Most of my friends love talking about personality types and self-actualization stuff. My family? Not so much. So I’ve seen both sides of the debate when it comes to MBTI, enneagram, etc. I also completely understand when people don’t want to hear whether they’re an ENTJ or an 8w9. I mean, if you don’t believe in that stuff, then why bother?
However, I’ve noticed that most people who claim they “don’t believe in” personality types also don’t really understand personality types. They automatically assume it’s something akin to voodoo. (Speaking of which, I learned everything I know about voodoo from watching Weekend at Bernie’s 2, so forgive me if it’s a valid scientific theory.)
Before we get into the different typing systems, I’d like to set a few things straight. (Full disclaimer: I am not a psychologist. I am also hardly an expert on MBTI, enneagram, or any other typing system. However, I have researched personality types a lot, and what I’m about to say is based on that research.)
1. YOU really shouldn’t CALL IT a “personality type.”
Yes, I’m referring to them as personality types because that’s what most people call them. But – and this is a big “but” – that’s not exactly what they are. So, what should you call it? I have no idea. You can come up with your own name, if you like. Basically, MBTI, enneagram, and the Big 5 are all ways to categorize people based on their thought processes, morals, values, idiosyncrasies, etc. That’s it.
Let’s say you have a friend who’s setting you up on a blind date with a guy named John. Naturally, you’d like to know a bit about John, so you start asking questions: Is he shy or outgoing? Does he like to read? Is he nerdy or sporty (or both)? Is he kind? All of the typing systems could answer those questions pretty quickly. If you and your friend both regularly used MBTI, for example, your friend could just let you know that John is a very healthy INTJ. You would automatically have a pretty good idea of what kind of person to expect on your date.
2. People are still unique individuals.
So, just in case you’re worried that a typing system will somehow take away your sense of personal identity, let me assure you that that simply isn’t true. The main purpose of MBTI, enneagram, etc. isn’t to make you feel boring or unoriginal. It’s to help you find your strengths and weaknesses, help you grow as a person, and learn how to get along better with other people. And while many people will have similarities to other people who share their type, each person is still unique. For example, in the example I gave earlier, you would still need to ask John questions about himself on your date. You couldn’t show up and just know John’s favorite hobbies or his political viewpoints. You could safely assume he wasn’t going to be a complete idiot, however. (INTJs are almost never complete idiots.)
3. Personality types are nothing like astrology.
I hear this one all the time, and I get it. I mean, hearing me say “I’m an INFJ” does sound an awful lot like “I’m a Gemini.” But they are very, very different.
When someone says they’re a certain zodiac sign, it means basically nothing to me. Why? Because I find it absolutely ludicrous that all the people born between May 21 and June 20 magically have the same personality. I mean, that’s just stupid. If that were true, then how do you explain twins who act absolutely nothing alike? They have the same birthday, so shouldn’t they have the same quirks and viewpoints – according to astrology, anyway?
If you look at it objectively, astrology is anything but scientific. If you take ten random people who all share the same birthday, put them together in a room, and ask them questions, they will all have completely different personalities.
But personality types kind of work the opposite way. Instead of saying people have certain inclinations based on something arbitrary like birth dates, these systems classify people by their current actions. Makes a lot more sense, right?
(Also little tidbit of info: A lot of career counselors – and even employers – use MBTI or the Big 5 as part of the advisement or hiring process.)
4. Personality types can be SORT OF SCIENTIFIC.
People are really going to get mad about this one, but it needs to be said: Most of psychology isn’t exactly “scientific” – at least, not in the way people mean when they claim that MBTI isn’t scientific.
For the most part, there are a lot of different theories with psychology, and a lot of them contradict each other. Have you ever read much of Freud’s work? The dude was a nutcase (and I say that with a lot of respect, because he was also a bit of a genius). His theories state that sexual desire is the reasoning behind everyone’s motivations – even children’s. Yet, many consider Freud one of the greatest psychologists in history. If you want to dig deeper into it, most psychologists throughout history were a little wacky.
And, believe it or not, one of them created MBTI. Carl Jung originally came up with the theories that led to MBTI. Then a mother/daughter team (named Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs) fleshed out his theories a little more fully to create the typing system known as MBTI today.
So, is it scientifically sound? Nah, not really, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful.
If you use it as a tool to help you work on yourself (and your relationships), realizing that it’s not going to be 100% accurate for you 100% of the time, then that can only be a good thing.
5. PEOPLE USE Typing systems in the “real world.”
Even without actively seeking out this information, you may very well run into a personality typing test at some point in your life. Why? Because a ton of people and organizations use them.
More and more employers are including the Big 5 or MBTI questionnaires during the onboarding process. It helps them determine whether new hires will be a good fit at the company. My church uses a variation of the Big 5 test to help members find their “spiritual gifts.” My brother (yes, the ISFP who hates MBTI) had to take an MBTI questionnaire during one of his psych classes in college. A friend found out she was an ENFJ during a study group at church one day. So, contrary to popular belief, these personality tests aren’t solely used by lonely people on the internet (though they are certainly popular amongst that demographic). Many people “in the real world” use them, too.
So, which typing system is best?
Obviously, this information is solely my own opinion, but here is my personal breakdown of the pros and cons of each typing system. I’ll also list my favorite, which should be fairly obvious by this point.
The Big 5
The Big 5 is widely used by companies and other organizations throughout the U.S. It’s also deemed the most scientific of all of the personality tests currently available. However, it is very basic, and there isn’t really a way to use the test results once you have them. My test results said I was considerably open to new experiences. So…that’s neat. But I really don’t have anywhere to go with that.
They also said I was fairly introverted. Also cool to know, but the test considers introvertedness a flaw, so directions for becoming more extroverted would’ve been nice. (Side note: I also don’t like that the test considers extroverts good and introverts bad. I know several extroverts who might be more tolerable if they became introverts.)
MBTI is my favorite of all the tests, as evidenced by the 5,000 bajillion references I’ve made throughout this post. I like that there are 16 types, which (IMO) is just enough but not too many. The system also makes sense to me. I understand the cognitive functions that comprise the different types, and I understand why it was set up the way it was. However, I feel like it can get very complicated very quickly if you delve too deep. It’s also one of the more difficult typing systems to understand, which makes people mistype themselves fairly often. (I also hate that INFJs have a weird mystical, super rare image on the internet, but that’s not really the fault of the test. We’re not all wizards, folks.)
I love the enneagram because it’s very basic and easy to understand. However, its biggest flaw is that it’s too basic and doesn’t really fit a lot of people very well.
For example, I’m a Type 4. According to the enneagram, my main motivation in life is to be unique and different from everyone else. All of the advice aimed at fours revolves around this primary motivator.
The only problem is that I’m actually a 4w5, which means I’m a Type 4 that leans towards Type 5, as well – and I lean pretty hard towards the five. So, a big chunk of the info for fours really doesn’t apply to me. In fact, a lot of it actually pisses me off. I tend to dislike people who try hard to be unique and different. I certainly don’t count myself amongst them.
Instead, I’ve always felt unique and different, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve struggled with self-esteem in the past because I used to hate that about myself.
However, I have a friend who is Type 9, and she fits the description almost perfectly. In fact, she doesn’t even have a wing. For her, the enneagram is probably the best typing system.
I guess, if I had to give advice, I would say it’s best to take all three questionnaires and go from there. If you’re wondering where to start, the Big 5 might be best. From there, you could go to the enneagram and move on to MBTI if the other two aren’t everything you’d hoped they’d be.
What can I do with my personality type once I know it?
Now that you know your type, what should you do with it? Well, lots of things. You could compare your type to a few of your friends’, look up celebrities and characters who share it, then file the knowledge in the back of your mind, eventually forgetting it completely.
Or, you could read the little description that accompanies your type, think “huh, that’s cool” and then file the knowledge in the back of your mind, eventually forgetting it completely.
Finally, you could go the complete opposite direction, researching absolutely any and everything you can find about MBTI, the enneagram, and Big 5, write a blog about it, type all of your friends and relatives until they don’t even invite you to parties anymore, and basically become a societal outcast because you’re so fixated on typology that you can’t even function (aka the INFP route – I kid, I kid).
Or you could be a normal, sane person and use the information you glean to help highlight a few of your strengths and weaknesses, grow as a person, and learn a bit of helpful info about your friends and relatives, strengthening your relationships and making people like you even more than they do now. The choice is ultimately up to you, but I’d recommend the last option. (Trust me, I should know because I’ve gone pretty far down the societal outcast path, and it’s a little lonely sometimes.)
Whichever path you choose, you should know that I will reference types fairly regularly on this blog. You will probably be able to avoid the subject if you really hate it that much, but it might be fun to participate sometimes, too.