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In high school, I enrolled in an intro psychology class and studied Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. He wrote that what appears to be random behavior is actually the result of differences in the way people prefer to use their mental capacities. Inspired by Jung’s work, psychology researcher Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, devised an easier way for the average person to understand his theories. With decades of testing and research, they developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

For class, I was required to take the MBTI test, then write a paper discussing it and my personality type. At the time, I had no idea how a simple personality test would improve my life and empower me to become the woman I am today.

How It Works

The MBTI determines whether you gain energy from companionship or alone time (extraversion vs. introversion), if you process information through the physical reality and five senses or through subconscious feeling (sensing vs. intuition), how you make decisions (thinking vs. feeling), and how you deal with your outside world (judging vs. perceiving). You’re matched with one trait from each category to give you a series of four letters, and those make up your Myers-Briggs personality type.

There are sixteen possible combinations. Making up 50.7% of the population, introverts slightly outnumber extraverts. The most common type in women are 19.4% ISFJs and 16.9% ESFJs (sensing, feeling, and judging types).

The MBTI allowed me to understand my personality and preferences on a deeper level. I could identify traits I needed to modify to improve my interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, it helped me to be myself and build authentic relationships.

Learn to Understand Yourself

As cliché as it sounds, I always felt different growing up. If given the choice between going to a party or lounging around with my favorite book, odds are I’d pick the book. This was never the popular choice amongst my extraverted peers, so I wondered if my quirks were flaws.

The MBTI helped me understand my "loner" qualities are just part of my natural personality. My Myers-Briggs type is INFJ, which stands for Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Judging. It’s the rarest of the 16 types, as less than 1% of the population are INFJs. Introverts tend to be reserved, prefer small groups of people to large crowds, and enjoy spending time alone, whereas extraverts are more outgoing and gain energy from large groups. Once I learned I was an INFJ, I finally understood why I preferred books while my extraverted friends preferred parties. Discovering I have this unique personality moved me to embrace rather than try to reject it. It allowed me to accept my traits as strengths rather than weaknesses or odd quirks.

It’s okay that others don't share your characteristics or may not understand why you are the way you are. The important thing is that you know who you are and that you can be confident in that.

Get a Road Map For Success

Growing up, I loved using my imagination to play with dolls or play “house” or “school,” but I hated doing so with my friends. Why? Because I didn’t like telling the stories I wove in my head out loud. Yes, you read that right. I simply didn’t want to verbalize my narratives. My extraverted friends probably thought it was weird that I became so quiet whenever we played those games.

Now, I know why I was more comfortable this way. Most INFJs are drawn to written communication. Whereas other children expressed their stories out loud, I felt most creative "writing" them in my mind or on paper.

Myers-Briggs notes that everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting and that we shouldn't confuse introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. Rather, we should ask ourselves, "What seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable to me?" 

The MBTI is a practical tool for investigating what work satisfies your preferences. A person inclined to introversion, for example, may succeed best doing research, while someone more extraverted may favor a field where she gets more interaction with other people.

Build Meaningful Connections

Its co-authors were inspired to develop the MBTI during a time of war, violence, and conflict. They longed to figure out what really drives, inspires, and worries other types to help bridge and heal those differences. "When people differ, a knowledge of type lessens friction and eases strain. In addition it reveals the value of differences. No one has to be good at everything," wrote Briggs Meyers.

Similarly, the MBTI helped me recognize my qualities that might be helping or hindering my relationships. Most INFJs are sensitive to conflict and avoid hurting people. I’m a self-proclaimed people-pleaser who hates confrontation. Before learning my personality type, I avoided conflict at all costs and let people walk all over me because I wanted to be nice and not create tension. While my intentions were good and these qualities aren’t necessarily all bad, avoiding confrontation altogether isn’t beneficial for anyone. Today, I use my people-pleasing nature to handle disagreements in a kind and peaceful way. Problems get addressed, and no one walks away feeling resentful.

Your personality type can help you recognize qualities which help or hinder how you approach your own relationships. This could mean learning the difference between being assertive and being a bully, or it could mean learning the value of saying "no". Finding a good balance of these qualities will allow you to maintain interpersonal relationships that are healthy for everyone, yourself included.

Discovering your personality type is as simple as paying for the official (and extremely detailed) MBTI test or browsing the Internet for a free pop-science version like 16 Personalities. While the official test will give you the most accurate and in-depth assessment, I’ve gotten consistent results from several online ones. Once you have results, you’re free to learn all you want about your personality type.

Carl Jung, the original scientist behind the theory of personality types wrote, "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." Find out what you're made of, then see how sparks fly.

Photo Credit: Shay Ryan