In my ever expanding quest for knowledge and personal development, I have explored and researched many topics and theories. Many of these have found their way into my posts here. And today, after weeks of mulling over information and reflection on personal growth, I’m going to revisit and redouble one specific topic: personality theory. Except this subject is extremely diverse and ever changing in perspective, so I’m primarily going to be talking about the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, for these tend to have the most depth. But before I can really dive into how my studies into these areas have aided my personal development over recent years, I’m going to give a little overview of the basic premise of each personality theory.
Many people have generally taken a MBTI test at some point in their life, either for school or business. For this reason, most people know their four letter type. I believe myself to be an INTP, as evidence strongly points to this type, but I’ll explain that in more detail later. What most people don’t realize is that the Myers-Briggs is only the surface of a much larger scheme of understanding personality. You see, what the MBTI is actually characterizing is how your mind approaches information and thinks about different and new situations or circumstances. Or to get right to the crux of the MBTI, it’s really about cognitive functions. So what are cognitive functions? Well, as you might have guessed, this is where the four letter types come in, but this is also where people tend to get confused and lose interest. So I’ll skip the convoluted explanation of how each combination of Introvert/Extrovert, iNtuition/Sensing, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging determine your cognitive stack and just rather give a brief description of the cognitive functions themselves.
Cognitive functions are divided into two pairs of “opposing” sets: Intuition & Sensing and Thinking & Feeling. Intuition and Sensing are called the “Perceiving” functions (or how we take in information) and Thinking and Feeling are the “Decision” functions (or how we process information). Within these pairs, a set is one extroverted function and one introverted function. Each pair are opposing and mirror each other within the cognitive stack, which alternates from either Introverted to Extroverted functions and vice versa. For example, the INTP cognitive stack pairs Introverted Thinking with Extroverted Feeling and Extroverted Intuition with Introverted Sensing. Determining how these functions stack up, however, is the difficult part to explain because of the J and P of each MBTI type. But I shall try to do so simply. ExxJ and IxxP types lead with their Decision function while ExxP and IxxJ types lead with their Perceiving function. So if we take this principle and apply it to the cognitive functions I listed for the INTP, that means I lead with Introverted Thinking. Since a set is of opposing pairs, this means Extroverted Feeling goes at the bottom of my cognitive stack (this becomes very important later). In the middle, would be Extroverted Intuition and Introverted Sensing. So to sum it all up in more mathematical terms, my primary function as an INTP is Introverted Thinking, my secondary function is Extroverted Intuition, my tertiary function is Introverted Sensing, and my auxiliary function is Extroverted Feeling. Got it? Good, because now I’m going to give a quick synopsis of what each cognitive function might look like:
Introverted Thinking (Ti): logical, analytical, focused on facts and formulas, generally has good memory and decisive problem-solving
Extroverted Thinking (Te): efficiency, task-oriented, good structural and organizational skills, keen mind for math and science
Introverted Feeling (Fi): moral character, highly sympathetic, strong personal feelings of justice
Extroverted Feeling (Fe): warm and kind, highly empathetic, cares deeply for the emotional climate of any given situation
Introverted Intuition (Ni): personal perspective, connects the dots easily, quickly sees the source or root of any situation
Extroverted Intuition (Ne): explores possibilities, constantly seeks new experiences, sees beyond the immediate or present
Introverted Sensing (Si): sentimental, finds peace in repetition, feels the atmosphere or aura of places and people
Extroverted Sensing (Se): thrives on activity, generally well-coordinated, notices the details of a situation first
Confused yet? Cuz that was just my introduction to depth of the MBTI! Now for some Enneagram…
Thankful, since the MBTI explanation covered quite a bit of overall personality theory, talking about the Enneagram becomes a little easier. Basically, if the MBTI relates personality to how a person gathers and acts on information, the Enneagram relates personality to what motivates and terrifies a person. Within the Enneagram there are nine types, each with its own unique qualities, motivations, and fears/downfalls. These nine types are divided into subsets, relating to the source of a person’s personality: the heart (feeling oriented), the mind (thinking oriented), and the gut (instinct oriented). And believe it or not, each type is connected to several other types, which makes the Enneagram more and more complicated the further you get into it. However, for the purpose of this post (and to save my readers a great length of ultimately unnecessary content, as you can wiki the Enneagram for more background that doing so for the MBTI might not have given) I’m going to leave this expose of the Enneagram to a brief paragraph.
A Look through the Peephole
So if personality were a room and personality theory the door, the MBTI would give one an approximate view of what a room might look like if one were to look through the tiny peephole in a door, or looking through a keyhole (if you envision an older style door). With this vantage point, one can establish a basic structure of the room and draw some conclusions as to the primary purpose and function of said interior. Such is the reflection of cognitive functions on a person’s character. And since the overall purpose of this post is to reflect on the journey I have taken in recent years concerning the understanding and development of my person, I’m going to break down how my cognitive stack has effected my character, personality, and purpose in life. And just to remind everyone, as an INTP, my cognitive stack is Introverted Thinking (Ti)-Extroverted Intuition (Ne)-Introverted Sensing (Si)-Extroverted Feeling (Fe).
Because my primary function (sometimes referred to as the “driver”) is Introverted Thinking, I am naturally a highly logical and analytical person. I have always been this way, as one’s primary cognitive function tends to rise to the surface very early in life. This focus on decision-making and fact-finding shaped me into a virtual filing cabinet of information. When trying to explain to someone the contents of my brain, it would not be uncommon to use a server room or library archive as a metaphor for the way I compartmentalize and store information. However, there is a major downside to this focus on facts and figures, mainly that of social awareness. Because I am an introvert who is drawn more to information than to interaction, I often come across as distant and reserved. More often than not, my primary function at any given social event is that of an observer. And because I am also an internal processor, my outwardly appearance can err on the side of impassive or intimidating. Years ago, before I really began my journey into understanding cognitive functions and how they affect personality, I always wondered why people acted so nervous around me. I mean, I’m actually a rather laid-back person who enjoys seeing people smile and making them laugh just as much as I want to learn every little detail about their life. Oh, and that latter part also plays into my social anxieties and awkwardness because I detest small talk. I’d rather not talk to someone at all if I can’t carry on an in-depth, meaningful conversation with them. This usually means I keep my mouth shut, especially in group settings. This also plays off the way I was raised but it certainly ties deeply into my primary cognitive function. However, there is a helping hand to get me out of my shell and that’s up next.
The secondary function (sometimes referred to as the “co-pilot”), Extroverted Intuition, is one I kept reined in for many, many years, only giving it enough lease to please my introverted overlord’s desire for information. However, in the past couple of years, I discovered the beauty of unleashing this function’s potential to cause personal growth. As I mentioned before, Extroverted Intuition, at its core, seeks out new experiences and new possibilities. Once I realized how beneficial allowing myself to step beyond my comfort zone and let this function roam more freely, I was able to shrug off the confines of my shell. For example, a couple years ago I joined an online community of (mostly) young Christians, with a clear focus on creating fellowship and subtle undertones of finding relationships. Through this group I expanded not only my social circles but I also broadened my theological horizons and fortified certain aspects of my faith. And this past summer, I made not one, not two, but three separate trips to meet and enjoy the company of members of this group, all of whom I had never met IRL before. Talk about being outside my comfort zone. But in hindsight, these trips really helped me understand the value of building community and fostering relationships with like-minded people. I was able to take these experiences and apply those lessons to my life here in Warsaw, and really step into certain roles I wouldn’t have sought out in years past. But if Extroverted Intuition is the source of seeking growth and pushing my boundaries, the next function is my lifeline.
My tertiary function (sometimes referred to as the “safezone”), Introverted Sensing, often works hand in hand with Introverted Thinking to “protect” me from that what makes me uncomfortable or feels outside my skill-set. It leads me to seek out the familiar and remain within my habitual comfort. Because it is third in my cognitive stack, it often has a juvenile and impulsive nature that only surfaces when I feel threatened or am unable to determine the best course using my driver and co-pilot functions. This reality, paired with the strong family tradition I was raised in, has led me to realize why I shy away from moving outside of Michiana, no matter what opportunity might present itself. This area has been home for most of my life and here I have many family members and friend groups. I have realized this function makes me very sentimental and geared towards a strong sense of traditional values. I also tend to be very adept at repetitive tasks and can easily perform manual operations while letting my mind slip into an open and receptive cognitive state. For example, I currently work as an Inspector, reviewing parts and paperwork for a medical device manufacturer, which allows me to let my eyes and hands perform the work while my ears and mind absorb information through podcasts and instructional videos. However, this function also makes me wary of opening up to new people, as I wish to protect my “blindspot” that is my auxiliary function.
My auxiliary function (sometimes referred to as the “blindspot”), Extroverted Feeling, has a very unique role within my cognitive stack. Not only is it directed outwardly on the emotions of others and their well-being, but it generally presents itself with the maturity and innocence of a young child. This leads me to experience strong emotion with overwhelming presence and can lead to outbursts when I am no longer able to suppress that feeling. Granted, I am very good at hiding my emotions but the fact still remains that I do in fact experience emotions very deeply. And due to the empathetic nature of Extroverted Feeling, I often feel trapped between seeing the hurt in others’ lives and wishing so desperately to help them and having no idea how to approach it. Imagine a little boy seeing his mother crying over a situation he knows nothing about and yet he wants nothing more than to see her stop crying, so he goes outside and picks the first “pretty” thing he spots off the ground and proudly marches it inside to present to his mother. This metaphor encapsulates the approximate complexity with which I feel able to approach the suffering and pain I witness in another’s life. In order to feed this childish desire to improve the lives of those around me, I often step into the shadows and work behind the scenes to make sure needs are provided for and circumstances are prepared for successful operation and completion. Because of this, my leadership style leans in the direction of service first, speak last.
Yet, as one might notice when looking through a small viewpoint into an illuminated space, there are shadows and creeping darkness underneath. Such is also true of cognitive functions. I call this the “shadow functions” of the MBTI. Imagine the personality equivalent of the Upside-Down from Stranger Things, that is to say the shadow functions are the inverse of one’s cognitive stack. So if my normal cognitive stack is Ti-Ne-Si-Fe then my shadow functions would be Te-Ni-Se-Fi, which is the normal cognitive stack for an ENTJ. I realized this possibility when I looked back at my experience as a camp counselor at Springhill during my college years. This high energy, densely populated environment was not very conducive to the naturally introverted tendencies I exhibited at school, where I had a dorm room I could easily escape to and hide from the typical social scene. At camp I had to be extremely organized, very detailed oriented, and highly active. Sound familiar? It should, because those are all characteristics of the Te and Se functions. So while I am naturally a spontaneous planner and sporadic organizer, when necessity or circumstance demand I can become a very rigid and structured person by dipping into my shadow functions. This is something I slowly learned to embrace the older I have gotten because it plays well into how my Enneagram type exhibits successful growth and a striving nature.
A Glance through the Window
If the MBTI can give one a obscured look into the room of personality as through a keyhole, then the Enneagram can increase this view as though one takes a peek through the window. Why do I say this? Because I feel it is one thing to know how a mind processes information and approaches any given situation, it’s entirely different to know how people act based on their primary motivators, fears, and instincts. As I mentioned earlier, the Enneagram is divided into nine types and three subsets. My Enneagram type (drum roll please!) is Type 5, also know as “The Investigator”. As you might have guessed based on my lengthy explanation of the cognitive stack that is me as the INTP, most INTPs tend to also be Type 5s in the Enneagram. The Type 5 happens to sit in the “Thinking Oriented” subset of the Enneagram circle (no surprise there right?), but it also neighbors the “Feeling Oriented” subset. This is because the Type 5 is a “relationist” type, always seeking to provide objectivity, analysis, and fair evaluation of the often chaotic world around them. The Type 5 often becomes a stable foundation for those around them; reliable and trustworthy when the drama of daily life presses up against the walls of sanity. However, rather than explain the qualities of the Type 5 like how I broke down the cognitive functions of the INTP, I will instead outline them:
Strengths of the Investigator: curious, insightful, rational, observant, thorough, knowledgeable, able to synthesize lots of information and explain it to others (this often makes them good teachers), and able to find patterns and connections others might miss
Weaknesses: tendency towards isolationism, cynical, intense, headstrong, abstract, self-reliant, overwhelmed
Their Gift: speaking wisdom and truth
Their Need: to perceive and know
Their Focus: “what makes sense”
Their Sin: avarice or stinginess
They Avoid: looking foolish or uninformed
They Grow: through generosity and community
When Striving: they are confident and assertive
When Stressed: they are impulsive and withdrawn
As you might gather from this outline, the major source of identity (or motivator) for the Type 5 is to know and have that knowledge find its use in helping others. As I dug into the Enneagram, this really hit home. All my life I have been a trivia nerd. I gobble up random facts and seemingly useless information, but when I’m able to share those tidbits with some inquiring mind, I feel a unique sense of fulfillment. It also explains why I am drawn to teaching. The core strength of my teaching ability is the extreme depth of my knowledge and the ability I have to relate that knowledge to the common experiences of my students. However it also poses certain challenges to being a teacher, namely I can be very abstract when explaining new ideas and struggle to ask for help when I’m unsure of how to approach a topic or assignment (or difficult situation in general). Part of my background was to be a self-sufficient person, able to take care of myself, which has aided me greatly as an adult but at the same time only placed a significant spotlight on my independent nature. So much so that, even though I greatly desire to be married and raise a family, I struggle with letting anyone else care to my needs if I’m fully capable of meeting them myself. That said, it is easier for me to serve others than it is for me to let myself be served by others. However, the most recent development, and the most affirming aspect of my type, was learning about how my type can accomplish the most growth. It has been a focus of mine, even before I realized this fact, to pursue building community and fostering friendship by allowing myself to be vulnerable in social settings. And part of this had to come from me relinquishing a bit of my pride and getting a little undignified at social events. While I generally give the impression of a “dgaf” attitude, I actually care quite a bit what people think of me, especially strangers who might be meeting me for the first time. This is why I usually am a polite, but reserved, person in unfamiliar social situations and let others take the first step to acknowledge me and strike up an interaction. This is something I still strive to overcome and be more assertive, but I can honestly say I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was a few years ago.
The Closing of the Blinds
I’ll be honest, all of this came from months if not years of reading and research, and I feel like I’ve only scraped the surface of the conversation I’ve had within my own head for the past year or so. But in the interest of openness for you, my readers, I took about two hours sifting though my data to try and synthesize it into a somewhat cohesive look at the essence of my personality. I would like to thank each one of you who took the time to read this post from the bottom of my heart. I hope you feel like you understand me a little bit more and, if you don’t actually know me personally, I hope you understand a little more about cognitive functions. You might not realize it, but this simple expenditure of your time to peruse this lengthy dialogue means a lot to me. And as always, I certainly welcome question and discussion about anything I have mentioned above or anything you might like to know that I may have only hinted at. It is always my pleasure to share any part of the knowledge I keep shelved away and I welcome such conversations. Be well, friend, and don’t forget to be awesome!