Your Personality Type, Warts and All

Darrell’s avatar

One of the questions that almost always comes up when someone discovers their personality type is "Does my personality type predetermine who I am - both strengths and weaknesses? Is it somehow predetermined that I am this person?" Usually when this is asked, there is a more of a concern with the weaknesses that belong to every personality type rather than the strengths.

Sure, sometimes there is "type envy". A Diplomat (_NF_) mentioned the other day how she would like to be more like an Explorer (_S_P). She enjoyed the idea that they just jump into most frays without much difficult deliberation first. It seemed like a much easier and more adventurous life than her more meditative one. But other type's qualities only look good from a distance. Jumping into the Explorer's preferred traits would only make Diplomats unhappy - and the other way around.

Usually when we think about whether we're "stuck" in our personality type or not, it's more about our weaknesses than our strengths. A Diplomat who can't find something on their desk would occasionally love to be a more organized Sentinel (_S_J). Or Analysts (_NT_) who yet again find themselves feeling awkward in an emotional interaction may relish the thought of having the strong empathy traits of Diplomats. However, it's doubtful most Diplomats would want to give up their strong intuitive gifts simply to have a neater desk. Which Analyst would want to give up their love for creating systems and solving puzzles to be distracted by what he or she sees as "warm and fuzzy" feelings all the time?

All personality types have a yin to their yang, a weakness to their strengths. You don't have to be in the company of other humans long to realize that nobody is perfect. Carl Jung, who originated the ideas on which many others built their personality type systems, was all about rounding up the different parts of person and helping them become into an integrated whole. For example, he explored the anima (feminine energy) and animus (masculine energy) within each individual he worked with. He also had an idea he called the "shadow" which is the dark part of ourselves which we try to repress. His theory was that we are not whole until we meet and accept our shadows. If we don't, according to Jung, the shadow will express itself in unhealthy and hidden ways - most often involving projecting the worst parts of ourselves onto others.

It would be a disservice to Jung to talk about the weaknesses that we discuss in personality types on the same level with the more sinister and primitive shadow. Often the shadow's archetypal symbol is the devil himself. Think of any of the exorcist movies you've seen. Pretty intense stuff that comes nowhere close to "may be disorganized" type stuff we talk about on our website. Nonetheless, just as Jung thought it was important for people to meet their shadows, so we might also talk about meeting out weaknesses.

Knowing the Nature of Your Weaknesses Is a Strength

A boxer in a ring knows to play to his strengths and away from his weakness. But to play away from his weaknesses, he's got to know what they are. It's essential for him to get a sense of who he is as a boxer and some of the places where he falls short during a fight. In a sense, he "types" himself as a fighter and accepts that both his strengths and his weaknesses exist.

Most of us take the time to learn about our types and the types of the people around us to become better people and relate better to others. Part of becoming a better functioning person is by knowing what strengths to play to and knowing what weaknesses get in our way. So, in a milder form of the Jungian goal of integration, we need to meet our weaknesses and accept them. Accepting them doesn't mean we make excuses for our flaws and let them run wild. Instead, it's just admitting a tendency in our lives of which we need to be aware.

Weakness is an unavoidable part of every person with every personality type and pretending perfection does nobody any good. Exploring the 16 personalities and their variants can help us better understand our weaknesses so we can address them more suitably. But after we know our weaknesses, what do we do with them?

Weaknesses and Adaptation

One of life's challenges with which personality typology can help us is the constant conflict between adapting in order to get along in society and remaining true to the essence of who we are. Sometimes, our strength and weakness fit just fine in what is expected of us and what is considered the norm. However, at other times, maybe it's not so much the case. This is particularly true if you are in one of the statistically less represented personality types (Introverted and Intuitive, for example).

We all have adapted in our lives to fit in to some degree. We've done things that we didn't want to do in order to keep from making waves. We've done it all of our lives to keep parents, teachers, or bosses off our backs. We've all adapted, at least a little at some point in our lives, to fit into a social circle that we desire to be a part of. Sometimes, we can feel a bit lost and drowning among all the adaptations that the world around us demands we do. Learning our personality traits can help us get back in touch with our genuine selves. In some cases, it might even give us permission again to be who we are.

Having said that, adaptation is a survival mechanism, and it may be useful when it comes to our weaknesses. As an example, let's place a Sentinel in an office administrative position in a music studio that primarily caters to Explorer musicians. There is a tendency to overcompensate when something we value is missing. Let's say in this scenario, the thing missing is organization in the company. A Sentinel may become extremely rigid as a response to what he sees as a lack of regard for the rules and a lot of "coloring outside of the lines" which would not be unusual among Explorers. Going to the extreme turns the Sentinel's asset of being a conscientious organizer into a weakness. Dictators are rarely welcomed among free-spirits.

It may be necessary for our Sentinel to be adaptive and to adopt a less rigid attitude. Adapting, in this case, may mean survival at that job. The question then becomes: Can the Sentinel take their extreme organization back a notch so as to function better among the free-wheeling artists? Can they stay true to their core selves and the traits where they function best while adapting to the quirks of a certain workplace? If they can stay true to themselves while squelching their rigidity, it may save them a job. Or it might also indicate it's time to find a new place to work that doesn't feel quite so much like a madhouse.

So, adaptation is a partial answer to how we deal with our weaknesses. We are always adapting and, in some cases, it is the appropriate way to go. Sometimes we just have to suck it up and change our behavior to make it work in a certain environment. However, we should always use caution for fear that we might over-adapt at the expense of our happiness and the under-utilization of our strengths. There is nothing more miserable than being in a place where we don't fundamentally fit.

Expanding Our Comfort Zones

Another way to approach weakness is to view it as a mechanism that we use to stay within our comfort zones. A weakness can be seen as a way to hold onto to what we're used to. For example, an Analyst guy who has trouble with emotional situations may feel as though those situations are pulling him away from the more purely logical systems that he loves. It may feel as though he's entering a territory which is foreign to him. He may behave rudely or in a condescending fashion in order to make sure that he isn't lured away from what he knows. Being rude is a sure way to keep people and their pesky emotions at arm's length.

Most people who work with change and human potential agree that growth comes from a willingness to expand one's comfort zone. What if our Analyst described in the last paragraph decides that he wants to expand his? What if, in a step outside that comfort zone, he discovers that experiencing warmth and kindness and giving a little of it back does not necessarily involve giving up any of his strength? He may discover he can still be a hard-nosed and serious thinker and yet connect well enough with his fellow human beings all at the same time. He can walk and chew gum at the same time. He ends up declawing his weakness, not by denying it, but by expanding the definition of his strength.

Doing so doesn't mean that he will become an emotional softy. That's not in his profile. But perhaps he becomes a bit more social and a little friendlier. And if you look around, there are plenty of Analysts who do just fine socially and don't suffer excessively from being socially ill-at-ease. Most likely that's because they have expanded the definitions and scope of their strengths to include a social element.

We can apply this same thinking to any personality type and any weakness. How are your weaknesses in the service of protecting your strengths? How can expanding your comfort zone soften your weaknesses?

Tips for Dealing With Your Weaknesses

  • Know what your weaknesses are. 12 steps programs urge their followers to make a fearless and searching inventory of their lives. Not a bad idea for anyone wanting to live a better life.
  • Be willing to adapt - some. Everybody has to. But be careful not to overdo it and lose yourself.
  • Are you weaknesses protecting your comfort zone - necessarily or unnecessarily? How can you expand your comfort zone in order to get along better in the world with others?