I struggled through years of taking personality tests that gave me absurd results. They told me I was an ENFP, a Sanguine, a 9 on the Enneagram, and then I’d read the description for what “I was” and it never sounded anything like me.
“Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut,” people told me. So I’d take another one, get similarly silly results, and roll my eyes in frustration and annoyance.
I assumed that the problem was the false dichotomy of the questions. “Do you enjoy parties, or would you rather stay at home in your PJ’s?” they would ask. Can’t someone legitimately enjoy both?
I wrote a slightly rant-ey blog post about it, and all the Myers-Briggs-obsessed people came swarming out of the woodwork, insisting that I must give it another try, and I need to make sure I don’t overthink the answers, and I will get it figured out and feel so understood.
I thought they’d completely missed the point of the post.
It was inescapable, though. Once the personality people have you in their sights, they don’t let you go until they figure out what you are. During a sleepover with my friend Sarah Beth, we read over brief descriptions of every. single. one. of the 16 Myers Briggs types, until we landed on one that actually sounded a little bit like me: The INTP.
“The INTP personality type is fairly rare, making up only three percent of the population, which is definitely a good thing for them, as there’s nothing they’d be more unhappy about than being ‘common,'” we read out loud from the 16 Personalities website. Then we burst into gales of laughter. Finally, a personality description that fit me.
Once I’d “found myself,” so to speak, I became one of those personality people who tries to type everyone they meet. My friend Esta and I talked endlessly of personalities, typing all of our family and friends. Then we moved on to the Enneagram. Tests once again epicly failed me, but again, after studying the different types and discussing it with Esta I figured out that I’m a 5.
Last Wednesday I was at the ACE teacher convention, and I was listening to a talk on how to handle stress based on your personality type. The first thing the speaker did was have us take a short, 6-question test to figure out what Enneagram type we were. “Now don’t overthink it!” she said, pulling the quiz up on the screen.
For the first time, I was taking a personality test backwards, knowing the outcome before I’d even completed the questions. I saw the difference between what I knew my answers were and what my quick, automatic responses might have been. And suddenly I saw the problem. The reason I always got misdiagnosed.
I LISTENED TO THE PEOPLE WHO TOLD ME NOT TO OVERTHINK IT.
And you know what?
Every single person who ever told me not to overthink it was a Feeler, not a Thinker, on the Myers Briggs scale.
For example, one question asked, “What is your biggest fear?” Of the nine options, three stood out to me: not being loved, being overwhelmed, and being abandoned. I don’t like being overwhelmed, I don’t like it when people march off and abandon me, and of course not being loved sounds pretty nasty. In an effort to not overthink it, I probably would have scribbled down “being abandoned” and moved on.
However, after pondering it for quite some time, I realized that while abandonment and not being loved sound like they’d be nasty if they happened, I’m never actually afraid that they will happen. Ever.
But once, when I was sick with West Nile, I mustered up my strength and tried to go to a youth event. There was a fog in my head, and people were talking and laughing and I couldn’t follow the conversations or figure out what was going on. And it was awful.
That night I lay awake, terrified to my core that this would be my life. “I’m afraid of not being able to process amazing things as they happen.” I wrote in the dark corners of my diary.
I was afraid of being overwhelmed. But when that question popped up on the screen, my “gut” didn’t immediately know that I’m afraid of being overwhelmed. I had to think about it for a while. Remember the incident. Recall that it was being overwhelmed that I was afraid of, even though I didn’t call it that.
So, the final point I will leave you with is this: If the results of your personality tests don’t make sense, try overthinking it.