Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Personality Talk, part 3

Wow-- I'm amazed at the level of interest that this has sparked in all of you (I'm giddy with excitement! I love this stuff!) There is so much to share, so many questions to answer. I'll start by answering some of the more specific questions that you raised in this post. Then, later this week, I'll continue with my original plan of discussing David Keirsey's work and how he expanded our understanding of the Myers-Briggs types.

First, I want to say that no type is "better" than any other. We are all capable of using all of the functions, we simply tend to be more comfortable with certain approaches, and therefore have preferences in how we gather information, get energy, and make decisions.

Second, I have only shared the basics of the underlying theory. The four functions interact with each other in complex ways to create each type. So, an ISTP is not simply an introverted version of ESTP. If you delve deeper into the theory you'll discover that there are terms such as "shadow types" and "dominant, secondary, and tertiary functions." Each type uses the iNtuiting, Sensing, Thinking, and Feeling functions in different situations for different reasons. A scholar must understand how all of these preferences interact before they can write the wonderful descriptions of each type that amaze us.

Can one's type change?
No. I believe that we develop preferences in the way we process the world by young adulthood (if we are not in fact born with preferences-- that's still up for debate). These preferences form our personality type. It is the way we feel most comfortable when relating to others, making decisions, and thinking about our world. As we grow and have new experiences we may learn to use the less comfortable functions more easily. Our family background and careers often facilitate such growth. A "J" type who has "P" parents will learn to be more flexible and spontaneous to avoid discord. A physician who is an "F" type may need to develop their "T" function in order to succeed in medical school. But, our preferences don't change. It works much like physical preferences. A left-handed person can learn to use his right hand very competently, but he will always prefer the left-- it always feels more natural.

Why do I get so many different results when I take the tests?
That is the limitation of free online tests. The best way to determine your type is to go to someone who is certified to administer the MBTI. Second best is to read descriptions of all the types that are one letter removed from your test result to eliminate any other possibilities, and gain a deeper understanding of the theory so that you can discover your natural preferences. Asking others how they see you sometimes offers more accurate insight into your preferences.

Are there certain types that get along better or form more stable relationships?
As you can imagine, this is one of the hot topics on personality type forums. I've read scholars who say opposites attract (INFJ and ESTP, for example). Others say that people with similar temperaments make the best matches. And some even cite studies that the most frequent marriages are between Artisans and Guardians or Rationals and Idealists (these are Keirsey's terms, I'll explain them in the next post). But-- I believe that two people of any type can work well together. They simply need to understand and accept their differences. I found a book (Just Your Type, by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger) that pairs each type with the others and gives pointers on the "joys" and "frustrations" of each match as well as "how to reach your (insert personality type) partner."

If anyone has specific questions about your type, please email me at I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have books that may prove helpful.

I'll leave you with some type humor (source: Doug Bates.) Isn't there always some truth in humor?

Illusions of the Unhealthy XXXX

ESTP - "I'm a stud and the world revolves around me"
ISTP - "I can make anything work"
ENTP - "I can come up with a solution for anything"
INTP - "I'm brilliant and you'd better bow to my genius"
ESTJ - "I am in control"
ISTJ - "I do everything right"
ENTJ - "I am all-powerful"
INTJ - "I am all-knowing"
ESFP - "I am the most glamorous"
ISFP - "Nobody has better taste than I do"
ENFP - "I have the most enthusiasm"
INFP - "I have the most sensitive conscience"
ESFJ - "Everyone likes me and wants to be like me"
ISFJ - "Nobody can get along without me"
ENFJ - "I can teach anyone anything"
INFJ - "I have the best intentions"


ESTJ Be back next year with flowers!
ISTJ Forever on time
ESFJ Arranged my own funeral
ISFJ Wish I could still help
ESTP Well, *this* is boring
ISTP Build a better coffin
ESFP Where did everybody go?
ISFP Smell a flower for me
ENTJ Whoever did this, I'll get you one day
INTJ *Now* try telling me what to do!
ENTP Death is being out of options
INTP Talk about "analysis paralysis"
ENFJ Another opportunity for learning
INFJ The ultimate clarity
ENFP Catch you on the flip side
INFP Eternal harmony

(on to part 4)
(back to part 2)


Charles Gramlich said...

As a biopsych person, I lean toward inborn tendencies in personality that get shaped by experience.

Precie said...

Wow, based on the humor, I'm sooooo not an E, not any kind of E at all. (Not a judgment...if anything, I wish I could be an E!) ;)

Sarah Hina said...

The ultimate clarity--hmm...interesting. I always feel like I'm striving toward clarity, and never quite getting there. Good to know that I have something to look forward to! ;)

I agree with you about our natural tendencies being set. But it's wonderful how the people around us can strengthen our "weaker" functions, too. Perhaps that recognition of what we lack leads to us form relationships with people who have those very qualities we admire, and in some sense, miss in ourselves. Hence, the frequency of artisan/guardian and idealist/rational marriages.

It's all endlessly fascinating, Aine! And you do such a great job of breaking it down for all of us. :) Can't wait to read more...

JaneyV said...

Without a doubt I believe that we are not born "empty vessels" or "blank slates". Anyone who have ever held a newborn understands that we come into this world with our own set of programming. But we are also adaptable and are formed by our experiences and what we chose to learn from them.

I would say that the girl I was a twenty left me a long time ago. I find it hard to understand her motivations and in many cases her actions so alien to me are they now. Reading what you were saying about whether we change our type I started to think back further to my childhood and I realised that I resemble Jane the child far more than Jane the young adult. Perhaps the reason I was so unhappy at age twenty was because I'd forgotten who I was and I was trying to be someone else.

Kim said...

The most obvious evidence I've seen that personality is at least to some extent inborn would be my three children. Even though I've raised all of them basically the same way, they could not be any more different. From the beginning of their lives, each one interacted with the world in their own unique way. What stuns me is the consistency of those interactions as they have aged. My daughter, at just a few months, was already dramatic. Now, just two months shy of 18, she is still a drama queen. Thank goodness she has learned coping techniques and no longer throws herself in the floor in a fit of temper, but there is no doubt that those impulses she was born with are still there and still influencing the way she interacts with the world.

Aine said...

Charles~ Naturally! ;) And I bet you could explain how our brain structure (determined in part by DNA) is directly related to our processing efficiency. "Personality" is all about how and what our brain does with sensory inputs. Hmmm... is that true? I'd love to read more from the folks who study this.

Precie~ Ha! I wonder what "type" the author is... he is viewing the other types through his own perspective, after all.

Sarah~ as you can imagine, "the ultimate clarity" made me laugh on so many levels. ;)

The "opposites attract" theorists agree with you. And I think there is certainly evidence to support it. We may be attracted to those who display traits that we'd like to develop. The trick then is to always see those differences as positives. Often, however, the stresses of daily life and familiarity turn our thoughts to the negative aspects of those very traits that we once admired.

Thanks for the affirmation, too!

Janey~ Yes, each newborn certainly is unique, aren't they?!

Interesting observation about your youth. I wonder if many teens feel unhappy because they feel pressured to use the less natural "functions" of their personality because they are trying to fit in with others that are different personality types. And perhaps in later adulthood we feel more at ease because we have strengthened those weaker functions sufficiently that we can utilize them when needed without feeling so terribly uncomfortable.

Great thoughts for pondering! Thanks!

Aine said...

Kaycie~ Children do seem to provide clear evidence to me, also. I've been trying to guess at my girls' personality types. It's difficult because they can't be tested until they've developed anough abstract thought to be able to self-reflect. And their preferences, though present, may not be fully developed and expressed yet. But what a great parenting tool, eh?! To know which lens your child sees the world through. You can't use feelings to persuade a Rational type, and forget forcing daily structure on many of the "P" types (they'll need extra help to strengthen their "J" preference if they are in a rigid school environment)... so many ways this could be helpful with parenting! I will talk a bit about how type shapes our parenting skills/tendencies as well (hopefully a topic for next week).

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Analysis paralysis...hmmm. I resemble that comment. ;)

I do think our experiences and growth cloud our essential natures when taking these tests. Perhaps your advice to look back is best. Even if we learn and improve, our essential natures remain. They are the foundation that growth is built upon. When I dig into myself, I can still feel the cavities that I later filled.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Aine, first congrats on your intelligently written and highly incisive blog. I have spent the better part of an hour being entertained, challenged, and informed. My personality type is ISFP. I am always delving into my personality to try and find out "why". LOL Maybe now I have the answers. Great discussion and comments. I'll be back!

Aine said...

Jason~ I thought you'd appreciate that one! ;)

Yes, you said it well-- our essential nature is the foundation. Experiences and growth shape us, enhance us, expand our options. But our brain still uses the same process to sort through the incoming data and assign meaning.

k.lawson gilbert~ Welcome! And, wow-- thank you!! I'm glad that you've enjoyed my ramblings. And you are the first ISFP "composer" that I've met (as far as I know), which thrills me!

Your blog promises to be a delight for the senses. I look forward to reading more of your work.

I guess we are both newbies to blogging, eh? Want to trade links? (Sounds like I know what I'm doing.... ;) )

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Thanks for the welcome, Aine, and the kind words.

I am the first ISFP poet that you have met? Now, I am trying to figure this out, is that good or bad? Am I an oddity? You must know hundreds of people. hmmmm...that must mean that I am not normal...Oh, Aine say it ain't so!! Oh never mind - I already knew that about myself.

You see - I am new to both realms
blogging and psychology. I would love to trade links - as soon as I can figure out how to do that. :)

Aine said...

k.lawson gilbert~ LOL! You are not an oddity. Some studies say that ISFPs make up 8.8% of the US population (see the wikipedia article on "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" for the full chart). I'm just not aware of the types of all the people I know. And of those who have shared their type with me, you are the first ISFP. :)

However, I truly believe that none of us are normal! ;)

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Thanks for clarifying! I can breathe a sigh of relief into my Friday Cosmo. ;P

Aniket Thakkar said...

Nice touch of humour there... :)

Thankfully it was not that brutal for INFJs. Now you didn't slack on it coz you are one too, han?? :) :)

Well some of the questions were dubious... I tend to take life's decisions based on heart and professional based on mind.

I like everything planned, but when it comes to love... I long to be surprised.

So here I prove again, a quest for clarity. :) May be i'll find it in the Night! :) :) :)