Question from Podcast Listener: Is It Healthy to Personality Type Teenagers?
My name is Lilly and I am 17 years old. Over the past year I have been doing a lot of research on the personality types and different typologies. I have identified myself as an INTP and as an Enneagram 5 and have read a few books on personality psychology and enjoy listening to your podcast. But, through all this research and introspection of my own personality type, a question has been following me, almost haunting me: am I, through typing myself and learning about other personality types, ‘condemning’ myself into one mode of thought or set of actions, as defined in that personality type? I am worried that, since I am only 17 and know my brain has not fully developed yet, I am trying to force myself to be someone else. Yes, I do resonant with what these type descriptions are saying and can see myself in them, and yes I do feel like I can be a detached enough judge myself honestly, but at the same time, do I only feel this way now? Am I, because of my age, unable to see my ‘true type’? I guess what I am really trying to ask here is, can a teenager, can someone who’s brain has scientifically not fully developed know their personality type and, is it healthy in their overall development to do so?
First of all, that is a FANTASTIC question, especially for someone your age. You’re already considering how our ‘perceptions define our reality’ and trying to be careful about your perceptions. That’s incredible for someone your age.
Second, your type in Myers-Briggs and in the Enneagram are just facets of your personality. They aren’t intended to tell you who you are. No two people are identical, and so all personality typology systems are, by definition, incomplete.
There’s a quote I use a lot when it comes to personality types:
The map is not the territory. – Alfred Korzybski
We use maps to help us navigate unfamiliar terrain, but we never mistake the map for the actual terrain. It’s a map – a representation. It’s a guide, not the actual ground where we place our feet.
The same applies with personality types (and especially personality typing teenagers). They’re maps, guides we can use to navigate parts of our personalities we might otherwise have trouble grasping or understanding (mostly because we’re ‘too close’ to see things clearly). But it’s a mistake to think a personality type profile IS the person. Just like it’s a mistake to think a map is actual ground one travels.
With that perspective in mind, as you read profiles of INTPs and Enneagram 5’s, see them as guides to help understand how you might work. They put language to things that are instinctive and have no language, so they’re handy as maps. But if what you authentically choose to do or how you authentically feel doesn’t match a description you read online or in a book, don’t give it a second thought. You will change and adapt and grow in all sorts of ways, like all people do throughout their lives, and shoehorning your behavior or self-perception to fit a description you once read is like walking on an actual map hoping it will take you from one place to another.
That said, if the descriptions of INTP and Enneagram 5 feel authentic and resonate with you, utilize them as they were intended to be utilized: understand why you may be doing the things you do, give yourself permission to think differently from others, and give other people permission to think differently than you.
You may be “wrong” about your personality type, and different descriptions may match you better as you age. That doesn’t mean you changed types, it just means you’ve come to understand yourself better over time. That’s okay, too. I used to think I was an ENTJ when I was 15 years old. It took me a couple of years to realize I’m an ENTP. (My brother is an ENTJ and I was heavily mapped to him.) It felt more authentic once I realized I was an ENTP, but even when I had ‘mistyped’ myself there was still usefulness in me understanding personality types. I gave other people more grace for being different than I was, and I gave myself grace for not being like them.
Third, there’s a model in the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” I think is awesome for this conversation. I call it the Dependency Model. It’s normally applied to our relationships with people, but I think it works equally in our relationships with concepts and ideas. Basically, when we begin a relationship, we’re in the ‘dependence’ phase, or: “I need you and you need me.” We eventually move to ‘independence’, which is “I DON’T need you, and you don’t need me.” Eventually we move to ‘interdependence’, which is: “I don’t need you, and you don’t need me, but we can provide things for each other and become better people together.”
In personality types, we can become dependent on the model, itself. As in, we overvalue and over-rely on it to feel comfortable in the world. Eventually we move to independence, and this is usually when people start thinking typologies are bull and stop typing others. The most healthy experience, though, is interdependence. Which means, you don’t NEED personality types, but you haven’t completely rejected them, either. It’s more that you use them when it makes sense, and stop using them when they stop making sense.
Basically, as with all maps, when they cease to be helpful we put them away. And when they’re helpful again, we take them back out. Do the same with personality types. When they’re useful, use them. When they aren’t (like forcing a perception of yourself on yourself), “fold it up” and put it away. That doesn’t mean turn away from uncomfortable information – discomfort is often when something is the MOST useful. It just means when you find yourself feeling dependent on your type description it may be time to fold up the map.
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