I’ve written quite a bit about being an INFP personality type on Introvert, Dear, and on my personal blog. You may also be aware that I’ve recently published a book about it called The INFP Book: The Perks, Challenges, and Self-Discovery of an INFP.
Lately, I’ve been receiving a number of emails and messages from people sharing their INFP experiences and asking me for advice. I’m glad that many people can relate to my writing and feel comfortable opening up to me. However, I’m not a certified counselor nor a psychologist and I only speak from my personal experiences. As much as I like to help others, it’s also draining me respond to everyone’s personal queries. So hopefully my book can address some common challenges that INFPs face, including motivation, relationships, and career.
The reason why I’m writing this blog post is because it’s concerning me that people are treating Myers-Briggs as the holy grail of self-discovery. The truth is, it’s not. Although Myers-Briggs can aid you in your self-reflection, it cannot be used to define you.
When it comes to how Myers-Briggs is viewed by people, I feel like there are two extremes: 1) It’s complete nonsense 2) It’s completely validating. I’ll try to address these viewpoints here to explain that Myers-Briggs is somewhere in between.
It’s complete nonsense
Firstly, many people argue that Myers-Briggs is a pseudoscience because it’s not widely accepted by the scientific community, there’s a poor test-retest reliability, it’s putting people into boxes based on binary assumptions, and is subject to the Barnum effect in which the descriptions read like a horoscope yet people take it seriously.
A lot of people who make these claims against Myers-Briggs don’t understand the intricacies that the theory is based on, Jung’s eight cognitive functions in Psychological Types, which doesn’t put people into superficial boxes. Instead, what the cognitive functions attempt to explain is the framework in which people see the world.
The functions can be understood as a hierarchy of consciousness in which each type have a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary and inferior function. Each type is more than the sum of the four preferences. This view is often overlooked by people who are new to Myers-Briggs and provides a more holistic account of the personality types.
There’s no doubt that the online tests are unreliable because it does rely on binary choices, and there are biases in self-assessment since certain types may seem more appealing for some than others. A lot of the online descriptions also do read a lot like a horoscope, because they are generic and only explain the types in terms of their common characteristics and behaviors rather than their cognitive functions. Many people don’t realize there are adaptations to this theory, such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which does focus on classifying personality types according to their behaviors and can be misleading.
When it comes to the science behind the cognitive functions, it’s still under various interpretations and debate. Scientists have recently supported Jung’s theory of Introversion and Extroversion. However, the other three dichotomies—Feeling vs. Thinking, Sensing vs. Intuition, and Perceiving vs. Judging—have not been scientifically verified. Some people argue that it’s because Jung’s terminologies aren’t self-evident and don’t give scientists a clear basis to work with. On the other hand, it’s possible that these dichotomies can be supported by neuroscience, but has not yet been widely accepted because it’s still under investigation.
Although there is a Myers-Briggs backlash, it’s not complete nonsense. It does provide an insightful framework to work with when it comes to inspiring self-reflection. The theory does hold some truth that can be confirmed by our own experiences. Despite that scientists have not yet developed a consistent and measurable way to test the preferences, this does not entail they’re unsound. After all, often times, the goal of science is to provide a systematic explanation for a phenomenon that we have already observed.
It’s completely validating
Now I’d like to address the other extreme. As much as I think that Myers-Briggs can be a helpful aid for self-discovery, I also think it can be quite damaging when it’s misused.
Because of the stereotypes associated with the personalities, it’s apparent that certain personality types are perceived as more desirable than others. These perceptions encourage biases in self-assessment. For instance, intuitives are thought to be more intelligent than sensors, which is NOT TRUE. In fact, many great thinkers were thought to be sensors including Thomas Hobbes, Sigmund Freud, and Martin Heidegger.
Unfortunately, many people use the model to validate and excuse themselves, instead of addressing their weaknesses and engage in deeper self-reflection. For example, some people may justify that other people don’t understand them simply because of their personality type, rather than using the model to help them examine how their viewpoints differ.
When people misuse Myers-Briggs to affirm their biases instead of using it develop a more in-depth understanding of themselves, it no longer serves as a useful tool for self-discovery. When this happens, Myers-Briggs runs the risk of giving people a false identity, removing them from their reality and themselves with a projected persona.
Whether you’re an INTJ or an ISFP, your Myers-Briggs type is not your identity. Myers-Briggs is only a theoretical model to help explain how people process information and emotions differently. It doesn’t determine who you are as an individual and how successful you’ll be in life. Many notable individuals attribute their success to their hard work and dedication—and not their functional preferences.
Although I have mixed feelings about the uses of Myers-Briggs, I still think it’s an invaluable tool for self-discovery (hence I wrote a book about it). Learning about my personality type (i.e. functional preferences) has given me a deeper insight into my motivations, thoughts, and feelings—and has ultimately helped me feel more comfortable in my own shoes.