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Is Your Vision of Your Personality Too Narrow?

on August 28, 2013 by Anjanette 11 comments

Post by Anjanette Barr, Contributing Writer

Over the years I’ve taken many personality tests – mostly of the Myers-Briggs variety. Recently I was asked to take another type of personality test and a test to determine my “ministry style.”

Can I tell you how much I hate those tests? It’s ok to be shocked! I know so many people who think they are great (including my husband) and I have really tried to like them and apply what they’ve shown me about myself. I’m just always frustrated that there is never an obviously correct answer to any personality type question for me. I have gotten a different 4 letter combination every.single.time I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs evaluation!

personality

While I never felt like I fit the stereotype perfectly, I came to accept that I must be an extrovert because I am very social.

Until I’m not.

I enjoy spending time socializing and I do tend to be talkative, but get exhausted easily without lots of alone time in my day. I love to research and think things through systematically, but hate being beholden to a structure or system. I love lists, but I don’t like to set goals. I make friends easily and have a large circle of influence, but I prefer to spend time with people one on one.

It has been frustrating to feel like I don’t really know my own strengths and weaknesses, and I have often lamented that I seem to be balanced to a fault. Sometimes I feel like I can’t rightly set my priorities without a better understanding of what God made me to do. And that reticence can lead to idleness, which frustrates me even more.

Thankfully, two recent revelations have finally allowed me to be at peace with my personality.

Personality Type is a Spectrum

My librarian husband, who is pretty classically introverted at first glance, introduced me to the work of Susan Cain – author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – by sending me the link to her TED Talk about introversion.

I watched it hoping to glean insight into the way my husband thinks, but I ended up being blessed with even more than that. Susan Cain describes THREE personality types rather than two – introversion, extroversion, and ambiversion.

An ambivert is moderately comfortable with groups and social interaction, but also relishes time alone, away from a crowd. (from Wikipedia)

I am an ambivert!!

Maybe you are thinking that a third category is silly – just an excuse not to be one thing or another. For me, the idea that there is something in between introversion and extroversion is incredibly freeing. It means it’s OK to identify with both types of feelings, and it also means that I am not alone – if there’s a name for it then there must be others!

It also means that there’s more to our personalities than the extremes – it means that personality type encompasses the full spectrum between very introverted and very extroverted. And since I believe God’s design is purposeful, it means that I am right where I am supposed to be on that spectrum.

God Didn’t Create Plots on a Grid – He Created People

We want to categorize things to try and understand them. We organize animals by species (but what about the platypus?), divide produce by fruits and vegetables (and then there’s the tomato), etc. When something doesn’t quite fit, we choose the best we can, but everything has to have a place.

It is true of course that even on a spectrum most people are going to be closer to one end or the other, with only a few in the exact center, but it’s undeniable that  He made us each unique.

God didn’t create an extrovert (or ambivert as it were) named Anjanette; He created me, Anjanette, and I happen to be very near the middle of the personality spectrum (though I do probably still sit on the extroversion side).

God has crafted you to be exactly who He wants you to be at this time, in this place. It’s true that introverts sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve for being dynamic people, and that’s a shame. Likewise, extroversion is sometimes seen as the less intellectual personality type and that is absolutely false in many cases. We are all wonderfully intricate people who cannot be perfectly categorized.

God is Bigger Than Our Personality Type

Personality profiles are useful tools in some cases. But they are just a tool, not something you should rely on to build up your entire understanding of yourself. Unfortunately, systematic categorizing of personalities not only over-simplifies things, it ignores the fact that our God is in the business of changing and growing people.

And introvert can become an amazing public speaker or evangelist and touch a larger number of people than they ever imagined being comfortable around. An extrovert can cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit and be a great prayer warrior who logs many solitary hours on her knees on behalf of others.

God may ask an artistic person to take on the bulk of the financial responsibility in a family even though they have to work harder at numbers. He might ask a numbers person to think outside the box. And in any case, He has the power to mold us all into exactly who we need to be, for such a time as this.

I’m not advocating trying to be someone you aren’t. But the simple truth is that you are not limited to the confines of your personality “type,” and your personality is more layered and complex than even you can decipher.

It was very satisfying recently to have my husband comment, after knowing me for over a decade, “you know, I used to think you were an extrovert. Now I’m not so sure.” 🙂

 Personality is that peculiar, incalculable thing that is meant when we speak of ourselves as distinct from everyone else. Our personality is always too big for us to grasp… Personality is like an island, we know nothing about the great depths underneath, consequently we cannot estimate ourselves. We begin by thinking that we can, but we come to realize that there is only one Being Who understands us, and that is our Creator. Oswald Chambers

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  1. I loved your insight about personalities! I too think I am somewhere in the middle though I do tend to fall into certain ‘categories’ on those tests. It is funny though because I was a very shy kid growing up but now I like the company of others around me. I feel energized when I am able to interact with people just not on a large scale. My husband on the other hand is drained when he doesn’t get enough time to himself. I do think those test can be useful in helping you understand yourself and others but I agree that you shouldn’t put yourself into a box because of it.

  2. This is so encouraging- I always have trouble explaining to people how I really, truly NEED alone time, significant alone time, but I still love to be social. This makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing, Anjanette 🙂

  3. I admit it, I am a personality nerd. I love studying people and understanding what makes them tick. As an introvert myself and someone who studies this a lot I did want to say that extroversion/introversion isn’t measured by how social you are – quite a few introverts are very social. When I am helping someone figure out which they are I have them figure out how they get their energy. If you are energized by quiet, time alone or really deep conversations with one or two people you likely fall to the introverted side of the spectrum. If you are energized by crowds of people, conversations with many people at once, loud music, etc. you probably fall more to the extrovert side. An introvert will give a fantastic speech to 500 people and then leave instead of mingling afterwards. The awesome thing about personalities is that created each of us with our own unique bent. We are like snowflakes, none of us are exactly alike. Personality profiles are like guides to help you understand yourself and others better.

    • Love the insight. 🙂 Yes, I think I really needed to let myself thrive in the knowledge that I am unique. I know other people who need to understand that they aren’t alone but fall into a category of other people just like them in many ways. 🙂

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