Ten Thoughts About Personalities

Stray reflections about a cultural religion.

1. Personality tests are inherently skewed because the kind of people likely to take a test at all also tend to be more likely to answer certain questions similarly. For example, if you are really invested in discovering what you are like, you are probably also given to introspection, and introspection means you probably think of yourself as somewhat anxious and insecure.

2. Personality profiling, which for years was mostly a useless corporate exercise to make HR departments prove they were actually doing something, has become a way for modern people to craft an identity.

3. Self-knowledge gleaned from personality tests is of course interesting, but another reason people pursue it is that it is a kind of social membership card. Finding another INFJ or Enneagram 6 gives the sense of togetherness that the vast majority of modern people can’t find and cannot seem to build.

4. Personality profiling easily becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Years ago someone told me that middle children (such as me) are adaptable but struggle to feel seen. Throughout the years I’ve told this story to myself often, interpreting behavior and feelings through this prism, and I’m almost certainly less assertive and more insecure because I’ve told myself I was already these things.

5. Related to that point, personality types seem to be a psychological sorting hat that a lot of people hide behind. The clearest example I’ve seen is how the concept of “introvert” is used to describe basically anyone less outgoing than a prom queen. The rising levels of loneliness in society suggest, though, that “introversion” may be what people use to excuse themselves from meaningful membership.

6. “Introvert” and “extrovert” can be legitimate descriptors of behavior but they are illegitimate categories of people.

7. There are certain habits and experiences that are beneficial to all people because of how we are made. Ennobling the avoidance of these habits and experiences due to “social anxiety” or personality is an example of the harmful pseudo-science of much trauma rhetoric.

8. The New Testament’s words about dying to self and preferring others are difficult words and it is normal when trying to be faithful in these ways feels difficult. Difficulty itself is not a sign that we’re trying to be or do something we shouldn’t be trying.

9. People who protect their time rather than their friendships usually end up regretting it.

10. Faithful, friendly, effective people have a variety of tendencies. There’s no “leadership personality,” and if recent evangelical history tells us anything, it might be telling us that the people who look and sound like leaders are not always the right leaders.