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Does my personality type change? Sometimes I think I am an INTP, and sometimes an ENFP. My type changed I’m sure of it!
One of the most controversial beliefs people have around the Myers-Briggs system is the belief that individual personality types don’t change. This is mainly because many people that know about MBTI self-report to have changed types. These claims do not seem to be that unreasonable either, after all, it makes perfect sense that types would change for at least some people, right? People change their personalities throughout life all the time. Sometimes a shy introvert could suddenly blossom into a social butterfly, or the popular kid in school could turn into a reclusive hermit after suffering through a significant loss. We see these things happening in real life after all! Types have to be able to change then, right?
Although many of these claims have some truth to them, they stem from a general misunderstanding of the Myers-Briggs system. Most people that hear about MBTI are only familiar with the four letter dichotomies: I/E(introvert/extrovert), S/N(sensing/intuitive), F/T(feeling/thinking), J/P(judging/perceiving). Many online assessments give each dichotomy a number of percentages, so if you are an ESFJ, you may have E-65%, S-15%, F-1%, J-35%. This comparison makes people assume the MBTI is similar to assessments such as the Big Five. However, the only way to truly understand MBTI, is if you understand that the Myers-Briggs system was originally more about the underlying cognitive function stack of each Myers-Briggs type rather than the individual letter dichotomies. For instance, the reason MBTI theorists always point out that you can’t change from, say, an INTJ to an INTP, even though the two are only off by one letter, is that they have completely different cognitive processes underneath. However, if this were the only issue, then it could seem more plausible to change from an INTJ to an ENTJ, for instance, since they do have the same cognitive processes underneath but in different orders. But even then, there is good reason why those that understand and use the Myers-Briggs system believe that types don’t ‘change’.
For one thing, when considering studies on introversion and extroversion, simply as traits, evidence suggests that introversion and extroversion are actually genetic. There is neurological evidence that shows people are born more introverted or extroverted. So, if we were to go by Myers-Briggs, it would not be surprising if an ENTJ(an extrovert) probably wouldn’t be able to ‘change’ into an INTJ(an introvert). And if that were the case for introversion and extroversion, then it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch to believe that to be the case for the other aspects of your MBTI type as well.
When looking at some of the evidence from Dario Nardi’s brain scans and understanding that trauma and socialization play a significant role in people claiming to ‘change types’, it becomes easier to see why many strong MBTI theorists believe types don’t change.
Dario Nardi was a UCLA Professor that took it upon himself to test different Myers Briggs types. He wasn’t initially trying to come up with anything, the experiment was more exploratory to see what patterns could be found. And that’s when it happened. When every MBTI type was engaged in activities that corresponded with each individual type’s strongest cognitive processes, their whole brains would light up. These were each activities that really stimulated and engaged the participants like nothing else. This suggested the possibility that, on a neurological level, people were ‘hardwired’ to engage in things that would correspond to the dominant cognitive function of their individual Myers-Briggs types. Other consistent type-related differences have been shown in his research as well.
So, you might ask then, what about those who have claimed to ‘change types’? Well, that’s where trauma and socialization comes in. When going through trauma, for instance, it’s common to stop giving yourself permission to do things you may have enjoyed to do in the past. The same thing goes with socialization. People that grew up shy, maybe with stricter upbringings or childhood trauma, may have always wanted to interact with people the way an extrovert would. Then, when breaking free from it all and overcoming their shyness, they suddenly are happier with their lives and feel like they have changed. There is a clear distinction between being shy and being introverted. Not every introvert is shy, they just can’t engage in more extroverted activities for as prolonged amounts of time as extroverts can. You can be extroverted and shy as well, if there has been significant trauma or sheltering.
So what some of these stories of people changing sound like, is that they have grown up with inhibiting coping mechanisms, and are only now giving themselves permission to be themselves. It is then, reasonable to believe that many of those that claim to have ‘changed types’ actually just found their real type and are now acting more authentically to who they are, when they previously were not.
Of course, the same thing can happen the other way around. When people claim to change types, it could be that they have now gone through significant trauma, and are then, by the same token, not living their lives as authentically as they used to, and are not giving themselves permission to do things they would have ordinarily enjoyed. Now, I want to mention here that a natural introvert can develop enough expertise in extroverted activities to better deal with the world’s problems. An extrovert, can also balance themselves out by learning how to engage in more introspective activities, developing a more ‘grounded’ sense of self. This topic is usually explored in theories advocating ‘type development’ and are another aspect of MBTI altogether, but it does play into the complicated aspect of individual types as well.
That’s why MBTI practitioners and enthusiasts highly recommend either getting profiled by a licensed professional or from at least encouraging people to dig deeper into the theory on their own to get a better grasp of their own underlying cognitive functions because each individual type has a significant amount of variance in how they come across depending on many of the factors that have been mentioned above. And even then, if there has been significant trauma, finding an individual person’s type will be difficult.
Of course, many other brain studies need to be done for the idea of underlying cognitive functions behind each MBTI type to be completely understood. And it would probably require more sophisticated instruments for anyone to know for sure from a purely scientific standpoint. After all, brain research in general is still in its infancy, and there is so much more about the brain that we still do not know. However, it’s quite reasonable to understand why so many of us believe that types don’t really change, considering some of the points I just mentioned. So, what do you think? Do these points resonate with your own individual life experiences?
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