An Intro to MBTI and How It Has Improved My Life
How Learning the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator can make you more forgiving, accepting person
I’ve always loved learning new things. Perhaps this is because I was raised by parents who were educators, perhaps it’s a part of my character; or, as I suspect, it’s probably both.
I’m a both/and kind of guy but if you were to put a gun to my head and force me to choose whether this is due to nature or nurture, I’d think you were an a-hole for using a gun and then because my belief in both/and is not so strong that I am willing to die over it, I’d answer “nature” and I’d back my answer up with the personality type theory known as MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).
The thing is, I’ve studied MBTI for five years now and it didn’t take me long to realize that not everyone is wired the same as me and that this is a good thing.
You see, I think the two ways that studying MBTI has benefited me can also benefit you and those are: 1) increasing my understanding of myself (personal growth) and 2) increasing my empathy and appreciation for others, especially personality types that sometimes rub me the wrong way.
Before we get into how that works, let’s dive into MBTI basics, shall we?
A Basic Understanding of MBTI
MBTI is a theory of personality types that was originally conceived of by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.
Now, some have mistakenly pitted Jung’s ideas against Freud’s, but I think this is a pointless exercise as both men had many insights about human psychology. For me, Jung’s writing is a bit dense, but by digging into his work through the work of others, I’ve learned about below-the-surface concepts such as archetypes, the collective unconscious and synchronicity.
If I were to differentiate between Freud and Jung, I’d say that Freud’s work was more focused on the individual and Jung took things a step further, proposing that there are many aspects of our character that are connected to the collective.
Regardless, I don’t think we need to choose between one or the other (that both/and side of me again) and, as a fiction writer and reader, I think the more one understands about human psychology the better, so Jung’s work on personality type theories seemed a good field to investigate.
Anyway, for the past five years, I’ve been learning more and more about MBTI and want to share some of the things I’ve learned.
A very brief overview of the system: there are 16 personality types, each with a four-letter “code.” Each of those four letters are broken into two possibilities, which are: (E)xtrovert-(I)ntrovert, (S)ensor-i(N)tuitive, (F)eeling-(T)hinking and (J)udging-(P)erceiving.
Unfortunately, some of the critiques of MBTI mistakenly assume this means a person is one or the other, such as this article with its click-bait headline. The reality is all of us are a mix of all of these things; we just tend to favor one or the other in each of those four categories.
To explain, let’s put our toes into the waters of MBTI 201 using me as an example. I am an ENFP (Extroversion-iNtuition-Feeling-Perceiving), yet this does not mean I have no introverted side. In fact, if you were to take MBTI 301, you’d learn about cognitive functions and how each and you’ll learn that we each have two extroverted functions and two introverted functions. An extrovert like me simply means I am wired to rely on an extroverted function (Extroverted Intuition, “Ne”) and thus will appear extroverted to the world.
However, if a person’s main cognitive function is extroverted, then their second is introverted (and vice versa) and if you want to be a truly kick-ass human, you should focus on developing this second function and then, hopefully, your third and fourth functions, too. (If you don’t want to wait until October 2068 for my next post on MBTI. to learn about the cognitive functions, here is a good article to check out).
Anyway, I do think there are some legitimate critiques of MBTI and am not in any way trying to sell you on it as an end-all to understanding human personalities, nor am I even sure it is the best personality type system. Rather, it’s the one I know the most about and I’d simply like to share how learning about it has been helpful to me.
Many of MBTI’s critics seem to be coming from an academic perspective or are critical of how it is applied in the business world and well, I am not an academic and I’ve no interest in using MBTI to make a more functioning workplace. Rather, I want to use it and any other theory of how we humans function psychologically to help me make sense of my life and of the people I share this world with, and MBTI has done that.
So, about my type, the ENFPs: we tend to have a rather circuitous, tangential communication style. This can confuse those who are more straight-line in their thinking or frustrate those who aren’t so patient (“Get to the point, ENFP!”), but I assure you, I do have a point and a destination in mind, I just don’t know how I’m gonna get there. And I may take a while to reach the end (which is why most of my blog posts are around 3,000 words!).
But please, whatever you do, don’t recommend to me or another ENFP that we plot out in detail what we are going to communicate … that takes all the adventure and fun out of the project for us, and we ENFPs love the process of discovery and adventure. My blogging is one big adventure for me, and if you look through my published posts, you can see that I’ve got many interests that I can rap at great length about.
Enough bush beating, let’s get into how MBTI can aid in your personal growth and your ability to empathize with everyone, even those folks whose personality can rub you the wrong way.
Using MBTI for Personal Growth
To determine one’s MBTI personality type, there are several free, relatively quick (10–20 minutes) on-line assessment tests. Of course, they aren’t all created equally, but this is the free MBTI test I’d recommend because people deeper in the study of MBTI told me it’s pretty solid for an intro. On this one, you’ll get a series of questions that have a range of seven answers, three degrees of “agree, a neutral, and three degrees of “disagree.
Of course, there are drawbacks to this kind of testing. I think the main one is: what if you don’t know yourself very well? Well, I think if that’s the case, when you get your result and read about your type, you might find yourself saying, “I’m not sure this is me” or a flat-out “This doesn’t sound like me.”
However, I think people who are more honest with themselves in admitting their flaws and treat the test seriously will find that the result they get has some uncanny insights into the way they go about the world.
For example, I learned that some of my idiosyncrasies, such as how I like to talk to myself out loud, sometimes in different characters and voices, were normal for my type.
One of the resources that has helped deepen my understanding of MBTI is the Personality Hacker Podcast and they often use the metaphor that our personality type is like the wiring in our brain. For an ENFP like me, we love to make connections about things in the outer world so we enjoy brainstorming. Because we are highly verbal, one of the ways we brainstorm best is to talk out loud to ourselves. (Now, I find that writing serves a similar function, though I can certainly talk faster than I can type so talking out loud is a better way to (mostly) keep up with my thoughts).
To other types, this might seem crazy or pointless, but for me, it’s essential and normal. That’s just the first example that popped into my head of something I learned through MBTI about myself that helped me understand and accept myself better.
A deeper insight that has been very beneficial was one I got from perusing the Personality Hacker website and reading this wonderful article about ENFPs, which was written by one of the founders of the site who is also an ENFP. In the article, he talks about how important it is for ENFPs to “make decisions that resonate with your core identity and inner wisdom.” Developing what exactly that means for each ENFP is key to their personal growth.
I’m still very much working on this and feel like I’ll be continuing that work until the day I die, but just knowing about it has helped me when I have a tough decision to make. The more I think about decisions in my life, the more I realize that the good ones were ones that felt right to me on a deep, inner level that aligned with my values.
When I first started looking into MBTI, I was mostly interested in using it for personal growth so I joined ENFP groups on Facebook and this was a great way to see how my behavior is similar to other ENFPs. However, it also made me realize that even within my type, there are many kinds of people, which I think has to do with the “nurture” side of life, i.e., the experiences that shape us. (I also think it has to do with other aspects of personal development such as the idea suggested by Integral Philosophy that human consciousness evolves through various worldviews over time both on the individual and collective level.)
The point is, the more you dig into a system like MBTI, the more you can learn about yourself. Now, this may not appeal to you as much as it does to me, but that might be related to what type you are. ENFPs are part of the NF temperament (I’ll save the four temperaments for a future post!) and NFs tend to be very focused on personal growth so it’s no wonder this appeals to me!
Okay, let’s go on to the second reason MBTI has been such a boon for my life: appreciating others, especially those who are quite different from me.
How Learning MBTI Can Increase Your Empathy and Happiness
I think most of us have certain personality types that can get on our nerves if we have to spend too much time with them, such as in the workplace, school or our families.
For me, that’s always been the rigid, by-the-book person who allows little room for creative expression or spontaneity. Such people just don’t seem like much fun to be around, nor do they seem very open to new ideas.
Now, before I go on, I want to be clear about something: I think it’s pretty obvious that each of the 16 types has well-adjusted people and people who are not. There are no hierarchies of MBTI personality types.
So my above example of the person who drives me crazy needs an addendum: I’m totally fine with that kind of person, so long as they don’t try to force others to be the same as they are. Ultimately, no matter the type, a person who tries to control others and make them act the same as they do is a person I, as an anti-authoritarian personality type who cares about people, will usually not get along with.
Anyway, after reading up on the ENFP type, the next thing I did with MBTI was learn more about the other 15 types. And one of the first things I did was look at the type with the four opposite letters from me, the ISTJ.
Interestingly, according to the 16 Personalities website, the ISTJ, which they call the Logistician, is “thought to be the most abundant, making up about 13 percent of the population.” (One of my deeper questions about MBTI is how much of an influence culture can have on our personalities, so I wonder when I see statistics like this, what population are they measuring? The United States? The world? West Bumblefuck, Nebraska?).
ISTJs are logical, rules-based people who often work in organizations that uphold traditions, rules and standards. They are focused on accuracy and facts and can be very patient in their attention to detail (plodding, I might say). They are also no-nonsense (no fun!), have little tolerance for indecisiveness, and can become “noticeably angry as deadlines tick nearer” (relax, man, it’s not the end of the world here!). They also can be stubborn and insensitive due to their insistence that honesty is the best policy and facts are facts.
Here’s what happened as I read over the profile for the ISTJ and then each of the 16 personalities: I started to see from a Big Picture perspective how each of the personality types is a necessary component for a functioning society. And that made me appreciate types who are quite different from me.
I think of my change in perspective like this: “I used to dislike the by-the-book people, but such people keep the trains running on time so I don’t have to.”
As I thought about my life, though, I started to realize that I’ve always been something of a social chameleon who is friendly with most anybody. That’s also, I think, an aspect of my type, but it means that I probably don’t dislike types like ISTJs as much as I may be leading on.
It’s probably more the idea of them that bothers me. After all, when I get around individual people, I tend to see their good side and find it reasonably easy to look past their bad side. And just as I was about to close up the link from the 16 Personalities page about ISTJ’s, I saw this about their friendships: “The other side (of an ISTJ) knows how to stop being quite so staid, and especially in the company of joyful and talkative Extroverts (E), they enjoy relaxing and having fun with good discussions about work, life, and current events.”
In some sense, this seems to be a case of opposites attract, I suppose. As one of those talkative, joyful extroverts, it’s my experience that serious people sometimes have trouble letting their hair down on their own so they gravitate to me because I allow them to let loose in a way that they feel comfortable with. And while ENFPs are known for being vivacious, we also have a strong desire to have deep conversations with people, to get to know people, so perhaps I’d find a well-adjusted ISTJ a fascinating person to chat with because they are so different from me.
Ultimately, I feel very grateful to MBTI for helping me have this insight into the various types. It’s made me feel much more gratitude to my fellow humans, crazy as we can often be, and much less judgmental of others. Perhaps if you dig into this fascinating field of study, you will, too!
Well, folks, that concludes this intro to MBTI and why I’m grateful to have learned about it. Let me know in the comments if you have studied MBTI or other personality systems and what you have learned, or what you hope to learn by studying it.