I have an odd personality. I’ve done an extensive, twenty-five year study on the subject, complete with notes and field tests, so I think I can safely say I’m an expert.
If you meet me, I’m quiet and reserved by nature. My interior, however, is a massive expanse of halls, chambers, and rooms. I have incredible storage space for trivia and people’s names, and a whole closet of plots to books I read over six years ago. Half the lyrics to a song I heard once on the radio are blaring in one room, and several others are playing reruns of events that have just happened or things that could have gone better. There are also these great instructional videos demonstrating the way other people do things, including Greetings When Passing in the Hallway (Hi or Hello? Just a Smile? A Nod?) and How to Talk on the Phone Without Becoming Paralyzed (starting with your name is always a good option). And yet, no matter how many times I go over these, I can’t seem to get any better.
In most situations, I absorb everything—the temperature of the room, how I’m standing in relation to everyone else, who’s doing the talking. In a new situation, I might look calm, but inside, I’m running in full panic from room to room.
A lot of the time, one of two things will happen. The overload is too much and I don’t do very much of anything.
Or the other, equally terrible option. Talking waaay too much.
I take it all in— knowing the whole time I’m probably awkward and unable to stop, sounding silly, not saying the right thing, missing the joke—and I try to absorb it the best I can. On particularly full days, the pressure builds up to the point that I can’t keep it to myself. It comes out all at once in a surprising way.
On a few rare occasions, when I was most frustrated with myself and felt like the most misunderstood flibbertigibbet that ever flibbered, I turned my back on the world, opened my laptop, and started reading about my Meyers-Briggs type.
Believe it or not, this actually helped me feel better. There is something therapeutic about someone talking to you about yourself, the good and the bad. As I read about how I am supposed to be, reading about my personality type in an objective, third-person description, I gained some context for my eccentricities. I find myself nodding a lot, pointing to the computer and saying, “Yes! Definitely that.”
To no one in particular with vindication: “See? It’s not that weird.”
To my sister in victorious solidarity: “This is totally true!”
To myself with paranoid realization: “How on earth do they know?”
There is affirmation in the Meyers-Briggs test, and when I first met it, I didn’t realize how important it could be.
In ninth-grade health class, my teacher dropped a hefty stack of manila paper onto my desk. It was a test, several pages long with hundreds of fill in the blank questions, but she told us there weren’t any wrong answers. It was the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). After what seemed like eons of triple-guessing myself about my behavior when confronted with conflict, deadlines, or free weekends, I finished. Tallying up the results, I got my four letters and wrote them carefully with ink in the blanks at the bottom of the last page.
My classmates started comparing results, but I was too shy to join in. I didn’t need a test to tell me the first letter of my classification. When the school year finished, I filed the test away with my other schoolwork and didn’t think on it any more.
Several years later, I went to graduate school, and suddenly the Meyers-Briggs became all-important. Perhaps it was entering a higher level of education, being surrounded by academics, or being dropped into a whole new world of university. And after a particularly trying day of negotiating the unknown and being disappointed in my response to it, I found a post from a friend about Meyers-Briggs. I opened a window and typed in my four letters. Then I lost a whole afternoon learning about my own mind.
Meyers-Briggs is fascinating in the way that it grounds much of a person’s individual characteristics into four letters, breaking it down into dichotomies in four categories. Extraversion or Introversion (E or I), Sensing or iNtution (S or N), Thinking or Feeling (T or F), and Judging or Perceiving (J or P). With the combinations of these letters, there are sixteen types by which people can be identified. They’re given names, too—the Mastermind, the Healer, the Protector, the Performer, the Dynamo, and other fun titles. Each one is complex. Each one has strengths and weaknesses.
The test does a lot to explain how people don’t see things the same way, why some people are more gentle, more charismatic, more confident, or more tactful and why some people are better suited for different kinds of work and relationships.
For me, it helps to see that my experience in life is consistent with how my mind works. And in a way, that’s comforting.
My Meyers-Briggs classification is said to be rare. I’m thankful every day that my sister shares it, or I would really feel like the white crayon in a box of colors. Long before the test, we already knew that we were on the same wavelength on just about everything, and we have the greatest conversations because we are inspired, upset, worn out, or pleased by the same things.
Perhaps the power of the Meyers-Briggs lies in its ability to talk about the part of us we can go in circles forever trying to fathom: our minds. If you try to think about how you think, you can end up doubting whether you know anything in the first place. We know how we feel about things, and having someone else organize that into patterns with analysis can seem like magic. How do they know so much about a part of me that I don’t understand myself? Maybe it fascinates us because it tells us that we are not anomalies, that our thinking has foundations, and no matter how strange we think we are, someone understands.
I’ve recently joined Tumblr (a couple years late to the party, I know), and as a result, I’ve discovered a new universe of unique worlds all spinning around unfamiliar and unusual stars. As I spelunk into the unknown depths of the internet and find beautiful art, thought-provoking photography, and witty one-line soapboxes, I notice that there is something that holds each blog together, a theme playing softly in the background. No matter if you collect and reblog anything and everything about books, your favorite shows, hedgehogs, actors, philosophy, or cat memes, you are curating a gallery that says in so many pictures and hashtags, “This is who I am.”
Something that is interesting to me is the proliferation of things, especially on Tumblr, that extrapolate the Meyers-Briggs types to apply to all kinds of interesting things, like what kind of weather each type might be, what kind of post-apocalyptic job they might have when the zombies come, or what kinds of music they are. Anything beyond science and research makes me a little skeptical (I really don’t think I’m the kind of dragon that prefers flying alone over oceans at night, and if I’ve never heard that band before, can I really be Track #4?), but I still read these things anyway.
No matter how affirmed we feel when we read about our type, I think we should be careful not to discount the parts that a test can’t categorize so easily. We are more than four letters, and sometimes we lean more heavily on one more than the others.
We should leave room for the other parts of us that can’t be categorized so easily. We all have experiences and other factors that do influence our personality. Even if different tests give you different results, I believe you’re really only one type—if you’re truly honest with your answers. You are yourself, and no matter what happens, your core is still you. And that’s all right. It doesn’t matter if your type is rare or the most common. Everyone can feel misunderstood, confused, and underestimated in their lives. Everyone can feel loved, happy, and accepted, too. These experiences aren’t exclusive to what four letters correlate to your personality.
Meyers-Briggs can give great insight, but it shouldn’t be where you stop. It can be a sort of starting manual for people, but it isn’t the end-all authority on how to love people, how to make them feel comfortable and confident. We still have to do all that work ourselves, and that is an individual effort. Besides, how often do you know another person’s MBTI type?
So despite the fact that I would like to hand out all the research done on my type to everyone who meets me so they know what they’re in for, after reading these websites for a little while, I close the computer and return to the world. I remember that I am different, but I’m made the way I am for a purpose.
None of the images in this post belong to me.