Personality Type and Personal Growth


The beautiful grounds of King’s House Retreat & Renewal Center in St. Louis, MO.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand yourself better, or if you’ve ever wondered if there’s something wrong with you because you’re different from most people around you, I urge you to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

“The original versions of the MBTI were constructed by two Americans, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs MyersThe MBTI is based on the conceptual theory proposed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who had speculated that people experience the world using four principal psychological functions – sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking – and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time. The four categories are Introversion/Extraversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perception. Each person is said to have one preferred quality from each category, producing 16 unique types. The Center for Applications of Psychological Type states that the MBTI is scientifically supported, but most of the research on it is done through its own journal, the Journal of Psychological Type, raising questions of bias.

The MBTI was constructed for normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences. ‘The underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivation.’

Though the MBTI resembles some psychological theories, it is often classified as pseudoscience.

The scientific validity of this introspective self-report is certainly worthy of study, but I don’t see any lack of it as a valid reason to write it off. There are some things science can’t measure. Like the practical usefulness of prayer, meditation, music, writing, or art to the individuals who practice them. Or which partner in a relationship loves the other more. Or which internal realities — subtle attitudes, needs, preferences, emotions — are helpful and which are harmful to healthy growth.

Every psyche has the same psychological potential, but each of us is a unique being with different traits, personalities, and experiences. How can a scientific test measure the value of one psyche over another? The things I know the most about are based on my personal experience. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the MBTI has had a profoundly positive impact on my life.

The first time I took it I was a thirty-something wife and mother who had gone back to school for my doctorate in the hope of finding….what? I didn’t know. Something to fill the ever-present longing that prevented me from enjoying my life.

I didn’t know why I was so restless and unhappy sometimes. I thought being a producer of children’s programming at a local television station would be a dream job. But when I was honest with myself, I knew there was nothing I really liked about it except creating the show and writing the original scripts for the children I hired. What was that about? I had no idea. I had spent years expecting my religion to satisfy my longing, but that was not enough either. In my worst moments I believed I was so deeply flawed that I would never be satisfied with my life.

So when professor Gordon Lawrence had our class take the MBTI before reading his book, People Types and Tiger Stripes: A Practical Guide to Learning Styles, I had no idea my life was about to be changed forever. I learned that my behavior followed certain patterns that Carl Jung called “psychological types.”  I learned that I could not totally change my basic type but I could develop and gain maturity within it. I learned that every type has its strengths and weaknesses, and that while my culture seemed to prefer a particular few types, none were inherently better or worse than any of the others.

This Station of the Cross at King’s House Retreat & Renewal Center in St. Louis was a helpful reminder to release my fears of unworthiness and replace them with love.

Knowing my type and feeling its rightness lifted a lifelong burden off me that I hadn’t known I was carrying. My husband’s type is common and highly favored in our culture. He’s comfortable in social settings. People understand and accept him wherever he goes. I had seen him as the standard and judged myself as severely lacking. My type is the rarest. I’m basically an outsider who dwells in the fringes and is rarely understood.

But I had a type. And it was okay!  I’d been floating aimlessly in a raft atop a sea of confusion for most of my life and finally, miraculously, I’d found a solid foundation I could stand on and trust.

The midlife discovery of my fundamental okay-ness changed me, my marriage, my self-concept. My perfectionism, my false expectations for myself, my fear I would never be good enough or contribute anything of value to society began to fall away. Gradually I grew more emboldened to trust my inner realities and take steps in directions that were true to them. Nine years later I resigned from my college teaching position because I had found my passion: writing about the inner life. Pursuing that passion ever since has made all the difference.

Last weekend I attended a Jung in the Heartland conference in St. Louis. Almost every person I talked to was an INFJ like me, an INFP, or an INTJ like my son. I was with my tribe. It was a most joyous homecoming.


Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

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11 Responses

  1. Jean—I knew as soon as I saw your newsletter in my inbox that there would be an INFJ reference within! Sure enough! This lit me up after a long day of editing. Thank you from a fellow INFJ ?

    1. Hahahaha. We INFJ’s are so intuitive!! I thought of you and several others I met at the conference when I was writing it. Maybe their inner knowing is lighting up too!
      You’re most welcome. I really enjoyed talking with you. Blessings.

    1. It is. Very affirming. And it helps explain why you and I like each others’ work so much! I look forward to more of your poetry.
      Speaking of poetry, Fred and I are part of an arts organization that hosts four residencies a year for master artists to work with mid-career artists from all over the world. We’ve been asked to host a salon for Joy Harjjo at our home in a couple of weeks. She’s the U.S.’s newest poet laureate and the first Native American to hold that honor. I just finished reading her memoir, Crazy Brave, and loved it. I’m so excited to meet her. I wish you could be here too. Jeanie

    1. How cool! I wonder if Rowling knew that when she created the character….or maybe she knew someone like Luna and intuitively nailed the type! 🙂

  2. Yay! Another INFP here! Which helps me make sense of the fact that I’m a Jungian loving, poet and psychotherapist! Around 12 years ago when I discovered Jung for the 2nd time in my life and took my first Jungian/Myers Briggs test it turned out I was as an INFP, as did the all the other typology tests I took along the years …. so I agree with Brian re the consistency!
    What joy it was then to slowly unpack each I N F P letter and found myself particularly helped with the letter I (Introversion) by reading Susan Cain’s brilliant book “Quiet” on the subject. Ever since I always encourage my clients to take a typology test which helps them understand why some relationships or jobs never seem to be a “good fit” or even “work”.
    And it’s a win-win situation because as we discover our type and come to accept our own individual nature we can (especially as we age) balance out our F (Feeling) function and I (Intuition) function in many different ways (I do lots of research and study, alongside swimming, cycling and walking to balance out those traits). There’s so many layers to this onion!
    Great article as always Jeanie! As I caught myself reading your words … “for the children I hired.” I thought aha, here is the image of the soul in Jeanie’s life and her conscious relationship to it. If children were for hire was the soul back then for hire only? And feeling unsatisfied with this you turned away and within to reconnect with your own soul image.
    And what a difference you’ve made to the world when you did this my fringe-living-loving, introverted, outsider, feeling type, soul-sister! Your rich and wise posts are always such a great jumping off place for me! Warm autumnal blessings, Deborah.

    1. There’s so much richness in your letter, Deborah, I don’t know where to start.
      Yes, to the jobs and relationships that just don’t seem to be a good fit! It would have been an enormous help to me if I had taken the Myers-Briggs my first time around in college. I think every college freshman should take it. Actually, kids should be exposed to it even earlier. There’s so much curricula being taught that’s of such little practical value to young people, whereas the MBTI can be life-changing, especially for we fringe types!!
      Yes, to the knowledge that we can balance out our stronger functions with weaker, shadow ones. When I bought my horse at the age of 50, part of my hope was that it would get me outdoors using my body more. My shadow lies in my S function, and Shadow (my horse) was a great teacher who taught me much, especially about body language and my inner emotional life. He would mirror my emotions to the point that I couldn’t help but see that he was picking up on feelings I was trying to hide. If I was annoyed, he’d start acting up. Same with fear, etc. This brought huge-self-awareness and taught me to be more mindful.
      Yes to the “for the children I hired.”!!! OMG. That’s a huge insight that resonates deeply, Deborah. Yes, I would say my soul in my early years was for hire. I had no firm foundation for believing in who I was so I tried to be who I thought others wanted me to be. For way too long…….
      Thank you my generous-spirited, introverted…..etc., etc., etc., soul-sister, for taking the time to work through this and share your insights with me. I feel like I’ve just been through an intense therapy session! Your clients are very lucky to have you as their guide into their inner worlds!
      Warm blessings back to you,

  3. Always like an insight about MBTI. Cicero is an INTJ which I think we’ve talked about. Don’t know Fred’s but we’re are likely similar. C fell two days ago and I had to call 911. I couldn’t get him up plus I was afraid he might have broken something. They took him to the hosp and he is there for I don’t know how long. I’m afraid we are going get very bad news soon and even the thought of it just tears me apart. I grieve for him and for me. My life will be totally changed and it is scary. I’ll keep you posted dear friend. XXQ
    Sent from my iPhone

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