MBTI is the most popular personality typing instrument used worldwide. It’s used across from workplaces to relationship counselling. Have you taken the test? Unsure of your type? Or do you think MBTI has as much value as a horoscope?
Possibly if you have had a negative experience with MBTI it may be due to taking an inaccurate online test – the real MBTI instrument is something you have to pay to take so unless you’ve spent a long time reading reliable MBTI materials taking a few online quizzes might not mean that your four letters are your real type. This is why many people claim that the MBTI is unreliable, because they aren’t taking the actual test!
There is lots of misinformation and stereotyping in the MBTI community, since it is made up mainly of laypeople who don’t always have the expertise to type accurately. MBTI like any system is imperfect (of course there are more than sixteen kinds of people, we’re all unique etc). But to decide whether to use MBTI as a self development tool in your kit it might be worth examining some of the common misconceptions so that you can understand what MBTI is really about!
Misconception: MBTI ‘puts me in a box’
It might seem strange to you that in a blog that speaks about spirituality I would dedicate attention to a typology system. Isn’t spirituality about freeing the mind from external constructs and realising a deeper truth words cannot define? Yes, but let’s be realistic here, humans like to communicate, to have conversations and get along so anything that helps us understand and interact more harmoniously with the physical world albeit imperfectly is valuable in my book. If you want to live in a cave I’m not stopping you but for most people, improving their understanding of their (yes, transient, yes, ego identity based) self and others around them is a helpful pursuit in the quality of their life. In fact, by knowing your MBTI type you have some handy pointers for self development and the way your ego is more likely to trip you up. Labels are not ‘bad’ (bad is an egoic construct, down the rabbit hole we go). We all use labels to explain things: ‘tree’ ‘blue’ ‘summer’ etc… and to explain ourselves ‘I am tall’ ‘I am a mother’ ‘I am hard-working’… if having a four letter MBTI type helps you discover/ share useful information then use it! If not, don’t! But if you’re uncomfortable with the very concept of others labelling you in any way that suggests there is some self healing work to do there – that you have handed over your power for others to define you. In the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’
Spiritual context aside, if you take the official MBTI instrument the practitioner will report to you that you have a preference for your type e.g. ” you have a preference for ENTP”. The politically correct expression of your MBTI type is “I prefer XXXX.”
I prefer INFP. I prefer ISTJ. I prefer ESFJ…. etc.
Most commonly people will say I am an INTJ, I am an ESFP… which is of course easier… but it’s important to remember MBTI is a preference and doesn’t wholly define your character. Obviously there are more than sixteen kinds of people in the world. There are infinite kinds. MBTI groups people into the cognitive functions you prefer so that you can find useful similarities that help you develop as a person. Just because you score as ISTP doesn’t mean that you only ‘introvert’, ‘sense’, use ‘thinking’ and ‘perceiving’. Sometimes you will also extrovert, intuit, use ‘feeling’ and ‘judging’. MBTI is what you prefer. Everybody uses all 8 letters and all 8 cognitive functions. MBTI simply identifies the trend, which functions you like to use most. MBTI isn’t meant to be the conclusion of your personality or a judgement – it’s a starting point to ask questions like “is this trait considered common of my type actually true of me? How can I develop my weaknesses and assist my strengths? What can I learn that could improve my relationships, work life, mental health?” It gives you a framework to understand others perspectives and get along better with others across a range of contexts as well as understanding why you do what you do. So many people, myself included have found peace within themselves by finding they are not alone in seeing the world in the way they do and finding a community of likeminded people. As being a type that is only 1% of the population I have found it so invaluable for this reason and many of the rarer types commonly feel this way. Please don’t feel that MBTI is trying to rob you of your individuality – it exists to help you overcome personal challenges, identify your gifts and make the most of them!
This video uses an interesting analogy to the benefits of the MBTI:
Misconception: MBTI is like astrology…
Astrology star signs are assigned to you at birth and are not calculated from your reported behaviours, thoughts, preferences. MBTI is a reflection of the way you interact with the world, a way of summarising trends in thought processes you already engage in every day.
Misconception: Type stereotypes
What individuals say/ write online is not always an accurate representation of MBTI! “ESTPs are cheaters. INFPs are crybabies. INTJs are evil geniuses”… Stereotypes are not the MBTI, just personal opinions. Personality descriptions can help you verify your type or the type of someone you know but even the least biased descriptions won’t always match you perfectly. Again, there is more to you than four letters. Unhealthy individuals might use someone’s type to prejudge them, particularly if they had a bad experience with than type in the past but that isn’t a reflection on MBTI – anything can be misused. Sometimes one may find oneself fitting well with a certain stereotype (which could also be a positive one!) and other times it may not fit at all. One example would be the introvert stereotype. For example an INFJ online once refused to believe I was not an ENFJ because I appeared very confident and talkative and they couldn’t imagine an INFJ to be so expressive (although the INFJ is also paradoxically stereotyped sometimes as the extroverted introvert). I certainly was much quieter when I was younger but every type can develop outward confidence, extrovert or not!
Also certain stereotypes portray how that type is more likely to be at their worst, when they are angry/ depressed or have been raised in an abusive or neglectful environment. Most people don’t live the majority of the time in that kind of negative state! So it may be helpful to look at certain stereotypes as ‘how could I imagine myself being if I made no attempt to control my urges or be ‘acceptable’? What are the darkest parts of my personality?’ Even so, negative stereotypes about a type don’t define your development personally and regardless all types are capable of overcoming their weaker areas and being truly inspiring people in their own unique ways.
Misconception: Your type can change
The MBTI model states type is the same throughout life but you develop your cognitive functions with age to become more balanced as a person. You may score differently on online tests – remember these are not the official instrument – they are MBTI style tests. If you don’t have access/ don’t want to pay for the official test the best method is through studying not only the four dichotomies but also the eight cognitive functions: introverted thinking, extroverted thinking, introverted feeling, extroverted feeling, introverted sensing, extroverted sensing, introverted intuition and extroverted intuition (Ti Te Fi Fe Si Se Ni Ne). You may score differently on an online test depending on your mood but thoroughly understanding the functional stackings in each type will help distinguish between options if the four letter model isn’t solidifying your idea of your type.
It may be useful to also examine your childhood – often your dominant function would be the defining aspect of your personality at this age and the auxiliary (second) function is thought to blossom as a teenager. For example I’m an INFJ so my dominant function is Introverted Intuition (Ni) and my auxiliary is Extraverted Feeling (Fe). Introverted Intuition is about pattern recognition, like putting pieces of a puzzle together. Ni happens kind of in the background, so all of a sudden I will have an aha! moment and the puzzle has just already been put together without me pulling each piece into place… my mind takes in the data and suddenly reshuffles it so that everything fits into one framework and I have an impression of how everything links together. Usually this centres around abstract theories like psychology or philosophy. So as a child I would often think to myself about the nature of reality, how nothing is provable since everything passes through the interface of our biased consciousness, our consciousness must be trusted to understand what is true, we cannot prove that anyone else but ourself has a sentient awareness, it just appears so… I would often enjoy philosophising more than spending time with my peers and I would sit alone and write in corners of the playground until one of my teachers told me off for it. Extroverted Feeling is sometimes called ‘harmony’ – it is a judging function where one takes into account the wellbeing of people and dominant/ auxiliary users of Fe tend to have high empathy and can want to please others. This would explain why I listened to my teacher rather than debating her opinion and joined in with the other children but also why I didn’t make many satisfying friendships until my teens when my Fe developed. As a child I wanted to please others but mainly adults – I respected them more because they were capable of understanding my insights from my Introverted Intuition, a function which is dominant for only 5% or so of the population. Although I really wanted to be accepted socially and would often morph myself into whatever I thought the other children wanted of me, sifting through my Ni insights was far more comfortable to me than socialising and talking about sensing topics and when there was a tug of war between the two I would assert my Ni ‘truth’ rather than getting along with other people just for the sake of keeping the peace.
As you get older you develop your weaker functions and certain life situations may have required you to use different coping strategies so this can make it harder to work out your type. If so think about which functions are the most effortless, and which you engaged in readily as a child. Taking a Jungian cognitive functions test may also help you to determine your type if unsure. You could even try taking it imagining you are still a child or teenager! Also things to look up are your shadow functions and ‘being in the grip’ as these stressed versions of a type could help you work out which is yours. For even more awareness of self you could also look into your Enneagram type as the Enneagram system tends to correlate certain numbers with certain MBTIs and it may help explain how you appear different to other people with the same MBTI.
Misconception: I’m between two types because I’m 50% feeling, 50% thinking, 50% sensing, 50% intuition…
Looking at your own childhood probably highlights to you that you aren’t a perfectly balanced person (and gosh wouldn’t that be boring). It’s extremely likely you have no preference for any of the functions whatsoever. Just because you score around 50% for a dichotomy doesn’t mean you are ‘half an ENFP and half an ENTP’ or ‘half an ISFP and half an ISFJ’ for example. Just one letter changing can make a huge difference to the functions: e.g. ENFP = Ne Fi Te SI and ENTP = Ne Ti Fe Si, ISFP = Fi Se Ni Te and ISFJ = Si Fe Ti Ne. Once you understand the functions you can see that although some times may have similar opinions or lifestyles (classic example being INFP and INFJs) their inner workings are very different from each other.
The type that you may be most likely to be confused about is the extroverted/ introverted difference because then you have the same functions but in a different order. For example ENFJ = Fe Ni Se Ti and INFJ= Ni Fe Se Ti. IN this case it can be a bit more tricky working out which order you use the functions in.
Of course on your journey of self-exploration if you feel stuck between two types it is acceptable to define yourself as ISFx ENxP if that helps you define the characteristics you are sure of.
Misconception: Being a Judging type means you’re judgemental
Being a judger is not about being judgemental. Being a judger means you like to orientate your outer world in an orderly way. For example, some J traits include that you like to plan things, have closure, structure makes you more comfortable, you enjoy the pleasure of completing a project more than the process, dislike plans changing at the last minute, find it easy to make a timetable and stick to it. It’s also important to note that IxxJ types are actually dominant perceivers: their dominant function is a perceiving function – either Si or Ni. In contrast introverted perceivers have either Fi or Ti as their dominant function – two judging functions! The J or P in your four letter is about how you deal with the outer world but doesn’t take into account introverted functions.
Misconception: This type is better than that type.
Have certain types become more desirable in the MBTI community? Perhaps. One explanation could be reflective of the bias of more of certain types being active in MBTI forums. A notable would be intuitive types being more common in the MBTI forums than in real life – N types are more drawn to explore abstract ideas whereas a sensor may spend less time exploring the theory and mainly want to know how MBTI can be useful to their everyday life. All types have their unique role in the ecosystem of human development and all types are equally valuable. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we can all work towards self-growth.
Do you know your MBTI type? Do you like the system? I’d love to hear your opinions below.