with in the slightest, they’ll feel it as an argument. Instead, questions allow them to explore topics without raising their innate need to resist, and they then feel like they’ve reached new conclusions on their own.
-Call your choleric friend when you need a post-mortem of a difficult situation, or to figure out how to do better at something next time. If you’re looking for a listening ear and empathy, it’s worth maybe suggesting this beforehand: cholerics are perfectly capable of listening and giving comfort but since their first inclination is to problem solve, they might need a gentle reminder first.
-Cholerics need specifics. Whether explaining how something has hurt your feelings, or giving them a herbal protocol, be as specific as possible or they will become frustrated.
*“The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject… And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them… Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced.” -Seneca, Natural Questions
*** Special thanks to Val Paul, temperament whisperer and thought-bouncing-board, for helping me sort through this one***