I’ve never been someone who bought into the idea that you could classify people by their personalities. To me, it seemed like a useless exercise to spend time taking personality and aptitude tests just to have some computer tell you what you already knew. After all, clicking yes/no in response to questions doesn’t change who you are. And I didn’t believe that it could reveal much about who you were either.
On top of that, I always felt like I already knew myself. I never went through the typical adolescent identity crisis and for the most part I’ve always been proud of the individual traits that make up who I am. (And I’m not saying that’s always a good thing–it took me a long time to learn that even though I should have respect for myself I also need to be open to change).
And so when I read about the Myers Briggs tests my senior year of high school in psychology, the idea didn’t exactly grab me. When I took the test, it was hard for me to know the right answers to the questions. Yeah, sometimes I liked to be the center of attention in a room, but there were other times where I really didn’t. And while most of the time I really cared about meeting deadlines, my desk was always a mess and I wasn’t particularly organized. When I looked at those black and white letters marching across the computer screen I couldn’t see myself anywhere in them. I was grey, just like everyone else, and to try to parse myself into definitive categories was frustrating and futile.
Fast forward to a present day. A few weeks ago I decided to give the whole personality test thing another go–not to learn anything new about myself, but to learn about a particularly tough character I was writing in my story. I just couldn’t make her come alive on the page, and so I set off on a quest to “get to know” her better. Taking a personality test with her in mind seemed like the perfect way to figure out how she would react in different settings.
So I googled a few different tests, and settled on 16personalities.com, a site that has a fairly advanced version of the Myers Briggs test (it gives you a sliding scale to place yourself on when answering questions as opposed to just yes/no), and a comprehensive overview of what being each personality type means. First I took the test as my character and then as I read through her personality type, I began to wonder about myself. I certainly had trouble understanding her actions within my story (even though I’m the one who makes her do them–how twisted is that?), and I wondered if maybe my disconnect from her was because I had a dramatically different personality.
So I took the test as myself. And as I read through the overview, it blew my mind. The test classified me as an INFJ–someone who is introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging. It took me a little while to understand exactly what each of those words meant, but after some reading I started to get it (you can read about it here).
What really helped me to understand what those letters meant, however, was the profile afterwards. Reading through it was bizarre. I felt like someone had followed me around under an invisibility cloak for the entirety of my life and made astute observations about how I interacted with the world and then wrote them up for some website. Quite frankly, it was a bit unsettling.
I realized things about myself that I had never known before, but that suddenly clicked into place the whole of my personality. In fact, they clicked into place the whole history of my life. For instance, I’d always been under the impression that I was an extrovert–I have no trouble talking to strangers, and connect quickly and easily with a variety of different people. In classes I tend to be downright obnoxious with my outspokenness (I have serious Hermione Granger syndrome), and I tend to be the family clown.
But there have always been things about myself that I couldn’t quite understand–like the fact that there are days when seeing anyone other than my reflection in the mirror exhausts me, and how I purposefully turn around and go the other direction when I see another person while out for a run, and how early in the morning is my favorite time because no one is around. Suddenly, the fact that I would rather curl up with a book than go to a party made sense. And knowing that I was an introvert–and more importantly, embracing it–made me feel less ashamed about how much time I spent by myself.
There were other tidbits too, like how people with my personality type connect easily with people but have a really hard time bringing those relationships past acquaintanceship and into friendship. This is something that has always bothered me about myself–there are very few people that I can successfully get close to, and I’m always way more likely to have a few best friends than a lot of just friends. Suddenly, I understood why the first time meeting someone is always the easiest for me. I’m great at the initial getting to know you stuff. But when it comes to stepping past that, I just can’t seem to make myself open up.
It was surprising to me to realize that I do have trouble opening up. I consider myself a very open person, but as I reviewed my actions I realized that I’m really open about things I’m not invested in. I feel comfortable talking about poop with just about anyone, and it’s hard to make me squirm when discussing any number of topics. But telling someone I love them (even when I really do love them) is like pulling nails. And it also explains why I get so weird when it comes to emotional moments (like the time me and Jordan spent three months apart, and when we finally reunited in the airport I refused to let him touch me).
Understanding myself, and what was specific to me, also helped me understand other people. I suddenly realized that not everyone has extremely strong hunches about people when they first meet (that tend to be correct–my personality type is known as the “mystical” one) and that saying it out loud might make me sound judgmental. I realized that some people really do thrive while spending time with other people–something that helps me understand Jordan better. By accepting that other people really do go through the world in dramatically different ways than I do, I felt I was better able to understand the needs and desires of the people in my life.
With all of these revelations about myself, it got me thinking: how well do we really know ourselves? While 23 years may not be the longest time to get to know yourself, I also feel like I should’ve had a pretty good idea of the basics. How many other people are out there who think things about themselves that simply aren’t true? And while it may not seem like the worst thing in the world to have misconceived ideas about how you navigate the world, I know that I at least often tried to force myself to be someone I wasn’t, but who I thought I was. And that caused all kinds of tension and stress.
Me and Jordan explored this idea of knowing yourself further by taking the test together, where each of us discussed how we perceived each other as we took it. It was a really different experience taking it alongside someone who observes you day in and day out, and interesting to find that we often had dramatically different opinions about how each other behaved. For instance, Jordan saw himself as someone who tends to act on whims and neglects to plan, and while I could see how sometimes he acted spontaneous, when I read the question I immediately thought of the detailed travel itineraries he planned for us, and the way he carefully planned out his day and even week. He got different results when he took it by himself as opposed to when we talked over each answer before he chose it. That led to the question: is it possible for other people to know you better than yourself? Whose opinion is more valid in a situation like that–him, who lives in and experiences Life As Jordan every day, or me, who watches him experience it in all different situations with an unbiased perspective? (I tend to lean toward him knowing himself, but it’s still an interesting question).
With all that said, I’ve revised my opinion about personality tests. Reading about my personality enabled me to see myself with clear eyes. With a deeper understanding of who I am, I feel like I can pinpoint my weaknesses and work on them with an eye to my own personal health and happiness. It also gives me the tools for understanding other people, and lends me empathy when I’m having trouble connecting with dramatically different personalities.
So, if you want to go on a whirlwind of a self-exploration journey, click here to get started. (Though I would like to note that not everyone fits so neatly into one personality type–Jordan doesn’t really fit in any personality type, but I think he would say that taking the test helped him reflect on who he is and how he interacts with the world, so it’s still valuable).
What do you think about Myers Briggs? Was your test enlightening? As always, I’d love to hear about it!
8 thoughts on “Are you who you think you are?”
Sarah, you write so well and express such nuanced, careful thoughts! I really enjoy reading your commentary on various topics, and I think that you made good points about Myers Briggs – although it’s usually presented as a tool to better understand yourself, it might actually more valuable as a tool to further appreciate how other people operate. It’s neat that you and Jordan took the test again together 🙂
Caly — It’s great to hear from you, and so good to read that you enjoyed my post! Myers Briggs really is a fascinating lens to view yourself and others through. It can be so hard to imagine what it would be like to live life with a different personality, and even just reading the profiles of other personalities helped me to envision it. I hope everything is going well for you!
I’m doing well, Sarah! I am largely enjoying my classes, and have recently declared a double major in history (already declared environmental studies). All good wishes 🙂
Ah! I am an INFJ as well (though sometimes that T gets thrown in as well) – I like how you wrote about your experience – mine was similar – I was like “woah! There’s a name for people like me” and was excited to find resources which helped me figure out a few things about myself. Has yours changed over time or do you feel that still applies?
Mine seems to have held steady through the years, though I think I’ve actually gotten more introverted since I wrote that post. Super cool that you’re also an INFJ! What part of it do you identify most with?
I’m not sure if I ever responded, but I relate to the feeling of being different/rare/having a unique perspective, that I’ve read a lot about in regards to INFJ’s, but really there’s so much – finding patterns/making connections, love of learning, constantly thinking, need writing, yearn deep connection…
That’s a tough question, haha – I’m not sure. At different times different parts are more apparent than others. I actually looked up what others offer as the definitions/characteristics of each to remind me of what each letter encompasses, separately, because they often play off of each other in my life…
I (introverted) – I definitely need time on my own to process, ponder, and work through things, often feel intense internal motivation, and struggle in large groups – I have a small number of close friends (I think this is partly because I have very high expectations of others and myself) and prefer doing one-on-one activities.
N (intuitive) – I am CONSTANTLY thinking (and worrying) about the future, and am always making connections and encouraging others to do the same (when I was a teacher, I often encouraged my students to make connections to other classes, their experiences, and the world).
F (feeling) – I am a super sensitive person to certain things – I pick up on others’ emotions quickly, and take them on or get distracted by them – so in a group setting, or when talking to another person, I’ve found that I usually don’t look people in the eyes because of what I might read into their reactions… Also, seeing an animal on the side of the road, or even hearing about an animal or person getting hurt, or seeing vast swaths of forested land being deforested — all make me hurt as though I’m the one being directly impacted.
J (judging) – I’m totally a planner, often compartmentalize things to better understand them, and struggle when others constantly change things or are unpredictable…
I have also previously tested as INTJ, though I think the “F” totally fits me and generally the INFJ descriptions are spot on; I did find this description of INTJ which seems to fit me well too: “INTJs are perceptive about systems and strategy, and often understand the world as a chess board to be navigated. They want to understand how systems work, and how events proceed: the INTJ often has a unique ability to foresee logical outcomes. They enjoy applying themselves to a project or idea in depth, and putting in concentrated effort to achieve their goals. INTJs have a hunger for knowledge and strive to constantly increase their competence; they are often perfectionists with extremely high standards of performance for themselves and others. They tend to have a keen interest in self-improvement and are lifelong learners, always looking to add to their base of information and awareness.” So in that way, I am part INTJ at times – constantly thinking and figuring, and seeing/understanding the implications and possible long-term impacts of a choice or path taken. (Decision-making can be a challenge haha)…
Can you tell I’m super into the Myers-Briggs and thinking about personality and how that impacts behavior? 🙂