Friday, June 7, 2013

The perils of personality traits

The Myer-Briggs personality type indicator system is easy to understand in some respects, and difficult in others.

For instance, dichotomy #1 is very easy to understand: extroversion (E) vs. introversion (I).  You read that, and you just know what it means.  You can flesh it out and learn more about extroversion and introversion, but at its gut, this is a simple concept.

Likewise, dichotomy #3 is quite simple:  thinking (T) vs. feeling (F).  In other words, do your decisions stem more from facts or feelings?   Logic or emotion?  Sometimes it is difficult to discern in oneself whether one is acting in response to fact or feeling (I have, myself, seen some very scientific men who were oddly emotionally driven and would never have admitted it), but regardless of any difficulty in interpretation, the concept is fairly clear.

Dichotomy #2 is more difficult:  intuitive (N) vs. sensory (S), they say.  This is misleading right from the start.  For one thing, I think the word "intuitive" has connotations of the supernatural, but there is nothing supernatural about it in this context.  It simply means that you know it in your head, you work things out in your head first before you try to apply them (or delegate others to try them).  Sensory means that you discover through rubber-meets-the-road experience before you formulate a hypothesis in your head.  Often, people get confused after they start thinking through these designations, and they think that intuitive people are smart, and sensory people are not so smart.  However, S vs. N (or N vs. S) has nothing to do with intelligence, and people of any intelligence could exhibit either one.  Of course, an unintelligent N person would be very difficult to deal with and nearly impossible to teach, but that is getting off the main subject here.

The main difference between Ns and Ss is this:  An N works from the top down, getting a birds-eye view and then filling in the details afterwards.  I am an N.  This is why I hate GPS systems and love maps.  I need to see the whole route, and possible alternate routes, and then choose the best way.  An S person uses details to construct a whole, starting from the bottom and putting pieces together in a step-by-step process until the desired result is achieved.  S people do not mind a GPS.  They are patient and do not need to have all the answers, as long as they know the next step.  Elizabeth Elliott's advice, "Just do the next thing," is not problematic for an S.  An S may tend to be more trusting that following directions will eventually get him to where he wants to be.

Right now, I am really struggling with being an N, because I need to pack my house.  Being an N, all I can see is the HUGE, DAUNTING task ahead of me:  pack up everything in this house where you have lived for 18 years, and get ready to truck it halfway across the country.  Were I an S, I might be able to break this down into manageable steps, but being an N, I panic, and freeze, and end up writing a blog post instead of cleaning out a closet.

I like well defined tasks.  Cut up the cantaloupe.  I can do that.  Wash the dishes.  I can do that.  Make the bed.  Scrub the shower.  Walk the dog.  Sew the button on DJ's tux.  These things I can do, but it stresses me out to do them, because they are not, or do not seem to be, connected to the huge overpowering shadow of PACK THE HOUSE.  PACK THE HOUSE is not a well defined task.

A man we once knew, who had some significant trials in his life, used to say, "I'm eating my elephant one bite at a time."  I am having trouble finding the first place to stick my fork in.

Dichotomy #4 is similarly difficult:  judging (J) vs. perceiving (P).  This one stymies me, and I think, really, that they have used poor terminology to try to describe it.  At the end of the day, I think it comes down to whether you can make a decision or not.  A J person can make a decision, and be happy with it, and always feels best when things are settled.  A P person does not like to be limited by a decision and likes to keep all the options open as long as possible, usually regretting and second-guessing after a decision has been locked in.  I am a P, but not a straight up P who enjoys keeping the options open.  I am a P who feels constant guilt every single day of my life because I am not a J, because (in my mind) a J is the way a person ought to be.  But I am not.

Couple that with my N inability to break down the looming task before me, and you might have some idea of what I am going through right now.

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