More thoughts on the MBTI

The other week’s post on the Myers-Briggs, the way various types are strongly represented in various segments of the world, and feelings of difference really struck a chord.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I wrote it, and I wanted to add a few things.

I am fairly close to the middle on the E/I and N/S dimensions, and I am off the charts on F and J.  Once, while taking a test online with my family (something we occasionally do for fun, which tells you that I come by this particular interest honestly), I read a question aloud because I could not understand it.  It was something about how deadlines are relative.  Baffled, I had to share this bizarre question with my family.  There was much laughter and commentary about how I am so J I don’t even understand the questions designed to test for P-ness (another family story: the time my mother caused an eerie hush in a restaurant when she announced, loudly, to a friend that her problems in life were all because of her P-ness.)

I used to be slightly E, and now I am more than slightly I.  The transition is marked.  I don’t quite know what precipitated it, but how and why people’s types change over the course of their lives is an area that really interests me.

There were also some reactions to my observations about personality types and kinds of work that made me want to explain what I think and mean.  I hope I’ve made clear how firmly I resist simplistic categorizations.  In fact I’ve written a lot about my own personal sense that I contain contradictions in every cell of my body.  I’ve also mused on society’s profound – but ultimately unsuccessful – desire to thrust individuals into neat boxes of identity.  This is just one of a million ways we all seek to order and control a fundamentally terrifying and chaotic universe, both within and without us, isn’t it?  I think so.

When I refer to the over-representation of the ENTJ personality type in business, and when people comment about their own suitability (or not) for certain lines of work, I certainly don’t mean to participate in the kind of reductive categorization I so dislike.  I do think certain personalities gravitate towards certain kinds of work.  I also think that most people have varied roles in life, which may access and rely on different aspects of who we are.  We may have different personas at work, at home, at church, socially.  Of course, taken to the extreme, that becomes a sociopathic misrepresentation of who one is.  But I would aver that almost everyone feels like different parts of their personality are emphasized in various parts of their life.

I believe fervently in the Myers-Briggs as a tool to understand strength, and preferences, and orientation towards the world.  I do not mean to suggest that it’s a way of neatly categorizing or uncomfortably constraining individuals who are kaleidoscopically multi-faceted.

I welcome further thoughts or reactions on Myers-Briggs type.  And in particular, have any of you changed type over the course of your life?


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8 Comments

  1. Posted November 6, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    As you know, this is a passion of mine, too. I am a qualified administrator of the MBTI — or at least I used to be, when I worked as a career counselor — and I used to give and interpret this assessment many times a week. One thing to note is that personality type — if you’ve gotten a good “read” on type the first time you take the assessment — stays relatively stable over the course of one’s life. If you see shifts in type, if tends to happen in “outer” dimensions, the E/I and the P/J. I think it’s because those correlate to how we “present” ourselves to the world. The “inner” dimensions, the N/S and the T/F, tend to stay quite stable over the course of one’s life. These have more to do with our “inner landscape” and internal processing. Have you ever noticed that, when meeting someone for the first time, it’s easier to guess at their outer dimension than their inner ones?

    I’ve always been pretty solidly an ENFJ, although my E and J have become less “extreme” over the years. I am surprised your N/S are close. I would have pegged you as an off-the-charts N!

  2. Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I am split pretty evenly on the first three (leaning very slightly towards ISF) and, like you, am strongly a J. And, I believe I have slipped from the E to the I over the years, but always hovering near the middle.
    Given that I am fairly split, I don’t know that this personality test tells me all that much about myself that wasn’t already very evident. However, my daughter (16) tests very strongly as an ENFP. Being at an age where she is about to make college and career choices, I think this information may provide some beneficial insight for her.

  3. Posted November 6, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I have always been fascinated by this test also. I think I first took it either late high school/college and I , unlike you, really would like a box to fit into but I never do. I think originally I was E, but every other time I have been E/I, but N and P were definite. I was a split T/F.

    Considering what Elizabeth said above, I sometimes wonder why I am so much more I than I used to be; and seeming to get more and more I. I remember when my youngest child started preschool, all the moms were so excited to go have coffee and shop alone. I was almost shaking at the excitement to go and be HOME ALL BY MYSELF.

    I wonder the age kids can take it and it be valid. I like Shannon’s point about using it to make college choices, but I love the test to understand my husband and think it would be so fun to do it to my kids.

    Finally, I was given a book in an early job – it’s blue – I think it was called Please Understand Me – understanding Myers Brigs. It was fascinating. I have used it over and over through the years to understand friends, co-workers, husband. Thanks for the reminders – I’m off the find the book.

  4. Isabelle
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Another INFJ here. Also a big believer in the usefulness of the MBTI– in both personal and professional settings.

  5. Posted November 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    The MBTI is rarely known in Germany where I live, and when I took the test two years ago in an online class, it was a revelation. I am an ISTJ, especially strong on I and J. I’ve discussed introversion with a lot of people since, have learned to embrace my personality better than before and am more at peace with how I am.
    I can see now how it certainly influenced my choice of work, too.

  6. Christine Barker
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I did the test after my daughters did it at their school around grade 5 or 6. They were in a special program that was working hard to individualize their education and the teachers wanted to know the children’s types as well as their own types so they could better understand and use it to direct interests, subjects and mentors.

    Being an educator myself, before children, who was really interested in learning and teaching styles I thought this was a great tool. After I did the test I got my husband to do the test and it was interesting to see how our children were similar and different from each other and from us. I’m an INFP married to an ENTJ which leads to some interesting discussions… I can’t remember now what my children were but I am going to see if I still have the results somewhere. It would be fascinating to know if they have changed now they are grown up. I agree that using the test to put people in boxes is not the purpose but it also shouldn’t stop us from using it as an analysis tool to help us grow and become more comfortable in our own skins.

  7. Posted November 7, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    @MK Countryman, people often experience a midlife “crossover” with respect to personality. Though your personality may not shift, per se, around midlife — or as you grow older — people often find themselves “exercising” the part of their personality that they haven’t used as much in the first part of their life. Many extroverts, for example, will begin to exercise their preference for introverted activities (that is certainly the case for me), though, at heart, they will probably always be an extrovert at heart, when it “matters!”

    Since this is an assessment of normal adult personalities, if it’s taken much before 18 years of age, those results are far from “cast in stone.” My two cents!

  8. Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you. MBTI is very useful in understanding behavior and people, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously, meaning we shouldn’t force everyone in those neat boxes.
    Of course for many people they fit, but for many others they don’t fit. Because ultimately “types” are just an oversimplification of personality. They help us to easily understand people, but much individual personality gets lost when only thinking in type boxes.