How the MBTI Can Overlook Our True Nature
Clemens Lode, July 2014*
Widely recognized as a useful tool in understanding who we are and how we can best work with others, the MBTI, or Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, categorizes people as: Introverts or Extroverts, Thinkers or Feelers, Sensors or Intuitives, and Judgers or Perceivers. But does the test fully assess who we are? And, if not, can it reveal a deeper truth about society and ourselves?
Due to the widespread popularity of the MBTI, we have a number of statistics on the distribution of categories across the general population. From personality test results, we know that roughly two-thirds of men tend to test as Thinkers; at the same time, two-thirds of women tend to test as Feelers. This difference points to a greater truth: there is a factor influencing the individual test results, a bias. Here, I will examine the underlying causes of that bias.
There is no apparent reason that women would score differently than men. The very thing we know from the MBTI test is that people are vastly different and that the cognitive preferences of the same type are identical in men and women. A person who answers “How do you act in situation X?” and turns out – according to the MBTI – to be a Thinker will also act likesomeone who scored as a Thinker, no matter if the individual is male or female.
So why does the MBTI find a difference, in terms of propensity to be categorized as a Thinker or a Feeler, between genders? I believe it is because many people wear masks depending on the roles they play in their daily lives. The masks are created based on the daily activities of the traditional roles in which society puts men and women. For this reason, the answers to such a test reflect the roles we play. In the MBTI test, people think about how they act in their lives and answer the questions accordingly. They answer with their masks on, putting women more in the caring and nurturing (“Feeling”) role and men into the deciding, planning, and organizing (“Thinking”) role.
This misconception also reinforces itself, as Thinker women might tend to consider themselves Feelers. Likewise, Feeler men might tend to consider themselves Thinkers. Consciously or not, each group has been taught to associate the term “feeling” with women and “thinking” with men.
Having established that Feeling does not necessarily refer to femininity and Thinking does not refer to masculinity, we have to understand what Feeling and Thinking actually mean and how both are part of us, no matter what type we are.
Simply put, Feeling does not refer to emotions, while Thinking does not encompass all thought processes. Little do people know that the “feeling function” is no more feminine than the “thinking function.” Both are equally rational, just as men and women are equally rational.
A Thinker’s actions depend on the situation. Given the facts, the Thinker asks, “What is the next logical step?” A Feeler’s actions depend on the people, and morality involved: a Feeler will ask, “Given the people, what is the next logical step?”
So, we already see that thinking and feeling are both based on logic; each approach uses a different set of data to calculate the final result. Depending on the introversion or extroversion variety of the Thinking and Feeling function, one gets these data either from within himself (introverted) or from the outside (extroverted).
Men are often inclined (because they have been taught this) to meet societal standards and to behave as thinkers. Why? After all, in the end, it’s not that Feeling is “bad” or Thinking is “good.” Both types have big advantages in their field of work and certain parts of their lives. It is because Feeling is looked down upon as being the way of the “fairer” (weaker?) sex.
This raises the question: how do we evaluate the worth of morality and ethics?
The point is that it is not just an issue of sexism – i.e., connecting Feeling and femininity – but also one of long-term nihilism: Ethics and principles are generally looked down upon as having no value simply because they do not appear to have an immediate value while Thinking easily provides directly applicable results.
This is also reflected in many of the descriptions of the MBTI types where suitable careers are proposed for certain types. But Feelers can reach any position they desire. They can run businesses, work in IT, health care, finance, etc. What they care about are long-term values and principles. In many businesses, values and principles are assigned a low a priority – which is why many fail in the long-term. Compare this to successful family businesses where the worth of the next generation and the long-term respect of the family name are crucial factors.
So, what qualities do Feelers, especially Introverted Feelers, bring to the table? Introverted feeling is really about knowing who you are in the sense of your own worth and what you think is important. Thinking cannot give you that; it is too concentrated on the situation at hand, not on core principles, and values. (Thinking types need to recognize the value of this side of themselves, to exercise these functions and see where doing so takes them.) Introverted Feeling is not about whims. What INFPs can “bring to the table” are ideas, motivation, and the energy to embark on new paths. INFPs also offer a place to return, to find yourself and heal the inner conflicts you had to suppress to be effective and stand against the opposing forces in real life. An INFP can negotiate and create unity and peace between seemingly incompatible positions and people. An INFP can give you the absolute moral security that what you do is right and that no one can stop you.
An INFP can be an effective leader, but he needs someone to bring his dreams and his stance to fruition. Other people need to recognize these values and understand that they cannot expect the INFP to make decisions, tell others what to do or organize their lives. Others have to go to battle for the INFP, with him as the standard bearer. They have to accept him as the moral foundation while he has to refrain from spending all his energy attempting to make and execute decisions.
Likewise, the INFP has to value the traits of Thinkers and not float away with his intuition and feeling into dreamland. He needs to have a footing in reality.
We find a similar form of the problem in another popular “personality” indicator, namely the intelligence quotient. We can compare people with a high IQ with “T” (thinking, according to the MBTI) people. We tell people with high IQ scores that they are smart, basically telling them that they are superior. But does that help them in their development? Are we not telling them that they are far ahead of everyone else in their journey through life and that they are basically already accomplished? Add a job, a car and an apartment gotten through a first job – landed through good school grades – and according to society’s standards, that person is doing everything right. All that is left is to move up the career ladder.
I experienced this myself, and I don’t exclude myself from “typism” and sexism before I learned about this. I wanted to think of myself as an INTJ, because I thought that rationality and logic were more valuable than what I saw as “whim” (feeling)… but one day I looked back and discovered the value of passion and empathy in my life. And looking back I can see how far this brought me in my life. After an initial struggle, I embraced it wholeheartedly.
It comes down to a decision: to which power group do you want to belong? Those who do not choose are alone and shunned by both sides because both sides have found their identity in a stereotype. Anyone outside the stereotype is perceived as a threat.
The moment your mask falls, you are faced with the need to make decisions, you are faced with being responsible for all your actions, and you suddenly have to start to be the leader of your own life. Does this strike you as a frightening prospect or one filled with possibility?
The point is that people lie to themselves by feeling safe within a group, taking on the identity of the group rather than risking being themselves. Politically, we see the result in the persecution of people who do not fall into traditional gender roles. This is a complete regression into barbarism, and a clear sign of the huge insecurity individuals feel in such a society. Having nothing else to rely on, they define themselves by their group and see everyone else as an enemy.
So, what is the role of a “Feeler” woman in society? What is the role of a “Thinker” man in society? Should each be discouraged from embracing her or his other abilities?
We must remind ourselves that this tension does not affect only people who are wrongly typed or do not fit in society’s roles. Those who do fit into society’s expectations are especially affected – they are denied the other half of their being.
The notion that Feeling is weak and Thinking is strong is again a notion related to sexism. In terms of strength, this doesn’t make sense either. Just as Thinkers might be more effective in terms of execution and order, Feelers are more effective in terms of people.
If we remove the gender aspects of Thinking and Feeling (being masculine and feminine), how then do we determine our role in society? If Thinker females are just as normal as Thinker males and Feeler males just as normal as Feeler females, what is left? What is your role in society in terms of male or female, Thinking or Feeling?
To discover one’s true self, one must dissect his or her current role in society, questioning each aspect of that role as it really relates to one’s own nature. Here, we need to take a critical look at all parts where we disagree with the stereotypical roles of how society defines us. This is important because we might actually agree with part of a role, but dismiss it as a whole because we disagree with the whole package. For example, if a man finds himself not liking team sports – and team sports are associated with masculinity in our culture – he should check if he really doesn’t like team sports or if he just dislikes the connection with the male gender stereotype of the culture.
The point of finding your masculinity or femininity – or better, your identity – is to take a critical look at all your experiences and influences in life and differentiate between your true nature and what others tell you.
Who am I? I am someone who was born with INFP function preferences which has discovered that I need to exercise all functions to become a complete person. I learned that all the masks and roles of society were just obstacles on that path.
My goal is to heal the world. My journey to show others their suppressed side and their true nature reminds me a little of the quote from The Neverending Story – and it really seems to be a never-ending story: “There are people that can’t go to Fantasia. There are those who can but never return. And there are just a few who go to Fantasia and come back. And they make both worlds well again.”
* I thank all the people with whom I have had conversations about this article and general ideas about MBTI and role. I want to thank especially the following for their work: jbradnidom, LilithKore, and TheSpiritualCatalyst. May you all find your true self!