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Not My Type: Myers-Briggs Was Meant For More Than Pop Psych — But Does it Matter? — Medium

December 16, 2014

I HAVE A VAGUE MEMORY OF TAKING THE MBTI IN HIGH SCHOOL; I was taking a 100 level psych course as a junior and one can’t lecture about theories of personality without mentioning the Myers-Briggs test. If I recall, the test was hosted on, both of which still exist — complete with primitive web page design that is somewhat dull in comparison to the zippy and colorful16personalities website. The questions seemed to be somewhere between a horoscope and one of those Myspace Bulletin surveys of yore: You are almost never late for your appointments. You feel involved when watching soap operas on TV. You trust reason rather than feelings.

I was a natural born navel gazer and had already developed a strikingly thorough psychological profile of myself at age thirteen, so I was very interested in what the Myers-Briggs test would reveal to me. Though, I don’t remember exactly how I scored, I think I was an INTJ or INFJ. In my present life, some six years later, a college course required the same of me: take the Myers-Briggs test and report your results.

This time, I was rather definitely a INFJ.

The Myers-Briggs test has become something of a pop culture phenom, which is a shame because it was actually developed with a very specific purpose. During World War II, women worldwide were flung into the workforce, many of them for the first time. Not only did they lack the practical knowledge — but also the required self-knowledge—to assess what they could do to help the war effort in the absence of so many young men. We think of Rosie the Riveter; images of beautiful young women whose beaus and husbands are fighting in the war, working in factories and wearing pants for the first time in their lives. This had, of course, a major cultural impact: women were outside the home, visibly so, and many of them discovered that they knew very little about working on an assembly line — not just in the physical sense, but in the emotional sense. Outside of relating to the nuclear family, which they had been well-raised to wrangle, their self-knowledge of interpersonal skills outside the home was limited.

An author by the name of Katharine Cook Briggs read up on her Jungian psychology and, essentially, came up with the typology test as a way to help women entering the workforce understand what kind of work they would be best suited for. A woman’s score on the MBTI gave her insights into how she experienced the external world as well as her own internal environment. It addressed her reaction to conflict, her morals and intrinsic motivations and helped guide her towards work that she would not only be likely to excel in, but that she might also enjoy and feel fulfilled by. Briggs’ daughter, Isabel Myers, was also an author and the two of them fine-tuned the test and began presenting it academically to psychologists. The problem was, while both women were highly educated and well-read, neither of them had any psychoanalytic training, and therefore the test was seen to lack validity. When they realized they couldn’t pawn it onto psychologists, they instead ventured into the corporate sector — and began advertising it not so much as a psychological test, but more an aptitude test that businesses could use with potential employees — most specifically, women entering the workforce for the first time. By the 1960s, the MBTI took on a more generalized use and since more people had access to it, statistics began to be collected about the relative occurrence of various types in the general population.

IN ALL, THERE ARE SIXTEEN PERSONALITY TYPES IN THE MBTI. Each one is a combination of eight different possible dominant functions: extraversion — introversion, sensing—intuition, thinking—feeling and judging—perception. None of the types are better than any of the others, nor does the test measure aptitude — the indicator measures preference. For example, if someone is an I type rather than an E type, it doesn’t necessarily mean they possess no extraverted qualities, or that they aren’t capable of extraversion in certain situations — but that, when given a choice, they are more likely to align themselves with a state of introversion. The MBTI is, in many ways, a way to explore one’s preference for experiencing the world: and a person’s ideal is not always the reality.

MBTI results are often useful in exploring career interests, particularly for young people who find that they have many competing interests. Though, even the women responsible for creating the inventory admit that, in many ways, a person knows themselves more intimately than any test could ever discern, and they are encouraged to look at all sixteen personality types and explore which one they feel they identify with most.

The INFJ (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling & Judging) is apparently the rarest of the sixteen personality types. INFJ’s account for less than 1% of the general population. Though, when you read through the descriptors of this type, you may wonder if it’s not that the type is rare, but that people may go out of their way to avoid testing as one. INFJ’s are notoriously perfectionistic and hold people to unreasonable standards. They become obsessively committed to their passions, often at the expense of personal relationships. While they are intensely interested in people and are very empathetic, they can also shut people out when they feel overwhelmed, often without any warning. They have a very strong moral compass and are often unwilling to abandon it. They have a disproportionate response to embarrassment and criticism, and may be irrational in the face of it. The darker side of this type is capable of great manipulation, because they are extremely intuitive about people and motives. Some have supposed that Hitler was an INFJ.

“IRRITATES OTHERS: by neglecting details, getting over-emotional, going off at unrealistic tangents, using overly complex language.” — [ cohab monkey ]

I would have been tempted to retake the MBTI in order to get a different result, except that there were a striking number of adjectives used regarding this type that were a bit too spot-on to ignore. Someone as prone to self-assessment as myself can’t exactly justify lying about what they know to be true — even if it is kind of unfortunate. So, full-disclosure: yeah, I’m an INFJ.

It’s not surprising that INFJ’s often become writers, and supposed fictional INFJ’s are characters that I’ve either been compared to by others or strongly identified with since childhood: Fox Mulder The X-Files, Patrick Jane, The Mentalist, Amelie Poulain from Amelie, Sarah Crewe from A Little Princess. In real life (other than Hitler) Oprah Winfrey is supposedly a INFJ, which makes sense when you consider she’s built an entire empire out of focusing intently on other people’s problems.

Creepy-stalker levels of intuition have plagued me as long as I can remember. It’s not a conscious effort on my part, but rather, something akin to brain Tourettes; the rapid-fire noticing that I do of seemingly insignificant details about people and situations is not something I can willingly harness, though I find writing helps to calm it some. At least in writing, it becomes linear. In the moment, it’s more of an assault: too fast, too loud, too bright, too everything. Later, however, it can be processed properly, all those incredibly vivid hues neatly spread out in black and white. Much more pleasing to the senses. Does not require sunglasses.

Why does it matter? Briggs and Myers were focused on helping people assimilate themselves into a career — as if career was life. In some ways, it is for many people: we are what we do, we spend most of our waking hours working and — well, then what? I suspect that for many people there’s more than career preference to be found in the MBTI. Understanding how we relate to ourselves and our environment is paramount to helping us understand how we relate — or fail to relate—to other people. Whether it be within our nuclear family system, our social interactions or our romances, understanding what our preferred method of living is — both in our own minds and in the world—can help us to pinpoint ways in which we are going against our natural inclincation, and perhaps, help us right ourselves toward a happier life.

It’s a lot of stock to put in a simple questionnaire, but then again, I am an INFJ— they love to define (and redefine) themselves on a constant basis.

via Not My Type: Myers-Briggs Was Meant For More Than Pop Psych — But Does it Matter? — Medium.


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