I’m a chameleon. It’s one of my greatest skills: it’s also a curse. The ability to slide into any environment, to be what’s “expected” because conflict and rejection must be avoided, comes at a cost. You lose a sense of who you are independent of other people. You need another to pair with or stand against. You exist only as referential.
It reduces conflict, to be sure. There’s nothing to attack if you mostly mirror the people around you. It can also create feelings of loneliness, self-loathing, and distress. I don’t like not being who I am. I like even less not knowing who I’m being.
I’m getting there, but the road to authenticity is a struggle and a slog. Far better to know and live your truth from the get-go.
Wouldn’t that be a nice reality? If we all were free to be (with some necessary conventions, of course: I can hear the pedants already).
I love standardized tests. I love being evaluated. I may not know who I am on the inside, but I can be categorized and placed in the outside world. They know who I am. Plus, I test well.
In school, testing’s done to see who’s “smart” and who isn’t. In an exclusively book-learning kind of way. I am. The results weren’t a surprise. My need for approval would’ve accepted nothing less than excellence, even if school had been a challenge. It wasn’t. I’m genetically clever. It’s a thing. I appreciate the gift: things have been easier in some ways than they would have otherwise, but I don’t necessarily take pride in it. I didn’t do anything to acquire the gift. It’s what you do with it that matters. [i]
Sometimes, I do right by it. Other times, not so much. I think it’s a good thing that I default to kind. Mean and clever is a bad combination. Lex Luthor will confirm.
Once you leave school, yearly tests that reaffirm your place in the universe become mostly a thing of the past. This is terrible news for people like me, anxious ones desperate for external validation and approval. I’d try to prove my worth as a human being with magazine polls, but everyone knows those aren’t real. Besides, I cheat when I take them: I’m not risking ending up with an unsatisfactory result.
The last non-IQ test I took in school was about learning styles. I think they were prepping us for post-secondary work. I’m a concrete-sequentialist. The labels aren’t supposed to be hierarchical or have preferential meaning, but I wanted to be abstract-random. It appeals to the inaccurate mental picture I have of my (non-existent) gypsy nature. [ii]
Unfortunately, the learning-style evaluation was a how not a who. A breakdown of your concrete, abstract, sequential, and random self is only marginally helpful in shoring up a fragile ego. Thank God for the rising popularity of the personality test and my university self’s need for money. Psychology departments drop large and helpful coin for volunteers and research subjects.
It’s how I met Myers-Briggs.
“The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, created in the 1940s by mother and daughter Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs, originally stems from the typological theories of Carl Jung, a prominent psychoanalyst. The test assesses an individual in four categories: extroversion vs. introversion; sensing vs. intuition; thinking vs. feeling; and, judging vs. perceiving, and using these criteria, determines which category one’s personality most tilts toward.”
You take the test, and you get a code. The code tells you who you are as a human being. It’s awesome. Of course, being who we are, we instantly rank the various codes for desirability. The rarer the combination, the more we want it. Or maybe this is a “me” thing?
INFJ is the rarest, and wouldn’t you know it, that would be me. You should see my smug smile as I sit here typing this. Smart, and an INFJ? Thank God I’m mostly a little crazy, or I’d be downright intolerable due to all the perfect. [iii]
“INFJs [are] those individuals whose personalities favour the sides of introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. An INFJ can be difficult to spot due to the fact that they’re not prevalent in society and tend to be reserved individuals. However, INFJs can make fiercely loyal friends, empathetic and organized employees, and exceptional leaders for causes they deem worthy and for the greater good of humanity.”
“16 Signs You’re an INFJ, the World’s Rarest Personality Type” by Alexandra Giardina is a good brief on the qualities people assume are associated with INFJ personality characteristics. (I will say, number seven is accurate and contributes to problems in my life.)
They should’ve told me who I was when I was a child. Perhaps I wouldn’t have devoted so much energy to self-hatred? Although telling me who I am and giving me my function is, I think, one of the things we learn to hate in George Orwell’s “1984.”
University wasn’t the only place I learned I was an INFJ; it was just the first. I’ve had jobs that included test-taking and personal evaluations as part of the employment process. I love that stuff. I like the feedback. When you feel awful about yourself as the default setting, it’s nice to hear other people review test results that show, empirically, that you have value as a person. Unfortunately, as much as I love the warm fuzzies that testing provides, I’ve long been aware they are problematic regarding validity. [iv]
We humans are a mashup of styles. Things are in flux, and we live on continuums. Generally speaking (note the qualifier), classifying people in a binary fashion doesn’t work out well. It’s too simplistic a model for a complex entity. We aren’t bimodal. There’s no proof that categorizing people in this way is accurate, for all that I’d like it to be. Any system that allows for only sixteen types of people should raise alarm bells. I can find more than that on a Saturday at the beach in the summer, and qualitatively.
I wish categories were true. I like the deference recruiters approach me with when I test well. It’s a pat on the back that lasts until I remember that I don’t believe in the tests, people are more than answers to a quiz, and my results are invalid because I lie. [v]
It’s interesting that a test that lacks consistency and validity endures. I wonder what kind of person the test thinks I am after a temper loss?
This need for the positive feedback the test provides is why, perhaps, it carries on (though that doesn’t explain corporations’ costly devotion). My type may be rare (throw in the brag when you can), but all the personality definitions have feel-good descriptions attached. There isn’t a “tough luck, you’re a loser destined for a life of misery” in the bunch. No one says “ooooh” on hearing you’re an ENTJ. It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or extrovert, sensing (reality-based) or intuitive (approach to the world), thinking or feeling (decision-making model), judging or perceiving (dealing with the outside world): all sixteen possibilities are, in the Myers-Briggs world, fabulous.
Are the nasty and miserable to remain uncategorized? Do serial killers not have a Myers-Briggs personality type?
It’s nice, thinking someone understands us. We’re a tricky subject, and we like to belong. Labelling is also an excellent sales tactic: I like knowing who I am and what my place is in the universe, and if someone can tell me, based on quiz answers, and make me feel good myself in the bargain, well, I’d pay fifty bucks.
We always want the magic beans.
[i] This is personal growth of some magnitude. I used to give myself no credit for smarts at all. I would not only discount the innate gift as inconsequential, but write off my achievements as irrelevant as well. They weren’t impressive because I should do well. It took a long time to feel like I earned my accomplishments. To let myself acknowledge that the smart was accompanied by effort.
[ii] Learning styles can be described in a variety of ways. One convention is to follow Anthony Gregorc’s work and define styles as pairings of concrete or abstract, and random or sequential. Knowing an individual’s learning style can be helpful if they’re struggling. Appealing to styles and preferences can be beneficial when it comes to education, performance, and execution.
[iii] INFJ – introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging
[iv] “Validity” in tests refers to understanding what the test measures and how well it does the measuring. You determine validity by testing the tests.
[v] “Lie” is a strong word. I prevaricate. I determine what the result should be for the answer I want, and go with that. Mostly, they’re close. It’s not necessary if I’m taking the test for myself online: I consider it necessary for places of employment. Full-honesty would require disclosures about my mental illnesses I’m not prepared to make.