Can my personality change?

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Because I like to geek out on Myers-Briggs personality stuff, I hear some comments fairly often from those who probably just want me to stop.

“I don’t have a personality,” they say. Or, “I used to be a feeling type but now I’m not.” I’ve even had people tell me they used to be extroverts but are now introverts.

There’s one thing I know all Myers-Briggs sources say: Your basic personality type does not change.

But that’s not people’s experience, and I get it. I tested as an INFJ for a number of years in high school and college before I started getting an (accurate) INTJ result.

Can both the experts’ opinion and the common experience be right?

I think so. As far as I can tell, people’s experience with a “changed personality” (apart from brain injury or trauma resulting in a psychological disorder) generally come down to one of three possibilities:

1. Your personality “changed” because you had the wrong test result.

By far, this is the most common occurrence, especially if – like most of us – you’re getting your personality diagnosis from a free internet test.

All the MBTI-certified people out there (and I am not one) are always quick to point out that multiple choice questionnaires are not reliable; the reliable way to know your type is to be “diagnosed” by a professional.

The questions the free tests ask are highly subjective, not only because of differing levels of self-awareness, but even differing social and personal experiences color the interpretation of what the questions and answers mean.

Plus, some types are more likely to mistype themselves with the tests.

FJ types tend to experience the feelings of those around them more than their own inner feelings. This means they might answer the questions through the lens of their loved ones’ perspective (because that is coloring their choices, thoughts, and behavior) and type more similarly to who they’re close to rather than themselves.

SP and NP types, especially extroverts, see more information and potential in the outer world than they see connections within themselves. They believe they can do or be any of the options whenever they choose and they are less aware of the inner criteria they’re using to make the choices they do. Because they love their own spontaneity, they answer test questions with spontaneity and come up with a different result every time. The exception is an INFP, whose inner awareness of self is one of the strongest of any type; thus, they usually type themselves correctly.

Another common scenario for mistyping is when you don’t live up to your own standards. This often happens to J types. Because they are always judging, matching up what they see or think to a standard, they tend to rank themselves lower than others would on whether they are “organized” or “responsible.”

So if your type description doesn’t ring eerily true – like someone has been reading your mind – then you’re likely typed incorrectly. Not only that, but if your closest friend or spouse doesn’t also feel a light bulb moment and confirm it, it is most likely off. Let that be the final determining factor, not the test result and definitely not which Harry Potter character you most identify with.

2. Your personality “changed” because you’re using functions other than your dominant pair to compensate, transition, or conform.

The sixteen personality types in Myers-Briggs are based on pairs of cognitive functions – the two dominant functions in the types “stack” of all the functions.

During certain times of our life, however, we might be relying on a function that is not in our dominant pair. That can happen for a number of reasons, not all of them bad, but it does cloud the waters when trying to diagnose your type.

For instance, if you’re in a group of extroverts and an extrovert FJ, you might dial back your own Fe (extroverted feeling – the way you extrovert and your primary function) in order to balance the group dynamics (because that is your FJ priority). So even though you might not be acting like an extrovert, nothing has actually changed about your personality.

Another common example is if a function other than one of your dominant is needed for a job. This happens most often to F males who use their T function in their work. That doesn’t change their basic type. The same thing happens the other way around for T mothers, at times. The nature of the job requires them to draw on their F. An N-type told to detail-clean something must draw on S. An S-type writing a book is also drawing on N.

We all have all the functions in our stack, but if one of the functions outside our dominant pair gets used more often or more publicly than our dominant pair, then our true type is hidden but not changed.

3. Your personality “changed” because you are maturing.

Now, we can hope that this result is actually the most common cause of personality change.

Isabel Briggs actually has an entire section on this in her book on typing. In it, she explains the maturing process as personality development. Her rough timeline goes something like:

  • Children – explore using all the functions and begin developing preferences while not necessarily having a dominant.
  • 20-somethings – Settle into using their primary function, perhaps in an unbalanced (without the secondary function) way.
  • 30-somethings – Develop their dominant pair and come to feel “themselves”
  • 40-somethings – Life requiring them to expand their function unsettles them and causes them to question themselves
  • 50-somethings – Become difficult to type because life experience has taught them how to successfully use the function appropriate to the situation rather than only their preferred or using the needed function badly.

This is a rough estimate based on her perception of averages. She says that what we call “maturity” is moving along this line of developing our ability to use all the functions in our stack well.

Thus, MBTI is designed first to describe healthy personality function and secondarily to outline potential paths to self-development, helping us be more aware of where we are weak not so we can stay stuck there but so that we can practice and grow and learn.

Our personalities do not change, but our ability to use them does.

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