A few minutes on the internet will tell you everything you need to know about our culture's obsession with personality tests—and more specifically, the Myers Briggs personality test. It’s as if a 15-minute assessment holds the keys to our destiny—the right career, relationships, and how we should approach our free time.
But as Tinder bios populate with acronyms indicating just how giving, idealistic, introspective, nurturing—the list goes on and on—a person is and articles tell us what lipstick we should wear, according to our Myers Briggs personality type (we wrote it a while ago but it still holds up), the inevitable question arises: Are we putting too much emphasis on a personality test? And why are we so obsessed with them, anyway?
The point of the Myers Briggs test is actually pretty simple—and many of us are using it wrong.
To find out exactly how the Myers Briggs test should be used, we went to straight to the source and consulted Michael Segovia, M.A. and senior consultant at the Myers Briggs company. According to Segovia, Myers Briggs—also known as MBTI—should be viewed as a framework or “language” rather than the be-all end-all. “MBTI gives you a language to understand what energizes you and what drains you, how you learn, how you organize—all of that,” he explains. “The framework helps us understand how we live our lives on a daily basis.”
According to holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone, MBTI is so appealing because people like to feel “psychologically contained”—which is why a framework like MBTI is comforting. “It’s nice to feel like there is a measurable and universal explanation for why we are the way we are,” Stone says. “There are several different personality tests—my favorite is the enneagram—and they all provide their own breakdown of various facets of our personality. It’s important to remember that personality is unique and complicated, and these tests tend to classify traits in an orderly (if not overly simplified) and digestible way.”
She adds that it can be incredibly reassuring to read the results of a personality test that closely matches how you see yourself—like puzzle pieces all falling into place. It's a lot like our culture's affinity for astrology in that way. “If you’ve ever wondered, 'why am I doing this' or 'why is this such a problem for me,’ a personality test can offer up an explanation as to why this might be the case.”
MBTI can be used as a baseline in determining our career and love lives.
Should we really be using MBTI to determine key career choices and who we date? According to Segovia, when it comes to both our jobs and our relationships, MBTI can give you a nice baseline for compatibility. “MBTI doesn’t just give you a framework for your own personality, it lets you know what you’re attracted to, which helps with both dating and career,” he says. He explains that in the case of career, an MBTI career assessment can help you identify the type of career you’re attracted to and help you honor your preferences, which can ultimately lead to an energizing and empowering job. At the same time, people need to learn to be flexible in a work environment, because you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who loves their job 100% of the time.
While Stone is all for using personality tests as a tool, she does warn that attempting to live within the confines of one probably won’t work out too well. “Some people use personality tests as an ‘excuse’ for bad behavior,” she says. And blaming a poor life decision on a Myers Briggs type isn’t a good look for anyone.
Additionally, a personality test can be limiting. If, for example, you’re romantically interested in someone who’s not in line with your Myers Briggs type, should you abort the mission? No way—that’s a recipe for missing out on something that could be great. “If we become too rigid with anything it comes with potential limitations,” Stone says. “Refusing to step outside your comfort zone, for example, may prohibit you from experiencing certain things that you might actually really enjoy, learn, and grow from.”
Hard to argue with that one.