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by Dr. Daniel J. Heller
Have you ever heard people describe themselves or others using acronyms like INFP or ESTJ and wondered what they meant? The Myers–Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI®)test allows people to be characterized according to eight contrasting personality tendencies, yielding 16 different personality types. It is a remarkably accurate and helpful system, based on the insights of the early psychoanalyst Carl Jung. MBTI is used in corporations and organizations to help people improve their productivity and reduce interpersonal conflicts, and by therapists and counselors to help clients better understand themselves. It is a potentially intricate system, and it’s not possible to do it justice here. But it is worthwhile to understand its basics, because of what it can reveal about our inborn character and tendencies.
Some parts of us never really change. They are part of us, it seems, almost from the moment of birth. Understanding these aspects of who we are as revealed by MBTI can lead to greater self-acceptance, which can reduce stress by helping us to realize that we needn’t fight against our innate characteristics. It can also help us become more accepting of others, when we understand they, too, have an innate type.
“Understanding our personality type can lead to greater self-acceptance, which reduces the stress of fighting against our innate tendencies.”
Keep in mind that there are gradations of these characteristics in every individual. No one is purely one or another extreme. Everyone has some of all eight characteristics within themselves; some people are at the extreme range of one of the characteristics, while more are probably closer to the middle. But everyone has a “type,” a dominant mode of being and relating in the world.
The first pair: Introversion versus Extroversion
The first pair of letters in an MBTI type description is either I or E. Within MBTI, as opposed to the common usage of these terms, this doesn’t mean being shy or outgoing, though there are some parallels. MBTI introversion/extroversion has more to do with energy level and one’s preferred mode of interacting with people. Extroverts derive energy from being around people, and seek out company to sustain their vitality. Extroverts thrive on meeting new people, on being around people often, and on social stimulation. At parties, a “strong” extrovert will often meet nearly everyone at the party, having brief conversations with most of the guests. Rather than finding this form of interaction draining, an extrovert would find this fascinating and invigorating.
Introverts, in contrast, generally find that social interaction is draining. The more people they have to interact with or even be around, the more draining it will be. Concerts and stadiums are usually not among most introverts’ favorite places. An introvert is much more likely, at a party, to find one or two people they really like or are interested in, and spend the entire time having an in-depth conversation with mostly those few. Of course, an introvert might well prefer to stay home and entertain themselves to going to a party at all.
Introverts can have a bit of hard time in the world. Life and work have everything to do with social interaction, and if you find that drains you of energy, you may think you have a fatigue or attitude problem (something extroverts may be quick to point out!), when what you really have is an imbalance between your true needs, and what the world expects of you. Others may think you’re a little anti-social, a conflict that can pose difficulty in a marriage between an extreme extrovert and an extreme introvert. (Though it would be something of a marvel for two such different people to make it to the altar, plenty of incompatible couples do tie the knot.)
What’s more, our culture on the whole—as exemplified by popular media images—celebrates extroverts and extroversion, their sociability, outgoingness, and energy, which can make us think that everyone should be this way: always active, seeking more stimulation, and interacting with a large social circle.
In fact, usually introverts can deal with people just fine, but in a different way from extroverts. Introverts prefer deeper connections with a smaller social circle. They need time alone to restore and recharge their batteries (whereas extroverts recharge their batteries by being around more people and being more active).
Introversion is a less common trait than extroversion, making introverts something of a misunderstood minority in the world and in society. Recognizing these tendencies in yourself and in others—in most cases they won’t be quite as extreme as described above—can lead to greater acceptance of yourself and others. And that is an essential ingredient for coming to peace with yourself, your relationships, and the world.
Visit the website of the Myers–Briggs Foundation »
Of the many excellent books and articles that explore MBTI to varying degree, What Type Am I? Discover Who You Really Are does a great job of simplifying the Myers-Briggs tool, making it easy to understand and apply to your own life »