Are We Reducing Each Other to Personality Types?
Myers-Briggs, Introverts and Childhood Trauma
It was only in recent years that I heard of the Myers-Briggs “personality test”, filtered through friends and associates from corporate backgrounds. The first time I took the test I promptly forgot the outcome. In the arts world the Myers-Briggs phenomenon isn’t very popular. If I could take a guess about why that is, it’s perhaps because creativity is about adaptability, the nuance of the human condition and the constant search for transgression. Artists like to break ideas apart, moulding them into something new through dedicated practice. Personality tests are viewed as perhaps, limiting?
During my last bout of illness, I had a crisis of self, somewhat more heightened by the fact I had recently turned thirty. I began to take all kinds of personality tests, reading up on any diagnostic criteria I could get my hands on. I re-took the Myers-Briggs test, and the result was both confusing and intriguing. A lot of it rang true, but the way they framed my ‘personality’ didn’t sit right with me.
One aspect of the test evaluates how much of an introvert/ extrovert you are. It turned out that I was about 80% introvert. Honestly, it surprised me, though it came as a relief. My surprise had a lot to do with society’s common misconceptions about introverts.
Fact: Not all Introverts are Shy and Quiet!
Also — you can be a shy extrovert! The difference, at its most basic level, is that introverts re-charge whilst doing solo activities, whilst extroverts are stimulated by being around others. I do think that our ability to be around others for longer or shorter periods of time fluctuates, and the pandemic has clearly demonstrated that. That is not to say that an introvert can transition to an extrovert overnight, or ever, indeed.
Introversion has always been a quality I recognised privately in myself, but from the outside (depending who I was with) it could appear to be the opposite. From a young age I loved writing stories, plays and poems, and I loved performing them, dramatically. I was dubbed a “drama queen”, which is unflatteringly defined as, “a person given to often excessively emotional performances or reactions”. In reality I was an incredibly sensitive child (and am an incredibly sensitive adult) who felt deeply and passionately about almost everything. As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt how to hide this better.
The other side of this—the side that I learnt to conceal the most—was that I felt excessively uncomfortable in groups of people. I disliked group projects and sudden or repetitive loud sounds. Yet I loved theatre, art, music and words. I learnt from a young age that to be taken seriously in the arts you had to “put yourself out there”, and that it glorified extroverts, relegating introverts to a boring, potentially talentless pile.
(I write about that here:
Non-sleazy Networking for Extroverts
If I’d only just shut my ears to these ideas, I could relinquish years of excruciating humiliation, pushing myself into a ‘larger-than-life' character I disliked. As a child, my nose was always in a book. Life was a distraction from reading. I never would have written stories if I hadn’t enjoyed spending so much time alone. When it was playtime at school I was desperate to stay inside to read, but I'd be dragged out into the howling concrete battleground.
Therefore, the Myers-Briggs test helped me validate something crucial, and what I’d known all along, that although I could get up on a stage in front of hundreds of people and play the clown, I was still an introvert.
The Dark Side of Myers Briggs – or “Cod Psychology”
Having said that, I am hugely sceptical of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, as many others are, not least because the criteria have no grounding in assessed psychology. The documentary, Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests, uncovered that the test has become a popular tool for employers, particularly in the US, and that its criteria are based on sexist, racist and ableist biases.
Considering that a company might ask a prospective employee to take the test, the questions are pretty invasive. I also found them ambiguous and inflexible to the fact that you may adapt, evolve or even regress at certain times of your life, depending on your circumstances. Let’s imagine a person who has suffered from childhood trauma. It is known, in the world of neuroscience, that childhood trauma will significantly impact the way that your brain works into adulthood. That means that you will likely suffer from issues such as, “a pattern of hypervigilance to threat and/or of excessive avoidance”. It can make regular stressful experiences in adulthood exceedingly difficult. You may suffer from depression and anxiety because of the way your brain has been wired, leading you to overstate the danger of certain situations, or merely hiding yourself away from problems.
In recent years however, we have been blessed with the good tidings of neuroplasticity! Neuroplasticity is our ability to train our brain—through therapy, meditation, various mindful practices, sometimes in conjunction with medication—to respond more reasonably to a perceived threat, or tackle problems such as addiction.
Myers-Briggs say I’m kraykray
Myers-Briggs says I am “80% turbulent”. Changing the neural pathways of the brain is certainly not easy and it can take a long, long time. I would class myself as a hypervigilant person. This has undoubtedly been bound up with depression and ill health in the past. Over the years, I have been able to deploy practices that challenge my initial reactions to what I perceive as unmanageable situations. Therefore, anyone that I am working with, or even hanging out with in my downtime, is unlikely to witness the effects of my hypervigilant brain.
But Myers-Briggs has my number. It knows my first response to any given situation, because I answered the questions honestly and it doesn’t take into account the hard-work I have put into managing my anxiety. Yet the severity of my “turbulence” does not look impressive to prospective employers. An article on the 16 personalities website–advocates of the Myers-Briggs theory—encourages us not to view turbulence as a negative trait. The positive aspect of turbulent-types is that we have a keen eye for detail and are never satisfied (I’m a natural-born editor!).
Whilst I can see that there is some inherent goodness in turbulence (I never chose the easy path after all), I also resent that I am reduced to this. For example, if I receive an unpleasant, confrontational WhatsApp – my “turbulent personality-type" doesn’t mean I am going to respond in all-caps, declaring war against said individual. I may initially want to. I may even delay replying for a while as I gather up the armoury of tools I have collected over the years to keep my emotions in check. But the would-be aggressor will not witness this part, and maybe not even those closest to me. And that’s the difference.
Also, I question how many people in this day and age (post-pandemic/ outbreak of war/ damning reports about classism, racism and ableism frequently published) aren’t feeling reactive, considering life nowadays, and our relationship to social media. Let's not forget the many studies linking social media and disaster-porn headlines to deteriorating mental health.
The Ambiguous/ Open-ended Statements of the Myers-Briggs Test
Circling back to the Myers-Briggs test, I will list below the questions that, for me, were unclear and could potentially lead to all manner of outcomes. In the following statements, you have to select the degree to which you agree or not – ranging from strong agree to strong disagree:
“You are very sentimental”
(Sentimental about what? Your children? Your button collection? The meaning of sentimental is surely personal and subjective.)
“You are more inclined to follow your head than your heart.”
(What does it really mean, “your head” and “your heart”? We know that societally favours those who “think with their heads” - but what do we mean by this? Having low empathy?)
“You are prone to worrying that things will take a turn for the worse.”
(Anyone responding during a time of monumental turbulence – ie. the outbreak of war – should surely be forgiven for being pessimistic, particularly if there is a proximity to said warzone.)
“You think the world would be a better place if people relied more on rationality and less on their feelings.”
(I am sure there are many powerful people out there who believe that their actions are based on rationality and not feelings, but it takes a very emotionally attuned person to know whether they are truly acting from a place of rationality or not. How do you think the emotionally attuned person would answer the question?)
“There are two types of people in this world…”
Nothing irritates me more than this statement. One of the upsides of my frustrating, stressful, poorly paid arts career is that it has allowed me to observe that people are incredibly complex. Even if someone has a diagnosis of some kind, we will never know how that person is going to react in any given situation.
From an early age, I was given the diagnosis of “drama queen”, de facto, extrovert. I literally did become a drama queen for a while, until the other aspects of working in theatre burnt me out and I lost a sense of who I was. So, I am an introvert, and I have no desire to overcome this state of being. I protect myself and my health when I understand that overexposure to certain situations will make me unwell. However, this doesn’t make me want to stay in my lane. Will I continue to put myself in situations that terrify me and make me feel uncomfortable? Yes, but only if the value of the outcome and my curiosity outweighs the price I pay afterwards.
Oh, and if you are curious, this is my Myers-Briggs “diagnosis”:
Personality type: Mediator (INFP-T)
Traits: Introverted – 79%, Intuitive – 91%, Feeling – 73%, Prospecting – 54%, Turbulent – 79%
Strategy: Constant Improvement
What about you? I’d love to know how many of my readers identify as an introvert.
I am starting a new project with my fellow creative and introvert, the wonderful
Dee Rani Sohi
. Dee has begun an online community for creative introverts and HSPs, otherwise known as
Sensitive Introvert Hideout
. My podcast, interviewing creative introverts, will be launched on the 28th of March.
An Interview with Myself
will defeat the norms of podcasting, not least because it is a visual podcast and will be subtitled.
Here is the link
to subscribe to our YouTube channel
and get updates about the new podcast every last Monday of the month.
Hoping to hear from introverts, extrovert allies and ambiverts far and wide!