As an MBTI® practitioner I’ve spent the last decade studying everything I can about personality type and the brain itself. Helping people understand themselves gives me a huge amount of joy and contentment. But sometimes we all take it too far and assume things about people based on their personality type that have nothing to do with Myers-Briggs theory (or Jung’s original theories) at all.
Many of the articles that I write address the most likely manifestations of a type. For example, if you read an article called, “7 Reasons Why You Need an ISFJ as a Friend”, you might think that every single ISFJ will be exactly like the friend described. These types of articles tend to describe average or healthy versions of a type and don’t account for things like mental illness, unique individual traits, and environmental factors.
As an effort to clear up confusion and clarify what the MBTI® actually can or can’t tell you about yourself, I’m writing up this article to explore the truth behind the system.
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What Your Myers-Briggs® Personality Type WILL Tell You
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Tells You Where You Get Your Energy
All of us enter a flow state more easily when we’re using our dominant mental process. Here is a list of the dominant mental processes for each personality type. You can click on the functions to learn more about them.
Dominant Mental Processes of Each Type:
INTJs and INFJs:
Introverted Intuition (Ni)
ISTJs and ISFJs:
Introverted Sensing (Si)
INFPs and ISFPs:
Introverted Feeling (Fi)
INTPs and ISTPs:
Introverted Thinking (Ti)
ENFJs and ESFJs:
Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
ENTJs and ESTJs:
Extraverted Thinking (Te)
ENFPs and ENTPs:
Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
ESFPs and ESTPs:
Extraverted Sensing (Se)
A flow-state feels invigorating and natural, there’s a sense of “rightness” that comes over you when you’re in a flow state. According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the flow state is an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Your dominant mental process is the one most likely to put you into a state of flow. It’s the process that energizes you the most. If you’re an extrovert, this will be an extroverted process. You’ll get your energy from the outside world. If you’re an introvert, this will be an introverted process. You’ll get your energy from the inner world of ideas, reflections, and impressions.
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Tells You What Your Preferences Are
The MBTI® is a tool that shows your preferences, not your abilities.
For example, as an ENFJ you:
- Prefer extraversion (but will still need time for introversion)
- Prefer intuition (but still use sensing)
- Prefer feeling (while still valuing thinking)
- Prefer judging (even though you can enter a perceiving state).
Does this sound confusing? Think of it in terms of how well you use both of your hands. Unless you’re ambidextrous you prefer one hand over the other. If you are right-handed it doesn’t mean that your left hand is lifeless and paralyzed. It simply means that you are more capable with your right-hand. In the same way, the type code that you get when you take the MBTI® only tells you which preferences are more natural to you.
If you’re an extrovert – You prefer interaction with the outside world to form the basis of what’s real. You like to test things based on how they show up in real life.
If you’re an introvert – You prefer inner analysis and reflection. The inner world is where you get your energy and your impressions of what’s real.
If you’re an intuitive – You are more interested in the abstract than the literal. What exists is only interesting as a starting point for what could be. Theories excite you.
If you’re a sensor – You are more interested in the real than the abstract. You use what exists and you prefer factual, proven information over theories.
If you’re a thinker – When faced with a decision you prefer the impersonal, logical approach best.
If you’re a feeler – When faced with a decision you prefer to look at the intrapersonal or interpersonal effects of that decision and how it aligns with your values.
If you’re a judger – You like to have your outer world organized in order to achieve your goals. You like knowing what to expect and you prefer to finish one project before starting another one.
If you’re a perceiver – You like to have your inner world organized more than the outer world. You like having flexible plans and prefer to be adaptable and spontaneous rather than have a strict schedule.
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Tells You Some of the Things That Cause You Stress:
According to the Myers-Briggs theory, you are stressed when you have to use your less-preferred preferences for a great deal of time. As an ISFJ, for example, having to act as an extrovert for an extended period can wear down your energy. Having to be adaptable and spontaneous most of the time can cause anxiety. This doesn’t mean that you can NEVER do those things. It only means that living that way the majority of the time will stress you out. You can find out more about type and stress here.
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Tells You How Different People Communicate
Intuitives tend to use a lot of metaphor and analogy in their speech. Sensors tend to speak more linearly and literally. Thinking types are usually more direct when giving criticism and feeling types are more likely to sugarcoat criticism. There are definitely ways that your personality type will influence your speech patterns and the kinds of topics that you find interesting. It will take a lot of time to detail the communication styles of each personality type in this article, so if you want to find out more about that you can check out my article about type and communication here.
What the MBTI® WON’T Tell You:
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Doesn’t Tell You How Smart You Are
Type and intelligence are not related at all. Many people assume that if they get a thinking result that they literally think more. Others think it means they are inherently more logical. Others think that it means that they’re less emotional (not true).
All that a thinking or feeling preference will tell you is what information you prioritize when you make a decision where either perspective is an option. Feeling types and thinking types can both do well at math, they can both empathize, they can both react rationally in a chaotic situation. Being a thinker doesn’t mean you’re a calculator who wears pants. Being a feeler doesn’t mean you’re a walking, talking, blithering ball of emotion.
Thinking isn’t related to intelligence. Feeling isn’t related to being emotional.
In order to further clarify this, let’s take a look at how the brain works:
Your ventromedial prefrontal cortex (called the vmPFC for short) is involved in the cognitive evaluation of morality. It’s what we use when we process risk and fear and inhibit emotional responses so that we can have self-control and make the right decision. We use it when we have courage or stifle a negative emotional response because it wouldn’t be socially appropriate.
Now let’s look at another part of your frontal cortex, namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). This part of your brain helps with your working memory, cognitive flexibility, planning, and abstract reasoning. The dlPFC is the highest cortical area that is involved with motor planning, organization, and regulation.
According to the Stanford Unviersity neurology professor Robert M. Sapolsky (author of “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”), “The vmPLFC and the dlPFC perpetually battle for domination by emotion versus cognition. While emotion and cognition can be somewhat separable, they’re rarely in opposition. Instead they are intertwined in a collaborative relationship needed for normal function, and as tasks with both emotive and cognitive components become more difficult activity in the two structures becomes more synchronized.”
When we make a decision we all consider logic and emotions (unless we’re behaving immaturely or dealing with cognitive impairment).
So what does the T/F preference really indicate? All this tells us is that when you’re faced with a decision where either perspective is an option, you err on the side of impersonal logic (T) or personal ethics and values (F) most of the time. It doesn’t mean that you don’t KNOW the logical answer or the harmonious resolution, it just means that you usually choose one over the other.
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Doesn’t Tell You How Nice of a Person You Are
Thinking types can sometimes appear more detached than feeling types. Why? Because when they are faced with a decision they tend to step outside of their personal feelings and figure out what makes the most logical sense. Feelers, in contrast, tend to think about the people involved in the decision and how everyone will be affected or what feels right on an ethical level to them. But neither of these preferences indicate how nice you will be.
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Doesn’t Tell You How You Will USE Your Preferences
How you use your E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P preferences will vary depending on your psychological makeup, your environment, how you were raised, whether or not you have a mental illness, whether or not you’re dealing with addictions and a plethora of other factors. As an example, many people think that Hitler was an INFJ, others say that if Jesus had a personality type that he would have been an INFJ. While I’d refrain from typing Jesus (I don’t think deities have to conform to personality types) this is an example of how type can show up completely differently for different people.
The majority of healthy feeling types have a gift for understanding the emotions of other people. They want to create harmony, a feeling of empathy, and understanding.
However, some feeling types use their preferences to emotionally manipulate other people, to create negative emotional energy, or to motivate or influence people in an unhealthy direction.
The majority of healthy thinking types have a gift for being unbiased and sensible in their decisions. They want things to make logical sense and they want to be fair and just.
However, some thinking types use their preferences to logically get what they want while railroading over the needs of other people or the ethical considerations of the group.
Your Myers-Briggs® Type Doesn’t Tell You Who You Can Have a Good Relationship With
You’ll see some charts out there that say that certain personality types are completely incompatible with other types. Disregard those. Any type can be in a good relationship with any other type as long as each partner is healthy, mature, and understanding. Mutual commitment, trust, and shared values are vital in any relationship. Your personality type is a tiny part of the picture and should never dictate who is or is not worth your time.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Did you find this article helpful? Did you hate it? Share your thoughts and insights 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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