How Not to Use Your Personality Type As An Excuse for Bad Behavior
Learning your type for the first time can be exciting. Whether through an online test you took for fun, or as a mandatory part of your job, discovering which of the sixteen personality types you match can create a feeling of self-understanding that you’ve never experienced before. It might explain your hobbies, the way you interact with others, and why you are your exact brand of weird. The dark side of learning your personality type is that it can also give you a lot of excuses.
Suddenly, you can say, “I don’t need to go to my cousin’s bridal shower—I’m an Introvert, and there will be a gajillion people there I don’t know.” Or, when you show up an hour late to that bridal shower, you can shrug and apologize half-heartedly, “Sorry. Perceiver here. I got caught up trying to learn Mandarin this morning.”
There are excuses common to each of the sixteen personality types, based on some of the broader traits and tropes of that type. As an INTJ, I can use my personality type as an excuse for acting aloof or for being a supervillain. But I don’t think most world leaders would take kindly to me attempting world domination with my INTJ-ness as a justification.
Of course, just because you can use your type as an excuse doesn’t mean you should. The groundwork for your personality may have begun when you were in utero, but that does not make it completely set in stone. Even the staunchest of Introverts, like myself, can push their boundaries and get better at socializing and being in large groups of people—for a short period of time, at least.
Let’s take a look at the excuses that people with each of the eight preferences (Introversion, Extraversion, Sensing, Intuition, Feeling, Thinking, Perceiving, and Judging) might make, and what they can do to avoid making those excuses and practice pushing their own boundaries.
Things for which Introversion is not an excuse:
• Poor communication or avoiding communication altogether
• Not giving new acquaintances a chance
• Bailing on important events
Introverts can avoid these excuses by:
- Practicing open communication –Whether it is being more verbally expressive with a partner or not being afraid to offer constructive criticism to a friend, small steps can help Introverts learn not to fear communication.
- Being willing to expand their (possibly small) social circle for the right people – There was a time for all of us when we didn’t even know our best friends, and Introverts would be wise to accept new friends more often.
- Committing to go to the most valuable events – These might be events that are important to people that are important to them or events that might prove beneficial to the Introvert’s career or self-improvement. This doesn’t mean going to happy hour after work every day with coworkers; this does mean attending your husband’s office Christmas party if he wants you to be there. (Especially if he’s an Introvert too.)
Things for which Extraversion is not an excuse:
- Ignoring those closest to you for shiny new friends
- Not giving people one-on-one time
- Neglect of self-care and need for alone time
Extraverts can avoid these excuses by:
- Making sure that they continue to see their old friends – Some friendships do fade with time as people grow apart, but sometimes Extraverts begin to neglect their friendships with the people they’ve known for a while simply because they meet someone new and exciting. One way to solve this problem is to invite an old friend to hang out with them and their new friend.
- Spending one-on-one time with close friends and family – Extraverts should be careful not to make every interaction into a big social event. Choosing a different friend every week to grab a cup of coffee with, just the two of them, is a great way for Extraverts to make sure that they are giving each relationship the attention it deserves.
- Taking time for themselves – Contrary to popular belief, Extraverts need time to be alone, reflect, and recharge. They might need less of it than Introverts, but Extraverts should check in with themselves and make sure that they’re not running themselves ragged for other people.
Things for which Sensing is not an excuse:
- Rejecting people and ideas that don’t fit with the Sensor’s view of the world
- Failure to see the “big picture”
Sensors can avoid these excuses by:
- Exercising empathy – Sympathy is a feeling of care or concern for someone with whom you share similarities; empathy is the initial recognition of the feelings of another, followed by sharing in his or her emotions, and seeing from his or her perspective. Feeling concerned about someone whose father just died is sympathy. Seeing his grief and imagining that it is your own is empathy. Practicing empathy allows people to view the world from positions other than their own.
- Taking a step back – As the old saying goes, sometimes people “miss the forest for the trees.” In other words, one can become so occupied focusing on one tree—the texture of the bark, how tall it is, the shape of its leaves, the letters that some kid carved into its trunk, that one dead branch—that they don’t recognize that that tree, while an entity in and of itself, is part of another entity, which is the forest. In a more practical example, this can manifest itself in the Sensor spending hours at work performing and perfecting one task and forgetting about all the other tasks to which they must attend to in order to perform their job well as a whole.
Things for which Intuition is not an excuse:
- Extreme idealism
- Not noticing what’s right under one’s nose
- Ignoring mundane tasks
Intuitives can avoid these excuses by:
- Trying to root their ideas and predictions in reality – Lest anyone think that I was bashing Sensors earlier, this is when I’m going to advise Intuitives to pay attention to the way in which Sensors are very aware of their realities, past or present. Intuition works best when it takes a perceived pattern and extrapolates it, within reason, into the future.
- Remaining present – I’m not saying Intuitives—or anyone else—shouldn’t daydream. But I am advising Intuitives to practice some level of mindfulness. Being mindful needn’t mean doing daily meditation; it can be as simple as checking in with your five senses throughout the day. Some people find it helpful to wear or carry a reminder to be mindful, such as a rubber band around the wrist, or a quarter in one’s pocket. Whenever the wearer notices their talisman of mindfulness, he or she should take 30 seconds to focus on their surroundings and the present moment.
- Making sure that necessary chores get done – Intuitives have developed a reputation for being messier and more forgetful than Sensors, with the likely exception of ENTJs. But this is not an excuse to let our houses fall into disrepair, allow the cats to go hungry, or to go outside with unbrushed hair. Intuitives might find it helpful to keep a checklist of daily or weekly chores tacked up in a prominent place in their homes.
Things for which Feeling is not an excuse:
- Failure to be rational
- Expressing emotion without communicating
- Judging those who process emotions differently
Feelers can avoid these excuses by:
- Making sure that decisions are based on feelings and reason – Not all decisions need to be rooted purely in cold hard fact, but most major decisions should not be made without some thought to logic and practicality. Feelers may want to discuss certain decisions with people whose rationality they admire in order to obtain a balanced perspective on the issue.
- Communicating the reasons behind the emotion – Feelers sometimes think that they are communicating their feelings to others when they are really just expressing them. The key difference here is that when someone communicates their emotions and the reasons that they have them, it allows the other person to understand them—and to empathize.
- Understanding the myriad of ways in which people experience emotions – Just because one person cries when their grandfather dies and a second person doesn’t, doesn’t mean that the second person is broken or messed up in some way. Feelers should remember that not everyone—including some Feelers—expresses emotions outwardly or in front of other people.
Things for which Thinking is not an excuse:
- Lack of empathy
- Failure to consider the feelings of others when doing or saying something
- Not expressing your feelings in close relationships
Thinkers can avoid these excuses by:
- Exercising empathy – This is pretty much the exact same advice I gave for Sensors. Thinkers should recognize that even if someone has an experience that wouldn’t bother the Thinker that much, it might bother the other person. Everyone could benefit from exercising a bit more empathy, really.
- Making sure that decisions are based on reason and feeling – This is the corollary to the first piece of advice that I offered to Feelers. Thinkers should consider the feelings of those affected by their decisions before automatically making the choice that seems the most logical to them. Rationality is great, but so is not hurting other people.
- Verbalizing positive feelings towards others – While this advice is particularly applicable in romantic relationships, it can also apply to friendships and even relationships with family members. Just because a Thinker knows that she appreciates her boyfriend doesn’t mean that the boyfriend knows that. And even if he does, most people appreciate being told that they are appreciated.
Things for which Perceiving is not an excuse:
- Failure to plan ahead
- Constant indecision
Perceivers can avoid these excuses by:
- Working to consciously make a plan – I’m not saying that Perceivers need to adopt my ISTJ stepfather’s mantra of, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” but they could take a page out of his many spreadsheets. A little bit of planning and forethought can go a long way. If a Perceiver thinks they need five minutes to get ready in the morning, they might want to allow themselves ten or fifteen minutes, just in case something bad or unexpected happens.
- Remembering that most choices aren’t a matter of life-or-death – In an average day, it is estimated that the average adult makes 35,000 conscious decisions. Perceivers would be wise to remember that when picking out their shoes for the day, ordering their lunch, or deciding which route to take to the grocery store. There simply isn’t time in the day to optimize every single decision if there is also to be time for living.
Things for which Judging is not an excuse:
- Being inflexible with beliefs or plans
- A “my way or the highway” mentality
Judgers can avoid these excuses by:
- Adjusting beliefs or plans as necessary – It’s fine to make a plan, but Judgers should remember to build some room into their plans for unforeseen circumstances and be willing to be flexible if such circumstances arise. In those situations, Judgers need to learn to accept changes to their plans and focus on the bigger goal that they are striving to reach.
- Accepting that other people will do things differently – It can be difficult for a Judger to allow someone to dive into a project without a plan, or with a plan that the Judger believes is inferior. Whatever their religion, most Judgers would do well to remember the so-called serenity prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change / Courage to change the things I can, / And wisdom to always know the difference.” I have considered having this tattooed on my hand, but I will probably stick to putting it on a sticky note on my bathroom mirror.
I’m interested to hear what you readers think. Do you find yourself using your type as an excuse for bad behavior? How do you push at the boundaries of your own personality while remaining authentic to yourself?