The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Thursday, September 13, 2012
Brain / Mind ... Personal Reflections ... Psychology ...

It’s been almost 20 years since I found out about the Myers Briggs theories of human temperament, and their associated system of classification and testing. I’ll assume that most everyone who trips across this blog is familiar with this, but if not, here’s another link, one of hundreds if not thousands available on the web.

I was in the midst of a short-lived but very intense relationship with a woman from Florida (Gainesville Florida, a rather strange and interesting town located just inside the armpit of the Sunshine State). The relationship disintegrated rather quickly and unexpectedly, something like the two Space Shuttle tragedies. So I came away with it with some interesting stories and mostly good memories; but given what I saw in the final days, I had relatively few regrets over its demise. One of the good things that I walked away with was a personal discovery of Myers Briggs. During the final high-energy months, Ellie told me about the MB Inventory, and so I quickly got to a local bookstore and obtained a copy of Kiersey’s “Please Understand Me“. I made haste to take the test quiz in the book, and lo and behold, I was found to be an INFJ. Just like Ellie! For a brief moment, it seemed like the two of us were a match made in heaven.

Well, we weren’t. But still, I was an INFJ! The most rare of the 16 MB personality groups. One of the sensitive ones who care about the world, in an artistic fashion. It was an honor to be part of the club! Despite my having an engineering degree and a masters in economics, I wasn’t a heartless number-cruncher technician like my father and my uncles (wait — my father and my uncles were far from ‘heartless’; but they could be a bit distant at times). Even if I couldn’t write poetry, I still had the heart and soul of a poet!

The 1990s progressed and I found occasion now and then to discuss my interest in Myers Briggs and my status as an INFJ with other Jungian temperament disciples. And then came the dawn of desktop computers and the Internet and the rise of the World Wide Web. By late 1998 we had access to the Web at work, and I soon found some discussions and writings regarding the MBTI. Before long I was familiar with 2 or 3 web sites having on-line Myers-Briggs tests. Their formats were similar to the 70-question scoring system in Please Understand Me, but the questions were different. This seemed like a great opportunity to re-check my INFJ credentials, so I took the tests and was heartened to find out that yep, I’m still an INFJ. One of these tests was a bit more sophisticated in that it gave relative scores between the digital options for each of the four main characteristics; e.g., on the Extrovert versus Introvert column, you could be 65% I and 35% E. So it wasn’t all or nothing; the strength of your extroversion versus introversion could be gauged. You might be very extroverted, or sort-of extroverted, in the middle somewhere, sort-of introverted, or very introverted.

For three of my characteristics, the results were quite clear; my “I” (introvert) score was high, my “N” (intuitive nature) score was high, and my “J” (judgmental nature — i.e., well organized) score was up there. But my F (feeling) score wasn’t that far from 50-50. Hmm, maybe I wasn’t such a soulful humanist after all. Perhaps something of the world of differential equations, force vectors, cost-benefit analysis and conditioned do-loops was still alive deep down in my psyche.

But over the next few years, I would occasionally find another on-line Myers Briggs Inventory and the results were consistent. Even if not by too much, I was still an INFJ. Even as the 2000’s progressed and I changed careers from grantwriting for an urban development agency to contracting and funding oversight with a law enforcement agency, the F letter kept on coming up on the screen between the “IN” on the left and the “J” on the right whenever I submitted my quiz answers. Nothing to worry about, I would tell myself; you still live your life more from the heart than from the head, despite all the head stuff going on inside. I was still insulated from all the female-oriented criticism of people (mostly men) who live such soulless, insensitive lives.

I hadn’t taken a M-B test in several years now, so the other day I thought it might be interesting to have a “check-up”. Something about my life now seemed to feel a bit different. I wondered if something inside of me was changing. Well, guess what — that appears to be true. I’m still quite comfortably an I, N and J. But three tests in a row, including the original Kiersey test in Please Understand Me, all agree that I am now an INTJ !! And it wasn’t a borderline thing either; my Thinking versus Feeling score is fairly well within the T-side, even if not quite as strong as my tendency towards Introversion versus Extroversion. Recall the old Beatles song lyrics: “You don’t look different, but you have changed; I’m looking through you, you’re not the same, oh baby you’ve changed.”

So it’s welcome to INTJ-land. I re-read some descriptions of that type, and yes, a lot of it now sounds familiar. So what happened? I did a search on MBTI changes, and some sites stick by the old contention that each of us has a true personality style that remains the same from childhood to death. Those writers admit that people do get different test results from the MBTI over time, but that could be the result of more immediate psychological influences; e.g. you are trying to imitate someone you admire, or you are trying to please your girlfriend, or you need to change careers and are trying to fit yourself into a new job environment.

Actually, that last rationale might hold some water with me. I have been working for law enforcement for over 10 years now, much to my amazement sometimes. During the first 6 months, I really thought that I would have to leave the Prosecutor’s Office; I was forcing myself to get past the one-year mark, as not to put a big question mark on my resume. Well, one year became two, and two became five, and . . . somehow I’m still there.

And I actually like it — most days, anyway. The people there are quite demanding, they often play fast and rough, but they respect professionalism. Somehow I managed to muster up enough professionalism so as to be taken seriously there. I can now have a relaxed conversation with a hardened trial lawyer, or joke around with a lieutenant in the crime scene unit. I know when people are pushing me and I’ve mostly been able to push back. I got a chuckle this morning overhearing a woman (and work-friend) from the sexual crimes registration section cursing on the phone about one of our many perpetrator-clients. Once in a blue moon the Prosecutor herself, or her First Assistant, will stop by my office to consult on an administrative matter. Another day at the Prosecutor’s Office — what’s next on my to-do list?.

A “life coach” who is a “Master MBTI practitioner” has a theory about people who change their Myers-Briggs colors. She says that in some instances, the relatively new and developing concept of “neural plasticity” may be asserting itself. I.e., research psychologists and neuroscientists have questioned previous assumptions that our brains are pretty much hard-wired by the end of our teen years. More and more research is indicating that our brain structures and wiring patterns continue to be shaped in significant and fundamental ways over time as our experiences and environments change and evolve. So, maybe my brain has adapted to the circumstances, and all that has fundamentally changed who I am, if just a bit.

Well, it’s not like I’m now kicking stray dogs and sneering at homeless people on the street (why don’t they just get a job???). I don’t watch Fox news and contribute to the RNC. I’m still doing some volunteer work, with a nice little agency helping rural populations in a poor country overseas. I try to listen sympathetically when people come to me with personal problems. I try to be a courteous driver (not always possible in the city that I drive through, though — that too may have helped to re-wire my neurons!). But I am more content now with acting rationally, focusing on analytical thinking, and not worrying too much when people warn about the dangers of “living in your head”. My head seems like a fine place to live, thank you very much. I don’t worry so much about my not staying up with avaunt garde movies or modern fiction or local art shows. I’m much more comfortable — and even somewhat proud — of being a geek!

No more mister nice guy? Well, perhaps I’m not a Lord Byron-wannabe anymore. But I’m singing my own song, getting some things done here and there, still trying my best to appreciate the precious gift of life that we have been given. Hey, wait, that almost sounds poetic! Where did that come from???

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:10 pm      

  1. Jim, It seems to me that change is exactly what should be happening in our life, exactly as you describe it. We grow and develop and change and evolve as we adapt to life. It’s a necessary thing. If we don’t, I’d say there’s a problem.

    I also think that likely later in your life when your situation changes (say retirement), you may change again. And there will be no harm or problem in that—just the normal development as we grow through life. I say one can’t do better than that. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — September 14, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  2. Mary, I recall years ago reading something about life in the 50’s in Gail Sheehy’s book “Passages”. One of her key themes for the 50’s was “no more BS”. That feels about right to me. Even though I’m on the eve of the 60’s!! But what do they say, 60 is the new 50??? We can only hope!

    Comment by Jim G — September 14, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

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