Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Let me guess. You're the shy, silent typea wallflower standing at the edge of the party, happier to observe than participate. You're a worrier, too, aren't you? You can't drive down the road without taking on the weight of the world. Maybe you're the outdoorsy type, or the caregiver or a tomboy. You're this. You're that.
From the moment we're born, we begin hearing what we "are." We live in a complex web of social systems that erects imaginary boundaries, limiting our capabilities and our entire lives. We allow the world to define our very character, and then play that role like it was written for us. It's easy to fall prey to expectations, sometimes even to the point that we forget to ask ourselves, "Who am I, really?"
I recently tried speculating whether I'm able to navigate life without allowing other people's definitions of "me" to take center stage. My answer turned out to be a lot more complicated than a straightforward "yes." I wager most folks are similarly perplexed.
Shakespeare's Polonius famously asserted, "To thine own self be true." Sounds simple, doesn't it? But when it really comes down to the nitty-gritty of investigating one's "self," being true to it can prove difficult. Self-exploration is tricky at best; one must be open to removing all the previous coats of spackle and paint to find out what the authentic self really looks like. You must peel them away one layer at a time, taking stock of the relevant and shedding the extraneous.
Redesigning yourself is possible. But like any process, realization takes time and hard work. Before beginning the process, it's necessary to take stock of the traits others have cast on you, the tendencies you have for perceiving the world and how you respond to life (or don't), accordingly.
C. G. Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology, wrote the preeminent work of scholarship regarding this topic. In "Psychological Types," he categorized people into four primary types based on consciousness functions: two "perceiving types" (sensation and intuition) and two "judging types" (thinking and feeling). He then noted "attitude types" (extraversion or introversion) modifiy the functions.
Personality assessment models, including the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, use Jung's work as a springboard. MBTI, created by the mother/daughter team Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, was meant to help women entering the World War II work force to identify positions that would help them feel "most comfortable and effective."
Since then, the assessment has shown up in a multitude of applications, including watered-down Internet versions where test-takers can attain their type with just a few clicks.
Some academics believe such indicators lack validity. Some say that just because an indicator points one to a specific type, it doesn't mean people should think they can't transcend it. At the very least, they can learn to use their opposite psychological preferences, becoming more behaviorally flexible.
I recently began tackling each of my types separately. I'm an INFP (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving) according to Myers-Briggs, but decided there were certain roles I'd been playing since childhood that I didn't like (the timid, self-depreciating role), and others that I wanted to keep (the graceful, balanced role). I set aside time to understand the qualities I wanted to hold on to: What it was about them that seemed genuine?
I am proud to be the organized typea quality that improves my work and keeps stress at bay. I also figured being a kind-hearted type serves others in my life more than another type might. It's a keeper along with the giving type, and healthful type.
Then I turned my attention to the types I wanted to dump into the waste bin, the ones that have been holding me back from leading a fuller, happier life. I started with the shy type. I once worked in public relations, and every morning I would approach the office anxious at the prospect of being "social" for my job. I sucked it up, only to leave the office feeling like a giant had planted itself on my back. I was stressed out and unhappy. Most days I just wanted to crawl into a hole.
I decided to rethink shyness. Why couldn't I be more outgoing? Who was it that decidedwhen I was 2 and hiding behind my mother's legsthat I would spend the rest of my life as the "shy child"?
Casting off shyness didn't mean I'd instantly turn into a social butterfly. I'm still not the life of the party, and I'm uncomfortable being the center of attention. But my vow to talk to more people and not be as frightened to open up to strangers in a social or work-related setting, has been a healthy physical and spiritual change in my life.
Anyone can learn to reject the types that aren't useful to their life, and celebrate the ones that are. You might even meet some types on your journey that you didn't know existed. Recently, I met and made friends with my humorous type, my daring type and my girly, more feminine type. Every now and then when I feel them slipping away and the old types begin to infiltrate, I invite my new friends to coffee. And the conversation is never short of lively.
Exploring new types? Decide which ones will help you become the person you've always wanted to be, then try on a new type once a week.
Not the risk-taking, live outside-the-box type? Forgo the old standby in favor of an unlikely ethnic restaurant next time you go out for dinner, or take a trip to someplace well outside your comfort zone.
Not the creative, artistic type? Forget your penchant for the ordinary, and sign up for a drawing class, attend a knitting circle, or go see a play or art-house film.
Not the nurturing type? Volunteer at a local retirement community or animal shelter, or become a big sister or brother.
Just because you don't want to be associated 100 percent with one of your types doesn't mean you have to let it go entirely. Search for ways to "spin" them so they work to your advantage.
Don't always want to lead at work? Mentor someone else in the officeespecially someone with interesting ideas but who's inclined to take the back seatto fearlessly lead the next project. Doing so will relieve you of the stress of having to be in control, but puts your tendencies to good use.
as a -24 INTP I can definately get this article. Thanks, it is nice to know we are not out here alone.