Tuesday, December 9, 2008

personality surveys

I think that I may have mentioned the Meyers-Briggs personality typing system before.  It lays out four general and sixteen specific personality  types from combinations of four toggle attributes.  It's a good system, and I think that the researchers got things mostly right.  One of its major strengths is also one of its major weakness though.  David Kiersey emphasizes in his book "Please Understand Me" that people's basic personality types do not change and that it is futility to try to change people into what they are not.  And while he is right that you cannot change a cat into a dog, he leaves unaddressed the question, can a cat turn into a better cat?  Something more in tune with its essential cat-ness?

Fortunately, Kiersey's isn't the only book out there trying to systemitize human nature.  Don Riso and Russ Hudson have spent careers working with the enneagram, and laid out nine personality types.  More interestingly to me, they have laid out for each of their nine types nine layers of functionality--ranging from extremely healthy to extremely dysfunctional.  They investigate the different ways that people "integrate" (become healthier) and "dis-integrate" (become less healthy) and how that looks different for different types.  

These two systems, taken together with a good dose of good theology and discretion seem to me to provide a great base for self-understanding and relationship building.  I have no use for Riso and Hudson's assumption that our personalities are primarily determined by how our relationships with our parents were screwed up as very young children.  I think Kiersey is more right that our general bent is stamped on our DNA.  I agree with Riso and Hudson, however, that while each of us have particular driving fears and weaknesses, that we do not have to accept those as inevitable.  That in fact each of us can "change" and grow in such a way as to become more fully ourselves.  

Of  course, none of these secular psychologists have much use for Jesus, or for sin and redemption language.  But I figure it like this.  God made each of us to be someone very particular.  We can indeed grow more and more into the people that God intended and intends us to be.  The wisdom and recognition and fear-conquering that is necessary for that growth, truly comes through Christ.  Additionally, each personality type will gravitate towards particular areas of sin.  This is a true marker of personality, on the one hand, but it is not a true indicator of who we are supposed to be.  

I highly recommend both Please Understand Me and Personality Types for . . . well, anyone really.  Particularly, I've heard a from numerous people over the past year and more who have looked up after an extended amount of time in churches where there were very specific and restrictive ideas about gender roles and marriage, and have realized that those teachings had done nothing to help their own growth as a person or as a spouse.  In order to love our husband or wife we must first know them . . . if we are to help each other grow into the individuals and body that Christ calls us to be, shouldn't we first understand what will be helpful for growth?

(Side Note / Addendum:  Also valuable for parenting--if nothing else, starting with the assumption that my children are going to be whoever they're going to be, and that it's within my power to break and harm them--but not necessarilly change them--is very humbling, and useful for bringing any number of parenting issues into focus.)


Susan said...

You mention that these secular psychologists don't have much use for Jesus...

In the original Enneagram book by M. Beesing, R. Nogosek and P. O'Leary they certainly did, devoting a chapter to Jesus. They explain why Jesus had all nine personality types but because he was without sin none of them became extreme in Him, like they do in us. Meaning Jesus displayed wholeness and the book encourages people to grow towards the wholeness Jesus' displayed.

Sara said...

Hmm . . . interesting theory. :) I think that if Jesus displayed all nine types it had more to do with his being God . . . I think that in our humanity that each of us can only show facets of God, but as a body we reflect God's image--Christ is indeed the head of the body and it is completely beyond any of us hands or feet or eyes or ears to transform ourself into an alternate head. :)

But it reminds me of a book I saw one time lining up the gospels to each of the four major Meyers Briggs types. Matthew was SJ, Mark SP, Luke NF and John NT. The book typed Peter as an ESFP and John as an INTJ and had some interesting things to say about the fact that Jesus's two closest friends were exact opposites, and then went on to talk about how to use this all in prayer. (My kind husband ran a search and informs me that it is "Sacred Pathways" by Gary Thomas. Both it and the enneagram book you recommend are now on my Amazon wish list.)

Wholeness, of course, is a worthy goal . . . but I think that it might very well be one of those things that cannot be necessarily achieved by direct pursuit. That as we seek to follow Jesus, we may achieve wholeness, but that if we try to determine for ourselves how we "ought" to be whole and set about constructing our own pathways, we'll probably just make things worse

Susan said...

I went looking to see if I had written a book review of the Enneagram, and I had nearly three years ago!

Here's the link.

Erin said...

I have to agree with you Sara that for me, learning about my types made all the difference in the world in my life. Suddenly I wasn't broken anymore, when I discovered that I am who I am because I'm made that way. And everything made sense....because I've gone through most of my life thinking I was broken and just not normal...I'm an INFP/4 but for most of my life sinca adolescence I was certain that there was something really wrong with me and so I would test as an ISTJ/9 because I was trying so hard to not be who I was. It's only in the last two years or so I have begun to get back in touch with my 4.

I don't know if I read this or what...but doesn't it say somewhere that the type we are in adolescence is most true to who we really are? That as we grow in to adulthood we adapt more and more?

Sara said...

Erin, I had never heard that we are "most ourselves" in adolesence, but it makes a lot of sense to me intuitively that as adolescents we would test most truly. The Meyers-Briggs questions, as I read them, are really written and aimed toward what the enneagram guys would call average levels of health. As we mature and integrate, the stark black and white of those inidicators is less and less appealing and I double-think my answers a lot more. I don't think that I'm any less INTJ/5 than I was as an adolescent . . . but I do think, by God's grace that I'm a healthier one . . . I don't think it's necessarily adapting to come to the recognition that there are other valid personality types out there . . . that they have valuable strengths and things to bring to the table.