Here’s What Your Myers-Briggs Type Can and Can’t Tell You

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Myers-Briggs. I’ll defend it against people who say it’s useless, write and re-write posts trying to come up with the simplest introduction to function stacks ever, and spend my time musing about how type influences both real people and fictional characters. But as much as I like the Myers-Briggs system of personality types, I also know there are things it’s not meant to do.

In fact, applying Myers-Briggs wrongly is one of the biggest reasons it has come under so much criticism. For example, you can find quite a few articles online that argue Myers-Briggs is basically useless in a work environment. They’ll tell you it’s not a good indicator of job performance nor is it all that useful for screening potential employees. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering those aren’t the test’s purpose. And it’s unfair to dismiss a test for not doing something it wasn’t meant to do in the first place.

So what is the Myers-Briggs test supposed to tell you? And just how much can we apply what we learn from finding our type to real life?

This Is Your Brain On Decision Making

The Myers-Briggs test is designed to measure how people’s minds work. It describes their preferred mental processes or “cognitive functions” (to use the technical term). Contrary to what so many critics of the test think, it doesn’t force people into dichotomies. Rather, each type has a “stack” of preferred functions. So an ENFJ type isn’t someone who’s 100% extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. They’re a type that prefers making decisions with Extroverted Feeling, learning new things with Introverted Intuition, and then also uses Extroverted Sensing and Introverted Thinking to a lesser extent (click here to learn how we get from the four letter type to the functions).

These characteristics of Myers-Briggs theory means that taking the test can help you: Continue reading

Finding Community In Variety

There’s something magical about meeting a person who “gets” you. It’s like your minds work on the same wavelength and you’re instantly talking as if you’re old friends. The two of you think so much alike that there’s no struggle to explain yourself.

This sort of connection often has to do with personality type. Our Myers-Briggs types describe the way our minds work (click here for tips on finding your true Myers-Briggs type). When we meet someone else whose brain processes the word in a similar way, we’re likely to experience a connection with them, especially if we have overlapping interests.

click to read article, "Finding Community In Variety" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Camp Photo 1” by Matthew Hurst, CC BY-SA via Flickr

In contrast, when we seem to clash with someone for no reason it often has to do with differences in how we process the world. To use a fictional example from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark don’t just conflict ideologically. Their ISFJ and ENTP types are exact opposites, which means the mental process Steve is most comfortable using is the one Tony finds most stressful (and vice versa).

Many of us seek to surround ourselves with people who think like us. They’re the people we’re most comfortable with, the ones who identify with us, the ones with similar priorities and goals. Often this type of community is based around interests, such as spending time with people in your church, joining a bird watching club, or hanging out with friends at a ballgame. Personality similarities in these groups are typically accidental.

For those with rare personality types, though, it’s hard to find communities of like-minded people. Only about 30% of the population is made up of Intuitive types, and among those INTJ and INFJ are the rarest. How do you find community when only 1-4% of the world’s population thinks like you? Continue reading

Getting in Touch With Your Sensing Side (for INxJs)

We’ve all gotten lost in thought and stubbed our toes or run into something because we weren’t paying attention (or is that just me and my friends?). But for some of us, keeping track of what’s going on in the outer world is actually quite a challenge. People who are Sensing types in the Myers-Briggs system are naturally “wired” to interact with the real world of sensory information, but Intuitives are more concerned with abstract thought and possibility. It can be quite a strength, but it has its downsides as well (perhaps there’s a reason only 30% of the population is Intuitive).

Getting in Touch With Your Sensing Side (for INxJs) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo credits: Les Chatfield (Conversation With a Cat, CC BY), Eve Tisler (untitled, CC BY-SA), and my brother’s photo of me doing yoga

When Sensing isn’t your preferred function (or, in the case of INxJs and ENxPs, isn’t even your second or third function), it can be easy to loose touch with the outer world. Dominant Intuitives may forget to eat or exercise when they’re distracted by non-sensory concerns. We might zone-out and miss important things going on in the outer world. Sometimes we even get hurt and can’t remember how (if I had a dollar for the bruises, cuts, and bumps I notice and wonder “How’d that get there?” …). Yet as challenging as it is, getting in touch with our inferior function, and even befriending it in some way, offers rich opportunities for growth and stability. Continue reading

Myers-Briggs: Fad or Science?

Friends who know I blog about Myers Briggs types sometimes send me links to people critiquing the MBTI and ask what I think. The arguments in videos like “Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless” and articles such as “Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die” tend to follow a similar pattern and hit the same points:

  • Kathryn Brigs and Isabel Briggs Myers had no formal training.
  • The test doesn’t allow for complex personalities or that someone can be a little bit of an extrovert and a little bit of an introvert at the same time.
  • Similarly, the judging-perceiving, thinking-feeling, and sensing-intuition “scales” don’t allow for people who use both.
  • About 50% of people who take the test twice within 5 weeks get different results.
  • Test fails to predict success in various jobs and doesn’t provide meaningful data.
  • The test remains popular because it only gives positive results. These results are vague and hard to argue with, much like astrology and pseudoscience.

Setting aside the first arguments for now, I think these points are a good criticism of some of the free tests going around which make people pick just between the four letter groups. None of this, however, takes into account the science behind Myers-Briggs. In fact, if the critics would bother reading Isabel Myers’ book Gifts Differing, they would find most of their points have nothing to do with actual Myers-Briggs theory.Myers-Briggs: Fad or Science? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

The Truth About Extroverts and Introverts

The video I linked above correctly states that Jung’s theory allowed for people who didn’t fit neatly into a single category. But then they say Kathryn Briggs and Isabel Myers “took Jung’s types but slightly altered the terminology and changed it so every single person was assigned only one possibility or another. You couldn’t be a little bit of an extrovert or a little bit of an introvert.”

In fact, this a complete misrepresentation of Myers-Briggs theory. Continue reading

Learning from Our Stress Function – Inferior Intuition

When we’re talking about someone’s personality type in the Myers-Briggs system, we usually talk about their primary and secondary functions (also called mental processes). An ISFJ, for example, leads with a process called Introverted Sensing (a perceiving/learning function), which is supported with Extroverted Feeling (a judging/decision making function). An ESTP, on the other hand, leads with Extroverted Sensing, supported by Introverted Thinking. Using Personality Hacker’s car model, we can compare our primary function to an adult driving a car, and the secondary function to a second adult navigating in the passenger seat.

Each type also has a tertiary function (the opposite of their secondary function), and an inferior function (the opposite of their primary function). These are less well developed. In the car model, our tertiary function is like a 10-year-old sitting behind the co-pilot, and the inferior function is like a 3-year-old sitting behind the driver. The processes you use most readily are the ones typically visible, and they define your personality as others usually see it. Our less developed functions play a significant role as well, though. Today, we’ll be looking at types which use Intuition as an inferior function.

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Intuition | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Characteristics of Inferior Intuition

ESTPs and ESFPs use dominant Extroverted Sensing, which makes Introverted Intuition their inferior function (this is also sometimes mistakenly called the “shadow”). Types like mine (INFJ) use Introverted Intuition comfortably, but for ESTPs and ESFPs it’s their least developed function. Naomi Quenk says inferior Introverted Intuition displays the following traits (I’ve put the traits of dominant Ni in parenthesis):

  • Internal confusion (instead of intellectual clarity)
  • Inappropriate attribution of meaning (accurate interpretation of perceptions)
  • Grandiose Vision (visionary insight)

ISFJs and ISTJs also lead with a sensing function. They primarily use Introverted Sensing, so that makes Extroverted Intuition their stress function. Here are the traits Quenk associates with inferior Extroverted Intuition (and their counterparts in Ne-dominant types like ENTPs and ENFPs).

  • Loss of control over facts and details (instead of comfortable inattention to sense data)
  • Impulsiveness (flexibility, adaptability, and risk taking)
  • Catastrophizing (optimism about future possibilities)

There are similarities in how a dominant Intuitive type and an inferior Intuitive type use their intuitive functions, but intuition in ESFPs, ESTPs, ISFJs, and ISTJs is poorly developed.

Everyday Life

For most types, the inferior function isn’t always visible. In ISFJs and ISTJs, though, it “seems to color the everyday personality” and they are typically seen as worriers (Quenk, Was That Really Me?, 215). It’s not all bad, though. When an Introverted Sensing type enjoys creative pursuits like writing poetry or music and creating a work of art (especially arts in an abstract form), they are tapping into their intuitive side. They might also daydream or enjoy escaping reality via fantasy and sci-fi. An interest in spirituality — especially aspects of God that cannot be understood with the five senses — might also be tied to the intuitive side.

Worries related to inferior Intuition frequently show up in ESFPs and ESTPs, who are often challenged by society for their apparent lack of seriousness. They rarely stay worried for long, though. Like the introverts, Extroverted Sensing types might also be avid readers, enjoy the arts, and can be attracted the spiritual or metaphysical as a way of explaining their intuition.

Stress Reactions

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Intuition | marissabaker.wordpress.comMost of us don’t use our inferior processes on a regular basis. We’re so used to using the better-developed processes that we don’t spend much time worrying about the ones we don’t use. But under certain stressful conditions, we lose touch with our primary and secondary mental processes and fall-back on the undeveloped inferior function. Think back to the car model we mentioned, and imagine that something unexpected happened (like you swerve to avoid hitting a construction cone or small animal). It shakes up the passengers, the 3-year-old starts crying and suddenly the only thing anyone in the car can focus on is calming the baby.

Unknowns and future plans can trigger stress in all types that use dominant Sensing. ESTPs and ESFPs are most sensitive to situations and people that want them to make a commitment or think about what the future holds. They don’t like feeling trapped by planning, or being judged by people who are more serious and goal-oriented (Quenk 174). ISFJs and ISTJs experience anxiety about “the prospect of unknown, previously unexperienced activities” (Quenk, 218) They also hate it when someone contradicts evidence they can see with their eyes (e.g. they’re having a particularly bad day and someone tells them everything will be fine).

When Sensing types are “in the grip” of inferior Intuition (to borrow a term from Naomi Quenk), they display the characteristics associated with inferior Introverted Intuition or Extroverted Intuition. They are more likely to feel panicked, confused, and as if they’ve lost control over their lives. Intuition is great at coming up with future possibilities, but for dominant Sensing types the possibilities coming out of inferior Intuition often look terrifying. They’ll be distracted by worst-case-scenarios, and may seem paranoid. Instead of processing sensory information with their typical speed and accuracy before acting, they’ll second-guess everything and without careful thought.

Getting Out of Stress

Once we know what our inferior function is an how it affects us, we can start to learn from this hidden side of our personalities. Just knowing it’s there is reassuring, since now we have an idea of why we react to stress the way we do. It also opens up tools for understanding how our minds work, getting back to “normal” after we’ve gone through a stressful situation, and learning to use our inferior function effectively.

ESFPs and ESTPs frequently experience “inferior function episodes,” but they rarely last long. Their brains work quickly, and they don’t tend to dwell on things. If you are an ESFP or ESTP trying to get out of a stress-reaction, it often helps to have a contingency plan that you can fall-back on but still feel free to change. Talking it over with someone works for many ESFPs and ESTPs (both men and women), especially if they encourage you to reconnect with reality and find logical explanations for what’s troubling you. Others Extroverted Sensing types find that working through the experience and doing some hands-on activities also grounds them in their Sensing function (Quenk, 184-185).

As introverts, ISFJs and ISTJs need more alone-time to process the eruption of their inferior function. They might use this alone time to analyze and re-frame the situation to solve the original problem or plan how they can react better next time. Most people with these two types say physical exercise is one of the best ways for them to return to normal. The exception is female ISFJs, who rarely list exercise as useful. Female ISFJs are also more likely to want to talk about their stress reaction with someone else after they’ve had a chance to think (Quenk, 231-232).

Learning From the Inferior

Most type theorists will say people rarely start to incorporate their inferior function until mid-life, but you can start learning to use your Intuition any time. Isabel Meyer suggested that every type exercise all four of their functions when making a decision. Your dominant Sensing helps with analyzing facts, facing reality, and understanding exactly what sort of situation you’re facing. Tapping into Intuition (instead of being scared of it) allows for discovering possibilities you might not have otherwise considered, like how you might change the approach and attitudes that you and others bring to this particular situation (Meyers, Gifts Differing, 197).

As they learn to incorporate Intuition more fully, ISFJs and ISTJs seem to “mellow” and become more relaxed toward shortcomings in themselves and other people. They’re also less stressed by unexpected events (Quenk, 233-234). ESTPs and ESFPs who use their intuition more fully start to seem (a little) more mature. They also feel more comfortable and secure in themselves (Quenk, 186-187).

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Intuition | marissabaker.wordpress.comcredits for pictures used in blog images:

  • The Shadow” by WhatiMom, CC BY-SA via Flickr
  • Shadow” by Nicola, CC BY via Flickr

So Much Cooler Inside

Like many introverts (and a goodly number of extroverts, if some of my friends are any indication), I have an active imagination and “a rich inner life.” I’m daydreaming most of the time, even when it’s not readily apparent. I do let my musings out sometimes, here on this blog and over on my Pinterest boards, for example. The fact that I’m more comfortable expressing myself this way than in person reminds me of Brad Paisley’s song “Online,” except I’m telling the truth online and often masking my real self when I meet people in person. (Watch the music video if you haven’t yet — William Shatner is in it.)

This image by Gene Mollica makes me wonder how many fantastic things people hide behind their masks.

But even my online persona isn’t as “cool” as the me that stays inside my head. She joins the fellowship of the ring, travels with The Doctor, serves as an exopsychologist on the starship Enterprise, rules the world with Peter the Hegemon (if you don’t get this reference, you’re not reading enough Orson Scott Card), moves to a lake-side yurt to write books, marries Prince Charming, and adopts a couple of kids (just not all at the same time).

I spend a large (unreasonable?) amount of time thinking, daydreaming, and imagining. Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me — why don’t I spend more time making my real life interesting instead of constructing fantasies? As a fiction writer, I can call some of it research and story plotting, but I wouldn’t have to be in the stories myself if that were entirely the case. And I can only think of two such daydreams which have become full-fledged stories that can stand on their own.

Partly because I spend so much time in my head, I often wonder what people think of me in real life. For someone who picks up on other people’s emotions intuitively, you’d think this would be easy. But I get so nervous when I think I’m under scrutiny that it’s hard to get past my own emotions enough to pick up on what other people think (unless their emotions are negative, in which case it’s time to flee the room). And then it’s easier to hide out in my head than spend time with “real” people, and the whole cycle begins all over again.

Well, I’m off to write a post for a different blog while talking over the direction of a novel with a couple of my characters (in my head of course — I’m sure my family would start worrying if such conversations were carried on out-loud).