Why Personality Tests Always Misdiagnose Me

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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.

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10 responses to “Why Personality Tests Always Misdiagnose Me

  1. I have always felt that faith changes your personality test results. For example, on the question you mentioned–what’s your greatest fear–If you have a strong faith, you know that you will always be loved and never abandoned, no matter what, because the God of the universe loves you and has promised to never leave you. So to “fear” that is to question your faith. and I think as you age and progress through stages of life, your fears change. When I was a teen, my greatest fear WAS not being abandoned. We moved to Eugene from the Seattle area and I had never even HEARD of Eugene–I didn’t know anyone here. My mom and I got separated in a Fred Meyer and I bawled because I had lost her. I was 13. In my 20s, when my daughter was little, my greatest fear was that I would lose her–she would die or get taken. She was my whole heart. (Still is.) As a middle-aged adult, my biggest fear has been senility–that I would “lose” who I am and become mean and curse God. But when I died and my brain was reset and I didn’t know who I was, I still knew God, intimately, and had an immense love for the people around me–even though I wasn’t sure who they were. Now the only fear I have left is that I will leave this life too early, and I won’t have been able to impart my faith to my son…I know, he has to make it his own–but I don’t think there is anyone else on earth who cares about that aspect of him as passionately as I do. It’s made more pungent by the fact that my dad is near death and is still fighting God. And there’s nothing I can do aside from praying…

    There comes a point where faith overrules personality.

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  2. I know the feeling, I once had to take a personality test because my fiancees company wanted all the employees and spouses to be “classified” in order to make the work/home balance more harmonious. Turned out I was a “red” and he was a “yellow”, my joke was, does that mean our babies will come out “orange”? Nobody laughed but me.

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  3. My art teacher had us all take the test and when my sanguine results came back he said if I had known that I wouldn’t have left you take the class, because my uncle is like that and he is in jail for doing drugs and is a gambler. I just laughed and said there is a difference, you can have the same personalities but have a Godly Character or ungodly character.

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  4. The sad truth of it all is that internet personality typing tests are extremely unreliable. I’ve taken countless personality type tests and almost never came out with what i actually am. Typing is far more accurate when you discuss with people that know the person well, come up with a few options, and then have both the person and people close to them read the descriptions to come up with a type. Even then you can be wrong. We had Kristi mistyped for like 3 years. Apparently we thought she wasn’t stereotypically nerdy enough to be an ENTP. So we thought she was an ESTP. But actually, she’s ENTP through and through.

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  5. I don’t normally comment, but I love your blog, and I can *so* relate to not being able to figure my personality out from those amazing quizzes. This is funny, because my sisters and I have just recently been recently trying the Briggs-Meyer method, and trying to type ourselves…So I took the test. And it was SO not me. I took it again. Still not me at all. In desperation, my sister took it ‘for’ me, and IT WAS ME. (At the moment, I forget what I am, but it was pretty cool to be ‘put in a box’ for once. =P)
    So I guess along with overthinking it, you could just have a sibling take the test for you. 😉 =P

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  6. I so get this! In order to you know who you are you have to know what what’s going on at the core. Sometimes it takes time and a lot of courage plus processing/talking/listening to God to understand, for example, what you’re REALLY afraid of. I think this is why personality tests don’t usually work for me either. I find it too hard to be real.

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  7. I have had a love/hate relationship with the Myers Briggs personality test myself. I loved it because it helped me realize some things about myself that I had previously been unaware of. I didn’t like it because it never got me right. I took the test probably 10 times before it finally got me wrong once and for all. haha. I did what you did. I read each type description until i came to one that sounded the most like me. INFP. So I started reading stuff about INFPs and I was frustrated again. Introverts were supposed to be these people that liked being by themselves most of the time and nobody understood them and they were such great thinkers and so on. By the time I was done reading about them I was fed up with introverts. Then I read about feelers. These people were so emotional. You didn’t want to to argue with them because they didn’t care about the facts just how things made them feel. They also cried a lot. So when you combine the two it appeared as if you had an emotional snowflake on your hands. I was offended… First of all, I really like being around people. Its just that I often have a hard time making people understand exactly what I’m trying to say. So naturally that wears me out. Secondly, I am Not emotional. Well that’s not exactly true. But I can only remember once in my life where somebody hurt me with something they said. I rarely got upset, I cared more about the facts than about how they made me feel, and I had no urge to cry at people’s funerals. I’ve had some people that were really close to me die. I was extremely sad, it was simply that I had no urge to cry. People around me would be bawling their heads off and I was sitting there wondering “What is wrong with me?” But at the same time, I would shed a few tears over a sad book, and I was extremely tuned in to the feelings of the people around me. especially the people that I really cared about. So I say all that to say this. Myers Briggs let me down. None of the personalities really describe me. But I’m Ok with that. I’ve always thought that different was kind of cool anyway.

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    • @dustin I would venture to say that 75% of the type descriptions online, while fun, are vastly oversimplified. I’ve been extremely frustrated by the descriptions of extroverts as mindless partiers who can never think as deeply as an introvert and who would never deign to read a book at home alone. This, and some of the things you’ve mentioned are stereotypes. And, as with most stereotypes, they sometimes have a grain of truth. Really though, MBTI is much more nuanced and detailed than that. There’s vast amounts of variation within introverts. There’s vast amounts of variation within INFPs! Family, upbringing, belief systems, maturity, situation, and emotional stability can make such a difference.

      I think that the stereotypes are a great starting place, because they simplify the process of typing yourself and others. But that’s definitely not where it stops.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Sara Smucker

      You know, funny thing about the T vs F…a lot of people had trouble seeing me as a “T” because I tend to cry a lot when I get frustrated, especially as a child. But unfortunately I am not very in tune with the feelings of people around me, and certain social cues I’ve had to painstakingly learn as an adult. So all that to say, I think volume of tears shed is a very poor indicator of whether someone is a “T” or an “F.”

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      • @emily Yes, I would agree that crying doesn’t always very well indicate your emotional status. P.S. why do I have to have a blog to be able to like people comments but not to post?

        @hannah I think too that they are probably over-simplified. But then, I took the 16 Personalities test which is just a knock off of the real thing, which you have to pay for. That was likely part of my problem. Stereotypes are so much fun aren’t they? What would we do without them?

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