PTypes Personality Types
PTypes Main Interests of the Personality Types Exuberant Type

Mercurial Personality Type

The interests of the Mercurial Personality Type include (Oldham, pg. 293):

  • insisting that others come along for the ride
  • yearning for experience
  • jumping into a new love or lifestyle with both feet
  • being ardent in your desire to connect with life and with other people
  • being able to endure changes in the emotional weather

Main Interests of the Mercurial Personality Type

  1. being involved in a romantic relationship

  2. being intensely attached in all your relationships

  3. showing what you feel; being emotionally active and reactive; putting your heart into everything

  4. being uninhibited, spontaneous, fun-loving and undaunted by risk

  5. being lively, creative, busy, and engaging; showing initiative and stirring others to activity

  6. being imaginative and curious; being willing to experience and experiment with other cultures, roles, and value systems and to follow new paths

  7. being skilled at distancing or distracting yourself from reality when it is painful or harsh

Characteristic Traits and Behaviors

Dr. John M. Oldham has defined the Mercurial personality style. The following seven characteristic traits and behaviors are listed in his The New Personality Self-Portrait.

  1. Romantic attachment. Mercurial individuals must always be deeply involved in a romantic relationship with one person.

  2. Intensity. They experience a passionate, focused attachment in all their relationships. Nothing that goes on between them and other people is trivial, nothing taken lightly.

  3. Heart. They show what they feel. They are emotionally active and reactive. Mercurial types put their hearts into everything.

  4. Unconstraint. They are uninhibited, spontaneous, fun-loving, and undaunted by risk.

  5. Activity. Energy marks the Mercurial style. These individuals are lively, creative, busy, and engaging. They show initiative and can stir others to activity.

  6. Open mind. They are imaginative and curious, willing to experience and experiment with other cultures, roles, and value systems and to follow new paths.

  7. Alternate states. People with Mercurial style are skilled at distancing or distracting themselves from reality when it is painful or harsh.

Source: Oldham, John M., and Lois B. Morris. The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love, and Act the Way You Do. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam, 1995.

Idealized Image

I did conceive of "character strengths and virtues" in a positive way as Martin Seligman does in his Positive Psychology, but now see them as images of perfection that inflate the idealized self theorized by Karen Horney.

Character Strengths and Virtues (what the Borderline type is proud of)

The "Character Strengths and Virtues" are attributes of the idealized self, or ego ideal. As "conditions of worth" they are idols.

  1. Decency; Earnestness; Thriftiness.
  2. Mercy, Forgiveness; Modesty, Naturalness.
  3. Hope, Cheerfulness, Joyfulness, Sociability.
  4. Sincerity, Straightforwardness; Honesty, Fairness.
  5. Tolerance, Liberalism, Open-mindedness.
  6. Generosity, Liberality; Courtesy, Graciousness, Equitableness; Altruism, Kindness; Affability, Friendliness.
  7. Idealism.
  8. Energy, Enthusiasm.
  9. Artistry, Inquisitiveness; Boldness, Spontaneity; Creativity, Humorousness.

This profile was derived from Cawley's 23 "Virtue Subclusters" in Michael J. Cawley III, James E. Martin, John A. Johnson (1999), A Virtues Approach to Personality.

Top Strengths*

"Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it"

"Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering"

"Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; Not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated"

"Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people"

"Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, "niceness"]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them

"Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about"

"Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; see the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes" (Peterson & Seligman, 29, 30).

* Selected from Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman, (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford: Oxford UP.


Mercurial: "2. Having the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, and thievishness attributed to the God Mercury in Roman mythology. 4. Being quick and changeable in character." (AHD)

Synonyms: "inconstant, fickle, capricious, unstable" (MW, 536)

"inconstant, fickle, capricious, mercurial, unstable mean lacking or showing lack of firmness or steadiness in purpose, attachment, or devotion. Inconstant, usually applied to persons though sometimes to things, suggests an inherent or constitutional tendency to change frequently; it commonly implies an incapacity for fixity or steadiness (as in one's affections, aspirations, or course) ... Fickle retains a hint of its basic implication of deceitfulness or treacherousness, but its basic implications of instability and unreliability are colored by the suggestion of an incapacity for being true, steadfast, or certain ... Capricious suggests qualities which manifest or seem to manifest a lack of guidance by a power (as law, authority, or reason) that tends to regularize movements or acts. When used in reference to persons, it suggests guidance by whim, mood, freak, or sudden impulse ... When used in reference to things, it implies an irregularity, an uncertainty, or a variableness that seems incompatible with the operation of law ... Mercurial is a synonym of the other words here discriminated only when it carries a strong implication of resemblance to the metal mercury and its fluctuations when subjected to an external influence. The word, however, also carries implications (as of swiftness, eloquence, cleverness, and volatility) derived from its earlier association with the god Mercury. Consequently when it applies to persons, their temperaments, or their natures, it usually suggests a pleasing even if baffling variability, an amazing succession of gifts capable of being displayed at will or at need, and such other qualities as sprightliness, restlessness, flashing wit, and elusive charm ... Unstable, which is applicable to persons as well as to things, implies a constitutional incapacity for remaining in a fixed position mentally or emotionally as well as physically; it suggests, therefore, such fluctuations in behavior as frequent and often unjustified changes in occupation or in residence or sudden and startling changes of faith or of interests ... " (431)

Analogous: "volatile, effervescent, buoyant, expansive, elastic, resilient: changeable, changeful, variable, protean, mutable: mobile, movable: clever, adroit, cunning, ingenious"

Antonyms: "saturnine" (536)


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1981, c.1969). William Morris, Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Merriam-Webster (1984). Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms: A Dictionary of Discriminated Synonyms with Antonyms and Analogous and Contrasted Words. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

Careers and Jobs for Mercurial type

Google Answers: selecting the right career for me

This list represents careers and jobs people of the Mercurial type tend to enjoy doing.

flight attendant
floral designer
real estate agent
child care provider
social worker
athletic coach
special events producer
teacher: preschool
teacher: elementary
emergency room nurse
occupational therapist
exercise physiologist
team trainer
travel sales
public relations specialist
labor relations mediator

Source: U.S. Department of Interior, Career Manager - ESFP.

Noteworthy examples of the Mercurial personality type

Many people (and not just those of the Mercurial personality type) have mercurial traits or behave in a mercurial manner. But the traits and behaviors of the Mercurial personality type are not so inflexible and maladaptive or the cause of such significant subjective distress or functional impairment as to constitute

Borderline Personality Disorder

The noteworthy examples of the Mercurial personality type are examples of a *type*, not of a disorder. It is my opinion that the ideal type which is described above is best characterized as mercurial, and that the Mercurial personality type represents the pervasive and enduring pattern of the personalities of the people listed below better than any other type.

Famous persons on this list may serve as ego ideals, idealized images, and idols for individuals of the Mercurial type.

Noteworthy examples of the Mercurial personality type are: Index of noteworthy examples
Paul Allen | Alec Baldwin | Steven Baldwin | Albert Bandura | Daniel Barenboim | John Belushi | Leonard Bernstein | Mel Brooks | Warren Buffett | Aaron Burr | Jim Carrey | David Cassidy | Bob Costas | L.G. Darley | Lawrence Durrell | Sarah Ferguson | Amy Fisher | Melissa Gilbert | Mark Hamill | Tonya Harding | Bob Hope | Karen Horney | Christopher Isherwood | Steve Jobs | Elton John | Erica Jong | Justine Hosnani | Kim Kardashian | Andy Kaufman | Heinz Kohut | Timothy Leary | Liberace | Lindsey Lohan | William H. Macy | Rachel Maddow | Dolley Madison | Charles Manson | Bette Midler | Molly Ringwald | Sally Bowles | Dorothy Sayers | Mark Twain | Tom Sawyer | Huckleberry Finn | Harriet Vane | Orson Welles | Robin Williams | Lord Peter Wimsey |


  "Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir" - Friedrich Nietzsche.

I hypothesize that the personality theories of personality theorists best describe themselves and those of their own type.

Karen Horney

Karen Horney's mature personality theory, joined by Terry D. Cooper to the Christian theological psychology of Reinhold Niebuhr, forms the psychological backbone of PTypes. You can begin to investigate Karen Horney's theory, here, at Intrapsychic Strategies of Defense.

It is one of my working principles that, when describing personality, personality theorists are often describing their own types. That is why I thought it particularly helpful to list, by type, well-known psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts. Karen Horney is a good example of a theorist who has used much material from her own personality to structure her theories of personality and human nature. Her biographer, Jack L. Rubins (pg. 316), reminds us that many of her ideas have influenced the work of others. Among them: "...Heinz Kohut and Otto Kernberg have extended and refined her concept of neurotic, defensive narcissism, especially in relation to the "borderline" personality. Their work is replete with terms introduced by Horney, such as the splitting of the self into omnipotent and self-devaluative attitudes, pathological self-esteem and integration of the self." And Marcia Westkott in The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney states that, "The symptoms that Horney identified in the conflict between dependency and vindictiveness, especially in the elusive personality, bear a strong resemblance to the symptoms of the borderline personality disorder (pg. 181, n.2).

Here's how Horney (1945, pg. 138) described the "elusive personality":

Almost polar to rigid rightness, but likewise an effective defense against the recognition of conflicts, is elusiveness. Patients inclined toward this kind of defense often resemble those characters in fairy tales who when pursued turn into fish; if not safe in this guise, they turn into deer; if the hunter catches up with them they fly away as birds. You can never pin them down to any statement; they deny having said it or assure you they did not mean it that way. They have a bewildering capacity to becloud issues. It is often impossible for them to give a concrete report of any incident; should they try to do so the listener is uncertain in the end just what really did happen.

The same confusion reigns in their lives. They are vicious one moment, sympathetic the next; at times overconsiderate, ruthlessly inconsiderate at others; domineering in some respects, self-effacing in others. They reach out for a dominating partner, only to change to a "doormat," then back to the former variety. After treating someone badly, they will be overcome by remorse, attempt to make amends, then feel like a "sucker" and turn to being abusive all over again. Nothing is quite real to them.

The analyst may well find himself confused, and, discouraged, feel there is no substance to work with. There he is mistaken. These are simply patients who have not succeeded in adopting the customary unifying procedures: they have not only failed to repress parts of their conflict, but they have established no definite idealized image. In a way they may be said to demonstrate the value of these attempts. For no matter how troublesome the consequences, persons who have so proceeded are better organized and not so nearly lost as the elusive type. On the other hand, the analyst would be equally mistaken were he to count on an easy job by virtue of the fact that the conflicts are visible and need not therefore be dragged out of hiding. Nevertheless he will find himself up against the patient's aversion to any transparency, and this will tend to defeat him unless he himself understands that this is the patient's way of warding off any real insight.

Bernard Paris (1994) makes the connection between Karen Horney's theory and her personality:

Horney's theory offers, I think, the most cogent explanation of her contradictory behavior and the conflicting testimony about her. The many sides of Karen Horney include a self-effacing shyness and need for love and reassurance; an aggressive ambition, arrogance, and ruthlessness in her dealings with colleagues; and a detached remoteness, secretiveness, and inwardness. Her detachment was the source of a great deal of her psychological insight, since it enabled her to see through her own defenses, as well as those of others (pg. 212).

In both Neurotic Personality and Self-Analysis, she focused on the neurotic need for affection, neurotic ambition, and the conflict between the two. Biographical material suggests that this was Horney's own basic conflict (pg. 173).

Horney, Karen (1945). Our Inner Conflicts: The Constructive Theory of Neurosis. New York: W. W. Norton.

Paris, Bernard J. (1994). Karen Horney: a psychoanalyst's search for self-understanding. New Haven: Yale Univ.

Rubins, Jack L. (1978). Gentle Rebel of Psychoanalysis. New York: Dial.

Westkott, Marcia (1986). The Feminist Legacy of Karen Horney. New Haven: Yale Univ.

  • Karen Horney - Dr. C. George Boeree.

    The neurotics self is "split" into a despised self and an ideal self. Other theorists postulate a "looking-glass" self, the you you think others see. If you look around and see (accurately or not) others despising you, than you take that inside you as what you assume is the real you. On the other hand, if you are lacking in some way, that implies there are certain ideals you should be living up to. You create an ideal self out of these "shoulds." Understand that the ideal self is not a positive goal; it is unrealistic and ultimately impossible. So the neurotic swings back and forth between hating themselves and pretending to be perfect.

  • Karen Horney lecture notes

    People who become neurotic basically grow up in environments that are not safe. The dependence we have as infants creates a basic anxiety in all of us. If we are growing up in a family that does not provide a safe place for us, we turn away from ourselves, develop a strategy for safety that makes us more vulnerable than ever.

  • Albert Ellis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    After the completion of his doctorate, Ellis sought additional training in psychoanalysis. Like most psychologists of that time he had been taken by the mystique and complexity of Freudian theories. So shortly after receiving his PhD degree in 1947 Ellis began a personal analysis and program of supervision with Richard Hulbeck (whose own analyst had been Hermann Rorschach) who was a leading training analyst at the Karen Horney Institute. Horney would be the single greatest influence in his thinking, although the writings of Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm and Harry Stack Sullivan also played a role in shaping his psychological models. Ellis credits in most of his books and quotes Alfred Korzybski's book, "Science and Sanity", for starting him on the philosophical path for founding REBT.
  • APA 2003 - Aaron Beck - On Personality, Therapy, the Brain, and Hatred

    The next question came from someone who said that after studying Beck's work for years, and the work of Ellis, he's concluded that "Ellis talks a lot about must-erbation being the rock-bottom dynamic" which drives dysfunctional behavior. Beck recalled that "years ago Ellis wrote in a book that MUSTerbation causes mental problems", but the proofreader caught the "error" and corrected it, with the resulting statement not at all what Ellis intended. Beck went on to point out that the whole concept truly dates to Karen Horney's "Tyranny of the Shoulds" (one of my most profound influences, too!). "I should do this and others should do that... and they're tyrannized!" Beck noted that "shoulds are not inherently bad. We should get up in the morning, for example. But...we need to focus on rigid thinking with *dysfunctional* shoulds". As opposed to Horney or Ellis, for himself Beck said that "our rock-bottom is *fear*. 'I must avoid this'.... With borderlines, they feel very vulnerable so they have a whole series of demands on other people. As a way of protecting themselves." He said he's known patients who have made a point of counting and cataloging a long list of "shoulds".
  • A Pragmatic Man and His No-Nonsense Therapy

    The cognitive approach to therapy that Dr. Beck ultimately developed -- influenced, he says, by thinkers like Karen Horney, George Kelly and Albert Ellis, whose rational emotive therapy struck similar themes -- was a major departure from the psychoanalytic fold. And it was not received warmly. Many analysts dismissed it as superficial; some suggested that perhaps Dr. Beck himself "had not been well analyzed."

Lawrence Durrell

Judith Rossner

Looking out for Mr. Goodbar

  • Romeo's Bleeding Part 4 - When Love is a Four-letter Word - by R. Melton,MA,MFT,CEAP - Publications.

    If someone with a Borderline Personality Disorder attempts to draw you into a relationship, there is a very simple, concrete way to know it. Pay attention to your stomach. Even though he may initially seem sweet, attentive and empathic, you will likely perceive a subtle tightening in the pit of your abdomen, like a small rock you've suddenly noticed in your shoe-barely noticeable, but there.
  • Romeo's Bleeding Part 5 - When Love is a Four-letter Word... Continued: The Clinging Apocalypse - Publications.

    While you may think you're about to enjoy the tasty pleasures of a Mr. Goodbar, Mr. Goodbar is about to take more than a taste out of you. And borderline men emotionally eat their women whole.

Wilhelm Reich Google Images

  • List 483: Wilhelm Reich, Books & Journals by or with Contributions

    35. Reich, Wilhelm. Der Triebhafte Character: eine psychoanalytische Studie zur Pathologie des Ich. Neue Arbeiten zur �rztlichen Psychoanalyse No. IV. Leipzig/Wien/Z�rich: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1925. 8vo. 1st Edition. 132+[2]pp. Printed buff wrappers. Several inch section torn from right edge of front cover with slight loss of text, rear cover detached. Quite uncommon. Reich's first book.

    An early contribution to ego psychology which defined the impulsive character as a transitional stage between the psychoneuroses and psychoses -- what are now called borderline patients. Thus, though he does not use the term, Reich's monograph is an important contribution to the development of the 'borderline' concept.

Heinz Kohut

Albert Bandura

Amy Wallace

Personal Sites

  • Ptosis Theseus - INTJ + BPD. [New!]

    This website is a wide ranging collection of interesting artifacts, tools and odd things of all kinds. Just Plain Wierd

More Mercurial personality type



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