Reverse personality

There is this illusion that we have fixed personalities. The associated delusion is that who we are now is created by our genes, our parents, or our childhood experiences. And that we cannot change that.

Most human beings are too complex to have a fixed personality.  We are creatures with a vast library of personal experiences, desires, talents, gifts, dreams, hopes, emotions, thoughts, strengths and weaknesses. You can’t pin a real human being down with labels.

What most people call ‘personality’ is usually a small sub-set of attitudes which you tend to use in very specific situations. They are the front you put on, not who you are.

So I can be introverted – quiet, reflective, withdrawn – when I am writing this blog. And extroverted – outgoing, people-focused and excitable – when I am talking to an audience of 200 people about Reverse Therapy. So long as I don’t go around thinking that I have to be one or the other, I can do both.

Personality tests are not only inaccurate but inhuman. They seduce us into believing that we are always going to be the same person. Ken Lyen has a great blog on this very point. He argues that Personality tests work through typecasting – as when an actor plays the same role too often and becomes identified with it. So we adopt the personality the test says we are.

Most of us wonder who we ‘really’ are and tend to accept the first plausible description that comes along. So I am a Leo, a Monkey and a Number 11 in numerology. But, even if accurate, these portraits only show one side of who I could be. There are thousands more ‘John Eatons’ I haven’t even begun to explore yet.

20 years ago I was sent on a very expensive management training course (this was when I still worked in banking, before I regained my sanity). We were tested, interviewed, given role-plays to perform and then video-taped, analysed, and typecast.

Now one test – the Myers Briggs Inventory – caricatured me as an ‘ISTJ’ (Introvert, Sensor, Thinker, Judger). So, to make things interesting I spent all 4 days on that course doing the opposite of what was predicted of me – in other words, behaving like an ENFP – Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeler, Perceiver. I stood in the centre of the room and told weak jokes in a loud voice, talked vaguely about ‘the big picture’, shared with anyone who would listen my feelings about my new-born daughter, and never, ever tried to be on time or make decisions. I became someone I never knew I could be.

The expression on the face of the Psychologist who had to debrief me at the end was interesting. He looked like he was about to give birth to a calf. In fact, one of the first things he asked was whether I had ever had psychiatric treatment. On the grounds that if psychologists can’t predict your behaviour then you must be crazy.

Those 4 days were tough because I had to do the reverse of everything I did by habit. I had a headache most days. But very liberating too. And I have never taken personality tests seriously since.

Until… I did some research for all you readers out there and found a free Myers Briggs Test you can use. And, just to test it, I took it myself. And – guess what? My personality (as of yesterday) was…ENFP!

Here’s that test. But don’t forget to practice doing the opposite of what it tells you that you are when you get the results.

2 thoughts on “Reverse personality

  1. Blaxter February 17, 2008 / 10:11 pm

    Most MBTI books emphasise how the results show your ‘preferences’ not your complete personality! But I agree we usually do things the way we always have simply for convenience – and also, I think, according to George Kelly of personal construct fame, because we believe it will bring us the best reward. It’s probably more mentally healthy to also develop those aspects of us that we don’t habitually use. The reason would be that it’s fun to discover our other ‘selves’ and also that being able to be flexible is a good pointer to resilience and therefore mental health.


  2. John Eaton February 20, 2008 / 6:38 pm

    Hi Blaxter.
    Thank you making this important point. I agree that there are many users of the MBTI who are careful to describe the test results as ‘preferences’ rather than types.
    I was, of course, targeting the ‘personality peddlers’ rather than people who use the test as a tool for change!
    Best JOHN


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