Personality Transplant

I lay back on the pillows, tears leaking from the corner of my eyes. My husband looked across at me.

“What’s wrong?”

I hesitated, not because I didn’t know what was wrong, but because it was sort of ridiculous.

I was crying because of a personality test (well, three, actually). But who does that?

Only a few nights earlier, my family members entertained ourselves by trying to figure out which Star Wars character we were. My husband was Chewbacca, my daughter Wicket. My son was Princess Leia—and he cried (so maybe my eight-year-old son and I are the only ones who cry over personality tests). And my result? Emperor Palpatine. It seemed pretty innocuous, and we found another test, this time Harry Potter. I was Draco Malfoy.

I was starting to sense a pattern. But I didn’t think much of it until a couple of nights later, when a friend posted another personality test online, also based on Myers-Briggs. (If you hadn’t already figured this out, I’m a sucker for personality tests). Here’s what this one had to say about my “type”:

INTJs are independent types, wildly intelligent and creative — but rather un-interested in what anyone else is doing. . . . 

Although that, at least, was better than this:

loner, more interested in intellectual pursuits than relationships or family, not very altruistic, not very complimentary, would rather be friendless than jobless, . . . detached, private, not much fun, hidden, skeptical, does not tend to like most people, socially uncomfortable, not physically affectionate, unhappy, does not talk about feelings, hard to impress, analytical, likes esoteric things, tends to be pessimistic, not spontaneous, prone to discontentment, guarded, does not think they are weird but others do. . .

Suddenly I no longer recognized myself. I’ve taken several different variations of Myers-Briggs over the years and pretty consistently been INTJ. But reading these descriptions one on top of another—suddenly it seemed as if I belonged to a group with sociopaths and evil dictators: cold, calculating, ruthlessly ambitious.

This was not at all the person I wanted to be.  Hence, the crying.

My husband valiantly suppressed any desire to laugh as he listened to me. (My mother, in the rational light of the next morning, was not so restrained). “You’re not like that,” he said. “You care about people.”

I hope I do. But here’s the thing. I recognize the truth of those tendencies in myself. Sometimes I struggle to sympathize or empathize as I should. Most times I prefer a good book to a party. And sometimes I am more critical than I should be—of myself and of others.

But I’m more than the sum of these preferences. And I think the gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot to do with that.

I don’t know if we can change our personality preferences. But I do know that living the gospel (or trying to) has changed the extent to which my preferences manifest themselves. If I am introverted, attending church has forced me out of my comfort zone again and again, giving me opportunities for friendship with people I might not otherwise have known. Praying for charity, serving in the church, reading my scriptures (in fact, reading in general) has taught me more empathy than I would naturally possess. Learning to exercise faith forces me to confront my doubts, reach beyond my innate skepticism, and rely on a Higher Power—an exercise that is at once humbling and empowering.

King Benjamin told his people: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). And perhaps the real truth is that in our natural states, none of us are terribly likeable people. Luckily for all of us, our innate preferences aren’t prescriptions for how we have to live our lives–the atonement means we all have the potential to be better than our baseline.

(And it’s lucky for everyone that I’m not really the evil genius type. I’d make a terrible super villain.)

What about you? How has the gospel challenged your “personality preferences”? (And please tell me I’m not the only personality test junkie out there . . . )

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

23 thoughts on “Personality Transplant

  1. As a fellow INTJ it makes me sad that you feel there is something innately wrong with you’re personality.

  2. Wow, this is the most negative personality description I’ve ever read! Whoever wrote this must have had a serious issue with an INTJ. This particular description leaves out all of the positives of the personality type. As a fellow INTJ, I do see myself in this, but it’s my worst self. Every personality type, every person could have an equally disturbing and unflattering paragraph written about it/them. I totally agree that the gospel and the Atonement give us both the possibility and the power to rise above our natural selves.

  3. I have a criminal mind. The gospel is what keeps me from the dark side. All these quizzes are silly and flawed. And I’m speaking as someone who scored as Voldemort on the Harry Potter quiz.

  4. I’m married to an INTJ, and he’s very tender hearted, most particularly with family. But he also knows how to be level headed when I let my emotions get the best of me too often (ENFJ). He’s actually a better diplomat than I am, because he can detach from the emotion of the situation and say all the polite and helpful things because it’s the “logical” thing to do. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and sometimes that offends people (when it’s not my intention). I think that both of us have valid personalities, but there are distinct advantages and disadvantages, and we both have to seek balance.

    When I first dated him 25 years ago, he would often engage in conversations with me to win a “debate.” He has learned to be more empathetic, to offer validation to others rather than trying to fix the problem. I am super outgoing, and as an ENFJ, I’m always trying to get everyone organized into a growth group. I’ve had to learn to give him (and others) a ton of space when my tendency is to engage in intensely emotional conversations. As a teacher, I’m always evaluated as energetic, but as a friend and family member, I can fatigue people who have to associate with me for a full day.

    Sometimes I have to leave ward activities early, because I get so emotionally plugged into all 150 people present that it wears me out, especially if I don’t have an outlet for organizing everyone into some growth-based activity. “Time to do a trust exercise! Find a partner!” My husband knows how to detach even in a group. He’s usually writing an article in his head when he’s in a crowd. He has to have about 6 hours of alone time a day, or he is cranky. I try not to take his need for alone time personally because I really value the insights he has to offer from all the time spent reading and writing. It’s all OK. Just use your powers for good! My husband is writing a book on Job right now, and I expect it will be very good. Hooray for INTJs and the intellectual labor they have to offer the rest of us.

  5. Have you heard of or read the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain? I think that it’s an essential book for any introvert to read (or anyone that is married to or parenting an introvert) because it explains the strengths that introverts have and dispels some of the negativity towards introverts (such as this personality test description) that introverts will encounter throughout their life in our society that values extrovert behaviors. It has been a life changing book for me and my family.

  6. @Debra–yes, I loved Quiet! (I made my book group read it)

    @Karen–so interesting to get an outside perspective on INTJs. And I love your candid account of the struggles to be an extrovert. Sometimes I wish I were more extroverted; your post reminds me to be happy with who I am.

    @M2theh–agreed, most of the quizzes aren’t accurate. Which leaves me wondering why I keep taking them . . .

    @Melanie and anon: most of the time I value my good INTJ qualities. I think it was just the proximity of those negative perspectives that made me start looking at who I am–and who I want to be. And I’m really grateful that the gospel pushes me out of who I am (or at least, pushes me to be a better version of who I am).

  7. I am another INTJ. I found this from a quick search:
    INTJ
    Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

    I see nothing here for me to cry about. It does kinda sound like me. What I like is that I implement my ideas.
    I don’t have a problem not naturally being a people person or whatever. What makes me a really, really good person is that I CHOOSE to make being a good wife, mother, daughter, friend, community member, citizen. Every single day I choose to love others as an action rather than as a feeling.
    My INTJ qualities means I am successful at choosing to be a good person. Some of those other personality types are less able to see what they are doing and go through life without a “explanatory perspective” and without the ability to have good relationships because they can’t “organize and carry through.” Other personality types fail at being a good wife, mother, sister, neighbor, etc. because they don’t have high standards for themselves. Other personality types hang out with losers who treat them badly and because losers who treat others badly because they don’t expect better from the people around them and don’t know how to act in healthy ways themselves.

  8. After reading, and liking Quiet and taking numerous personality tests, I don’t know if I’m an extrovert or introvert. It seems to change depending on the day and the situation, and I know my personality has changed over time as I have become more self-confident and more socially adept. I’m either an introvert who likes to talk and verbally process things or an extrovert who is socially awkward. No idea.

    I do wonder, lately, whether people sometimes take personality tests and labels a little too far. I think it’s great to be able to figure out and label the variety that we all have in the way we live our lives, and as a parent it can be helpful to me to understand that my children all react to things differently. But, sometimes it feels to me like it’s just another way for people to divide themselves into tribes, especially with all the things flying around the internet about how one type is better than another type, for whatever reason. Like you, I feel like the most important thing we can do in life is figure out how our behavior, attitudes, and thoughts should most be in line with how God wants us to be. For me, sometimes taking a test and realizing traits that I tend to have and need to struggle against (and yes, I’ve had the “I have no soul and don’t care about other humans!” angst myself) can be helpful, but mostly just to realize what areas of my life still need polishing.

  9. Rosalyn,
    In your interpretation of Mosiah it sounds like you are saying that your personality is something that was inflicted on you. I’m glad you read quiet. Reading that has made me feel less that way about my own personality. In the church we have this belief that everyone is supposed to be like Christ and we are all trying to reach that same identicle ideal. But that is not the goal. We are supposed to be our own best selves and that will be different than everyone elses. The negative things about ourselves are integrally linked to the positive things and knowing why we act the way we do helps us be kind to ourselves and allows us to put ourselves in a position where we can be valued for what we bring to the table. But first we have to know and understand ourselves enough to value ourselves. If we don’t, no one else will.

  10. My father-in-law is also INTO and he is one of the most giving and kind people I know. Sometimes he doesn’t just see the needs of those around him, but when it is brought to his attention he is very concerned and ready to help. Luckily he’s married to a woman who is quick to see needs and let him know what is going on.

  11. I love personality tests — particularly those based on the Myers-Briggs system. I am a logical person who wants to try to figure people out, and as another person who’s not good at emotions/feelings, the personality profiles help me understand my friends, family, and self and how I can better relate to people and weaknesses to be aware of in myself that I can overcome because I can recognize them.

  12. I always say I would never have joined the church, it is a good thing my ancestors did it for me! But it has made all the difference in my learning how to be a more involved person. Otherwise I would just stay home and read and create and never be bored. Socializing is the worst! But because of my faith I was able to serve as a senior missionary with my husband. I felt like I was putting on a costume (I hate costumes) everyday and going out to act. Eventually it became real, not an act and now we’re home I have internalized that care and compassion and empathy and no longer feel I’m pretending. The gospel of Jesus Christ has done that for me.

  13. I’ve always resented the notion that being an introvert (for instance) is a flaw, or somehow less compatible with living the gospel. The gospel requires ALL of us to do a few things we wouldn’t normally, quite apart from repenting of our sins. Some of us struggle with socializing; others struggle with making time for quiet reflection and study (which I would argue is just as important). We all bring different strengths to the table. And in the end, we all have a 100% need for grace.

    I like anon’s comment above that “we are supposed to be our own best selves.” I also like this article from James Goldberg about respecting the contributions of different personality types:

    http://mormonmidrashim.blogspot.com/2013/08/unity-and-worldview-1-corinthians-12-14.html

  14. I was just discussing this with my husband the other day. I think I have realized that my “natural man” wants to be left alone. I am always going outside of my comfort zone to accept the fact that I need to be around people. I struggle sometimes to understand why people want to even be around me. Seriously, the “natural man” in my head sucks. I told my husband that it’s a huge struggle for me and he needs to help me. He’s a good guy and helps me. The funny thing is, I love people. I just want my space.

  15. As I read the comments I’m realizing that this may have come across as more self-critical than I meant it to be: it was meant to be more a reflection on the ways that the gospel pushes me out of my comfort zone–to be a better version of myself.

    And as several of you have pointed out (anon, Dvorah), all of us have weaknesses that the gospel helps us overcome.

    @jks, thank you for putting a positive spin on INTJs! There are definitely some good things about this type (analytical thinking being a big one . . .)

    @Jessie: I agree that there’s a temptation to let differences about preferences keep us from overlooking the abundant things we share with others.

    @ strollerblader: I think that’s part of the attraction for me, too. If I understand myself and others better, I find I’m more patient with and tolerant of people.

    @honey: I’ve thought the same thing! But regardless of how we came to the gospel, I’m grateful for it.

  16. I’m an INTP. I liked the personality test on buzz feed that linked Meyers Briggs types with animals with positive descriptions. It has helped me to acknowledge I’m an owl who married a wolf and that we are raising a little otter. Almost my favorite part of the owl description is that they are often surprised to find out people enjoy their company. :). Yep. Nailed me. It’s also interesting that I’m an outgoing introvert, most people don’t peg me for one. I like the other comments about focusing in being our best selves.

  17. I’m an INTJ, or I was when I first took the test (I think I’ve probably drifted away from that a bit). When I took the test the description for INTJ didn’t make us to be so harsh, and I found that it was a good fit for describing my persona.

    Learn to be comfortable with who you are, the worlds needs all types, and if you are sitting there wishing to play a different role, you blow playing the role you have.

  18. Great post and greata comments!

    I’m INTP (although I’ve had an INTJ result before because it’s a weak P). I think we introverts do get a rap sometimes from those who think that there’s something superior to being outgoing, and I have found that my introvert qualities create challenges with some activities such as professional networking.

    One way the church has helped me is by giving me the best calling in the church, teaching Gospel Doctrine. My introversion definitely comes out when I’m preparing a lesson (I love to analyze things), and when teaching I get to act (and it indeed is acting) like an extrovert and get some of the positive feedback that brings. I’m also fortunate to have a great home-teaching companion who arranges all the appointments, because calling people on the phone is something I hate. That’s something I’m going to have to work on.

  19. My husband is an INTJ, and he served as bishop for longer than he was supposed to, and people thought he did a good job. When he was called, he explained to the stake president that he was meant to be a clerk. But our church callings are about what the Lord wants and the church needs, not what we are comfortable doing.

    Also, those “negative” things aren’t necessarily negative. They can be strengths. You are making a judgment because it is not what you want.

  20. Not that you need another test, but have you taken The Color Code test by Taylor Hartman? I like it so much better than other tests because it defines personalities by Motive. Every “color” has strengths and weaknesses which stem from their motive. I’m personally grateful for every personality as each blesses me and sometimes stretch me to be better. I think you might find it very insightful and much more uplifting!

    You can take the test at http://www.colorcode.com

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