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Blog Post #4: The Power of Four Simple Letters

Updated: Dec 20, 2023



As I have done in my book and in this blog, I will continue to use myself as a case study of sorts. Using my lived experiences to demonstrate what is possible, and to help guide others toward finding what works best for them.


I have always been the kind of person that never had a problem talking about or expressing my feelings. Awareness of feelings has always come easy for me, mine and others. When someone is expressing vulnerability by allowing their true feelings to come to the surface, my instinct is to lean in and create a safe space for that to happen without judgment. Empathy is my superpower; that being said, before I truly understood myself, and my own emotions, my empathy for others didn’t allow me to truly have empathy for myself.


As a sensitive being, I tend to feel everything very intensely, many times even if it has nothing to do with me. It was a long time before I understood how to cope with the immensity of that kind of emotion; as a result, my emotions often spilled out at very inopportune times. When the depth of my emotions become too much to contain, they usually escape my body in the form of tears.


The older I got, the more I realized how problematic this could become. Not to mention, as a sensitive, emotional adult who had yet to heal from childhood trauma I was just walking around like a ticking time bomb. I hadn't dealt with my stuff, and hadn't learned how to regulate my emotions, so they often bubbled up without my control or consent. I also started to realize how uncomfortable it made a lot of people when I did cry; my trauma and codependency led to feeling guilty when that happened, and eventually I allowed myself to accept the belief that crying is a sign of weakness.


I don’t think I’m wrong to say that it is a pretty largely adapted societal norm that we as a collective in the U.S. have received the message that it is not okay to cry publically. There are times when it seems to be more socially acceptable, like in the midst of a horrific traumatic event. But, even then, someone who is stoic and appears to put up a seemingly "brave" front is often celebrated and rewarded more than the person brave enough to show their vulnerability by crying. I'm not saying one is better than the other, just that both reactions are valid, and show different types of strength.


If you disagree with me, great! Let’s talk about it. I challenge you to take notice the next time someone cries, even in a group of close friends, both men and women, they often apologize for crying. Regardless if the group of friends is supportive of them crying, the person crying will often turn their body language inward or away from the group, and do everything they can to become smaller and hide themselves from being seen. In my opinion that proves the societal norm. The message we as a society have received and often perpetuate, simply put: vulnerability = shame and weakness.


Although feeling and expressing emotions comes easy for me, I understand the desire to avoid it; it's not exactly fun. I don't personally enjoy the act of crying, unless it's as the result of laughing so hard that I cry, but even that is a little physically draining. Crying is a physically taxing process that often leads to my nose running, my face turning red and blotchy, and when it is really intense sometimes my head even hurts. However, the emotional release I get from crying goes deep emotionally and physiologically; as a result, I believe it creates a more lasting positive impact on my mental health.


Crying requires me to sit in my feelings and feel my way through them instead of distracting myself from them. Crying allows me to bear witness to my true feelings and let them wash over me. I do believe that the best cries are often the ones I can have alone, so I can feel everything I need to feel without holding back; then, the best part is the release I feel of letting all that shit go.


I always knew I felt better after a good cry and that I seemed to feel things deeply; but, because I allowed myself to feel shamed by the societal norm that crying or expressing emotions equals weakness, I wasn’t able to see my process as a strength. The beginning of understanding that for myself started in grad school when I was introduced to the personality type assessment called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).


The MBTI is based on Swiss psychiatrist, Carl G. Jung’s theory of Psychological Types. I’m not going to do a deep dive on Jung’s theory or Briggs’ and Myers’ further development of it here, but in short, Briggs and Myers developed the Indicator that made Jung’s theories more accessible to be used in everyday life. My purpose here is to break down the basics of the MBTI and Jung’s theory and bring it back to how it helped me on my healing journey.


Carl Jung’s theory is based on his observations that people’s active minds involved one of two mental activities: perceiving, or taking in information, or judging, organizing that information and coming to conclusions. Jung also identified two contrasting ways people perceive, which he called sensation (referred to as Sensing in the MBTI) and intuition, as well as two contrasting ways people judge, which he called thinking and feeling. Lastly, he observed that individuals tended to either focus their energy and be energized more by the external world of people, experience, and activity, which he called extraversion; or, introversion, in which individuals focus their energy and are energized by the internal world of ideas, memories, and emotions. These pieces put together became what are known as “Jung’s Eight Mental Functions.” Jung believed that all of the mental functions are mostly unconscious and undeveloped as infants. As we grow and develop, so do the different functions, (Introduction to Type).


The MBTI was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs, and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. They studied and elaborated on Jung's ideas and applied these ideas to help them have a deeper understanding of the people around them. Myers was inspired to develop the Indicator by what she saw as the “waste of human potential in World War II.” An earlier proponent of inclusivity, Myers wanted to “give a wide range of individuals access to the benefits she found in knowing psychological type and appreciating differences,” (Introduction to Type).


For me, appreciating differences in others was never an issue; rather, appreciating, understanding and valuing my own uniqueness was where I struggled. Most of my life I felt so isolated and alone being a sensitive and emotional person; understanding psychological type and discovering my MBTI type was a huge first step toward self-awareness and self-acceptance.


When I talk about self-awareness I believe that there are different ways of being self-aware. For most of my life I struggled with being painfully self-aware, and I tended to view myself through a self-deprecating negative lens; this is not the kind of self-awareness that leads to true self-love and self-acceptance. As a child, adolescent and well into adulthood, I longed for a sense of belonging. The fact that I always felt so different from my family, my friends, my co-workers, etc., only amplified that feeling; so, the first step in a long journey toward self-acceptance for me started with knowing there were others like me.


In the MBTI, there are 16 different personality types that are broken down to a four- letter type, organized in four different dichotomies (contrasts) based on Jung’s theory. Within the 16 different types in the table below, you can see clear patterns of both differences and similarities. The purpose of the Indicator is to help you to better understand yourself, as well as how you interact with others. Below are the 16 different combinations that make up the MBTI:


The four-letter type is based off where you feel you best fit within each dichotomy. Below is a broad overview of the four dichotomies that make up an MBTI type:



The full explanation of type and the process of determining your best fit type goes much deeper than reading a quick blurb in a table, but this is meant to be a quick snapshot for those unfamiliar with the MBTI. The process of determining your best-fit type is a very personal process, and it takes some much longer than others to feel comfortable settling on something that resonates with them. For me, it was clear as day the very first time I read through these brief descriptions. Those who know me well, or even those of you who have read all of my previous blog posts, it will probably be no surprise that my MBTI type is ENFJ, Extraversion iNtuition Feeling Judging.


Characteristics frequently associated with a person who prefers ENFJ as stated in the Introduction to Type book I received when I became a Certified MBTI Practitioner reads:

Warm, empathetic, responsive, and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.


It was the first time I remember feeling seen in such a positive way for who I was, and what I valued. Even as I write this now, reading that description again after all the years of healing, growth, development and enlightenment, it reads like a manifestation for what I believe to be my purpose in life. I felt that a little the first time I read it, but wasn’t in the place emotionally where I could truly believe I was capable of all of that. I’m a little struck by how full circle it all feels in this moment; and I'm filled with gratitude to know how far I have come since the first time I read it. Additionally, it feels good knowing that I am actively working to fulfill my calling to help others fulfill their potential.


I completely understand that for some people the MBTI or other personality tools or assessments can feel limiting; like they are literally being broken down into some simple description in a box. The reason I found it to be so helpful was that it helped me begin to make sense of who I am, and validated that it was okay that I was not like everyone else. My experience with family addiction, codependency, being bullied and navigating a gut-wrenching divorce in early adolescence had shattered my self-esteem. I had learned that in order to stay safe, I had to dim my light and hide my authentic self.


Although each letter of my MBTI and what it represented resonated completely with me, and the combination of all four letters that make up my type, ENFJ illustrate my unique characteristics, the one that helped me the most was "F". I am a person who prefers "Feeling" when it comes to decision making. Below is a side-by side comparison of common characteristics of the T-F Dichotomy that spoke to me in my process:

Thinking: They want to mentally remove themselves from the situation to examine to pros and cons objectively.

Feeling: They mentally place themselves into the situation to identify with everyone so they can make decisions based on their values about honoring people.

  • Analytical

  • Empathetic

  • Use cause-and-effect resoning

  • Guided by personal values

  • Solve problems with logic

  • Assess impacts of decisions on people

  • Strive for an objective standard of truth

  • Strive for harmony & positive interactions

  • May appear "tough-minded"

  • May appear "tenderhearted"

(Source: Introduction to Type)


As a person who prefers "Feeling" in my decision making, it doesn't mean I don't have the capacity to be analytical or use logic to solve problems; it just means that what comes natural to me is to use empathy and to put myself into the situation rather than stepping outside of it. Jung, Myers and Briggs all agree that we are all capable of both sides in each dichotomy; one just tends to be a more natural tendency. The goal in assessing one's MBTI is to identify our strengths as well as our struggles; and from there we can see a clear path toward growth and development.


Jung's theory is based on his observations that "differences in behavior result from people's inborn tendencies to use their minds in different ways. As people act on these tendencies, they develop patterns of behavior," (Introduction to Type). Jung believed that we start with a "true type" that he called a "constitutional base" and that differences in psychological type can be noticeable in children almost from birth, (MBTI Manual).


There are a number of things can can influence the results of an MBTI assessment, or any assessment tool and skew results, here are a few examples: 1) If you have already been working on developing areas where you used to struggle, you may have difficulty in how to answer some of the assessment questions, (hint: go with what you preferred before development). 2) Being under a great deal of stress, or dealing with a major life change like divorce or a death in the family may cause you to answer questions differently. 3) If you answer the questions situationally, for example, "That is how I would respond at work, but I would respond differently at home".


An assessment is one way of getting close to your preferred type, but for the best results it is best to work with an experienced professional to help explore that process fully. Another common issue skewing results is if people simply don't answer honestly for a number of reasons. The most important piece of the puzzle is that you feel like you are comfortable with the end result, and that you were an honest, active participant in the outcome of that process.


As with any assessment, there is the potential of someone feeling labeled and limited, and for some that feeling may never change, and that is okay. Like any kind of self-exploration, the MBTI is just one of many tools available. For me, it helped me to begin to validate my feeling side in a way that helped me shift my perspective away from shame and towards love and acceptance. I also found it to be a constructive way to highlight where I struggled, and how I might benefit if I not only embraced my strengths, but also actively worked to develop beyond my preferences.


The MBTI and Carl Jung's theory were not the key that unlocked all the doors to my healing journey, but it was a fundamental step in getting to where I am today. When I discovered it, I was so eager to learn more, and my joy of training led me to become a Certified MBTI Practitioner after my first year of grad school. As I continued to learn and grow I added more tools to my toolbox, and like the MBTI, each of them came exactly when they were meant to at pivotal points in my life.


I still use my knowledge of personality type to make sense of the world and how I'm impacted by it, as well as how I impact others who have similar or different preferences than me. Not a day goes by when I don't find it a helpful resource even in the smallest of incidences. As a well-informed ENFJ, I am also aware that I am also among one of the rarest of types hovering around 2-5% of the population; knowing that also helped me to understand why I struggled for so long to find people like me.


Through my healing, I have learned how to better regulate my emotions. I still cry, but I no longer feel the need to rescue others from their discomfort when I do; that is their work, not mine. I have a number of tools I use, and a solid self-care regimen that allows me to not be overcome by my emotions too much, but they still spill out sometimes, and I'm okay with that. I'm now proud of my ability to feel so deeply and empathize with others. One part of my self-care sometimes includes a movie that allows me to indulge in ALL the feels with the purpose of cleansing the emotional build up that can happen over time. I usually do that by myself so I can really let my ugly cry flow, and let all of that shit go!


At this point in my life, I celebrate my uniqueness rather than lament about it. I have also built a supportive group of people in my life who both appreciate my unique strengths, and know how to challenge me when I need to lean into further growth where I struggle. The journey continues; and I continually find that the more authentically I live my life, the more I am guided to the people, places and things that bring me true joy and allow my light to shine.


References:

Introduction to Type, Sixth Edition; Isabel Briggs Myers; Copyright 1998 by CPP, Inc.


MBTI Manual, Third Edition, Isabel Briggs Myers, Mary H. McCauley, Naomi L. Quenk & Allen L. Hammer; Copyright 1998, 2003 by Peter B. Myers and Katherine D. Myers.

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