I Love Reducing Your Personality To Four Letters

Despite always having a notebook on hand, I use the notes on my iPhone for keeping track of a lot of things. For one, this emoticon: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I record my grocery lists, which is pretty much just the same block of text specifying how many cans of tuna I need to buy this week (#cleaneats). I use it to remind myself of bills owed, and it’s also where I keep my long-running list of people’s Myers Briggs personality types.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you clearly haven’t read enough Tumblr bios. Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality assessment tool developed by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Using Carl Jung’s personality theories, Briggs and Myers crafted a test based on eight personality characteristics, four of which will form your type. Think of it like those BuzzFeed tests – “Which Disney Princess Are You?” –but with years of research and supporting documents. So, like, you’re not Snow White, but you very well might be an ESFJ.

I got to take the real-deal paper copy of the MBTI while I was in college, and as a sensitive, self-critical baby, I scored high as an INFJ. Since then, I’ve used multiple sites to see if I’ve changed at different points in my life (I haven’t), of which I think this is the best one. So, are you caught up? Did you take the test? I’m expecting a tweet with your personality type any moment now — I need to add it to my list.

There’s a whole lot of theory that goes into how each letter weighs on you as an individual and you may show only slight preference towards one letter over the other. In this case, you will be marked as Divergent, and you’ll have to go run around Chicago with Shailene Woodley. But if you feel like you really identify with what you scored as, then the Internet is an unlimited resource of forums, websites, and most importantly, memes.

I go in and out when it comes to my obsessions, and currently, I’m all in with Myers Briggs. For me, there’s just something immensely satisfying with knowing people’s tendencies and having the technical vocabulary to name them. My friend who consistently ditches things when something more interesting comes along? She’s a total ESFP. My husband, whose favorite course in college was Logic? ISTJ, for sure. When I met my sister’s new boyfriend over the holiday break, I made him and the rest of my family take the test on their phones in silence. As far as party etiquette goes, how does forcing your hosts to take the MBTI fall on the manners scale? Is there a letter for that?

It’s not like before this moment I didn’t know my family, but taking the MBTI with a crowd spurs a lot of questions that don’t necessarily come up naturally in conversation. When I call my mom on Sundays, I’m usually asking her about her week and not about how she would assess the the control she has over her desires and temptations. There’s a kind of frankness unique to personality assessments and quizzes — like, you better be honest with this text-based test, because no one’s going to believe you’re a “J” with a cluttered room like that.

Of course, people are absolutely and totally more than what can be contained in four letters — my outgoing, ESFP friend still gets red cheeks when she’s around new people, and my painfully booksmart ISTJ husband cries during anime — but the MBTI is a solid start to getting to know how people think. In the words of Our Mother Superior Isabel Briggs Myers, “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.”

So, no, my failings are not the result of being a hermit who holes myself up in my apartment and writes fanfic — it’s all because I’m an INFJ, the lonely enigmas of the MBTI (here’s another meme to illustrate). Like most personality tests, Myers Briggs doesn’t give you any answer of negativity; there’s no combination of letters that shows someone as a sociopath or a total drip. It’s a trend among any personality indicators, from zodiacs to enneagrams — there’s always this sense of positivity. Every trait can be spun into something good, and so everyone can walk away donning their four letters like a badge of honor.

On Thought Catalog, Lorenzo Jensen III details his gripes with the MBTI in “13 Reasons Why The Myers-Briggs Test Is Absolute Nonsense.” Jensen — likely an ISFJ — makes a lot of fair points, the fairest of which is that for a personality assessment tool, the MBTI sure doesn’t have a lot of approval from psychologists. On top of that, the MBTI operates as a dichotomy (you’re either this or you’re that, with very little wiggle room), and it’s been noted that people’s answers are likely to change between testing. How can we put stock into something that’s barely been considered by the scientific community?

But I think Jensen misses the point of tests like these. When we sit down to take something like the MBTI, there aren’t many people walking away with a sense of finality. People are constantly shifting and squeezing to keep up with the next thing, and the MBTI offers a pause to reflect on how you process and think. And for me, after the stack of questions fed by the MBTI, there’s always another question that lingers: If an INFJ is how I score when it’s just the test and me — if INFJ is my idealized self — how often am I really putting that part of myself out into the world?

And the answer, really, is simple: exhausting myself with self-doubt and questions with inconsequential answers is just so typical INFJ.

Hale Goetz is a 20-something suburbanite, candy connoisseur and sci-fi enthusiast. You can tweet her at @HaleGoetz.