What is a Choleric Temperament?

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April 1, 2019

Hippocrates, a Greek physician that lived from 460-370 BC, had a theory that connected the inner workings of the body to a person’s personality and behavior and lead to the development of the four temperament theory. He theorized that human feelings and behaviors were connected to an overload or depletion of body fluids that he called humors; later, many theorists took the ideas of the Four Temperament Theory and generalized it to characterize and identify four main personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. While modern medicine has not found a biological link to the theories of Hippocrates, theorists continue to use the language of his early understanding of temperament to describe different character traits of humans today.


Those who use these personality traits as a reference note that choleric temperament is the least occurring of all four temperaments. It’s also suggested that it is primarily a male temperament and that choleric females are extremely rare. A choleric temperament involves someone who is what can also be considered a go-getter. They are people who are energetic, confident, passionate, and motivated to succeed. As with any temperament or personality trait, the positives of these traits can (and do) come with a cost. Here’s a list of some of the positive attributes of people who have a choleric temperament:

  • Hustler
    • Choleric temperament individuals are goal-oriented and driven. They know what they want and work hard to get there.
  • Astute (Quick) Thinker
    • They are high-energy and able to make decisions quickly and effectively, because they are quick thinkers. They don’t need as much sleep but can produce amazing amounts of work and effort without seeming like much exertion.
  • Independent
    • They are self-sufficient and can take care of themselves, not needing others to support them in their endeavors. They have their own ideas and are not easily swayed by the thoughts and opinions of others.
  • Assertive
    • They are clear, and assertive in their boundaries with others and their communication in general. Some may see this as angry or rude, but they are generally short, to the point, and tactical in their responses because they are trying to use their time (and energy) wisely. Also, they genuinely know what they need and want quickly and work to get it in the best way possible.
  • Creative
    • Because of their quick thought process and amazing ability to create, they have an influx of ideas, seeming never to run out. They can be creative and insightful and can come up with amazing ideas, inventions, or creations quickly and engage in follow through just as fast.
  • Advocates
    • While assertive and self-sufficient, they can channel their assertiveness into helping others quickly, thus they can be advocates and stand up for others who do not or cannot stand up for themselves to make quality change.

Like any personality, there are many positive attributes that come with the sanguine temperament, but there are often some more negative characteristics that come with this as well. Here is a list of some of the things people with sanguine temperament may struggle with:

  • Impatient
    • Often, those with choleric temperament can struggle with patience and waiting for others to get on board with the intensity that they experience day to day. Also, they struggle with not seeing immediate results and can feel frustrated when things aren’t immediately easy for them.
  • Self-Centered
    • Because of their independence, choleric temperament-forward people tend to struggle with being self-involved and not seemingly interested in what’s happening with others, unless it benefits them.
  • Inattentive
    • Frequently bored because of their fast-paced thought process, it’s possible that choleric temperament individuals struggle with feeling distractible and inattentive because they are always thinking about the next best thing.
  • Bossy
    • Choleric temperament individuals know what they want and tell it like it is, and work to get what they want. Sometimes this can be off putting for others, as they struggle to develop a collaborative approach that makes others feel like an integral part of a process.
  • Struggle to Form Social Connections
    • Because of all the above-mentioned struggles, choleric temperament-forward people struggle to form solid social connections, because their priorities are elsewhere. They tend to prioritize success and completion of tasks over social connection and intimacy.
  • Lack of Empathy/Compassion
    • Similar to the points above, because they are so focused on their internal dialogue and their external input into achieving results, they struggle to connect with others on a deeper level in an effort to understand and respond in a way that shows compassion or warmth.

As mentioned before, there is no research based psychological or medical principle that discusses the four temperaments and their characteristics. But, it can be fun and interesting to look at what theorists have purposed to try to understand ourselves and our loved one. If you, or someone you know struggles with the negative aspects of choleric temperament as described above, a mental health professional can definitely work with you to provide insight into where some of these negative traits come from and how to overcome them to have a happier, more deeply connected life.

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Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events