This piece will get technical, so skip it if you aren’t interested in the minutiae of MBTI and temperament theory.
I’m mindful that when I pick people’s temperament I’m doing so in a subjective way based on my past experiences and the feel I have for people, in addition to more objective elements from a theoretical context.
Cholerics just feel hard and sharp to me. I can compare the feel of each new person to past examples I’ve collected (gotta catch em all!). I can identify patterns and key markers, and I can look at how they behave interpersonally and their overall direction in life.
Ambitious? High-energy? Disagreeable? Driven? The evidence will be there, and if it’s not, there’ll be a reason why it’s not.
I think this dual subjective/objective approach is good because it doesn’t rely entirely on how I feel about a person, but nor does it rely on disconnected data points. It has the strengths of both. It certainly has weaknesses too, but there’s no perfect alternative.
Any theory or system will have limitations. The only truly deadly limitation is to be oblivious to those limitations.
People who are hard to pick
I’ve encountered a number of people whose temperament is hard to pick.
The extreme cases are always the easiest: extreme cholerics, melancholics, sanguines and phlegmatics tend to be living caricatures of their type.
Cholerics in general are easiest to pick because of their disagreeableness and ambition or high self-regard.
Melancholics are probably the next easiest, though their tendency to try to fit in socially sometimes masks their melancholic aspect. Neuroticism is usually the key distinguishing feature of melancholics.
But the truly hard cases are the non-extreme versions of sanguine and phlegmatic temperament.
Sanguines are by nature more extroverted and phlegmatics are more introverted; the hard cases are therefore introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics.
Let’s get technical
In MBTI terms, cholerics are NT, melancholics NF, sanguines Se, and phlegmatics Si.
Note that cholerics and melancholics are defined by the combination of intuition (N) and Thinking or Feeling respectively, whereas sanguines and phlegmatics are defined by the orientation of their Sensing function – sanguines have extroverted Sensing and phlegmatics have introverted Sensing.
What that means is that while cholerics are always intuitive and Thinking, sanguines and phlegmatics can be Sensing and Thinking or Sensing and Feeling.
The functional stack
The standard MBTI labels like INFP immediately tell us a person’s top two functions, their dominant and auxiliary.
But in practice we all use four functions consciously, though with decreasing levels of ability and effort.
The label INFP tells us that this person has a dominant of Fi, and auxiliary of Ne. This means they must have a tertiary of Si and an inferior of Te.
In theory, at various stages of life and especially under pressure, people will resort to their tertiary and inferior functions.
So although an INFP is a melancholic (NF), under pressure they will draw more heavily on Si and Te as a complementary pair of functions.
Si and Te working together would resemble an STJ type… a phlegmatic, because of the introverted Sensing function.
We can therefore say that all NFPs have a secondary temperament of STJ, hence they are melancholic-phlegmatic.
We can extrapolate these tertiary and inferior pairs for all the MBTI types and thereby work out the “secondary temperaments”:
NTP->SFJ = Choleric-phlegmatic
NTJ->SFP = Choleric-sanguine
NFP->STJ = Melancholic-phlegmatic
NFJ->STP = Melancholic-sanguine
STP->NFJ = Sanguine-melancholic
SFP->NTJ = Sanguine-choleric
STJ->NFP = Phlegmatic-melancholic
SFJ->NTP = Phlegmatic-choleric
Bear in mind that these are just general rules of how the functions work together. Individuals might have developed or emphasised different combinations of functions.
For example, I’m an INFP, but due to peculiarities of my early life I learned to develop my Te and sometimes use it in conjunction with Ne while suppressing Fi.
In temperament terms I’m still clearly a Melancholic-phlegmatic, but the Ne-Te combination resembles a minor choleric influence that manifests as an internal pressure to get things done and achieve something.
Incidentally, combining two extroverted or two introverted functions like Ne-Te is considered unhealthy and unsustainable.
An ISTP friend once referred to himself as a “chameleon”, because he felt he could adapt his personality to changing circumstances with relative ease, though he noted that some adaptations were more taxing than others.
This same friend was difficult to type in temperament terms, as he appeared to lack extremes of any temperament.
Any STP should have NFJ as secondary temperament: Sanguine-melancholic.
But looking at the functional stack of an ISTP in particular, something unusual happens:
Ti – Se – Ni – Fe
The Se is what makes someone sanguine, but in an auxiliary position the Se is subordinate to the dominant Ti, and so its effect is muted.
Initially I would have been content to describe an ISTP as a Sanguine-melancholic. But the melancholic aspect is not as pronounced, and it can be confused by the strong influence of dominant Ti.
If we go only by the dominant function, then the ISTP shares Ti with the INTP – a choleric-phlegmatic – but without the Ne (extroverted intuition) that gives full flight to the INTP’s Ti.
The same pattern applies to ISFPs.
They ought to be simply sanguine-cholerics, since they have an NT combo in their tertiary/inferior positions.
But an ISFP has dominant Fi, a function that is shared by INFPs like me.
A sanguine-choleric ought to be the exact opposite of a melancholic-phlegmatic, yet I can relate to their Fi function.
The same pattern applies to ESxJs, because the overall extroversion of the E-types shifts Si into an auxiliary rather than dominant position.
ESFJs ought to be phlegmatic-choleric, and they share dominant Fe with ENFJs who are melancholic-sanguine.
ESTJs ought to be phlegmatic-melancholic, but they share dominant Te with ENTJs who are choleric-sanguine.
A more balanced temperament?
What this all suggests to me is that the introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics are the most balanced of the temperaments. Lacking strong intuition they are missing the edge or “enduring impressions” that both cholerics and melancholics possess, and which can be understood as a kind of unconscious processing of the world around us.
Sanguines live more in the present moment of sensory stimulation while phlegmatics live more in the past of memory and experience. Cholerics and melancholics live more in the abstract world created by the unconscious processing of their intuition.
But for introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics these sensory orientations are subordinate to their dominant judging functions.