Categorizing your personality

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INTJ. ESTJ. ENFP. ISFP. ESFJ. INFP.

No, I didn’t just lose control of my keyboard; these are actually different personality types determined by the well-known Myers-Briggs test. The test categorizes personality type through four indicators: introvert versus extrovert, intuitive versus sensing, thinking versus feeling, and judging versus perceiving. Each profile has a fun name, like “the nurturer,” “the inspirer” or “the scientist.” I had heard of the test before — who hasn’t — but it came to my attention again in the form of those ever-entertaining Facebook quizzes. You know the ones that people share and send to the friends as a public demonstration of their procrastination from homework?

So I took the quiz. It had maybe 20 questions and didn’t take more than 15 minutes. In the end, a nice four letters popped out, elaborating exactly what type of person I was: ENFP. “The Inspirer.” Not bad. But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t like this presumptuous quiz hanging a sign around my neck.

Maybe it’s from my own vehement dislike of being labeled, but it got me thinking. On many different occasions, I’ve had friends tell me, by way of explanation, “It’s because you’re an extrovert.” Ok. I’m loud, I’m enthusiastic, and I love to talk to people. But I also need to be alone. I become over-stimulated and like quiet nights. So, this means I can’t understand your problem? What if I consider myself a scientist, an inspirer and a nurturer? What if you do? In reality, I think the greatest manifestation of these categories in our daily lives is the extrovert/introvert split. It’s not like people are saying to each other, “You never get me! You sense and judge too much!”

The danger of these types of tests is that it becomes yet another category to place people in. How can we possibly quantify the essence of a person into four neat little boxes, distilling the complexities of humanity into a simple formula?

I am in no way trying to discount the study of personality. The real Myers-Briggs test is much more comprehensive and the results are measured on a spectrum, allowing for variation within the categories. Its function is to provide insight into people’s personalities so that they may understand themselves and the world better. These are certainly noble goals. But I think we can get too caught up in how nice it feels to understand, just for a moment, the mysterious intricacies of the human psyche.

Still curious, I did a general search on personality profiles. I stumbled upon a website that explained which personalities made the best match. It said things like “what’s your sign?” and “what’s your personality type?” I can see the Tinder pages now: “INTJ looking for a fun-loving extrovert!” It appears like not only have we figured out how minds operate, but also how to find love. If this is the case, why date? All we need to do is declare our personality types and find a match. Maybe this example is a little ridiculous, but it further highlights the reliance on categories to make sense of what we cannot understand.

We are complex human beings, and it is impossible to categorize ourselves. While personality profiles may help us comprehend the brain, they certainly don’t define us.

Email Shannon Fineran at [email protected]