Can Emotional Trauma Impact Personality Typing?
This is the biggest frustration and limitation of all personality tests. Assessments and tests are trying to get to the hardwiring of our brain, but we usually don’t know how our brains are wired. The tests struggle to ask necessarily nuanced questions in an attempt to get to these answers. Therefore, side-door questions must be used to determine how the brain’s wiring is showing up in our behavior and preferences; which is what makes all assessments – even live profiling assessments – difficult.
People can behave in many ways that have nothing to do with their authentic personality or wiring. This can be due to past emotional trauma or the environment in which they were raised. Many people reflect the preferences of their parents because they were trained to do so.
Not all programmed behavior is trauma based. Sometimes we were trained a certain way – or we trained ourselves a certain way – so we answer questions based upon our ideal rather than our authentic expression. For example, we might be a Perceiver but our parents were Judgers and we were trained that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. In a situation like this we are going to show up very differently from the average perceiver. Similarly, maybe we were an Extravert in a family of Introverts. Such an Extravert may appear more inhibited than the average extravert.
There are so many subtle nuances that come with behavior typology. Therefore, we don’t recommend people limit themselves to the Myers-Briggs framework, but explore other maps and models.
For instance, the Enneagram is a 9 pointed system of typology that explores our unconscious fears, obsessions, and gifts we bring to the world, as well as how those gifts show up in a bad way. (Listen to our Enneagram podcast here.)
However, if you choose to stick with the Myers-Briggs system, we generally recommend exploring some of the inferior parts of the cognitive functions (aka, the back seat of the Car Model).These are often the places we go when feeling defensive. Not the kind of defensive where someone says something harsh and we have to defend ourselves. But the defenses we erect to protect ourselves from cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance often shows up when the universe is trying to tell us something and we aren’t willing to hear it. It could even be something positive, but if we are receiving too much information to the contrary, we often just can’t accept it.
When we are really defensive we have a tendency to run to the ten year old mental process in the Car Model (further explanation of Car Model can be found here). The back seat always shows up as less developed than the front seat. Typically, we operate quite naturally in the driver process, but the Co-pilot needs exercise and practice. In fact, we can ignore our Co-pilot process (when feeling defensive) and go to the 10 Yr Old.
The 10 Yr Old will be immature and undeveloped because it is not one of our strengths. For instance, an ENTPs Co-pilot is Accuracy, which is their path to growth. However, if an ENTP decides to ignore their Co-pilot (because it’s introverted) and move into their 10 Yr Old, which is Harmony, it will show up as judgemental because Harmony is a judging process. Inferior Harmony is judgmental of society, and may come off as emotionally manipulative. In fact, an ENTP living in their 10 Yr Old function may test out as a Judger instead of a Perceiver.
An ENFPs 10 Yr Old is Extraverted Thinking, or Effectiveness. Too much time spent in this inferior position can skew the test results so that a Feeler ends up being typed as a Thinker instead. Similarly, an INFJ who spends too much time in the 10 Yr Old process of Accuracy can also be typed as a Thinker. This in itself can create cognitive dissonance as an authentic Feeler attempts to reject emotion in preference for coldly analytical data. Anytime anyone spends the bulk of their time in their inferior processes they struggle to grow and find happiness.
So, if someone spends most of the time in their 10 Yr Old process, then decides to sit down and take a personality test, they will answer the questions from the perspective of that immature place rather than the stronger functions found in the front seat. It may not even have anything to do with emotional trauma, but the personality results will still be skewed because the answers are coming from a place of underdevelopment rather than strength. We are not showing up to the world as the best versions of ourselves so we end up over-relying on tools and behavior patterns that don’t actually represent our natural wiring or preferences.
One of the worst times to take a personality test is when we are depressed. When depressed, we are in our 3 Yr Old process, which will really skew our results. Our 3 Yr Old is a total blind spot and far from our best selves!
Some helpful suggestions for taking accurate personality tests may be:
- Wait until you are in a positive frame of mind and feel good about yourself before taking a personality test.
- Explore the dichotomies (Introvert vs Extravert, iNtuive vs Sensor, Thinker vs Feeler, Judger vs Perceiver). A huge barrier of entry is the difference between Judgers and Perceivers. (please refer to this article for an in-depth look into this dichotomy).
- Get familiar with the cognitive functions – the mental processes or wiring of the brain that is the launching point of all behaviors. See how they work. Look at their configuration and see how they show up in the world.
- If you are still feeling overwhelmed, Personality Hacker offers personality type verification here.
In summary, if your instinct is saying personality typology is powerful stuff, don’t give up the search! Keep exploring until you find your best fit type because it is clearly high leverage for you.
Explore other models and systems to tap into the strategies we all use to deal with stress and trauma. In fact, these strategies may have been locked into our DNA as a way to cope with trauma. Understanding how we deal with trauma is a major piece of the Enneagram system because it lifts us out of the harmful cycles and makes us healthier versions of ourselves.
Here at Personality Hacker, we consider personality type as the launching point to personal growth. We want to be with you on this journey as you break down the elements of your personality and use it for the improvement of your life and the lives of those around you.
–Charis Branson: Inspired by PHQ | QUESTIONS: Trauma and Personality Tests podcast
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