Personality tests are fun to take. These days you can categorize yourself as a color, an animal, a number, or letters. My favorite is the Myers-Briggs which has been a helpful tool for me in making decisions and in dealing with those who are different from me. When someone tells me they are an ENTJ (1 I have a real clue about who they are.
My best friend insists that I”m an extrovert, although Myers- Briggs has labeled me as an introvert. The test proclaims that one”s personality never changes, but after doing a little research I found that my friend is right. Several studies have shown than results of this test do vary over time, even during different times of the day.
My reading also taught me that Carl Jung originated the concept of personality typing, but he didn”t stop there. He also developed the theory of the “shadow, which is that part of ourselves that we hide because we have personally judged it to be wrong or bad. (2)
I began to wonder. What dont I understand about personality types? For that matter, what are we all getting wrong? Is there a link between the shadow and personality types? Experts have barely addressed these questions, but I”d like to share some of my personal insights.
Let”s start with explaining the shadow a little better. Our shadow reflects our self-judgment, not good and evil. For example, being “bold and assertive” is not wrong but may terrify a person dead-set upon being “polite and nice.” A balanced person integrates assertiveness his personality, using it at the appropriate time. Assertiveness is only ugly when it bursts out on its own as a result of being suppressed by the person insistent upon being “nice.”
The Personality Wheel: Shades of the Shadow
Most personality tests have opposites on some sort of a wheel. If I”m a “Thinker”, then the “Feeler” is my shadow. An “Introvert” shadow would be an “Extrovert.” Becoming more balanced in the personality wheel is the same as facing my shadow and learning to integrate what I have always rejected. Let”s look at every-day examples of how we deny our ability to learn and grow:
a.. Some personality test would probably categorize a nice person as “non-confrontational.” Although this would be accurate, it pre- supposes that he can not learn assertiveness. Limiting potential like this would be like encouraging a perfectionist to continue her quest for the impossible. That”s sadistic!
a.. Some personality tests give guidelines for how to communicate with those who are categorized differently. Instead, if we made an effort to develop our shadow, then our communication skills with our opposites would be even better. It would be a real meeting of minds instead of a drive-thru exchange of words.
I recently counseled a client to “become” more like that one person at work who drives her crazy. During our discussion she realized clearly that if she were more up-front and blunt with this extremely rude person, she would be able to communicate on a more common ground. Indeed, upon trying it she found a new door opened in their relationship.
a.. Some employers use personality tests to pigeon-hole their employees in jobs based upon their specific personalities. For example, it would seem obvious that the accounting staff should be analytical and reality-based. But as a CPA, I know this limits the staff”s ability to think outside the box in corporate design and problem solving situations. True cutting-edge employers offer training and development programs for their employees to help them develop their skills, talents and leadership abilities, which in turn opens up potential for the firm.
An Imperfect Tool
So are personality tests good or bad? I still like the tests. They”re a great aid to self understanding, and a reminder that not everyone thinks like I do, but they fall short. Labels are created for everyone around me and I am encouraged to tolerate others who are different, but I”m not encouraged to grow to understand their point of view.
Walter Cronkite discussed racial tolerance in his biography, “A Reporter”s Life, and went on to talk about the word tolerance.” He said “It would be several more years before I learned that “tolerance” is a stage of development unacceptably short of total commitment to undiluted equal rights for all.” (3)
Let us look at all of those peculiar personalities that surround us each day. Let”s use our differences as an impetus for our own personal growth, and to build better relationships with those who we could probably learn something from.
(1) ENTJ is “Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Feeling, categorized by Myers-Briggs.
(2) Experts suspect that Carl Jung was a schizophrenic, and as such, had a good understanding of the different personalities that we hold within us. A schizophrenic is a person whos personalities are so totally un-integrated that they uncontrollably surface on their own.
(3) For you young pups, Walter Cronkite was the “god” of the evening news from it”s inception in 1962 until Dan Rather took over in 1981. I always thought he was the most honest person on TV.