As I was reading this month’s issue of the magazine Psychology Today, I came across a very interesting article on personality tests. It is very possible that personality tests are one of the most popular topics in psychology.
There is something powerful about being ‘described’, by a list of characteristics and traits, it is so compelling that many of us forget to think rationally about it, I included. Just like the author of the article, I remember how much power I gave to the first personality test I ever took…the MBTI (Myers Briggs Personality Inventory). For the record, it said I am an ENFJ, and I love being an ENFJ. I took it again a few years later but the results had changed a bit. I did other tests as I was doing my master’s degree (around 7 in total) and later on, I did the Enneagram. A bit more mature at this point and more curious about the human psyche, I did notice that the information they revealed about myself was, let’s say, “versatile” and definitely thought-provoking. I wondered, for example, why for some tests, (like the MBTI) the descriptions are all positive while others (like the Enneagram) include both positive and ‘dark’ traits of personality. I also wondered why are most of the traits so general? Or why in some cases I could not choose more than one option since they both applied to me equally. Why they are not based on specific situations? Why do they not consider different cultural traits?
Although I was not able to find the answer to some of these questions, those tests helped me discover that what I was looking for was to know who I really (really) was and how I could use my traits to make myself more self-aware and a better person.
[Personality tests] can give you the language to talk about who you are and what makes you similar to and distinct from the complicated people around you.
Jennifer V. Fayard
I realized, for example, that I liked the idea of being part of a group. Feeling like you belong, like you are normal is apparently a great deal for many of us. I like that when I described myself as an extrovert, everyone knew what I was talking about. I justified (still do) a lot of my behaviour with a simple sentence that made sense to those I was addressing: “I am such a 2” or “What can I tell you I am a blue”. Indeed, there is power in knowing that we are different from others as well. The idea that we can understand why and how others are different from us gives reasons to feel ‘unique’. I was also expecting to be told things about myself that I ‘didn’t know’, or so I wanted to believe. The truth is that I had not done any type of self-reflection so of course a lot of what I discovered about myself was sort of ‘new’ to me.
When I did the test the second time, I noticed that the tests ask to select the options that “describe you best”, not that “describe you”…Ummm, ok, I still did it and thought “we obviously have a ‘craving’ or a need to be ‘seen’ and understood if I am still selecting options that do not apply in many cases”.
There is, in addition, some level of confirmation bias (when we want to maintain our belief of something being true, we screen information to favour that belief). For instance, I remember all the characteristics that apply to what I believed being true to my personality but did not look or consider the rest of the descriptors that did not apply (until I took it the second time when those became very obvious).
Needless to say that I love the self-discovery journey and as such I will probably continue to take personality tests as they come my way. But now, I will do it with caution and with an investigative heart, rather than as a way of being told who I am and I encourage you to do the same. You are capable of discovering a lot more than any test, no matter how reliable, can; as long as your goal is self-awareness, self-understanding and self-acceptance.
We are complex being and as such we cannot be plotted on a specific box of personality or behaviour. Take the tests, become more self-aware, find your ‘tribe’ and have fun with them but ALWAYS give yourself space for change, and more importantly growth.
BTW, I have a section on my website called Grow | Crezca with links to free personality tests. If you have a few minutes and want to get out of Facebook…go for it ;). Click here to access them. Keep in mind that the most reliable personality test as of today is the Big Five.