Where we come from, for many of us, is a vital part of who we are. Whether we identify strongly with a neighborhood or a nationality, or with a particular cultural, ethnic, religious, or vocational group, our family may be an important way for us to define ourselves. Genealogy websites and DNA ancestry tests are exploding in popularity – a testament to our growing interest, as a society, in discovering and connecting with our family background.
Some of us, however, may feel that our lineage has little to do with us, that the chance circumstances of our birth have no major bearing on how we come to view or define ourselves. But could it be that this difference can be ascribed, at least in part, to our differing personality types?
To attempt to answer this question, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Your family background is an important part of your identity.” We found that most readers do indeed place importance on their family background, with 68% agreeing overall. But notable differences emerged between the Feeling and Thinking personality traits (73% vs. 63% agreeing), the Judging and Prospecting traits (73% vs. 65%), and the Extravert and Introvert traits (72% vs. 66%).
Which personality types consider their family background a core part of their identity? Let’s explore the results in more detail below.
Sentinels (74% agreeing)
For Sentinels, family comes first. In fact, Sentinels are the most likely personality types to say that the number-one factor influencing their personal happiness is their family and friends. Their shared Judging trait is a big part of this devotion to family. Judging personalities seek certainty and structure in their lives, and for Sentinels, the best place to find those things may be in the stability and loyalty of family. Such a strong belief in the power of family can certainly become intertwined with one’s sense of self.
Sentinel personalities also value tradition, which is another key part of family background – whether it be long-established cultural or religious customs or the unique rituals of an individual family, like always having the same dessert for someone’s birthday or calling parents or siblings every week. Sentinels maintain traditions in their own lives and dedicate a great deal of energy to ensuring that traditions will be passed down to future generations. In the process, that sense of family background can become deeply ingrained in a Sentinel’s personal identity.
Diplomats also take their family background seriously, but for somewhat different reasons than Sentinels. Diplomats may be most interested in their emotional connections to family, as a result of their core Feeling trait. That goes for intimate relationships with immediate family members as well as broader connections to culture, nationality, geography, and historical eras going back generations. Diplomats may be more interested than other personality types in researching genealogy to discover and identify with those sorts of deeper human connections.
Diplomat personalities may also be more inclined to think of themselves as part of a family unit because of their appreciation for harmony and cooperation. They may feel as though they can understand themselves better when they’re able to empathize with their family members or even repair rifts within the family when they arise.
Protagonists (ENFJ) were the personality type most likely to agree that their family background is an important part of their identity (79%). Enthusiastic, altruistic types who enjoy bringing people together, Protagonists are guided by their ideals and principles, two things that are often passed down through family. And because they’re deeply self-reflective, Protagonists are more likely to spend time thinking about how their family has influenced their personal development.
Explorers and Analysts (66% and 62%)
A majority of Explorers and Analysts also agreed with our statement, but at lower rates. These personality types tend to be more individualistic than Sentinels and Diplomats, placing more importance on independence than on the expectations of family or society. Guided by their Prospecting personality trait, Explorers take an open-minded, moment-by-moment approach to life. Because of this, they may view their identity as constantly evolving with each new experience, rather than being defined by their family background.
Analysts, who share the Thinking trait, may take a more logical view, believing that there are limitless factors, going well beyond family background, that contribute to the development of an individual’s identity. Analysts dislike tradition for tradition’s sake, and some may prefer to ignore their heritage or choose to distance themselves from it entirely in order to forge their own, unique path.
Of all the personality types, Virtuosos (ISTP) were the least likely to agree with our statement (54%). Virtuosos tend to be emotionally distant, which can make it harder for them to bond with others, including family members. They’re also not particularly introspective types, so they may not spend much time pondering the connection between family and identity. They’d rather learn from life as they go, testing out new interests and relationships whenever the impulse strikes, than feel limited by familial or cultural expectations.
Social Engagement and People Mastery (73% and 71% agreeing)
The two Extraverted Strategies, Social Engagement and People Mastery, were more likely to consider their family background an important part of their identity. This makes sense, since Extraverts like to be part of groups and are energized by social interaction.
Extraverts are also more open than Introverts to allowing the outside world – including family – to play a role in shaping who they are. Social Engagers and People Masters may regard their family background as important to the ways in which they connect with different social groups or cultural communities. These personalities may view their sense of self as encompassing a sense of social belonging too.
Constant Improvement and Confident Individualism (66% and 64%)
The Introverted Strategies, Constant Improvement and Confident Individualism, showed modest, but still majority, rates of agreement. Although the gap between Extraverts and Introverts in this survey was not enormous, it was enough to suggest that the solitary nature of Introverts makes it more difficult for them to feel the same intrinsic kinship that Extraverts do.
Preferring to rely on their own inner world, Introverted personalities may view the development of a sense of identity as a deeply personal and individualistic process. Even if they appreciate their heritage and love their family, for many Constant Improvers and Confident Individualists, family background just isn’t as important to understanding their identity as their own unique interests and diverse experiences are.
While most of us, according to the data gathered here, feel that to know oneself, one must first know one’s family, culture, and history, this feeling is hardly universal. Personality types who seek to fill their lives with emotional and social connections, stability, and tradition tend to place more importance on their family background. Those who take an independent, logical, and spontaneous approach to life are more likely to believe that our individual choices, preferences, and experiences are more critical to the formation of identity.
We may all feel tension at times between our personal needs and desires and the responsibilities, obligations, and privileges of belonging to a family. It may help to think of identity as a balance between where we came from and where we’re going, and to keep in mind that identity is usually not set in stone but constantly evolving. Even the most confident among us could spend a lifetime forging a truly authentic identity.
How important is your family background to your sense of self? Why? Let us know in the comments below.