DISCLAIMER: This post has not been backed up by any sort of scientific research, and I’m not a psychologist or trained to administer the Meyers-Brigs test or anything like that. This is all just what I’ve observed in myself and some of my friends over the past year. Though maybe I should become a psych major and look at the effect of personality profiling on individuals and on social interactions…

The question I want to pose today (read: rant about for a few hundred words) is: Why does it matter so much to us what personality type someone is?

Pictures like these bother me: Extroverts get to be beautiful butterflies while us introverts waddle slowly through the sad anti-social dust. Photo credit here.
Pictures like these bother me: Extroverts get to be beautiful butterflies while us introverts waddle slowly through the sad anti-social dust. Photo credit here.

The answer is part of why I don’t really like Meyers-Briggs and other personality assessments. They can be useful, yes. Interesting, definitely! But I feel that overall they do more harm than good. Personality testing is a great way to put everyone into a neat little box. A great way to enforce stereotypes, and a great way to excuse your own (or others’) behaviour. I want to focus expressly on Introversion vs Extroversion right now, because they’re terms that are thrown around quite a lot these days, and I feel like there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what they mean and when they should be used.

While on my six month gap-year program (which, if any of you lovely readers are in high-school and wondering whether to go straight into university/college, I would strongly recommend considering!) we had a week of teaching on identity. The first half of the week was spent going through all the different type categories of in Meyers-Briggs (Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/iNtuitive, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving), and on the third day we got our test results back from a test we’d taken at the very start of the school.

And my results from the test made me really upset. I wanted to be one type, and tested as another! Which leads to kind of a side point, but I’ll expand upon it because I feel it’s rather important. To everyone who’s ever felt unsatisfied with a personality test result: remember that it is just a test, made by fallible human beings who know absolutely nothing about you, and it is very likely that the way you understood and answered the questions on said test, coupled with your particular mood that day, gave you an inaccurate result. (Which leads to another side note: have you read some of the questions on the Meyers-Briggs test? They’re all “Rate your experiences with nebulously ambiguous and extraneous verbiage on a scale of always to never.”  Um… mostly never?) All that to say that it’s important to bear in mind when getting test results back that getting an inaccurate test result isn’t that uncommon.

But that was almost a year ago now (has it really been that long???) and what sparked this post was a comment a friend made to me a few weeks ago. She was talking about the ratio of introverts to extroverts in her new group of friends, and jokingly complaining about how there were way more introverts than extroverts. Just the way she said it, like she was expecting me to agree that having a whack load of introverts is a hardship, and we were in the extrovert club together, even though I’m definitely an introvert, jangled my nerves.

Why does it matter if most of your friends are introverted, or extroverted, or split evenly down the middle? I mean, we’re all just humans, right? Just people with different ways of understanding the world around us and interacting with it. Extroverts process information best through action, and introverts process information best through reflection. (It’s actually been shown to be a biological difference in how the mind processes information, which is super cool and another rabbit trail). Society (ie popular media) tends to box extroverts as automatically socially adept and outgoing, the “cool” kids, the partiers, the ones who are quick with the answers and thrive in a group project setting. (Don’t even get me started on group projects in school…) Introverts, on the other hand, are automatically boxed as socially awkward, maybe even socially anxious, shy, boring, a little slower to understand concepts, and lone wolves.

You might be wondering why the list of stereotypical extroversion traits are all “good” things, while the introversion traits are all “bad” things. What about all the socially awkward extroverts, and the outgoing introverts? Those lists of stereotypes can make anyone feel badly about themselves and like they don’t fit in, because nobody is 100% introverted or 100% extroverted. It’s very much a gradient scale, and an explanation of behaviour that fits MOST of the data, not a proven fact. (We just spent a month in my Psychology class discussing how no theories can ever be proven. Data either supports or does not support a theory. Anything that claims to have proven something is pseudoscience.)

My Meyers-Briggs type isn’t a definition of me, or an excuse for my behaviour, or even a predictor of how I will react in a given situation. It’s a term that best fits how I interact with the world and with others a majority of the time.

You can say I’m an INFJ.

I say I’m just Sarah (cue Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone references :P).

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This is getting ridiculously long-winded, and I haven’t even arrived at my main point yet. So here, after much, much preamble, is my point:

It irks me when people put down others of the opposite type. Why? Because it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert, or an introvert. Doesn’t matter if you recharge best going out for dinner with your friends or staying at home with a book, or if your first response to a question is to blurt an answer or to take five minutes to puzzle it through in your head. It doesn’t matter if you love group projects or despise them with a passion. What matters is that you are comfortable being yourself – because you are an awesome, spectacular person – and that you respect other people for who they are – equally awesome and spectacular people.

If it helps you to understand why Jennifer likes to chat while you study together or why Peter’s idea of a night off is watching a movie with two other close friends in terms of introversion and extroversion, then go right ahead. Just don’t forget that they’re really just people. Fantastic people, with hundreds of layers of depth and complexity that no personality type test can ever truly capture.

Isn’t that amazing?

What you you guys think? Do you like personality typing, or do you find it does more harm than good? Have you gorged on pumpkin pie and turkey this weekend?

Happy belated Thanksgiving, one and all (even if you’re not from Canada ;P)!

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