Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for MBTI

I am an ISTP.

For those unfamiliar with the MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, what I just said probably just looks like a jumble of letters to you. ISTP? Do I have a lisp or something?

The MBTI instrument breaks down various aspects of one's personality and gives you an understanding of how you make decisions, gather information from the world around you, interact with people, and order your world. These four different aspects provide quite a comprehensive way of looking at a person and how he or she functions. I've found it extremely helpful in understanding myself better and realising why I am the way I am.

For many, many years, I tried and tried to make myself into a J (judging type). Now, when MBTI uses the word "judging", it doesn't carry the same meaning as it would in layman's terms; it refers to the way you prefer to order your world. The judging types like to have life all planned out. They follow rules and schedules, they love order, they want things to be settled and organised. They don't like surprises and they HATE working last-minute.

My parents are very neat and disciplined people, especially my dad. Oh the Js! They were always trying to instill discipline into me, and of course you have to admit that being organised and neat and disciplined are good things, things to aspire to. So I always wanted to be J and despised myself for not being able to be J; each time I failed as a J, I felt like a mess, the sort of mess that my desk has always been -- a terrible useless human being who couldn't get her act together. What is wrong with you? I don't remember my parents saying this, but I said it to myself all the time. You can't even do such a simple thing like keep your desk neat.

When, in 2010, I realised I was actually a P (perceiving type), the direct opposite of the J -- random, spontaneous, rather messy -- and that I had been fighting against my very nature all along, I was devastated. I wrote this:

    All I feel is grief, grief because I have to accept myself and how can I accept myself as a P when I think I ought to be a J? Yet how can I be a J if I was made a P? And then I realise how screwed up I am because I don't want to be a P, because I still think J is right and P is wrong, and no wonder I always feel wrong... I can't accept that there are good things about being P, I can't accept that P might be acceptable too... in my world there is no space for P.

I didn't realise until that point that I had never liked myself.

The P in me is the impractical dreamer, the artist, the pianist, the poet... all the unimportant things, the things that I had believed needed to be discarded in favour of Getting Things Done, things that wouldn't get me anywhere; things that were a distraction, a waste of time, that didn't really count. And in trying to be J these were all the things that had fallen by the wayside, swept away.

It was a friend who pointed out that we need both Js and Ps:

"Look at the clouds. Clouds are P. Look at the wind. The wind is P. Look at snowflakes. Snowflakes are P. Everywhere you see creativity and beauty, it's P."

I nearly cried.

"Sure, the process is J," my friend added. "The snowflake structure is very J. The water cycle is J. Water freezes into ice at 100ÂșC; that is J. But look at the ice formations -- they are P. So you need both J and P."

It was so hard for me to find beauty in my P, when all my life I had looked at it as a liability, something to be hated and torn out and destroyed -- and if not, then at least pushed away and banished. I still hate the fact that I have a messy desk. But at least I don't think I'm a mess any longer.


Shonna Slayton said...

What a unique way of looking at Myers-Briggs P and J! I loved it. #atozchallenge

Imogen Woodford said...

I am visiting from the A-Z Challenge and have really enjoyed reading through your blog. I really enjoyed your perceptions on the Myers Briggs.