Perhaps the most common response brought forward by freshly minted personality junkies discovering their type is, “Wow! This is all incredibly fascinating! But how is it actually, um, you know…useful?” And just like that, the exhilaration of the initial “aha!” moment promising proselytes an opportunity for self-discovery is replaced with a deflating “womp womp womp” and the chirping of crickets. Simply put, type descriptions, however insightful, have the unfortunate quality of leaving potential personality enthusiasts with a nagging sense that they’ve only received half of the instruction manual—namely, the list identifying the parts and no, well, instructions. It’s this line of inquiry—the one that understandably demands more utility from typology—that frequently puts a swift end to any deeper, more meaningful exploration of type dynamics for the casual student of personality psychology.
To be sure, there are some personality devotees who have managed to quiet these nagging concerns by asserting a sort of self-evidentiary logic that implies the value of knowing type traits lies in being able to identify type traits in others. For those content with such obvious reasoning, there is no shortage of places to put that knowledge to work in the form of personality-based websites and online discussion forums, all seeking to flesh out the personality types of every character imaginable, real or fictional, from Adolf Hitler to Wonder Woman. And it doesn’t stop there. Thanks largely to the popularity of TV dramas like Criminal Minds and NCIS, others have attempted to stretch the value of this self-evident logic even further to include the utility of using personality psychology to identify and ultimately catch would-be serial killers and unabombers.
But for those of us not planning to pursue our professional careers with the CIA as criminal profilers, what sort of practical value does taking a deeper interest in personality dynamics really offer? The key to that answer is cleverly implied by the question itself via the term “personality dynamics.” Indeed, at Personality Junkie we understand personality psychology to be a dynamic system, as opposed to static. In other words, personality type, in summa, is not merely descriptive, but also operational: a set of psychological parts working both intrapersonally and interpersonally for the purpose of effectively managing psychic energy. But what exactly does that mean?
Much like an auto mechanic is required to know the various part of a car, for example—the engine, the alternator, the battery, the radiator and so forth—there is a value to learning the psychological terms and descriptions. However, the ability to merely identify parts doesn’t tell the mechanic anything about how a car actually operates, or how the parts work together to create a dynamic, well-oiled machine. Simply memorizing the various personality types and their descriptions is a lot like learning the parts of a car without knowing how they actually make the car go.
Most personality taxonomies miss the dynamic nature of the psyche—namely, they leave energy out of the equation. A car is more than the sum of its parts; it’s what those parts have the potential to do. For the sea of personality skeptics out there resisting the idea that we are simply a laundry list of traits or descriptors, we hear you. The types, terms, and descriptions, like car parts, are not what makes an individual an individual; how these parts are utilized in concert with our potential (psychic) and kinetic (physical) energy to effectively do and become something more than the sum of personality parts is the essence of an individual.
Building on the car metaphor, the argument is that we’re not all built the same way. People, like cars, come in different makes and models (personality types). But, however different the builds, the goal for all cars is the same: to drive well and long. In other words, to get the best possible mileage. A car that isn’t getting optimal mileage, whether because of a clogged fuel filter, low tire pressure, etc., subsequently wastes precious energy. As human beings, we also desire to utilize energy as effectively and efficiently as possible in order to promote optimal well-being. The outcome of this kind of effective energy management is the stuff of life—the stuff that most of us are constantly striving for as living beings: joyfulness, enthusiasm, meaning and purposefulness, gratitude, and so on.
A critical part of well-being is, of course, physical: ensuring that our bodies are in good health, free from pain so we can perform the activities that help us thrive. The other part, however, is psychic. And like a smooth-running car, a healthy psyche is one in which is the energy available to it is being used to its optimal level. Unfortunately, for many of us, the psychological “check engine light” is flashing in the form of chronic stress, exhaustion, discontent, and overall restlessness, clueing us in to our less-than-optimal use of energy. In cases where other causes (clinically diagnosed psychological disorders, childhood trauma, abuse, etc.) cannot be found, personality psychology may provide some insight.
If we think of our personality as the user manual specific to our make and model of car, there is valuable information to be gleaned regarding how to keep our pysche running at its best should we choose to read past the list of parts. Familiarizing ourselves with the specific parts, as well as the broader theory of how an automobile actually works, puts us in a position to keep our car running at its best. In other words, the value of knowing our personality type lies in the power we can leverage by playing into our type as a way to effectively maximize the return on our energy investment, to help us live our best lives possible.
While I’ll refrain from taking potshots at other websites that cater more to the “personality as entertainment” crowd, those who have waded in the waters of pop-psychology and found it wanting should be enthused at the prospect of a more complex, dynamic personality system as we explore it here. In part two of this post, we’ll expand on the value of knowing your type to help effectively manage your energy in concert with the function stack, focusing on the specific ways we can know whether we’re utilizing our psychic energy effectively.