*sips black coffee*
So, MBTI, amiright? The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the world’s best-known personality sorting system. MBTI holds great sway over the wild lands of the Internet, is earnestly preached by corporate managers in their beige-painted boardrooms, annnnnnnnd … kind of gets an eye-roll from everybody else. In my experience, anyway. Either because it’s “not scientific,” because it “puts people in a box,” because it “stifles individuality,” because it “fosters excuses instead of Real Personal Growth,” or just because “who cares?”
WELL I CARE SO SHUT UP AND LET ME PREACH AT YOU
A post on MBTI is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while–months, in fact. Please allow me to disclaim, I’m absolutely not here to shove the system in your faces or insist you all become obsessed fanatics (like moi). Not everyone is into this stuff! That’s okay! But I am here to make a case for the real-time usefulness of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, when employed properly. And the thing is, I don’t think the Internet MBTI community has always done a great job employing the system properly … or, worse, explaining it properly.
Before we go any further: everything I’m about to tell you, I learned over the years from this wise human bean and her amazing blog. I’m only gonna scratch the surface, but she goes wayyyy in-depth, with detailed profiles and tons & tons of fictional examples of each type. Go forth and browse. Get lost in the black hole of knowledge. Ya won’t regret it.
Now, let’s get down to the basics. Most of y’all are familiar with the four-letter system of MBTI, yes? Somebody is either E or I (extrovert vs. introvert), S or N (sensor vs. intuitive), T or F (thinker vs. feeler), and J or P (judger vs. perceiver). I’m INFP, my mom is INTJ, one of my brothers is ESTJ, and on and on. The problem is … there are sixteen different types. Sixteen letter combinations. That’s a lot to keep track of, isn’t it?? Furthermore, the letter system makes for some pretty easy stereotyping (J types are invariably straight-laced and driven, while P types are irresponsible butterflies, etc.) We’ll get more into the stereotypes later … What I want to say NOW is, there’s a better way to do MBTI than relying on the letters: and that’s cognitive function theory.
I shall elaborate.
Cognitive Function Theory: Quick ‘N Dirty Version
Myers-Briggs categorizes people based on a) how they process information, and b) how they make decisions. MBTI postulates that everybody uses some combination of the following cognitive functions: sensing, intuition, feeling, and thinking. Which makes sense, right? Everybody interacts with their sensory environment, everybody engages with their imagination, everyone has their own brand of feelings, and everybody uses some brand of logic. Sensing, intuition, feeling, and thinking. Furthermore: for each of these functions, there’s an introverted version and an extroverted version.
In total, that gives us eight cognitive functions:
- Introverted Sensing (Si)
- Extroverted Sensing (Se)
- Introverted Intuition (Ni)
- Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
[those four, S/N, are known as the perceiving functions, the “processing information” ones.]
- Introverted Feeling (Fi)
- Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
- Introverted Thinking (Ti)
- Extroverted Thinking (Te)
[these guys, T/F, are called the judging functions, the “making decisions” ones.]
It’s kind of a “pick a combo” situation: everyone uses either Si or Se, either Ni or Ne, either Ti or Te, and either Fi or Fe. And here’s the punchline: Of those eight, the function you use THE MOST determines your personality type.
Accurately figuring your MBTI type, then, is a matter of figuring out which function you relate to the most.
I shall elaborate further. Here’s a (super quick ‘n dirty, again) description of what each function looks like in practice.
Introverted Sensing (Si). Are you “the expert” in your chosen field of interest? Are you the one who knows alllllllllllll the parts to a jet engine or allllllllllll the elves of the Silmarillion? Are you able to process and remember lots of details, without really breaking a sweat? Do you rely on your “data bank” of past experiences to help you navigate present challenges? Would those who know you describe you as steady, methodical, practical, and (sometimes, but not always) traditional? Then you’re probably ISFJ or ISTJ. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ESFJ or ESTJ.
Extroverted Sensing (Se). Are you always first in line for new, exciting experiences? Do you jump in while others hang back in panic? Are you a bit of an adrenaline junkie? Were you bored out of your skull after the first week of social distancing?? Do you live in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past or future? Would those who know you describe you as adventurous, hands-on, good under pressure, but often impulsive? Then you’re probably ESFP or ESTP. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ISFP or ISTP.
Introverted Intuition (Ni). Are you a big-picture thinker? Does envisioning the future feel easy, natural, while the past holds little interest? Do family and friends groan at your sometimes pessimistic, but usually accurate, predictions? Do you take time to make up your mind, but once you’ve settled on a conclusion, it’s rock-solid? Do you think and talk in symbols which others struggle to understand? Would those who know you describe you as single-minded, determined, aloof, and even “head in the clouds”? Then you’re probably INFJ or INTJ. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ENFJ or ENTJ.
Extroverted Intuition (Ne). Are you hungry for new ideas? Are you excited by potential, possibility, and change? Are you always hoping for the best, only to be disappointed by the worst? Got a reputation for “trying on” new hobbies, philosophies, or crusades the way other folks try on shoes? Frustrated when your passion for change is met with indifference? Would those who know you describe you as enthusiastic, quick-thinking, idealistic, and sometimes fickle? Then you’re probably ENFP or ENTP. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be INFP or INTP.
Introverted Feeling (Fi). Are you swimming in an ocean of feelings, which you struggle to communicate to others? Do you keep an inner code of personal, subjective values to guide you through life? Are you chill, easygoing, quiet, until those values are violated? Tolerant of others’ choices, as long as no one interferes with yours? Would those who know you describe you as empathetic, soft-hearted, passionate, often moody? Then you’re probably ISFP or INFP. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ESFP or ENFP.
Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Are you a people person? A chatterbox? A networker? Are you the unofficial “team leader” among your family or friends, the one others rely on to articulate what “we” believe and what “we” should do? Do you feel strongest when your team agrees with you, and do you struggle to assert your own feelings/needs independent from theirs? Would those who know you describe you as warm, caring, protective, and maybe just a little bossy? Then you’re probably ESFJ or ENFJ. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ISFJ or INFJ.
Introverted Thinking (Ti). Are you an analyst at heart? Do you examine the world with a critical eye, checking it against your inner logic to see if it “makes sense”? Are you annoyed when it (frequently) doesn’t? Do you tinker with things, systems, ideas, even people, with an eye to improvement? Do fellow humans confuse you with their pesky abundance of emotions and lack of logic? Would those who know you describe you as thoughtful, skeptical, detached, and a stickler for precision? Then you’re probably ISTP or INTP. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ESTP or ENTP.
Extroverted Thinking (Te). Are you the one in charge, the one with a plan? Are you bored organizing your house for the umpteenth time, and do you want quarantine to end so you can go back to organizing the entire world??? Do you base your decisions on facts, not feelings, and are you baffled when others see that as “cold” or “heartless”? Do you need hard evidence before you’ll act? Do you measure success by concrete results? Would those who know you call you efficient, reliable, cool-headed, and definitely a little bossy? Then you’re probably ESTJ or ENTJ. Meanwhile, if you relate to some of this, but don’t think it’s your top function, you could be ISTJ or INTJ.
So … that was cognitive function theory, y’all. *wipes brow*
Reading through the above profiles, you may have noticed a discrepancy between the type an online quiz assigned you, and the function you actually related to the most. That’s completely okay. We’ll be getting into that next. Saddle your horses, cowboys, for a stimulating discussion of Misleading MBTI Stereotypes™.
The biggest MBTI sorting site on the Internet is 16Personalities.com. It’s the first Google search result, so it’s where everyone goes when first puzzling out their type. Here, you can fill out a questionnaire and have them tell you which of the 16 options fits you. They also have in-depth profiles for each type; which, for the most part, are pretty fair, balanced, and accurate.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their quiz.
The 16Personalities questionnaire slants against E types, S types, and P types, which FORM A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF THE ACTUAL TYPE DISTRIBUTION, AHEM. Basically, from what I’ve seen over the years, the quiz is weighted to give anyone who says they need alone time an “I,” anyone who shows creativity or intelligence an “N,” and anyone with even a dollop of self-discipline a “J.” In other words, they’re handing out INxJ typings like candy!!! Completely disregarding the fact that a) even extroverts need alone time, it’s called being human; b) even sensors can be smart, creative, and curious, it’s called being human; and c) even P types can be every bit as hard-working and persistent as their J counterparts, provided they find a project they’re passionate about. I’m an INFP who graduated from college with a 3.98 GPA and finished my master’s degree in two years. I have self-discipline for dayyyyyys, fellas.
The upshot of all this? There are a suspiciously large number of self-identifying INFJs and INTJs populating the Web. I say “suspiciously large,” because in reality, the INxJ type only comprises about 1-2% of society. I shouldn’t be running into them on every street corner or every Tumblr post–yet, somehow, I am. *peers over spectacles*
Although I can’t type every single friend and acquaintance with total certainty: I CAN tell you, the only person I know who unquestionably displays all the hallmarks of an INxJ in everyday speech, conversation, and behavior, is my mom. She’s the one with the single-minded focus; the effortless pattern recognition; the terrifyingly accurate predictions; the withdrawn, distant social presence; the complete lack of sentimentality about the past. That is what dominant Ni looks like. Sounds pretty unusual, huh?? Well, it should. Because I’m not sure I know anyone else who can match that. Me, I absolutely can’t! And yet!!! I managed to mistype as INFJ for years, when an open-minded study of the cognitive functions should have made it obvious I’m a classic INFP. I have all of Fi’s “these are My Feelings, I don’t care if you agree,” plus Ne’s “gimme the Shiny New Ideas, I wuvs them.”
But … well, to be honest, I wasn’t studying the cognitive functions with an open mind. Instead, I was clinging to the label 16Personalities had assigned me, because I wanted to be the Cool Kid with the world’s rarest type.
Nor am I alone in this.
You see, because it’s the rarest type, and because so many folks are convinced they share it, the INFJ personality has taken on this strange mystique, this Aura, which further complicates matters. I’ve seen typing blogs which earnestly attempt to prove that any idealistic, sensitive, good-hearted individual (whether real or fictional) must be INFJ. That’s the type profile, in a lot of people’s minds: “selfless-sensitive-misunderstood-genuis-unicorn.” #apologies to Tony Stark
Couple rules of thumb, real quick.
- “Highly sensitive and over idealistic” generally points not to INFJ, but xNFP.
- Ne + Fi, not Ni + Fe, gives you the “big dreams & big feelings constantly crushed by reality” vibe.
- Self-identifying as “tragically misunderstood” actually isn’t an MBTI thing, but an Enneagram thing (type 4, if you’re curious–we’ll dig into Enneagram in a later post).
So what does a real INFJ look like?
They’re not gonna be especially sensitive or particularly emo, first off. When they do focus on emotions, it’ll be Fe’s “group welfare and group harmony” thing, rather than Fi’s “THIS IS HOW I FEEL RIGHT NOW.” But their feeling function comes second. Their first function–their first love–is, quite simply, Ni. Pondering and plotting and planning the biggest of all big-picture futures. Weighing, analyzing, and assessing from the shadows. That is introverted intuition. That is Ni.
Forget the broody poet archetype. If we’re doing archetypes, this is more like the quiet mastermind archetype, for either good or evil. For all you Potterheads out there, this is the Albus Dumbledore archetype.
Raising an innocent kid as a “pig for slaughter,” for the sake of saving the school and the wider community? Plotting Harry’s death for years and years and yearssssss, with all the patient foresight of a spider at the center of its web? Sure, it’s morally repugnant from any sort of individual rights standpoint: but still, it lines up perfectly with Ni + Fe. INFJs aren’t automatically good or pure or spotless, friends. Every type has its temptations. Every side has its dark side. For these guys, Dumbledore is their dark side.
(see also: probably: Adolf Hitler)
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can be extremely useful for self-analysis and self-improvement, but only if you shed the stereotypes, shed preconceived ideas about which type is morally superior, and take a honest look at the strengths–and weaknesses–of your own cognitive functioning. Stop saying, “but I don’t wanna be a boring SJ,” “I don’t wanna be a flaky NP,” and all the rest of it. Si types are freakin’ SUPERHEROES, and Ne can rock self-discipline and persistence every bit as well as the next guy. No. type. is. better. than. the. others.
To drive home my point, here’s a (humorous) look at the good and bad sides of my own type, the INFP.
You see? I’m just like everybody else. I have things I excel at, and things I kinda suck at. I’m free-spirited, caring, authentic, good at encouraging others to be their best selves. I’m hopeful (most of the time) and eager to hear new perspectives (pretty much all the time). And yet: I can be indecisive. I can be fooled by the promise of change which never comes. I can get stuck in a rut, trap myself doing “the same things I’ve always done.” Sometimes, I build castles in my head, but never get around to making them a reality where it counts. And under heavy stress, I’m a freakin’ hyperfocused workaholic MONSTER.
Which is … okay.
I’m cool with being who I am. Sure, there are rough edges, and I’m diligently working on sanding those down over time; but all of it–this whole beautiful mess we call my personality–is fundamentally OKAY.
I don’t need to change my type to be special. I’m already special. So are you.
Just the way you are.
Chat with me, pineapples!
What do you think your type is?
Was this post helpful at all (I hope)?