For years, I’ve been an avid “personality typer”. I enjoy typing myself, friends, family members… even fictional characters. Not only is it fun, it can also be a really helpful tool to better understand myself and other people. There have been so many times where I’ve been reading an article on ENFPs (my Myers-Briggs type), and I’ve been so excited because THAT IS EXACTLY ME. It gives me a sense of validation in a way, to see that I’m *supposed* to be like that, because *all* people of my personality type are that way. However, this also presents some serious problems – and I think that while there are many benefits of personality typing, there are also some very real dangers associated with it.
We Are All Different
When I get too caught up in personality typing, I start grouping people together – putting all of the INFJs, and ENFPs, and ESTJs, and INTPs… etc. into their own separate boxes. This is dangerous, because none of us really fit into those boxes. Every single person on Earth was created by God with his own, wholly unique personality – and so while Myers-Briggs and other personality typing systems can be very helpful in understand our personalities, it’s important to remember that these systems are not comprehensive and were created by humans.
None of us really fits into *any* personality type. I am not really an ENFP – that is just the “Myers-Briggs type” that I relate to most out of the sixteen types that people made up. So, when people use personality types to compare each other (i.e. “This INFJ acts this way and thinks like this, so *this* INFJ must be the same!”) it leads to false assumptions and a lack of understanding people. Each of those people being compared and put into boxes is an actual, unique, person – Fred is Fred, not an ENFP like other ENFPs. He is like no other person on Earth, and thus can only be wholly understood by being seen as such. Empathy doesn’t work if you are trying to empathize with a personality type instead of an actual person.
Again, I’m not saying there is no benefit to personality typing – there certainly is, and I believe God *wants* us to use the reason and creativity He gave us to develop systems in order to better understand ourselves and the world He created. However, it’s important to recognize that these systems are our own, and thus flawed. We are all different, and so personality types can only go so far in helping us understand each other.
My Personality Type Should Not Be My Role Model
Maybe this sounds obvious, but I think many of us do treat our personality types as our role models, even if unconsciously (I know I myself have). It’s great to read articles about various aspects of our types – strengths, weaknesses, stressors, preferences, traits, etc. However, it becomes a problem when we start trying to become *more* like our personality type descriptions, instead of using those descriptions to help us grow out of our weaknesses and become better people.
Example: I know that one of my weaknesses is that I don’t do well when I’m alone for too long – I need enough quality social interaction, or I can get depressed. This is a true fact about myself, and it is also a true fact about most ENFPs (that’s where the E for extrovert comes in). It’s tempting to read about this weakness, and then to say, “well, obviously this means I *have* to get enough time with people, otherwise I’m just going to be depressed”. I tell myself this, and then when I am alone for too long, I do get depressed. However, what I should be doing is learning how to *not* get depressed in these situations. Knowing this about myself, I should try to improve. This is something I am learning currently, living away from most of the people I know – and it’s been so incredibly valuable. I’m learning to recognize God’s continual presence so much more – He is always right with me, so I am never truly alone. Understanding this is helping me learn to be joyful and energized even in solitary times. With my personality type as my role model, I would have never started growing and learning to overcome this weakness.
It’s important to recognize weaknesses as weaknesses and try to grow out of them, rather than embrace them because they are a part of our personalities. Our personalities should not be our role models – Christ should be our role model – and we should constantly be trying to change ourselves to become more like Him.
My Identity is Not Found in My Personality Type
I know from experience that it is so easy for one’s personality type to become one’s identity. When this happens, it makes us feel a sense of entitlement for acting the way we act, regardless of how it hurts others, because it’s just “who we are”. It’s certainly true that we all have our own, unique personalities – but it’s also true that we can (and often should) choose to behave contrary to our personalities in order to love other people. This is essential in order to die to ourselves – which we must do daily as followers of Christ.
Example: For me, one thing that being an ENFP means, is that I love spontaneity. It’s true that I am happiest and most comfortable when I have the freedom to go on spontaneous adventures, and do whatever is most exciting to me in the moment. It’s good to know this about myself, so that I can make decisions in my life accordingly – one reason I chose to be a librarian, is because it’s a profession that is always new and changing, and I have the freedom to use my time as I see most valuable and explore whatever is exciting and interesting to me while I work.
However, even though this ENFP trait is a part of my personality, it is not who I am. It is not my identity. Because we are all different, with different personalities and different preferences, we also all have different stressors. If I just accept each and every one of my personality traits as who I am, and thus refuse to change those parts of myself, I will stress and hurt so many people in my life. True, living according to my personality type is ideal for *me* – but our lives are not about us. Our lives are about becoming more like Christ, and loving other people before ourselves. Our identities are not found in ourselves and our own personalities, but in Christ.
Of course God made each and every one of us how we are for a reason, and so it’s important to recognize and celebrate our differences and unique personalities. However, He did not make us different so that we can rigidly adhere to our natures and refuse to grow. When our personality types become our role models instead of Christ, and our identities are found in ourselves instead of Christ, we will grow farther and farther away from Him. Christ sacrificed everything for us – and in turn, to become more like Him, we must be willing to sacrifice everything (even aspects of our personalities) for His sake, and for the sake of others. When we do, it will not mean a life of bondage – rather, it is the only way to have a life of true freedom. When we give up every part of ourselves for Christ’s sake, when we choose to love others instead of loving ourselves, we will become the person we were always meant to be. That is the only way we will be able to cast off our masks, and have our true faces be revealed, to reference C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.
I will continue to enjoy exploring personality types, and learn more about myself and others while doing so – but, I do not ever want to put people in boxes, or for my personality type to become my role model and my identity. I’d much rather throw myself away for Christ’s sake, and allow Him to create something completely new, unique, and beautiful within me. Becoming embodiments of our personality types is not the way to true freedom and joy – it’s only by dying to ourselves, that we will truly live.