Perfectionist. Critical. Ideological. Super-sensitive.
Does this describe someone close to you? Perhaps it’s someone you encounter at work, church, or neighborhood. Maybe it is a loved one or best friend? No matter in what capacity you cross paths with a melancholy, it can be quite an experience.
Perfectionism taken to the extreme can be a very negative influence that spews from the person onto everyone within “spewing” distance. Wanting things to be perfect isn’t a bad thing, but when it takes over one’s very existence it becomes a problem. Therein lies the challenge with the melancholy.
This temperament is the perfection seeker. Their inner-most desires circulate around things being just right: being on time, immaculate appearance, throwing the picture-perfect social event, and everyone around them being flawless. Doing things properly is a good thing, but when perfectionism becomes all-consuming it becomes unhealthy. This is the realm that many melancholy personalities exist in. Let’s look at how the unrealistic pursuit of perfection affects those around this personality.
Criticism. No one likes to be on the receiving end disapproval yet that is how many of us feel when around this personality. Due to their never-ending search for perfection most melancholies have extremely high standards. Standards are not bad (we should all have high standards), but to expect everyone to live perfection is unrealistic. That is the world many melancholies live in. Instead of realistically aiming for “proper” or a “job well done” they go overboard. Nothing suits them and that is when the criticism takes over! But, the crazy thing is that not only are they critical of others, they tend to be very hard on themselves.
One obvious way to survive a critical melancholy is to understand that it is more of a compulsion than a personal attack. I understand that can be hard, but when you have the ability to separate the “compulsion” from the “personal attack”, it helps YOU not obsess over something that is often out of your control.
I recently heard from a reader who encountered a similar situation at her church. A lady who served in an official capacity in the church became critical of one of the reader’s family members. It affected her entire family and relationships deteriorated. After an extended time, the reader attempted to heal the relationship, but her overtures of peace where not accepted. When she read a post I wrote about the perfectionist tendencies of the melancholy and their sometimes critical nature, she better understood what had happened and found some solace in the fractured relationship. Sometimes survival just means understanding people and finding peace in the midst.
Think Christmas card with me for a moment . . . one that portrays a magical holiday scene. Maybe the house is meticulously decorated with gently falling snowflakes adding that perfect touch. Maybe it’s a scene depicting a happy family enjoying a well organized gift-opening session. These are just a couple of examples of the life that scrolls through the perfection-seeking melancholy’s mind. When they anticipate life, events, family, etc., what they envision is rarely what actually takes place.
Take the Christmas scenes for example. The reality of a decorated house involving snow usually involves a few burned out lights, a strand of lights that gets loose from its hanger, and lawn decorations knocked over in the blizzard that just hit. Ugh! Or, instead of a delightfully organized gift-opening session the overly excited family raucously races to the present-laden tree and rips into the brightly wrapped treasures. Double ugh! When preconceived notions of perfection do not materialize it throws the melancholy visionary into a funk. Be patient with them if this state of mind settles in over a celebration or life event. Don’t attempt to gloss over it as if it doesn’t matter. If you can find a way to empathize and identify with the melancholy’s difficulty, you can help them move away from the missing perfection they desire, plus you will be less likely to fall victim to the negative dynamic created by their disappointment.
There is a lot of overlap with the super-sensitivity of the melancholy and his/her desire for perfection. Being driven toward a certain outcome takes it toll on the one so fervently seeking it. Each personality has something that brings them down if they cannot achieve it: for the sanguine they need fun and acceptance, for the choleric it is control and appreciation, for the phlegmatic it is peace. For the melancholy, it is perfection and sensitivity. When these elements become elusive, this “sensitive above the rest” person is greatly affected. This means that they get critical with themselves and others when their ideological visions fail. Along with that comes the super-sensitivity.
As far as surviving this vicious cycle that can invade the life of a melancholy and those around him or her, we need to work at showing our sensitive side. Sometimes it is just empathizing with them as mentioned above. No need to wallow with them or you may get yourself in a funk, but it’s important to validate their feelings. Let them know you are sorry for their trial. Don’t expect them to handle it like you do if your personality is different from theirs. Understand that it may take longer for this person to work through things. Don’t drive yourself crazy because they are different . . . they are, after all, melancholy and they feel things deeply. Don’t take it personally if you cannot work them out of a sad place as quickly as you’d like. Tuning into YOUR sensitive side is a great step in the right direction when it comes to surviving the melancholy in your life.
©2013 Shona Neff