Myers-Briggs and Why it Matters

I’ve referenced M-B a load of times in conversations since March, and figured it was worth while to take a moment to say why. As well as update those who’ve fallen through the cracks.

That is to say, anyone who’s missed out on my jiffy-summaries in real life.

To begin with, I really like what Camile had to say about this being a valuable exercise. It’s not just splitting hairs and certainly not setting up a hierarchy.

But I have one huge reason why I love the framing power of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The #1 Reason:

It is a vocabulary.

Language is the best way ever discovered of imposing order on reality.  And by having this vocabulary (especially when having it as a shared vocabulary) people can save so. much. time– and emotional angst– that can be better spent on real things, rather than misunderstandings.

Let me illustrate as I outline the first of the four spectra of the MBTI: how an individual recharges their energy.

Each morning we rise to meet the day with a certain measure of emotional energy. A quantum of stamina…. This quantum of emotional energy is not fixed but instead is in constant flux with its environment. We are always losing energy into the environment and receiving energy back again….

We all feel more excited and powerful when we have a brilliant idea or everyone in the room agrees with us.  But taken as a whole, we each have a form of “recharging” that is most effective and/or comfortable for us.

If we get our energy from interacting with other people, we classify ourselves as an E(xtravert). If we need to spend time alone to get back to full-power, we classify ourselves as an I(ntrovert).

This label was powerful for me.  I’ve always been an effusive talker (frequently criticized when I was younger), and so I felt the imbalance of my need to be alone in comparison to the message I got about myself.

From the other side, an Extraverted mother once told me how reassuring it was to her to understand this spectrum. She is the only E in her family of four, and she told me how much it scared her when her daughter, as a child, would quietly go off to shut herself in her room.  The poor E mother would go and ask what was wrong, and how could she help, and the little daughter would only say that she needed to be alone.

Learning about M-B as a family, she told me, dramatically improved all of their interactions.

Reason #2

Properly understood these are neutral terms.

The second reason I love M-B is that, for properly educated people, it creates a values-neutral way of discussing differences.

The second spectrum to pick a letter for has to do with what you pay the most attention to, or where you mind goes first at any given moment of free thought.  These are also patterns of thinking.

If you see first the details of the world around you, what you observe through your five senses, you would categorize yourself as S(encing). If you are more frequently wandering inside your own head, or noticing real-but-subtle things via hunches or extrapolation, you can designate yourself as (i)N(tuative).

I hope you’ve noticed I emphasize you get to make your own designations.  There are tests all over the internet, and there are other folks as educated (or less or more than) I who may be happy to tell you “what you are.” But the MBTI is ultimately a descriptive process, not a prescriptive one. It is to give you more information about yourself (and others) in order to better apply useful relational skills, not to shoehorn anyone anywhere, or say this is how you should act.

One married couple I know is different on all but one of the four letter pairs, including the S/N designation.  One afternoon we got to talking about movies, and the S spouse said something disparaging about fantasy/science fiction in general, and Star Wars in particular.

The N spouse wasn’t particularly attached to the movies, but the attack seemed personal and I could feel the tension crackle.  Not really thinking of anything (babbling in my nervousness) I said, “Here’s the difference between S and N.”

*Instantly* the tension was gone.

It is typical for Ns to be more drawn to Science Fiction or Fantasy stories: tales of possibility, while the S types will tend to stick with more grounded stories, or non-fiction.

The third spectrum is perhaps the hardest to decide (or, it is for me) because of the baggage that hangs off the labels.  Here we look at our primary means of making decisions.  If you weigh the pros and cons of everything before you make the “right” choice, whether or not you particularly like it– based on quantifiable evidence– You’ll probably call yourself a T(hinker). If you have strong opinions or feelings about what you must choose, and/or rooted, inviolate values that you base your decisions on, you’ll want to call yourself a F(eeler). Feeling isn’t always the best word for this category, because it’s not really (or always) about being driven by your emotions. Other one-word descriptors could be Values or even Faith.

This one has always been tricky for me, since I’ve always been trained to have a T(hinking) F(aith).  A solid, inviolate core that is based on a rational reality rooted in God’s immutable word.

So I tend to waffle on how I should label myself.  But I’ll get to that in a later post.

Finally, for the fourth category, we have the way someone lives.  I’ll call this identifying what you value. In this sense, values is not presented as a morally-based right-or-wrong; it’s what you invest in with your time and energy. What you strive to maintain.

If deadlines mean something to you, and you strive to live an orderly life (because you feel more enjoyment/at peace there, not because you feel compelled to by your culture or upbringing), and you crave closure and surety, you would wrap up your 4-letter code with a J(udging). On the other hand, if you prefer to keep your options open, see life as a treasure hunt (where something’s sure to turn up if you wait long enough) and you’re never sure if you’re ready, or have *enough* information, to make that decision, you would finish with P(erceiving).

~ ~ ~

These four pairs combine to create 16 “types” that sub-divide into four groups of four.

More on that next time.

9 thoughts on “Myers-Briggs and Why it Matters

  1. Brooke says:

    Good old Meyer Briggs!!

  2. this is great & sounds just like you in describing it. I tend to agree with you on the T & F, because of the connotation with Feeling is seen as emotional & bad thing, especially if a female. It’s being able to communicate with people that one is not more valuable over another. And then (as you have probably encountered) there are people who take a test & accept the label & never question it, or do anything with it. I have met people saying, “I’m an NF,” but they are anything but an NF. Do you run into that?

    • Amy Jane says:

      I see (or hear) more about people choosing a type because it seem more valuable– particularly if it’s rarer (like an NJ type).

      One thing I’m still debating about whether belongs in my talk is the illusion of “scarcity” meaning “of greater value.” some people seem to choose the N-types because they crave uniqueness. While there is a high correlation between Ns and the desire to be unique, SPs have similar needs.

      I don’t see non-NFs claiming NF so much as non-NT asserting their NTness (I was one of those for a while, for convoluted reasons that I only unpacked with more research).

      I have a guess that’s because most of the Ns you see in popular culture (e.g. television: House, Lightman of Lie to Me) are NTs. And since they’re frequently played as bunny-eared lawyers, even an NF like me is going to crave the kind of freedom or (grudging) respect said attitudes seem to promise.

  3. Dennis Eames says:

    That’s funny. I never looked at the P being a negative. However, I have often viewed the J as negative. I have a tendency to associate the J with judgmental as J’s have a tendency to see things in black and white or the right or wrong way to do things.

    • Amy Jane says:

      This is what I call “type patriotism.”

      I am a J, raised by Js, so I see the positives of my type much more easily/naturally than the P-types.
      That’s what was so neat about realizing Jay (my husband) has the P preference. He’s developed the strengths and overcome many of the weaknesses of the preference, letting me see “in real life” what good can look like, different from me.

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