As a personality enthusiast, you meet two kinds of people in life: the kind of people who immediately pounce and say, “Ooh, what’s your type?” and the kind of people who roll their eyes and change the subject.
I’ve met more of the latter (and they’ve met more of me) than either of us care to admit.
So, this post is for those people: why does everyone get so excited about MBTI? Isn’t MBTI bunk science that real personality psychologists don’t give much credence to? As a matter of fact, isn’t psychology itself a bullshit psuedoscience that–
Yeah, yeah, okay. I’ll stop you right there.
For now, let’s take a look at why people have attached themselves so thoroughly to MBTI as a tool for self development and awareness.
(Thanks to Richard Wearn for the above stock photo.)
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I’ll start with the obvious:
It gives us a label
Now, at first glance, this might seem like a bad thing. MBTI “puts people in boxes” and “typecasts us” and “gives rise to rampant stereotyping,” right? It’s just one more label we can stick on our ever growing list of things people use to segregate us, isn’t it? Well, not exactly. While, at their core, these may be valid criticisms of any typing system that attempts to define us instead of describe us, consider the benefits of having a quick and easy label to apply to oneself.
For one thing, MBTI makes defining core personality aspects easy. Are you more introverted or extroverted? Are you more organized or spontaneous? Are you more connected with people or with data/ideas/things? Are you more abstract and conceptual or are you more down to earth and concrete-minded? Most people have a quick answer to at least one of those questions, and a lot of the time people already identify themselves by their strongest traits. MBTI just gives us a quick guide to our preferences and how they stack up against others. It gives us a shared language, as I’ve said before, to communicate with each other about our core perception and experiences.
If we see most of the world in hues of red, isn’t it useful to have a way to express this to others? It’s especially useful when we consider that not everyone sees the world in the same hues we do. By defining and breaking down the hues one can see the world in, we start to understand ourselves a little better.
It gives us a place to begin self exploration
For a lot of people, discovering MBTI through work or school was the first time they ever thought about themselves or their personality in any meaningful way. When they realize how these personality attributes and preferences have shaped them, they begin to see themselves in a new light. Past and present relationship dynamics begin to make more sense. Current ego defenses and strategies start to crumble, and that’s a good thing.
One of the first things people learn about themselves is what sets them apart from others. Since MBTI gives us a language to describe ourselves, it becomes possible to put those differences into words. Other systems have since come to give us a similar language, but the lasting (and popular) appeal of MBTI makes it stick in people’s minds. That’s not to say that there aren’t drawbacks, such as a simplicity that doesn’t always grasp at the reality of human behavior. But that simplicity makes it accessible, and because it is accessible, it’s actually useful. I would recommend MBTI as a starting point for anyone who wanted to understand their personality better.
Now, many people don’t end their journey with MBTI. I certainly didn’t. (For more on why I prefer the Enneagram model, check here and here.) However, whether MBTI is the model you most prefer or whether it’s simply a step on the way to something bigger, it clearly paves the way for a lot of people to reach greater self understanding.
It gives us a sense of belonging
I am a comic creator and the number of comics I have seen rise to stardom and book deals simply for dealing with the topic of introversion shows me that people dig this stuff. (I’m a weapons-grade introvert; where’s my book deal?!) People love knowing more about why they are the way they are, why they don’t quite fit in, and why the world’s demands seem out of touch with who they are.
Now, I think this applies more to certain types than others (Introverts and iNtuitives are more likely to explore their psyche via books or online communities than Extroverts and Sensors, who are out learning and engaging with the physical world). However, there’s a real market in exploring the self through personality and MBTI offers a convenient system to organize trait preferences. People connect to each other via type. “Oh, YOU’RE an INFP? I’m an INFP too!” Instant commonality.
I’m not saying MBTI doesn’t have its fair share of problems. I’m just saying that as a tool for self development, MBTI is purposefully accessible to anyone who wants to study personality. It is a tool designed for use by participants and not simply by personality psychologists organizing lab data and publishing it to obscure scientific journals. Anyone can approach this system and find something for themselves.
Looking to explore MBTI in more depth? Here are a few books that were instrumental in my understanding of the typology: