Why I Took A Break From MBTI (And Maybe You Should Too)

Steinar La Engeland
Steinar La Engeland

Like almost everyone my age, I had no clue who I was in college. I sort of looked at college as the stepping stone to what I am meant to do with my life (which I don’t know yet either).

With the trouble of meeting an insurmountable number of people everyday, it was difficult for me to think of something to say about myself after ‘my name is.’ Do I continue to introduce myself with ‘I major in _____’?

As a kid, it was easy for me to associate myself with the cartoons I watched and Gameboy cartridges I owned.

In high school, I was the kid in my class who was good at school, high grades in math, english, science.

College was different. The amount of people I’d see on a daily basis had multiplied by hundreds, which meant what would differentiate me to my peers would have to be a quality more specific, one I did not know.

In my generation, the need to have personal identity is very much on top of our version of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Dr. Jeane Twenge, psychologist and author of The Narcissism Epidemic, wrote that for Millennials, identity concerned being authentic and individual, finding what was unique or different to stand out from the crowd. So could I really be that kid who was amazing at math when ten of my classmates scored higher than me at an exam or that student who can write a great essay when others my age had articles published in a national broadsheet?

By my second semester into my first year at college, all students in my batch were required to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). We were told that the MBTI would help us understand how we perceive the world and interact in a social and work environment. Basically, it’s going to help us in school. Like any other school-mandated activity, I answered it unenthusiastically and hastily so I could leave the cold auditorium.

Weeks later, in the middle of my Discrete Mathematics class, someone from the Guidance Councillor’s Office came in with our MBTI results. I watched as every student before me opened their envelope, started reading their result, eyes growing wider, expressions forming on their faces. I was getting somewhat excited; eager to discover what was making them react that way.

When I finally read through my diagnosis. The letters “INFJ” were the first I saw and I began reading what constituted an INFJ. I’m sensitive and empathic to others. Check. I have strong ideals and stick to them. Check. I put words in a way that are human and easily understandable. Check. I am an INFJ, and based on the reactions of everybody else in the room, their results totally encapsulated their personalities too.

I clearly saw how my MBTI result related to me. I do like my alone time; I do somehow arrange my words in magical way. These were all negligible to me before; I couldn’t introduce myself as ‘I’m Kenny, I love my alone time.’ But now, with the egalitarian nature of the Myers Briggs test that had everyone diagnosed with a 4 letter iteration, I can conveniently say “I’m Kenny. I major in math. And I’m an INFJ.”

Not everybody was pleased with their results, but I was happy with mine. It doesn’t hurt that INFJs are peacekeepers. My personality is akin to the personalities of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. I’m supposedly wise beyond my years, a solid communicator and passionately determined towards what I believe in. The cherry on top was that an INFJ is the rarest personality type, and better, even more rare in Men. Only 1% of men are INFJs. I’m a unicorn.

While not every bit about an INFJ is me, I greatly identified with it and when asked, wore my MBTI type as a badge.

However, two years after college, the qualities I identified with changed. While I’ve racked up more things to identify myself with like my job title, the company I worked for, my accomplishments, the people I’ve dated, my sexuality, among countless others, I was back to being confused as to what I want to do, what I want to be and what I want to be known for.

I took a 3 month bout of self-exploration (I quit my job, traveled to nearby countries, spent a lot of time with my dog, and general paranoia that my friends know very much about). With an ocean of possibilities, what continued to stick with me over the years was INFJ. To reassure myself of who I am, I took the MBTI again.

This time, I took the MBTI online. Like the manual version, I rated scenarios from “a big yes” to a “big no” based on my instinct. Eager for the results, I answered without thinking too much. When the results loaded, I have morphed and become an INFP. INFP? Years of identifying with INFJ, I couldn’t have become an INFP. Surprised and disappointed by the result, I took the test again a bit more meticulously, actually reading the questions. I was relieved to know that I still am an INFJ. Unconvinced, I took the test again through another website and got the result of INFJ again, but I was only 55% Judging and 45% Perceiving, indicating that I can easily switch between P and J, essentially a hybrid. With my results back in college indicating a strong INFJ, I’ve changed.

INFPs are calm and shy, easily misunderstood because of their reserved demeanors. Very much like me. INFPs decide based on their emotions and own principles rather than pure logic and consequence. Very much like me too. It seems that the qualities of an INFP suit me well. Not only that, it’s a rare type with only 4% of the population identifying as an INFP. I’ll be a rare unicorn either way.

I still associated with INFJ more than my apparent new personality of an INFP. My being an INFJ has become both an armor I wear and a weapon I use.

When I don’t feel like going out and being sociable, a characteristic often castigated by my peers, I excuse myself by declaring that I’m an INFJ.

I need to recharge to be my somehow talkative self again. Let me be, don’t ask questions, just read what an INFJ is online — I’ll claim quietly in much kinder words. I’ve gained the habit of blaming my being an INFJ for a lot of things. I feel tired and depressed, I’m anti-social at times, I’m quiet, I’m in my head too much, I’m paranoid. Nothing is wrong because I’m an INFJ; this is how I am supposed to function. I should be anti-social, I should be paranoid or something is of the matter.

I began acting in a way that made me an INFJ. Burnt out from a hellish week at work, I turn down drinks with college friends because the World Wide Web advised an exhausted INFJ to get some alone time and rest and recharge. I am at peace alone at home with a good book, but I would be a lot happier with my college friends, verbally battering my enemies from my office and getting tipsy.

I’ve become a self-prescribed INFJ even if my INFJ-choices weren’t my natural instinct. I grew attached to the notion of being a rare unicorn of a person that I stunted my own growth as a person for the sake of hypothetically having the term “INFJ” on my Tinder profile (for the information of possible matches, I’d never place “INFJ” on any online dating profile).

When I look at my actions in retrospect, I’m becoming less of an INFJ. I studied mathematics and finance in college; I should be categorized as an anomaly. INFJs are supposed to dislike petty numerical details and a career in unscrupulous money-making. When I think about what I do for a living now, the scope of my work is exactly what an INFJ despises. Marketing, public relations, talking to a lot of different people, things that I essentially hate and tire me out, but discovered I like doing (sometimes).

While it was comforting to have something to relate to, my MBTI-result, because of how attached I was to it, began impeding my understanding of myself. The MBTI doesn’t claim to know who I am or who I’m supposed to be, it assesses how one makes decisions and perceives the world. However, for someone like me (and I guess a lot of other people too) who relies on my MBTI-type heavily, there was a need to disconnect for a while and see where unpossessed and unbiased decisions take me.

It’s inevitable that I’ll take the MBTI again (I prescribe a one year break) and see where I fall in the 4-letter spectrum. For now, I’ve de-bookmarked 16personalities and stopped referring to Google whenever I face a conundrum. While there’s a natural propensity for me to remain an INFJ, I’ve opened myself up to the possibility that, over time, I may become an ESTP (though I highly doubt it). Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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