You’ve Got Personality

The other day my 25 year old son told us about the personality tests he had taken at work. Management at his company hired someone to administer the full Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment to the staff, and then followed up with a seminar to explain the results. When Ben told us how much insight this gave him into his struggles and strengths, we immediately looked up a site and read the description of his type. Laughing in amazement, we agreed it pretty much had him pegged, and that no other type hit it so well.

The result of the MBTI (or its imitations) is a four letter “type” identifying on which side of neutral you fall on four dichotomies: Introversion (I)/Extraversion (E), Intuition (N)/Sensing (S), Thinking (T)/Feeling (F), Judging (J)/Perceiving (P). The Meyers-Briggs site explains them here. This may be enough for the reader to determine what type she is. Please read the whole page because it introduces the Meyers-Briggs personality theory well.

When I read it I was easily able to recognize which side I fell on some, but not all, of these poles. I found a helpful site, http://www.16personalities.com. This site has a slightly different approach to personality typing, explained here. I took their free personality test.

It is no surprise that we all have gifts that vary from our neighbors, but you may object to being sorted into one of sixteen tidy categories! I know, I know. Some of us do not take kindly to being classified and stuffed in a folder labeled, “Just like the Rest”. But I find the personality typing helpful in two ways: it validates my own experience, and it gives me insight into my most important relationships.

Two benefits of personality typing

Have you ever been excited because you found a member of your tribe? Anne of Green Gables called them “kindred spirits”. When I read the description of my type, INTP, I felt wonder, mingled with relief. It validated my experience. It explained so much, such as why I was often called “intense” as a young woman, why ideas seem like candy to me, and why I study a subject deeply and then want to move on to something new. It may explain why I am such a blockhead when it comes to wine-tasting–I live more in the inner world of ideas and my senses are not so nuanced.

The second benefit of knowing your type and those of your closest relationships, is the possibility for greater cooperation. Knowing the types of my children helps me understand their needs, especially where they differ from mine. My ENTPs thrive on challenges and new adventures; the INFP needs more attention to her feelings than we thinkers tend to give. Also, when one’s weaknesses match another’s strengths, there is potential for a new way of dealing with friction. I am rethinking the way we distribute our work.

For example, I needed to renovate my boring perennials garden. I researched garden design online and took copious notes. I made a template of my garden space and carefully diagrammed a new arrangement. But the task of implementing it overwhelmed me and I stalled. However, when my husband’s test revealed him as an ESTJ, “The Executive”, I realized how perfectly he is suited to the garden challenge. He built our entire house and I often marveled at the mystery of that accomplishment: How did he stick with such a monumental task for so long and take it right through the cleanup? Why, he is powerfully gifted for tasks of this magnitude. So, this weekend I sat with him and explained my design, and he easily came up with a plan to do it. He used his tractor to prepare a second garden space for my excess divided plants and my work from here is easy now.

You may not have felt it from where you are, but my paradigm just had a major shift along a fault line. This private, solitary-minded wife now knows I need to uncover to him my thoughts, in their researched and developed maturity, so that he may put together a plan to execute it. Considering that for years I have had good ideas but failed to convert them to action, this offers the hope of success, where, to be honest, I saw myself alone on an island with bridges burning in every direction. I’ll get in his boat if he lets me help navigate.

Do we really need more labels?

When you read the type descriptions at the somewhat pop 16personalities site, your inner cynic may say it sounds like a horoscope. But keep in mind it is a popular version of the serious work done by the Meyers-Briggs foundation. I respect the science which went into this discovery, and it is as much a discovery as Germ Theory, or perhaps the syllogism, the pattern of how we reason. The tests are valid and reliable.

You may also wonder when you take the test how you should answer: Do you consider a lifetime of growth or answer as you are today? The older we are, the more adaptations we have made for our weaknesses. Perhaps we are not so polarized as we were in our teens. But according to the information on the instrument’s reliability, regardless of your mood or frame of mind the results will be essentially the same. If you are someone who is constantly striving to improve and feel like you are reinventing yourself all along your journey, consider your behavior of just the last few years when you answer. When I retook the test, not so timidly as the first, my type was the same; only my percentages changed.

And where is Christ is all this?

As the Christian is “transformed by the renewing of [his] mind” he is going to change. I am pretty sure my scores near the center on three scales reflects growth and maturity that come of walking with Christ for over 30 years. When the Lord says, “Love one another” you don’t whine, “I’m not cast that way.”  We are all called to certain behavior whether it is easy for us or not. The two laws are still the same: love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. The types don’t create something new; they name what is already created. Because typing seems to explain so much so well, the temptation is to define oneself by the new label. No. Those of us who have died in Christ belong to Him, and He to us. Who we are in Christ will always be more vital than the gifts He has given us for His work.

Why did I write this?

So, what my family has learned I share with you. (And I have discovered that is one of the consistent traits of my personality type: passing on what I have learned!) The Meyers-Briggs personality typing helps us understand how we perceive the world and make decisions in it, and it can provide insight into our closest relationships. Take the test. Do the results ring true for you? Comment below.

About lettersfromheartscontent

Mother of six, homeschool teacher, tutor with Classical Conversations, wife to a forester and educator. I tend a perennial garden with a riot of blossoms, ride my bicycle in and out of the watershed, play ocarina and a boom-chick accompaniment when my kids feel like playing contradance music. I love being home, but I love an open road and adventure, too. Classical Conversations' Writers Circle carries my article on some aspect of classical education once a month.
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