Myers-Briggs Personality Types (MBTI) are certainly a hot internet topic. Not only are there ample sources to describe each personality type, but it isn’t difficult to find many forums, memes, blogs and Facebook pages that support its enormous following.
From describing non-fictional and fictional characters to breaking down each letter and function into varying boxes, the topic of personality types can quickly become heated and, well, personal. (Case in point, find any debate over Adolf Hitler’s personality type and you will see a level of intensity that surpasses even religious or political debates.)
Myself, I am extremely interested in this field of study. With a background in sociology, reading the different takes on and applications of Myers-Briggs is one of my favorite pastimes. I have even written a couple articles of my own on the type I personally relate to as well as have a very active INFJ Pinterest board. But throughout all of my reading, studying and discussions, I consistently see the same mistake brought about a million different ways:
That our personality type defines our personality.
A Little History
The original concept of this typing was born from the mind of Carl Jung. He was the intuitive mind that characterized people’s brains into categories. A brilliant concept that altered a lot of psychological thinking and theories of the time.
Then along came Katharine Myers and Isabel Briggs. They took Jung’s concepts and catalogued them even further into the 8 letters we now see thrown about so easily which stand for Introvert, Extrovert, iNtuitive, Sensing, Thinking, Feeling, Judging, and Perceiving, which combine to make up the 16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types.
Some argue that their work was genius and made Jung’s very complex ideas into an easy-to-understand psychological concept for the masses. Others say they butchered the work and simplified it to a dangerous level.
In my opinion, there are many positives and negatives to the work of both the Myers-Briggs team as well as Carl Jung that could take up many articles to fish through, but the basic and unintended problem lies in that we call all these letters and functions “personality types.”
Why the misconception?
It is easy to see how one could come to the conclusion that MBTI types define our personalities. After all, they are called “personality types.” But this misconception could not be further from the truth.
Few would argue against the fact that we are each individuals with unique personalities which are far too complex to narrow down into categories and yet millions will swear that the description associated with their four letters fits them to a tee. Sometimes discovering one’s personality can be so accurate that it changes perspectives, opinions and even lives.
So, if we truly are each a unique personality, then why are the Myers-Briggs definitions and concepts so accurate to so many? Why does it have such an enormous following? Why is it a life-altering concept?
MBTI Personality Types do not define one’s personality. They describe how one’s brain works.
That is a huge difference.
It helps if you think of this typing as a scientific model of the mind as opposed to a description of who we are. The descriptions fit because they are all based on how we perceive the world around us, how we take in information and how we process that data. Once these elements are in place, generalizations are easily deduced that will fit the majority of people who read the description.
For example, the description of an ENFP on The Personality Page states the following: “Because they are so alert and sensitive, constantly scanning their environments, ENFPs often suffer from muscle tension.” The first part of the description is based on the ENFP’s functions and how their mind takes in ample amounts of data. The second part concludes that they will suffer from muscle tension, a natural bodily response to someone who is overloaded with information.
Many will study each type and function and come to their own generalizations. Some are not quite as accurate as they try to make too far of a leap from cognitive processes and may be based on personal interactions with individuals. These are often ignored and sometimes attacked for their inaccuracies.
Recognize that in the creation of MBTI, no one ever claimed that an ENFP would love dogs or an ISTJ has to be fascinated with geometry. Myers did not write that ESFJs must be nurses. Briggs never stated that INFJs are only suited for a career in counseling.
They did, however, show the differences between a Senser using sight, sound, smell, etc. and an iNtuitive recognizing abstract patterns and moods. They also show the fluidity of a Perceiver versus the structure of a Judger. They honed in on Jung’s work of the varying energy levels between Introverts and Extroverts.
The four letters that make up our personality only explain how our mind processes the information we experience in the world. This, of course, plays a major role in how our personalities are individually formed, but they cannot describe exactly what our personalities are and the complex manner to which they came about.
The next time you take a quick test and read your results or someone guesses your MBTI Personality Type, please don’t feel boxed in.
If you meet someone who shares your type, do no expect to be instant kindred spirits or long lost soul mates or even that you will like each other at all.
Please recognize that you are so much more than those four letters.
Please remember that we are all unique and have very special personalities that can only be created by our genes and experiences.
But definitely relish in the fact that you now know how you process information and use that brainpower to its fullest potential to grow, transform and improve your very individual personality.