When we’re first learning about type, we tend to understand the personality types and preferences in light of what we know about ourselves. After testing as a Perceiver (P), for instance, we associate this preference with our own characteristics, such as being outwardly receptive or adaptable.
This approach seems to work fine until we encounter others with our same personality type whose attitudes or behaviors differ significantly from our own. Perhaps we’ve typed as an Extravert (E), for instance, but feel like were less talkative or sociable than other Extraverts we’ve met.
If we notice a lot of these sorts of discrepancies, it’s easy to feel confused about the types, including our own type. We may even wonder if we’ve identified with the wrong type.
To reduce confusion over type differences and discrepancies, it helps to understand their roots and causes. We must also find ways of demarcating type within a context of additional personality variables that may obscure or even contradict it. These will be our aims in this post.
Causes of Type Differences & Discrepancies
When it comes to explaining type discrepancies, we have a few options at our disposal. As mentioned earlier, one option is to consider the possibility that we’ve been typed incorrectly. Hence, a self-typed INTJ who fails to resonate with other INTJs may wish to revisit his type designation.
Second, it’s possible that others are the ones guilty of typing errors. In our research and experience, for instance, it’s not uncommon for INFPs to mistype as INFJs, which is one reason we developed our INFJ-INFP Type Clarifier assessment.
Here’s another consideration. We know that all personality types use four functions (i.e., dominant, auxiliary, etc.), which means they have at least different four ways of operating. And the degree to which they use or emphasize certain functions (or combinations of functions) can dramatically affect their overall presentation.
For example, in our post, 3 Roles of the INFJ, we discuss three types of INFJs—artists, theorists, and counselors—each of which emphasizes a different combination of functions. Although they’re all INFJs, it’s easy to imagine how INFJ artists might present differently from theorists or counselors.
Type as the Foundation of Personality
At Personality Junkie, we see type as the foundation of personality. In all likelihood, it’s genetically determined, which is why it tends to remain consistent over time. And if type is the fundamental structure or pattern, other traits or tendencies are best viewed as personality “overlays.”
While these “overlays” come in a variety forms, many stem from environmental variables like culture, upbringing, birth order, past traumas, job demands, etc. These overlays account for the lion’s share of personality discrepancies among individuals of the same type. Birth order seems particularly influential in this respect.
Therefore, if we’re want to be good typologists, we need to find ways of looking through or beneath these overlays in order to discern the type that underlies them.
Types are like cookies, each cut from one of 16 cutters that has its own distinct shape. Imagine, for a moment, making a batch of ENFP cookies. While these cookies will all share the same ENFP shape, we can embellish them in any number of ways—adding different combinations of frostings, sprinkles, artwork, etc. Moreover, those admiring our well-decorated ENFP cookies might be captivated by the ways in which each cookie is special or unique. In so doing, however, they may fail to notice their commonalities—that they’re all the same shape, cut from the same mold.
Similarly, it’s not uncommon for personality embellishments or overlays to cloud or distract from an individual’s underlying type. We therefore need to find ways of looking beyond these distractions and obstructions in order to apprehend the type that underlies them.
Discerning the Underlying Type
We all know that a sculpture looks quite different when we view it from different angles and perspectives—from the front, top, side, back, etc. Despite these differences, we recognize the sculpture as a single entity and that each perspective offers more information about its multidimensional nature.
Likewise, there are different ways of viewing and identifying personality types. In most cases, we’re wise to utilize more than one approach—to study a personality from multiple perspectives—to ensure we’ve collected enough information. If instead we were to focus on only one aspect, we’re more apt to misled by a personality overlay, mistaking the frosting for the cookie, if you will.
At the core of each type are the four functions which make up its cognitive toolbox. Hence, one means of type identification involves paying attention to these cognitive processes. We do so by way of inference, such as observing the tone and content of a person’s speech, the nature and frequency of their expressions, the style and content of their writing, etc. This data can clue us into which of the 8 cognitive functions they’re using and the degree to which each predominates.
As discussed in my post, “Face” Thyself: How Your Body Reveals Your Personality, the body (i.e., our physical features, expressions, postures, eye movements, etc.) is a window to our personality and provides additional clues for type identification. In the words of Carl Jung, “Bodily traits are not merely physical, nor mental traits merely psychic.” Recognizing physical indicators of the types and the functions is another indispensable tool in the typologist’s toolkit.
Again, it’s advisable not to rely solely on any single approach to typing. Instead, we want to approach type from multiple angles—like a connoisseur of art—refining our understanding as we go. While experienced type practitioners may get a strong first impression of a person’s type, in many cases things aren’t quite so obvious and some amount of digging is required before the type is made fully apparent.
Unsure of Your Type?
If you’re still unsure of your type, we’ve developed a number of tools to help you clarify your type:
My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type (our most popular book)