Identity, affectivity and the ABC's of human and spiritual formation (II)

Psychological and spiritual maturity, Cultivating humanity, Wenceslao Vial

ABC's for spiritual accompaniment
(2nd part)


In the first half of this article we set out the ABC’s of spiritual guidance, and focused on the identity that sustains a person. Let’s now look at that inner world that is so often agitated and prevents us from breathing calmly: the world of emotions or “affectivity”.

How can we put affectivity in harmony with personal identity? What are some fundamental elements?

We can be direct our attention towards helping others discovering their own temperament, which is good and desired by God, with its strengths and shortcomings. The temperament is that fraction of our personality that is most inherited, which conditions in part the way we are, but does not determine it. Synthetically, the temperaments are the following:

  • a) Melancholic: responsible, serious, with a great sense of duty and loyalty. Sensitive, with a tendency to perfectionism and scruples. Insecure, with feelings of guilt and susceptibility. He prefers solitude. Etymologically it comes from black bile (μέλας χολή). In a dictionary we read: "one who feels or is inclined to feel a sweet and moderate sadness". It also speaks of a cold and dry nature.
  • b) Phlegmatic: sympathetic, tolerant, constant and prudent; balanced, self-controlled and able to understand; sometimes indifferent and skeptical. He does not rush to make decisions, he is restrained. To slow, passive, uninterested. They are described as people with a tendency to act calmly and slowly, without moving out of place or being out of tune; slow or placid. They tend to be rational and not caught up in dreams.
  • c) Choleric: passionate, "hot-blooded". Easily enthused, intense and experienced. Irritable, with a tendency to anger without reason; little control of emotions and reactions. Self-confident, may be a despot or intolerant. Dante wrote, "Certain people are prone to anger because of their choleric constitution"; synonyms: angry, irascible.
  • d) Sanguine: a cheerful lively tone, able to overcome difficulties, to see the good side of things, tolerant, active, easily enthusiastic, but can be shallow and leave tasks early. They tend to be frivolous, voluble, impulsive and reckless.

Once you know your temperament, with its pros and cons, you can foster a desire to change. It is good to dwell on why I am, the way I am. There is no doubt that I have inherited something, but probably I have also managed it with some success and with some psychological wounds. Positive or negative experiences always leave their mark. It is important to know them, to integrate them in a Christian way. The positive ones, by reinforcing them; the negative ones... what can we do? One of the most important attitude is learning to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, knowing that this is not an emotion or feeling, but a choice. Remember that "to understand is to begin to change" and "to change is to begin to understand". Choosing to be forgiven by God and filling ourselves with His forgiveness is the way to choose to forgive others.

This is the beginning of a path that goes from temperament to character: when one knows one's own inherited way of being, it is easier to build good character with virtue. In every inherited temperament there are positive characteristics that incline one to face life in a certain way; this positive inclination is an important "natural resource" that God grants in the field of affectivity and that will be one of the great allies of the life project.

The positive aspect carries with it, at the same time, possible negative consequences. It is important not to focus on the negative, even if it has to be worked on regularly, since it easily jumps to the foreground. It is said that every inherited temperament has its most necessary virtue, in order to minimize the negative effects and encourage the good to unfold strongly, so as to achieve a good character. 

Character is the part of the way of being that is formed throughout one's life. It is made up of virtues, or habits acquired and developed by practice, as can be seen in an article (for now it’s only in Spanish) by Alexandre Havard, the author of From Temperament to Character.

Let us now look at the "gifts" the temperaments offer, as well as the negative traits they carry and the virtue or virtues that help to bring out their fullest potential:

  • a) Melancholic: orderly, constant, profound and capable of having ideas; of delayed and lasting activity, he finds it difficult to put into practice the idea that grips him. It brings depth, but there’s a need for boldness.
  • b) Phlegmatic: reflective, serene, balanced; is measured and seeks peace; tends to analyze processes; he has, like the melancholic, a delayed reactivity; and finds it difficult to dream big. He brings reflection, but needs magnanimity, and with it he will transform his dreams into reality.
  • c) Choleric: enterprising, energetic, knows what he wants and is self-confident; he is immediately reactive, and lasting it over time; he is action-oriented and inclined to do many things, but sometimes with little concern for others. They tend to rationalize. It gives great impetus. Needs to develop the virtue of humility.
  • d) Sanguine: he is spontaneous, cheerful, extroverted; of immediate reactivity like the choleric, but it’s not lasting or stable; lives from his relationships with people, finds it difficult to finish his projects. He brings joyful passion. He needs perseverance, resistance, consistency, to finish things.

On the basis of the best known personality it will be necessary to integrate the past, the present and the future: to abandon the past to the mercy of God, and to unite the present to the future. That is, to build the future by drawing experience from the past (for oneself and others), by trusting in divine Providence, by concentrating on the present of His love.

 All this is achieved by allowing oneself to be challenged by life. Reality is a place in which we pour out our being day by day and, therefore, it should be a place of "dialogue", to confront what we are: what people say and the events that happen where we are is where we "give back" a signal in response to our actions.

We must get used to dialogue with a Christian mentality and with a sense of vocation. This is breathing at the full capacity, and allows the growth of affectivity. It is in contact with ordinary reality that we most sincerely put our senses and powers into play. It is a very good way to acquire the true sensibility of someone who believe in God: one achieves such a capacity for oxygenation that one lends oneself to other arterial blood, pure and clean.

Finally, we copy below three relational keys that "elevate the quality" of personal accompaniment from the psychological and spiritual point of view. They guarantee an open airway, good breathing and a heart maintains its energetic and joyful rhythm: the ABC's of medical example. They are practical elements that facilitate the diagnosis and the trust of the person and that reinforce the will, disposing it to want to undertake a path of happy growth according to the person’s identity:

  • a) Promoting a climate of trust and affection. Care for the "atmosphere" of the meeting or dialogue: speaking in a pleasant place, which is not oppressive for anyone, and at a good time. Taking a walk, having a drink or meeting in a park: what some call the "neutral tranquility of nature". Show with facts that you have time and a desire to help. Avoid dark or small or formal rooms, intermediate tables, offices of procedures. For the right atmosphere, you must always be attentive, not only in the "moment of the talk or the spiritual conversation". Friendship, which is cultivated in many ways, is the substrate of good accompaniment. This is where delicacy and empathy grow.
  • b) Maintaining an attitude of "listening". It is usually not very effective in the short or long term to say many things if the other person does not see them. The questions are along the lines of: how are you? how can I help you? is there anything else I could do for you? what would you like to do? and how would you like to be? That is to say, to talk about a Christian life project, where dreams, deepest desires and difficulties come to light.
  • c) Freedom. Christian life is born, grows and develops in an authentic way from a nucleus: the encounter between the freedom of man and the freedom of God. The person who helps another in his formation always finds the perennial newness of the interaction between the mystery of God and the mystery of man; he discovers that, even though he or she is offering experienced spiritual advice, the person will enter into unique paths by which he understands that God is calling him or her and that only by beginning to walk along them will his personal future be more clearly illuminated. Therefore, if your role is to accompany, open your eyes wide and let yourself be surprised, for what you will see will never happen again!

Gerard Jiménez
Wenceslao Vial
 August, 2020

Post a Comment

0 Comments