I have been a passionate user of psychological type and the MBTI assessment for more than half my life now, and a growing concern of mine is people’s masking—consciously or not—troubled or dysfunctional behavior with type terms. Bad decisions or poor behavior choices cannot accurately or legitimately be excused by a type preference. “I know I was late, but I’m a Perceiver, so . . .” “Maybe I hurt your feelings, but I am a Thinker, so what do you expect?”
The most recent punching of this bruise for me came when I recently read a blog I came across, in which an Introvert laments the expectations of an extraverted world. Her blog begins, “I’m an Introvert,” and then from there she catalogs a series of reactions and behavioral choices that pull her away from building relationships and even engaging with the world—hiding when people knock on her door, cringing when the phone rings, dreading parties and social engagements weeks before they arrive. She would prefer to read my favorite books to get to know me in lieu of actually talking to me, and she idealizes the seclusion of a monastic life.
While I feel genuine concern and sympathy for this woman’s struggle, she is not talking about introversion. Half the world’s population prefers introversion, but half the population are not shunning human contact and any form of outer-world engagement with this much focus. She might prefer introversion, but the extremity of these behaviors suggests that something else—a bit more intense–may be at play.
I support (and encourage) people’s discussing and disclosing their Type preferences. To someone devoted both to human growth and development and to the ethical use of the MBTI assessment, however, this kind of behavioral excuse-making can appear self-indulgent and intellectually lazy. Sadly, I see it happening quite a lot. Our collective desire in the fields of Self-Awareness and Learning/Development is to create safe spaces to learn and to affirm people’s self-esteem. That said, I am growing increasingly concerned that this has led to a lack of critical thinking and a failure to call out aberrant, ineffective or even dysfunctional behavior when we come across it. You and I might both be “OK” being who we are, but that does not mean—it cannot mean—that every choice we make is a good one.
Jung gave us the concept of introversion—the idea of having a quiet, inner-directed source of energy, and people with this preference should validate it and claim this preference and all of its quiet focus and power. But that is not the whole story. Jung also gave us the concept of typological balance, which means that the lure and seduction of this inwardly focused energy—in every Introvert—needs the balance that comes from talking, action, public engagement and connection to the outside world. Introversion pulls me inside myself, but the desire for balance assures I spend an appropriate amount of time extraverting as well.
My heart goes out to the author of the Momastery Blog, for her struggles and discomfort seem both genuine and challenging. However, the larger practice–and I see it frequently–of hiding behind Type labels and using personality preferences, consciously or not, to excuse or mask troubling or ineffective behavior is something that needs to be called out and something that we each need to work to avoid. Type is a powerful tool to aid in our understanding of ourselves. As a model it can offer both insight and a boost to our self-esteem. At the same time, Type must also spur us to do the work we each need to do to be more balanced and more fully type-developed. Type is a starting place, but must never be a destination where we rest.