So, I will admit it. I am a personality nerd. I think that understanding MBTI typing makes us better parents, too.
Typing people into 4-12 kinds has been going on since Aristotle, and Kiersey (the one who named and described each of Myers-Briggs’ 16 types) makes a compelling argument that the ancient systems (like choleric, melancholic, etc) are observations of the same sort as those made by Isabel Briggs Myers. If you want to know the best personality test, I think it’s actually reading the descriptions until you land on the one that nails you.
I have found this typing information to be super helpful in working alongside people, in parenting my children, in teaching, and in understanding myself. Here’s Isabel Myers on the topic:
Many destructive conflicts arise simply because two people are using opposite kinds of perception and judgment. When the origin of such a conflict is recognized, it becomes less annoying and easier to handle.
The letters and combinations may seem confusing, but it is a system (which is why I love it) to describe the different ways people perceive reality and then come to conclusions about it. That is really the jist of MBTI right there. Understanding MBTI means understanding how different people see information and make decisions. In justifying her typing system, Myers writes:
Briefly, the theory is that much seemingly chance variation in human behavior is not due to chance; it is in fact the logical result of a few basic, observable differences in mental functioning.
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Understanding MBTI to understand others
Later, she clarifies that the system is built upon different types of healthy and necessary-to-the-world mental functioning, not dysfunctional ones. The title of her book is Gifts Differing, referencing Romans 12:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.
Her goal is to help different people’s views of the world mesh together into a collaborative whole and be valued by all, rather than judged or ignored. Understanding MBTI means understanding that no one person’s perception or set of criteria is complete. It’s not that there are many right answers, but that every person is finite.
She goes on:
Together, perception and judgment, which make up a large portion of people’s total mental activity, govern much of their outer behavior, because perception – by definition – determines what people see in a situation, and their judgment determines what they decide to do about it. Thus, it is reasonable that basic differences in perception or judgment should result in corresponding differences in behavior.
To understand MBTI, you have to understand the letter combinations. The MBTI assigns four letters to each type, and each letter “slot” has 2 options:
- I/E – Introvert/Extrovert :: where your best self is, what direction your energy flows
- S/N – Sensing/iNtuition :: (perception) what kind of information you prefer to take in
- T/F – Thinking/Feeling :: (judgment) how you prefer to make decisions
- J/P – Judging/Perceiving :: whether you prefer to use your perception or your judgment in the outer world (which foot you put forward, your S/N or your T/F)
Isabel Myers writes:
Whichever process they prefer, whether sensing or intuition, they will use more, paying closer attention to its stream of impressions and fashioning their idea of the world from what the process reveals. The other kind of perception will be background, a little out of focus. With the advantage of constant practice, the preferred process grows more controlled and more trustworthy.
So, personality is something that develops in childhood naturally and over time. Later in the book, Myers says that personality distinctives may diminish with age because often older people have had enough life experience to have to exercised all of the functions to such an extent that they are able to choose the most appropriate option over their preferred option.
Understanding MBTI letters
Here is the shorthand explanations I’ve worked out for each of these 8 options (this is based on my extensive and long-reaching reading and note-taking. My top 5 books are at the end of the post), trying to evade clichés and stereotypes.
- Introvert: pays more attention to his inner world than the outer world, prefer to keep his emotions internally rather than expressed, prefers to think before acting or speaking (making him appear or be reserved).
- Extrovert: pays more attention to the outer world than his inner world, enjoys expressing himself, spends himself freely in commitments and activities.
- Sensing: pays more attention to sense-details in the here-and-now than to ideas and connections, matter-of-fact, can’t stop himself from observing and being aware of what’s around him, prefers living in the present.
- Intuitive: pays more attention to ideas and connections, seeks inspiration, can be independent of and even unaware of surroundings, can’t stop himself from thinking, prefers achievement and innovation.
- Thinking: makes decisions based on impersonal and dispassionate reasoning, values consistency, doesn’t get feelings hurt because it’s about the point not about people.
- Feeling: makes decisions based on personal and relational reasoning, values harmony, gets emotionally involved because everything is about people.
- Judging: prefers to make decisions, close open loops, and come to conclusions; the perception preference feeds the inner self, while the judging option is the public face.
- Perceiving: prefers to keep options open and learn more, loves to continually take in new observations; the judging preference feeds the inner life, while the perception option is the public face.
An introvert’s best energy is spent in (and recharges itself with) a quiet, private, reflective life. An extrovert’s best energy is spent in (and recharges itself with) a public, expansive, interactive life.
A sensing type loves concrete data, observations, and hard-and-fast categories. An intuitive type loves ideas, unexpected connections, and big picture visions.
A feeling-oriented person is friendly, seeks harmony, and always takes the personal and relational side into account when making decisions. A thinking-oriented person is analytical, seeks consistency, and rarely gets personally involved when making decisions.
A judger uses his T/F preference when dealing with the world and life. This means that he will want decisions made, prefers to commit one way or another rather than “wait and see,” and will move into action once a decision is made (but not before). A perceiver uses his S/N preference when dealing with the world and life. This means that he will want to keep his options open, gather as much information as possible before making a decision (“wait and see”), and move forward and “try the waters” before committing.
Introversion and extroversion, so popular and misunderstood today, plays a bit-part in MBTI. That is not the key distinction between types or what separates people. The key to the MBTI is the Perceiving and Judging pair. The first and last letters are really modifications on the core S/N and T/F pair.
Under the theory presented here, personality is structured by four preferences concerning the use of perception and judgment. Each of these preferences is a fork in the road of human development and determines which of two contrasting forms of excellence a person will pursue.
MBTI does not predict how much excellence different types reach or aspire to, but what sort of excellence attracts them.
Here is Isabel Myer’s type chart of the 16 options:
The TJs are in the corners taking the brunt of it, the Fs are in the middle where they can hold everyone together, the Ts are at the sides giving structure, the Is are northern (cool and independent) and the Es are southern (warm and inviting). The very structure of her chart helps you remember the characteristics of the letters and their combinations.
Understanding MBTI helps us see our own weaknesses as well as the strengths of others we’d never otherwise notice.
So, do you know what type you are? Can you guess based on my explanations?
If you want to take a test, I recommend the one at 16Personalities.com. Their type descriptors are also really good. Another good way to figure it out is to read the brief descriptions given at Personality Page, narrow it down to two or three most likely, then read the full descriptions and find the one that resonates most.
But remember that each of the four places is a spectrum between the two options. Everyone uses all 8 functions, but most people have a preference for each. The stronger the preferences, the more extreme the personality type (and the easier, therefore, to type). Generally, being toward the middle is a sign of maturity – the ability to switch up what you use based on what’s needed – but it can leave you straddling a line between two types or feeling “personality-less.”
If you think this sounds like a lot of bunk and you don’t care, then you’re an ISTJ.
Mystie’s essential understanding MBTI library:
So, what type are you?
I am an INTJ, the one always cast as the evil genius in every type chart out there.