Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Personality Type Psychology and Grace for Everyone

Ever since my 9th grade Humanities teacher plunked down a "color personality test" in front of me I've been obsessed with personality types. There is something in me that loves self-reflection. I love to figure out why I do things the way I do them, what motivates me, what scares me, what challenges me. Personality assessments give me a measuring tool for that and a wealth of information

On that color personality test, I was gold. Soon after, I discovered the Myers-Briggs Personality test. My result was ISTJ to the nth degree. Solid. Dependable. Traditions. Rules. Order.  In the world of "Enneagram" I am a 5w4 - the highlight of that for me being the intense desire for knowledge and information. 

There was something in me that wanted to make sure that I worked on my weaknesses though. A common "flaw" for an ISTJ is they are aloof or indifferent. The idea is that ISTJs operate by rules and don't find much need for areas of grey. 

I set out to soften my rough edges (and unintentionally sharpened other edges in the process). In the many years since 9th grade, I've taken the Myers-Brigg's Inventory a couple times each year. I watched percentages change and was happy because that fit with my new found abilities to see shades of grey, or my love of travel and change. But, ISTJ was always still the result. A couple years ago I started feeling like I wasn't an ISTJ, but I was still testing as one. Then a few months ago I took the test one more time, and this time it was INTJ. Only 2% into the "N" range instead of the "S" - but for the first time in my life it was a different answer. The stats say that INTJs, especially female INTJs are one of the rarest personality types - but our intense love of knowledge (and perhaps navel-gazing?) means that there is way more info out there on this than the ISTJ. 

Click to Zoom
I had a small identity crisis and then started reading about INTJ. You can go research all the various nuances of what it means to be "N" instead of "S"  if you'd like, I won't bore you with them here, but reading about INTJ was like having someone on the inside of my head who finally understood me.  It was quite nice that this "shift" happened for me this year since I am living in a community of people also obsessed with personality types. If you show up to our house for dinner, chances are you'll be asked what your "type" is and if you don't know, we're pulling up a quiz on the phone and making you take it. We're totally lovable. 
Some traits typical of INTJ that really resonate with me are:

  • :seeing complex patterns easily, or, in a more abstract way - seeing the big picture
  • :seeing/predicting various outcomes for decisions. I am rarely surprised because I've already imagined that the result could happen. 
  • :related to the above:  I prioritize and value common-sense and efficiency.  
  • :intense desire to collect knowledge
  • :awareness of both my strengths and my weaknesses, typically completely honest about both
  • :quick to lose respect for authority when they do not operate correctly/efficiently/logically
  • :highly value intelligence, loves jargon, loves words
INTJs are also apparently famous for being arrogant jerks. In the fiction world - Dr. Gregory House and Sherlock Holmes (especially from the recent BBC series) are considered to be INTJs.  Knowing this gives me the info to once again "soften the rough edges." Hopefully I mostly succeed in finding a way to be assertive in my knowledge and skills without being a jerk. The impact of Jesus Christ in my life goes a long way in tempering my personality with some redemptive grace. 

In the infographic, I identify with most of what is there. Interestingly, INTJ is the type "least likely to believe in a higher power" and I just graduated seminary. This may explain why I am so comfortable with doubt and questions. And could also explain why I highly doubt I will fit the "type with the highest income" descriptor as well ;). 

A couple things happened as I read more and more about INTJ:

1:  I let out a breath and saw myself a little differently. For whatever reason until I saw it written out as a personality type - I called my efficiency-loving brain "impatience." I called my hunger-for-knowledge and my high-demand for correct information "arrogance." I called my disregard for "authorities" who failed to do their jobs adequately "disrespect."  And then all of a sudden, these were my strengths. It is good to use my God-wired brain to play to my strengths of details and big-picture, it is good to know things (and know what I don't know), it is good to demand that those who lead do so in truth and authenticity.

2. Suddenly when I could assign some of these traits as characteristic of the way that my neurons fire, it helped me to see other people in a new light. I no longer become as frustrated when people don't do things "my way" because I understand that I have this crazy rapid-fire efficiency motivated brain that processes about 300 pieces of information in four seconds,* and that's cool, but it doesn't mean that the other person's brain is wrong. There's does something else amazing that mine doesn't. (Like managing to make their hand and eye coordinate, or hearing the intricacies in music.) When I know that the "honest about my strengths, honest about my weaknesses" features is part of my personality type - then people who aren't like that aren't weak, needy, pretentious people. They are just people who perceive their strengths and weaknesses in whatever way they do and do their best to navigate a world that often demands we all be perfect.

So, what's your type?  Do you make use of personality type tools to understand yourself and your relationships with other people? 

*example of my rapid-fire brain when approaching a task

I approach a sink of dirty dishes.

In the first glance I determine the number and type of each dish and the order in which they should be washed so that they can go into the dish-drying rack in a way that maximizes space and still allows air-flow to get the dishes dry. Dishes that are touching each other do not dry.
I begin to stack and organize the dishes so that they are in the right order to be washed, as I'm doing this I am aware of both how long the task will take me and how long the water takes to heat up and I'll turn the faucet on at the right time so that it's hot about the time I'm done getting the dishes to their starting point.

Some things in my head for the order: we have four types of bowls, they each fit in the rack in a certain place. Some are the first thing to get washed, some are the last.  If there is any type of colander, then it can go underneath other things because water will drip through the holes and two things can dry in kind of the same place. If there are pans or other dishes that appear to have stubborn stains, those things need to be soaking from the beginning so that by the time I get to them they are ready to be washed easily. Depending on the amount of dishes to wash - I either clear a side of the sink to use for soaking or move the pan to the countertop with water in it. I glance at the stove and on top of the microwave, as pans and cookie sheets often get left there rather than put into the sink and I want to make sure I don't miss those.

All of this "planning" takes just a couple of seconds.

I am not "OCD" about this. If something doesn't go according to plan (i didn't see a bowl, it goes in the wrong place) I just stick it somewhere else on the rack and move on. But, my brain definitely processes that way about pretty much everything.


  1. The first and only time I took a Myers-Briggs test was freshman year of college, since it was required during our freshman orientation class. That was over 10 years ago.

    I was an ENFP then (borderline E, by like 1% or something ridiculously small). I have no idea if I'm the same or different now, though I suspect I'd rate as an I not an E now.

    Do you know where I could take the test online? I'm curious to see if and how I've changed.

    1. Yeah, I don't think of you as an E at all!

      I like this test: http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test

    2. Thanks! I'll go check it out.

    3. INFP, as I suspected. :)

  2. oh my life, this post! I recognise myself so much in it. I started out as an ISTJ and moved to INTJ in my mid-twenties. I am still unsure which fits me best, because I am not clear-cut in either one. Especially, I am a lot more aware of people's feelings than the INTJ description implies so there's a bit of discomfort there. But it may be that the questioning is an intrisic part of this type!

    1. How fun! I love finding "personality types" twins. I have more awareness of people's feelings than the INTJ too - though I think that's in part because I've gravitated towards "people" jobs (social work, teaching, church)