Myers Briggs Was Ruining My Life

I “got into” MBTI the same way we all do: by taking a test.

Gris Olmedo via unsplash

I don’t remember how I found out about the test — how does anyone find out about the test? It’s like it’s just passed into our hands by passers-by like some drug at a dark party. But I took a test, and then from there started researching. That was years ago.

It was innocent at first — I typed myself and then I typed my partner and that was pretty much it. For about a decade, I didn’t care to do much more with it.

The trouble started when I dated someone whom I thought was the same type. It seems like this would be fine on the surface, but I started to see really big differences between us. Not interests or hobbies, but major, fundamental vibration level stuff — we had totally different fighting styles, fought about different things, and more frequently, than I had with anyone else. Neither of us could grow and I didn’t understand what or where the problem was.

He blamed his childhood. I blamed myself. In the end, we both blamed each other.

I dumped the guy. But still wanting insight (mostly on my own growth path at this point) a year later I hired an MBTI coach, who told me I was an entirely different type.

I didn’t believe her at first — especially since she swapped out a “letter” I’d always prided myself on (as we do) — but I started digging into it, and that’s when I found out about “cognitive functions.”

There’s not enough room here to walk through them, but TL;DR — the tests are almost never accurate, and the real way is to understand the cognitive functions, especially unhealthy behavior: “loops” and “grips.”

The loops and grips for the type I’d previously identified as described my ex’s behavior perfectly. But not mine. In contrast, my new type’s behavior described mine exactly.

This was the beginning of the end, really.

Two summers ago, I got into gambling on horse races. It started as an accident, really. I’d been to horse races before and never bet on them, contented to just watch and day-drink overpriced beer. But one fateful Saturday, I picked a horse I liked just for fun. And then figured, eh what the hell, and picked one to come in second — an exacta.

I won.

Exalted, I bet the next race too — another two horses, another exacta. And I won that one, too.

I did this again and again, all day along, nailing the exacta in 6 of the 8 races.

From there, I was hooked. I’d ride my motorcycle to Arlington Park just outside Chicago on hot summer Saturday afternoons, and I’d spend hour hanging over the railing, picking my horses, and “earning my beer” with wins. I’d watch other races streaming across the TVs, but I only ever bet on the ones in person. I needed to see the horses — that was the only way I could do it.

I never won as many exactas as I did that first day (beginners luck?), so I looked around to learn more, I realized nobody was really that good at it, and the real pros spent hours poring over stat sheets just to win and lose the same wad of cash.

“The thing about horse races,” one professional gambler wrote, “is that the more you do it, the more you need to know.”

I didn’t want to know more. I didn’t want to spend my Saturdays pouring over. I “scratched,” so to speak, and dropped out.

The same thing can be said of MBTI — the more you do it, the more you need to know. But this time, I buckled in for the long haul and cracked open the mess.

There’s a lot of bad information on MBTI out there — I mean, a lot. The most dangerous place to be is one step beyond taking the test for fun but before digging into the more peer-reviewed texts, where you find yourself rummaging around in other people’s tumblr posts.

You have to get through that — you have to get all the way to the more substantial texts. If you ever want to understand it (and yeah, it’s all pseudoscience to begin with, but I think we can all agree a published, peer-reviewed work carries more weight than 20 year olds perpetuating stereotypes with glitter memes on Tumblr), you have to get all the way back to Jung.

The more you want to do it, the more you have to know.

And the more you know, the more you start to use it.

Over the last year since learning my new/real type, I have become consumed with Myers Briggs. I type absolutely everyone.

I’ve been typing my improv instructor since the first day we met six months ago. I know she has Fi in her stack and I’m pretty sure it’s near the top — xxFP. For a long time I assumed she was INFP, but lately I’ve been thinking ExFP.

I type all my classmates and teammates as well, pawing at them all psychologically to understand: which personalities like improv? And which ones are good?

I zone out during meetings as people speak, desperate to categorize — he’s clearly Si, but ISTJ, or F?

I’ve retrospectively typed ex-boyfriends (though, to be fair, that one probably makes sense.) And I’ve typed and re-typed my current boyfriend half a dozen times. We know what he is, but sometimes I play devil’s advocate and poke and prod around a bit, reminding myself why he isn’t another. And he sits there and plays along, answering questions and letting me, like a family dog submitting to a game of dress-up.

I type cities. I type neighbors. I type family members and friends.

I gossip using MBTI — “he’s just freaking out because he’s got inferior Ne” or “she’s angry because of her Ti” and I even shit-talk with it: the ugliest loops are the dom Ti and Fe’s.

I even use MBTI for innuendo, i.e., “he likes a little Fi in the stack if ya know what I mean.” (They usually don’t.)

I type authors while I read, scribbling little unibomber notes in the margins to mark places they exemplify a function — usually Fi, Fe, Ne, Si… maybe a rogue Te outburst, which, lol, means they’re really Fi. (Unless it’s, like, a business book or something.)

I type characters in films. I type musicians. I type strangers on the street.

I find solace in people who could be typed easily and agreed — like my mother and sister, who both typed themselves as ESFJ in about 8 seconds, as well as the many self-aware xSTJs (who aren’t pretending to be NTs.)

I hear that back when Tetris first came out, people played it so much that they experienced “Tetris Effect,” where the shapes were locked into their vision. They started seeing Tetris everywhere — their everyday lives became a series of shapes and flips and drops.

That’s me and Myers Briggs. Except my “shapes” are people. And the “game” is all theory.

My everyday life is a living and breathing game of “Guess Who,” except with actual people, real or fictional, and the answers aren’t final and sometimes I go back to guessed I’d previously eliminated.

But more often that not, there’s just as much if not more bad.

It got so bad that a few weeks ago, I held an “intervention” on myself. Talking out loud to my boyfriend over a beer, I admitted that I knew MBTI was fruitless and got me nowhere, and I said, “no more MBTI!” the equivalent of any other addict dumping the booze, flushing the drugs, throwing the cookies in the trash.

But, like a true addict, it lasted about 2 days.

The thing about MBTI is that it’s bottomless.

There are no concrete answers. There is no wall. You just keep plummeting off into in an accelerating positive feedback; it’s an abyss, which makes it prime territory for cerebral addiction.

And it’s not enough that I just type people — I want to understand them.

I want to know their aspirations and fears, where they put their pride, where they store their ego. I want to know where they harbor their greatest insecurities and the ways in which they project or, as one MBTI fan called it, “peacock” to overcompensate.

I want to understand why we suffer; what we need. I want to make people okay.

I want to explain people’s problems in terms of MBTI. I want to offer solutions. I type everyone — whether I get their consent (i.e., acknowledgement) or not. I can’t help it.

And yet I know that MBTI is bottomless — by design.

The “good” that MBTI offers is giving people a category, a home, an explanation. It can explain our biggest pain points and struggles in life, and it can offer avenues for growth. That’s the good that can come of Myers Briggs, and I count this group as lucky.

Because for many people, its entire appeal is based on its innate elusiveness. It offers the promise of easily categorization — hey, it’s only 16 types! — but then makes the definitions so goddamn ambiguous that everyone thinks they themselves are xNTx and their mom is ESFJ.

After years of spending far too much time on MBTI — forums, books, subreddits, human being coaches — I slowly but surely have weaned myself back to a reasonable amount. Which is to say rather than “hours a day,” I keep it to a bare minimum of asking new acquiantenances, over drinks, “hey, what’s your myers briggs?” And, of course, taking a stab with my guess, whether they answer, and whether I agree, or not.

I count this as progress.