The Value of Personality Tests
They don't tell us what, they explain why
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
The first personality test I ever remember taking was a left/right brain quiz in my high school psychology class. While the science has been questioned in the years since, the test determined that I was bi-lateral, nearly equal parts left and right-brained.
For a girl who was good at math but loved reading and writing, it actually made perfect sense.
In the years since I’ve been subjected to many personality tests. Some were required, like the Myers/Briggs I took in college (at the time I tested as ISFJ), and some I have taken for fun (like the Harry Potter quiz that wisely put me into House Ravenclaw). But each one has given me better insight into who I am as a human being and how to better use my personality traits, viewing them as strengths and not weaknesses.
In Jen Hatmaker’s latest book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, she writes that personality tests create a self-awareness that “disrupts unhealthy patterns, instructs our decisions, strengthens our relationships, and illuminates our lanes.” I have seen that over and over again in my life.
Several years ago I attended a Love Languages Bible study at my church. At the time I was just looking for a way to get back into scripture and connect with people outside of work and home. I had some reservations about using the Love Languages as a guide for how I relate to my faith, but I was willing to take the quiz and learn alongside others in the study.
It didn’t just change the way I looked at my faith study; it changed the way that I looked at my own family.
I learned that my primary love language was acts of service, which kind of felt obvious once I learned what that entailed, but it also explained why I was so irritated when my loving husband would try to shower me with kisses when all I really wanted was for him to volunteer to do the dishes without me asking. And while experts will repeatedly tell hobby analysts to avoid typing their family members, it became more obvious to both of us that our son’s love languages are touch and gifts and our daughter’s is acts of service. Taking those traits into consideration gave me a new way to understand and relate to my children, helping to strengthen our interactions and even our discipline with each child.
I’ve also learned that life can impact our personality typing. When I was a college student I initially tested as an ISFJ, although my introversion barely surpassed my extroversion. In more recent years, I’ve switched sensing for feeling while become more introverted. While my INFJ typing is pretty accurate to how I see and react to the world now, life experience has played a huge role in even the slightest changes.
For years I felt like being an introvert instead of a clear extrovert handicapped me in every area of my life, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve also learned to embrace that part of my personality and use it to my advantage. I’ve learned that it can be a strength, not a weakness, and it helps me to relate to my own introverted daughter.
One of my more recent personality growth projects has been diving into the Enneagram. While I know there is a lot of controversy in certain Christian circles concerning its roots, experience has taught me how useful digging into my personality traits can be in helping me better understand the hows and whys of the way I respond to the world around me.
While I tried taking several free tests on the topic over the last year, every time I took a quiz the results didn’t match the way I saw myself. I know we often avoid being honest with ourselves, but I read each typing with as critical an eye as possible and it just didn’t seem right. I finally caved to a friend’s pressure and decided to just read up on the topic and go from there.
Reading The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile had the same impact as Susan Cain’s book Quiet. Reading Cain’s book helped me to see the potential strengths behind introversion; Cron and Stabile’s book helped me to finally dig into the nine different Enneagram types and truly figure out where I fit.
So where do I fit? I’m a clear One, the Perfectionist: The “Ones’s passion to improve the world goes bad when they start to believe that in order to be loved they have to be perfect and not make mistakes.” The more I read about the One, the more I felt it, both as a conviction in the parts about myself that I abhor and in the parts that are really my strengths.
In the Enneagram, there is also a wing, which means you naturally adopt the traits of one of the numbers next to yours in the circle and you grow to adopt the other number later in life. After reading through both, it became painfully clear that I am a Nine wing, the Peacemaker.
Reading about the Peacemaker I felt like I was repeatedly getting hit over the head. Reading about the Perfectionist I felt like I had been plowed over by a truck. The painful truth about being a peacemaking perfectionist is that I am introverted and often detached, thinking through my responses for too long and spending too much time mulling over my decisions. I want my decisions to be perfectly planned out but I also don’t want people to be mad at me for whatever decision I make. It explains my tendency to procrastinate and allow things (like my dirty kitchen table) to go neglected when I’m feeling stressed.
Some people believe that the danger of personality typing is that we are too quick to fall back on it and blame it for every issue that we have, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Really digging into well-researched personality typing (so NOT our horoscope or sign) can help us to better function, if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and do the work.
And now I have one more tool at my disposal. Like with introversion or Myers/Briggs or even my semi-silly assessment of my Hogwarts house, the Enneagram is helping me to explore how I respond to the world around me. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.
An updated version of this blog post has been put in my book, which can be purchased at the link below:
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