I’ve never thought much about the Myers-Briggs, or about personality tests at all. I usually can’t resist those online quizzes like What Animal Are You? (a zebra) or What Dog Are You? (Bernese Mountain Dog) or What Jane Austen Character Are You? (Catherine from Northanger Abbey). But actual personality tests that might tell you something real or useful about yourself? No thanks! (Being a zebra and a Bernese Mountain Dog feels pretty real and useful to me, thankyouverymuch.)
But then I became just a wee bit obsessed with the Modern Mrs Darcy blog and book recommendation podcast. Anne Bogel, the excellent host of the podcast, is herself just a wee bit obsessed with the Myers-Briggs. It comes up a lot on her blog and podcast. She’s even written a book about personality types, which I thought sounded very easy to resist reading, but now that I too have fallen down the personality type rabbit hole, I’ve had to request it from the library.
For the first few dozen times I heard Anne talk about personality type, I tuned it out. If she’d said she was a cheetah or a poodle, I could have instantly comprehended. But INFP? ESTJ? It sounded unnecessarily complicated and a little bit boring.
But once I hear something five dozen times, I’m typically ready to check it out, and the character in Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, a charming graphic novel memoir I read this week, takes an online personality quiz and finds out she’s an INFJ. It literally changes her life to know this thing about herself.
I wasn’t expecting a life change: I think I’m pretty clear-sighted about my strengths and my flaws and accepting of both. But I had a few spare minutes and so I logged onto 16Personalities, which promises a detailed Myers-Briggs personality profile if you take a 12 minute quiz.
And the results, while not surprising in and of themselves, were surprisingly delightful. First of all, I’m an INFP JUST LIKE ANNE! But the real fun was seeing myself described so accurately. One of my favorite life mottos, much to my very careful and cautious analytical husband’s chagrin, is “We live in a beneficent universe!” And the very first sentence describing my personality type captures this exquisitely:
Mediator personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better.
Exactly so! I think every decision I’ve made as an adult is based on these precise words–for better or for worse. But since I’m an INFP, it’s always for better!
As I shared some of the bits that I knew would make my husband laugh–the rueful kind of laughter, because we are so very different–my son became intrigued by our conversation and began begging to take the quiz himself. But he wanted Dad to take it out loud first so he could get a better sense of the questions.
My husband and I are both INs, but the similarities abruptly stop there. On many, many questions, we are polar opposites. My enthusiastic YES is his enthusiastic NO. Or rather, my enthusiastic YES is his qualified no, because he doesn’t tend to extremes at either end, while I am all exclamation points. My son enjoyed guessing what Dad’s answer was going to be, laughing at what he realized my answer must have been to the same question, and we both rolled our eyes (though good-naturedly) when it took Dad longer than 12 minutes to take the quiz (which took me about 3 minutes) because he kept analyzing the questions. Given just the images that go along with the personality types on the 16Personalities website, I could have picked out my husband’s type without reading a single word of the description. Absolutely no surprise there!
And then my son was ready. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly? I was a bit nervous. I worried that there might be personality types that he would perceive to be “bad,” with weaknesses that would hurt his feelings and descriptions that he would find hard to let go. I prepared myself to read ahead quickly so that I could edit, soften, revise. But I should have trusted 16Personalities, because they got it so, so right.
He beamed as I described his personality type:
Naturally social, an odd quality for Introverts, Defenders utilize excellent memories not to retain data and trivia, but to remember people, and details about their lives. When it comes to gift-giving, Defenders have no equal, using their imagination and natural sensitivity to express their generosity in ways that touch the hearts of their recipients. Defenders’ ability to connect with others on an intimate level is unrivaled among Introverts, and the joy they experience in using those connections to maintain a supportive, happy family is a gift for everyone involved.
“That’s me!” he said. “That’s really me!”
“Read it again!” he begged. “I want to hear it again.”
The results are already fairly lengthy–six or seven detailed pages–but he could have listened to a hundred detailed pages and been fully enthralled.
“That’s like you!” he said about one trait. “That’s like Dad!”
He thought about it for a bit. “It’s like I’m halfway between you two. I think I must be your kid after all!”
Adoption complicates identity in so many ways. And “complicates” isn’t a big enough word for what happens to a child’s sense of identity when they lose their birth family, home, culture, and language. It was a real gift to be able to give him these wonderful words to describe himself that felt absolutely right to him: altruistic, helpful, perceptive, connecting, observant, loyal, practical, hard-working, family-oriented. Even the weaknesses of his personality type felt like revelations: he can be too generous, he can hide his feelings, he can be too demanding on himself, he can feel down about himself when he isn’t perfect.
After I’d read the description for the third time, I insisted we wrap it up so that he could get his chores done and I could cook dinner. As he walked through the kitchen holding the bag of scooped cat litter on his way to clean the basement cat boxes (when you’ve got eight cats, you have cat boxes on multiple floors!), he picked up the spoon to stir the onions and peppers that were sauteing on the stove.
“Cat box hands! Cat box hands! You’re going to kill us with cat box germs!” I cried.
He shrugged and gave me a happy smile. “I had to stir it! I’m a helper personality!”