A prequel post to (I’m sure) many more.
I’m an INFJ.
And what the heck does that mean? most of my acquaintances would say.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most widely used personality sorting test, according to some sources. It is, though, the only system used on the counselling course my mother is currently taking, so I think I’m safe to say it’s a popular tool.
The more astute of you may deny that such a thing can exist. How can something so contradictory and unfathomable as the human character be put to the test? How can such an incredibly diverse population—over seven billion people, spread across 149 million kilometres squared of land—be divided into a mere sixteen categories?
Well, you’d be right. It’s not so simple as that. Most people have at least two or three types they get in tests on a regular basis—and no, that doesn’t mean they suffer from multiple personality disorder.
I may be an INFJ, but I don’t have all the characteristics of the archetypal INFJ—and most people who know a thing about it perceive me as a T type. It’s true, that’s my weakest scale, but perchance I wish to be seen as a T (a Thinker makes decisions based on rationality rather than emotion), but if I answer the questions based on what I believe I truly am (hard to know), Feeling wins out. And if I am too aware of the test process to get an accurate result, after all, then maybe I should just give up and retreat into a dark hole and learn Russian. (I’ve always wanted to do that.)
Still, sceptical though you might be, Myers-Briggs never ceases to surprise me. Just recently I found a wonderful website about ENTJ relationships and compatibility. And upon scrawling through the pages and pages of how an ENTJ typically gets along with other people, I suddenly came to realise that my protagonist wasn’t an INTJ—no, sir! She’s an ENTJ, who withdraws from social contact under stress (which is most of the story). That’s why I thought she was an Introvert (as I’ll explain). And it was incredible to find this website describing her relationships with the supporting characters exactly as I’d envisioned them.
(It is worth noting that there are many other personality tests on the web, and many are very useful. Enneagrams, for instance, study why people behave as they do, rather than merely their behaviour. Useful for main character motivations. And Socionics are a comprehensive system of social relationships: while eliminating several of the shaky bits for which MBTI is criticised (though confusing MBTI users as to type-casting), a theory of interaction has been assembled to outline how people of different personalities get along with one another. But it told me I had a big nose, and I took offence, being small-minded and sensitive on these points. So I prefer MBTI.)
Anyway, what about describing the four scales, or dimensions, as they’re sometimes called? Bare in mind they’ll all be rather wide generalisations. As I said, circumstance plays a huge part in our behaviour, regardless of personality. But, generally speaking, this is what I’ve gleaned: (sorry about the image quality and green squiggly lines, but I can’t be bothered to do it again)
The first dimension can be defined as where you get your energy from. Most people know already whether they’re an introvert or an extravert, but possibly by defining the words in terms of energy source, rather than that loose ‘oh, I don’t have a problem with talking to people’ or ‘oh, I never tell anyone anything’ to which we’re all so accustomed, some difference may be evident.
An extraverted person, according to MBTI, turns themselves outwards, for want of a better description. They would usually speak or act spontaneously, without prior reflection, and like doing and discussing, rather than just sitting and inactively theorising. They have a wide breadth of focus; but none of this means they lack depth. Extraverts, according to one study, make up 72% of the population.
Introverts are basically the opposite. We think things through, prefer mental exertion to action, in most cases, and reflect before doing. Sometimes introverts are wrongly interpreted as having slow reactions, but in reality, we just react in a different way.
The second dimension relates to the methods we use to intake information. This is the one I struggle most with, I admit. To put it simply (in theory), Sensing types like specific evidence, whereas iNtuition types see the ‘bigger picture’.
That doesn’t make much sense to me, either. I may be an N, but that doesn’t mean I understand what the ‘bigger picture’ is, and how I use it.
In more detail, Sensors like facts. They trust their own experience, and approach life in a step-to-step manner. That doesn’t mean they’re fixed in their ways; it just means they operate upon practicality—if a theory isn’t realistic in their daily lives, then it isn’t worth the trouble. They rely upon what their five senses tell them, hence the name ‘Sensor’. Like Extraverted types, approximately three in four people are Sensors.
Intuitive types fall in love with ideas whether they’re practical or not. We trust our instincts—and don’t know entirely why, most of the time. We live in a world of abstracts, patterns and inferences, and are focussed on the future.
Though, of course, it is essential not to forget that Sensors can Intuit—and do—and, equally, Intuitors can Sense. The extent to which a person is either a Sensor or an Intuitive is usually expressed as a percentage—and likewise with the other dimensions.
The two extremes of the third and fourth dimensions are split almost equally in regard of population distribution. The third is how we make our decisions. This is fairly straightforward, I think. Thinkers practice objective logic, looking for flaws in their own and others’ logic and proving what they find. They work on a basis of cause and effect, and apply their rational principles to the people with whom they interact.
Feelers, on the other hand, base their decisions upon their core values and convictions. We see each personal as an individual—with individual logic, if you like, rather than all people being subject to our own (not sure if this is correct or not!). But, more problematically, Thinking can be put to the purpose of Feeling and vice versa. That’s where it drifts into the functions of each type…but that’s rather more complicated, and I’m afraid I’d get everything horribly wrong if I tried to explain it.
The fourth dimension is considered by some to be the ‘grey area’. For example, as an INFJ I am a Judging type, but my dominant function (sorry), Ni, is a Perceiving function. This creates somewhat of a conflict; but when you have all the theory under your belt (I must confess I don’t), it makes sense. (Socionics professes to clear up this ‘grey area’ in the fourth dimension, but it types people rather differently, and should not be lightly compared to MBTI.)
But, indeed, I haven’t even explained the two sides of the coin yet. Judging types like things to be planned out and executed according to the plan. We organise our lives in a scheduled manner—or we like it so, at any rate.
Perceivers are more open-minded. Judgers criticise them for being disorganised, but Perceivers like to keep their options open, so that they’ll be free to take up a better opportunity should one arise. But the real difference is their adaptability to new situations, and quality of being energised by surprises and time pressure.
You may claim I’ve mixed the dimensions up in places, but really they ought to be taken separately. Remember:
- E/I – where you get your energy from
- S/N – how you take in information
- T/F – how you make decisions
- J/P – how you organise your life
People change types, too. It’s said as we become more tolerant, through the wisdom life’s experience brings us, we gravitate towards the opposite end of each scale, and become more balanced people as a result (it is to be hoped).
But am I any the wiser for knowing my ‘personality type’? Reading the descriptions of the other fifteen types, I can visualise myself as each of these different people, in various situations. I understand how they think, and why they think like that. But is that my ‘psychic’ NF nature fooling me into thinking I’m someone else, or my characters, who are just as much a part of me as INFJ, struggling to get to the surface?