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Georgia Shaffer

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Understanding our Differences

By Georgia Shaffer
Guest Columnist -- "What do you mean you just want to be left alone?" my best friend asked me. "I feel like you're withdrawing from all your friends. Things aren't easy for you right now. We want to help."

But my friend and I had two different perceptions of what "help" looked like. As an introvert I yearned for long stretches of time by myself to rest and renew. How could I explain this to my extroverted friend who was energized by people? She was convinced that I needed to be surrounded and entertained by friends to keep my spirits from sagging.

In order that our closest relationships help rather than hinder healing, we must realize we don't all grieve or heal the same way. Some of us like to be left alone. Others require lots of company. You may prefer to take charge of your problems while your best friend likes to allow things to work out on their own.

Each plant in my garden has distinctive preferences. My irises, for instance, like their feet to bathe in direct sunlight. Hostas, however, are happiest in the filtered sunlight under a tree or shrub. In order for my flowers to flourish, I need to provide the conditions that encourage healthy growth.

What do you or the people you care about need when going through difficult times? Although we are far too complex to give one pat answer, it is safe to assume that during adversity only those people with personalities similar to ours will have the same desires or preferences as we have.

The Popular Sanguines, like my best friend, are the outgoing, fun-loving, high-energy kind of people. Their basic desire in life is to have fun. They like attention, affection, and approval, which can be supplied with lots of visitors, flowers, cards, and calls.

The opposite of the Popular Sanguine is the Perfect Melancholy, which is my personality. We tend to be neat, meticulous, sensitive, and organized. While the extroverted Sanguine is recharged around people, the introverted Melancholy is energized by solitude. We enjoy silence and space to be alone with our thoughts and emotions. We desire a feeling of warmth and sensitivity in our relationships and are happiest with good doses of well-spaced company rather than a steady stream of guests.

The strong, dynamic, natural-born leader is referred to as the Powerful Choleric. Their basic desire is for control. They crave a sense of achievement and accomplishment, as well as appreciation for the challenges that they're facing. During troubling times, if they are able, they will work hard at gaining an upper hand on the problem. If that approach isn't successful, they will pour themselves into their jobs, start a new project, or exercise harder. When life gets stressful Cholerics like to be provided with choices, even if it is only choosing what they will eat or which movie to rent. This helps to restore a sense of control.

The Peaceful Phlegmatic is the easy-going, balanced person that everybody seems to like. Emotionally they prefer peace and quiet, and like the Melancholy they are recharged by silence and space. Respect and a feeling of worth for who they are, not what they have done, is also important to the Phlegmatic. During stressful times, it is not unusual to find the Phlegmatic spacing out in front of the TV, taking a nap, reading, or fishing.

Whatever our personality, we alleviate much of the tension in our relationships during adversity by giving ourselves permission to grieve in our own way and allowing others to grieve in their way.

We're familiar with the saying "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." However, my experience in gardening leads me to believe the grass is usually greenest when it is given what it needs-whether that be water, lime, nitrogen, or sunlight.

What do you prefer? Moments of light-hearted distraction in the midst of all the problems and pain you are facing? Quiet moments to be alone and sort through things? A chance to work more or exercise longer? Or maybe you would prefer the opportunity to withdraw from the reality of life and rest?

When adversity strikes, remember that our responses to tragedy are not the same. Like my best friend and I discovered, this understanding can be the difference between hurting and healing.

Georgia Shaffer: A Gift of Mourning GloriesOrder your copy of A Gift of Mourning Glories: Restoring Your Life after Loss

Psychologist Georgia Shaffer's Web Site

More from the Prayer and Counseling Channel on


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