Personality Types and Spiritual Formation

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator

The Enneagram

Why Study Personality Types?

People are different. Spend some time watching the crowds at your local mall and you will quickly discover that people come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and personalities. Some people are loud and boisterous while others are quiet and reserved. Some people are motivated by physical pleasure while others seek after mental stimulation. No two people are exactly alike.

For millennia people have tried to discover a predictable pattern and a system of grouping people according to similarities within personality. The ancient Greeks observed four basic types of people and believed the distinction of each type was determined by the kind of body fluid that comprised that type’s basic constitution (red blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm). The Apostle Paul said that individuals were like unique parts of the larger body of Christ. The mystic Sufis believed that there were 9 basic types of people. A psychologist named Jung observed 16 basic types of people. His theory was later adapted into what is now known as the Myers-Briggs personality type Indicator (MBTI).

In the process of Spiritual Formation, the study of Personality Type can be very helpful. By knowing your basic personality type you will begin to discover some of the reasons why you are different than other people. New light will be shed on some of your basic motivations and blind spots that impact your daily choices, relationships, and emotions.

While studying Personality Types can be helpful, it can also become distracting, and sometimes damaging to Spiritual Formation if it is not handled properly. That’s why it is important to understand these…

Basic Rules for Studying Personality Types

#1 There is NOT one tool that does it all.

The study of personality types is not an exact science. The human personality is highly complex and cannot be fully understood with a simplistic chart. That is why we use a variety of tools to discover and discuss personality types. Each tool has strengths and weaknesses. Think of it like this…the human personality (and the human condition) is like a large room with many windows. Each personality type indicator tool is like one of those windows. Each one is accurate, but it is looking from one particular angle and does not create a complete picture. In order to keep things fairly simple (while not being simplistic) we will use two specific tools. This is not to say that the others are inadequate, by any means. The tools we will use are

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator

The Enneagram

If you are interested in pursuing this topic further, here are some of the other good tools:

The Four Temperaments


California Psychological Inventory

#2 Personality Type Indicators are simply a TOOL not a RULE.

One of the biggest traps that people fall into when using personality type indicators is to treat them as if they were astrological horoscopes or some type of determinism. In other words, they believe that if you have a particular type of personality then that means that you MUST behave a certain way and that you are not in control of your life. They tend to treat these personality types as if they were guiding spirits that give them some kind of insight into the mysteries of the universe. WRONG!

It is important to remember that these are simply tools of observation. For example, when a tool says that a particular type tends to brood and cycle up and down emotionally, it IS saying,

“As a GENERAL rule, it can be observed that MOST people who share a majority of similar traits, will USUALLY behave in this GENERAL way.”

It IS NOT saying,

“if you are this personality type then you are destined to ALWAYS behave in THIS CERTAIN way and you have NO POWER to change.”

#3 Your Type is not an excuse for bad behavior.

When people fall into the trap of #2, then they can start believing that they are not responsible for the dark side of their personality. They reason, “Hey, I’m sorry that you don’t like my perfectionism and critical spirit, but that’s just my personality, so deal with it.”

The purpose of discovering your personality is so that you can understand the weaknesses that you have and can begin to be changed in a positive way. Your type is not an excuse for bad behavior, it is an explanation of it and an exposure to the dark corners of your soul that need to be cleaned out.

#4 The ultimate purpose is to learn to love your neighbor, not yourself.

Another trap that people can fall into is to become fixated on self (not that we really need any help in that area). While it is true that the first step of the Journey is focused on discovering where YOU are; that is not the end goal. When we discover the world of personality types we will begin to realize that people are different from us…and its OK. When your spouse or your child or your friend or your co-worker is frustrating you, knowing their personality type can help you empathize with them, rather than condemn them. The ultimate goal is for understanding and teamwork in the community. Personality Types, when used properly, aide this process immensely.

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