The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® is a questionnaire that sorts individuals into one of sixteen different personality types. This indicator has become increasingly popular over the last few years, bringing in roughly $20 million a year for CPP, the private company that publishes it. With its increasing popularity, many more knock-off tests have been introduced to the internet including the ever-popular 16 Personalities test, human metrics test, and more. People everywhere want to know their type, type others, and figure out their unique place in this vast world of humanity.
But here’s the problem…
Along with the growing popularity of the test and Myers-Briggs theory, comes an overflow of inaccurate data, blog posts, videos, and more. People take online tests, find out their type, do a minimal amount of research, and suddenly they are making YouTube videos, writing articles about which “Office” character they are, or even coaching people. With the influx of poorly-researched information, there are some huge misconceptions about the MBTI® and Jungian typology that have made it lose a lot of its credibility. That’s what I want to address in this article.
7 Of the Biggest Misunderstandings about the Myers-Briggs® System
#1 – Everyone Is ONLY Their Type Preferences
This misconception is easy to understand. When people see their type preferences (for example, ISTJ) they believe that they only have access to those preferences. In the case of the ISTJ, they’d believe that they are ONLY an introvert/sensor/thinker/judger. What they don’t realize is that they also have extroverted functions, intuitive functions, feeling functions, and perceiving functions.
Wait? What?! That’s right, your type has more dimension to it than a four-letter code can give you.
An ISTJ actually uses eight mental processes. These processes are:
Dominant: Introverted Sensing
Auxiliary: Extraverted Thinking
Tertiary: Introverted Feeling
Inferior: Extraverted Intuition
5th Function: Extraverted Sensing
6th Function: Introverted Thinking
7th Function: Extraverted Feeling
8th Function: Introverted Intuition
If you’re an ISTJ you prefer sensing over intuition and you prefer thinking over feeling when you make decisions. You still use feeling when you make decisions, but you give thinking criteria more value most of the time. You still use intuition as you perceive the world around you, but you prefer and trust the world of sensing over the world of intuition.
Think of it in terms of handedness. If you’re right-handed, you still use your left hand, but you prefer to use your right hand for most tasks. This doesn’t mean your left hand hangs motionless and useless by your side. In the same way, an ISTJ uses sensing and intuition, they just are more adept and comfortable processing things through a sensing framework. But intuition still runs in the background and is used for certain tasks as the situation calls for it.
#2 – Feelers Are More Emotional Than Thinkers
This might actually be the most irritating misconception to me. Thinking types and feeling types ALL have emotions, they all can be emotional with the same frequency. Feeling does not equal emotions. Feeling is about making decisions using value-laden criteria and ethics over impersonal pros and cons. For example, an ENFJ might dislike a certain family member, in fact, being around that family member might make them queasy and irritable. But they still might invite that family member over for Thanksgiving dinner and appear friendly because their values imply that family is important and group harmony is more important than their personal emotions and feelings.
An ISFP might feel sad, anxious, or angry when dealing with a particular bully at school. But they might not ACT on those emotions. They evaluate who they are, what is important to them, what they believe, what their ethics are, and they act on those. They decide based on their personal values and subjective beliefs.
Feeling types can actually be LESS emotional than thinking types in many situations because they suppress emotions in favor of their ethics, values, and the needs or harmony of others. They also give priority to understanding other people’s emotions, so they can be better at deciphering the intentions of others in some cases.
#3 – Thinkers Are Cold or Robotic
Just as a feeling preference doesn’t mean one is emotional, a thinking preference doesn’t mean one is cold, unemotional, or heartless. The thinker evaluates criteria from a viewpoint of “true-false” and is essentially impersonal. A surgeon, an architect, a banker – all these people use impersonal weights when they make decisions. This doesn’t mean they never consult their values, and it doesn’t mean they have no feelings or emotions. It just means that when it comes time to make a decision they look at pros-cons, true-false, and weigh things impersonally first. After this process is done they may very well look at their feelings, ethics, and values. But they start by stepping out of the situation and observing it objectively so that they can remain unbiased and fair. Fairness is vital to many thinking types.
In the same way, when it comes to helping people, thinkers will usually provide solutions and “fixes”. They might give people space when they are sad or respect their privacy because thinking types are often guarded about their own emotions. They don’t realize sometimes that the other individual wants affirmation, validation, or empathy rather than a “fix” or space to themselves. Thinkers are just as capable of helpfulness, kindness, and consideration for others as feeling types are. But their methods may seem confusing to feeling types and they can be misunderstood as being cold when they are actually quite concerned and devoted.
#4 – Extroverts Get Energy from Being around People
If you’re reading this you’re probably thinking, “Wait?! This can’t be a misunderstanding!” But it really is. In fact, this might be the biggest misconception in personality theory.
Extraverts base their conduct on the outer situation before looking inwards to their subjective viewpoints, concepts, and ideas. Extraversion means outer/objective world first. Introversion means inner/subjective world first. Extraverts can get drained by not having enough outer-world stimulation, but this can mean they get tired if they don’t have a project to work on, a place to explore, or (in some cases) a person to talk to. They still need alone time because EVERYONE gets tired after prolonged socializing, especially in groups or with people who force them to rely on their non-preferred functions.
#5 – Sensors are Less Intelligent/Creative
Intuitives, who make up a smaller portion of the US population (roughly 30-35%) can lash out against feelings of inferiority they faced growing up by making the sensor the “bully” or the less-interesting personality type. Sensors focus on the tangible and concrete before the abstract and theoretical in most cases. They like to focus on reality, their experiences, what they know through trial-and-error or fact. They like getting their hands dirty and working with tangible objects, tools, with people, with things they can see-touch-taste-sense around them. This in no way implies that they are less intelligent, boring, or uncreative. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mother Teresa, Harry Houdini, Audrey Hepburn. All of these individuals were most likely sensing personality types and I doubt any of us would call them boring! If you want more details about the (many) misconceptions about sensors, you can check out my article: 4 Major Misconceptions About Sensors.
#6 – Personality Type Means You CAN’T Do Certain Things
I’ve had people tell me that because I’m an INFJ I certainly couldn’t be happy as a full-time entrepreneur/mom-of-five. Surely my introversion and my meditative nature would make it impossible for me to choose such a busy and challenging life. I’ve heard people say that intuitives CAN’T be realistic or sensors CAN’T think outside the box. I’ve even heard of people leaving their marriages because they realized they could never be happy with their spouse’s personality type.
Sensors can marry intuitives and be happy, introverts can live in bustling families and be happy, perceivers can be goal-oriented, judgers can be laid-back. Your personality type shows us your mental preferences. What you DO with those preferences is up to you. Some INFJs like to retreat into nature and spend their time in silence, reading, and meditation. Some INFJs run businesses, perform or work in bustling hospitals. You can tailor your preference to the needs of your family, your life, or your ambitions. The worst thing you can do with a knowledge of personality type is limit yourself. Find out how you can use your mental processes as strengths in the career, relationship, or family that you have.
#7 – Online Personality Tests Are a Good Way to Find Your Type
Most online personality tests will probably derail you from finding your true personality type. Tests notoriously mistype people and then when people get excited about their prescribed type they rarely consider other options. No test is perfect. Even the official MBTI® is only useful when it’s paired with a consultation by a certified profiler. My favorite online personality test, the Personality Hacker test, is probably the best online option, but even the founders of that test suggest doing some research along with it. The best way to find your type is to take a good test (like the Personality Hacker one), read type descriptions, study the cognitive functions, and figure out which ones come the most naturally to you. Or you can hire a coach to help you in the whole process. You can find some great coaches on my resources page.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Do you have any ideas related to this article that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!
Find out more about your personality type in our eBook, Discovering You: Unlocking the Power of Personality Type.
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