Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Christian Spirituality By Timothy Noxon

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Christian Spirituality
By Timothy Noxon
Two obstacles initially present themselves when considering the application of
Personality Types to Christian Spirituality. On one hand, American culture is one of
radical individualism where no person can be labeled, stereotyped or put in a box. This
obstacle is met with the assurance that Personality Types are descriptive, not prescriptive.
They do not determine personality; they merely describe it. In truth, personality types
help the individual better understand himself or herself, while better understanding the
differences of others at the same time. On the other hand, Evangelical Christian Culture
typically offers a uniform view of spirituality of one God, one church, one kind of prayer
and one quiet time. While there is tremendous value in unity, this unity demands the
value of individuality rather than its suppression. The diverse streams within Christianity
demonstrate its fullness and allow for a complete and whole body. Personality Types
offer a way for faith to further integrate into life both by complimenting and challenging
spirituality. The following history and summary of the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory
pave the way for it application in personal prayer and temperament.
History of Psychological Types
The Myers-Briggs Type Inventory has its psychological basis in the work of Carl
Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who lived from 1875 to 1961. In 1920, he published a
treatise called Psychological Types1 which presented his classification by attitudes and
functions. The work was a combination of his clinical observations with an extensive
study of their counterparts in literature, myth, and religion. Initially, his presentation met
1
The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, ed. William McGuire, vol. 6, Psychological Types. (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1971).
1
2
with little success mostly due to the predominance of Freudian Psychology in Europe and
growing influence of Behaviorism in the U.S.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Katharine C. Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs
Myers, developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a self-report questionnaire
based on Jung’s work. Though neither of two women were psychologists, their work was
prompted by a desire to help people find employment that would best fit their
personalities. They assigned the well-know letters (E-I, S-N, T-F, J-P) to Jung’s attitudes
and functions, adding the Judging/Perceiving label to identify the dominant function. The
development of the MBTI made Jung’s Psychological Types available to the general
public and spawned application in a number is fields.
A considerable amount of research arose surrounding the MBTI confirming its
utility and expanding its sphere of application.2 In 1976, a clinical Psychologist named
David Kiersey expanded on the MBTI in Please Understand Me3 by grouping the 16
types into 4 basic temperaments. He associated these to the four temperaments originally
put forth by Hippocrates: Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, and Melancholic. Though
Kiersey’s work challenges some of the assertions put forth by Jung, it provides a useful
perspective on personality and has spawned various applications as well.
2
For a concise overview of the important research that advanced the development and application of the
MBTI, see Lisa A. Suzuki, Joseph G. Ponterotto, and Paul J. Meller, eds, Handbook of Multicultural
Assessment: Clinical, Psychological, and Educational Applications, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
2001), 284-287.
3
David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types (Del Mar,
CA: Prometheus Nemesis, 1984).
3
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is comprised of Attitudes, Functions, and
Orientations. The attitudes are the ways individuals relate to the world as shown by the
direction of psychic energy. The two attitudes are Extraversion and Introversion. The
Extraversion Attitude (E) receives energy from and direct energy toward people and
objects in the outer world. The Introversion Attitude (I) receive energy from and direct
energy toward a subjective awareness or an inner world of ideas, concepts, and spirit.
The Functions are methods of integrating new data (perception) and making necessary
decisions (judgment). Jung labeled them irrational and rational function though Briggs
and Myers labeled them Perceiving and Judging function.
The Irrational or Perceiving Functions involve receiving and processing data
without evaluating or judging it and are Sensation and Intuition. The Sensation Function
(S) uses sense perception to focus on concrete tangible realities in the present and
preferring facts to ideas. Individuals demonstrating this function are primarily concerned
with the external physical world rather than the inner world. The Intuition Function (N)
uses perception through the unconscious without a concrete basis to leap from past to
present to future possibilities and prefers ideas to facts. Individuals demonstrating this
function are primarily concerned with the internal world of spirit and ideas rather than the
external world. The Rational or Judging Functions involve making necessary judgments
and decisions as to what to do with information provided by the perceiving function and
are Thinking and Feeling. The Thinking Function (T) uses principles of reasoning, logic,
impersonal analysis, and trusted methodology to evaluate information and situations.
4
The Feeling Function (F) uses empathy, personal feelings, and interpersonal relationships
to make a judgment, evaluating it on level of importance.
These two sets of Functions can be further categorized into the Dominant,
Auxiliary, Inferior and Tertiary Functions. The Dominant Function is the one relied on
most heavily. The opposite function within the set (of either the Judging or Perceiving
Functions) is the Inferior Function. The higher function of the remaining set is the
Auxiliary Function and will be relied upon by the Dominant Function. The opposite
function within the set is the Tertiary Function. The Dominant Function is determined by
the last set of letters: the Orientations. The Judging Orientation (J) is primarily
concerned with making judgments and decisions about how people and things should act.
In this case, the Rational/Judging Function is Dominant (either T or F) and the
Irrational/Perceiving Function is Auxiliary (either S or N). The Perceiving Orientation
(P) is primarily concerned with gathering more data and information without coming to
closure. In this case, the Irrational/Perceiving Function is Dominant (either S or N) and
the Rational/Judging Function is Auxiliary (either T or F). Use of the Dominant Function
varies depending on Attitude. Extraverts use the Dominant Function to interact with the
external world and the Auxiliary Function to interact with the internal world. Introverts
used the Dominant Function to interact with the internal world and the Auxiliary
Function to interact with the external world.
Several features are of note regarding the psychology behind the MBTI. Jung
clearly states that Psychological Types are innate and cites the clear distinction of traits in
early childhood as his evidence. Though not all agree with Jung, evidence shows a
strong stability in Type over time. Those that do change typically only differ in one of the
5
four preferences and often on a scale where the original preference was unclear. 4 Also,
the MBTI differs from other personality profiles in that its traits are measured
dichotomously, showing a preference for one trait over another rather than a point on a
normal curve. Thus higher scores on a given trait reflect a stronger preference rather than
a stronger trait. Briggs and Myers, as well as many subsequent researchers, tended to
favor integration as the goal of the inventory. The fully actualized individual would be
able to freely utilize each of the four Functions, while still retaining Dominant and
Auxiliary preferences. A developmental model suggests the cultivation of the four
functions at the following ages: Dominant from 6 to 12, Auxiliary from 12 to 20, Tertiary
from 20-35, and Inferior from 35 and on.5 However, Keirsey strongly disagrees and
advocates for growth by separation which he calls the principle of differentiation.6
4
Lisa A. Suzuki, Joseph G. Ponterotto, and Paul J. Meller, eds, Handbook of Multicultural Assessment:
Clinical, Psychological, and Educational Applications, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 284.
5
Robert & Carol Ann Faucett, Personality and Spiritual Freedom (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 81-
82.
6
Keirsey, 29.
6
Percentage of U.S. Population
7
Total
ISTJ
11-14%
11.6%
ISTP
4-6%
5.4%
ESTP
4-5%
4.3%
ESTJ
8-12%
8.7%
ISFJ
9-14%
13.8%
ISFP
5-9%
8.8%
ESFP
4-9%
8.5%
ESFJ
9-13%
12.3%
INFJ
1-3%
1.5%
INFP
4-5%
4.4%
ENFP
6-8%
8.1%
ENFJ
2-5%
2.4%
INTJ
2-4%
2.1%
INTP
3-5%
3.3%
ENTP
2-5%
3.2%
ENTJ
2-5%
1.8%
E
I
45-53%
47-55%
49.3%
50.7%
S
N
66-74%
26-34%
73.3%
26.7%
T
F
40-50%
50-60%
40.2%
59.8%
J
P
54-60%
40-46%
54.1%
45.9%
Prayer, Attitude and Functions
Each of the Personality Types will experience Prayer in a different way, being
drawn to some features and kinds while struggling with others. When approaching the
application of the MBTI to spirituality, it is important to understand the effects of
personality on the experience of a spiritual exercise. Given that the general goal of MBTI
is integration, it will be highly valuable to experiment with kinds of prayer and spiritual
exercises that play to opposite preferences. At the same time, it will be highly beneficial
to maintain a backdrop of prayer and exercises in accordance to individual preferences to
avoid excessive frustration or despair.
The Attitudes and Functions each offer certain preferences toward kinds of
prayer. Introversion will naturally be drawn to a more internal journey where prayer is
inward, quiet and inspirational. Though Extraverts also have an equally valid internal
life, they will be drawn more toward other- or action-centered prayer, often publicly or in
7
Myers & Briggs Foundation, “How Frequent Is My Type?” The Myers & Briggs Foundation [home
page on-line]; available from
http://www.myersbriggs.org/my_mbti_personality_type/my_mbti_results/how_frequent_is_my_type.asp;
Internet; accessed 24 March 2007.
7
groups. When considering the Functions, it is especially helpful to utilize the
development outline mentioned above: Dominant from 6 to 12, Auxiliary from 12 to 20,
Tertiary from 20-35, and Inferior from 35 and on. The practice of Lectio Divina is a
good tool which requires interaction with all four functions: Lectio involves Sensation,
Meditatio involves Thinking, Oratio involves Feeling and Contemplatio involves
Intuition.
Utilizing Sensation in prayer relies on the here and now, using senses to
experience the presence of God in the present moment. Sensation benefits from applying
the senses to scripture or to others, being present and listening. Utilizing Intuition in
prayer looks to future possibilities and utilizes symbols such as those found in liturgy.
Intuition benefits from imagination and from centering prayer. Utilizing Thinking in
prayer prefers order and routine while praying for truth, justice and peace. Thinking
benefits from the structure of liturgy and from praying the hours or the Divine Office.
Utilizing Feeling in prayer leans on relationship and intimacy with God as well as
personal history. Feeling benefits from the healing of past hurts though the presence of
Jesus, the Jesus prayer, and Spiritual Direction.
Temperament and Spirituality
Kiersey identifies four temperaments and associates them with the MBTI, naming
them after Greek gods: SJ (Epimetheus), NF (Apollo), SP (Dionysus) and NT
(Prometheus). In their 1982 study, the Prayer and Temperament Project8, Michael and
Norrisey examined the connection between these four temperaments and spirituality.
8
The results are presented in Chester P Michael and Marie C. Norrisey, Prayer and Temperament
(Charlottesville, VA: Open Door, 1991).
8
They found similarities between the temperaments and four streams in church
spirituality: Ignatian (SJ), Augustinian (NF), Franciscan (SP) and Thomistic (NT).
The Ignatian (SJ) temperament accounts for 40% of the general population and
50% of church attenders.9 It is characterized by a deep sense of obligation, a desire to
feel useful, a strong work ethic and a strong sense of tradition. Those having this
temperament are often incapable of refusing responsibility and overworked. They make
good administrators, have good common sense and are always prepared. Ignatian
temperament spirituality usually consists of a carefully organized regimen, which is
ordered and planned and is seen a continuity with historical faith. Those demonstrating
this spirituality see faith as a journey and utilize imagination and observation to bear
practical fruit. They enjoy projection, prayer that uses sensible imagination to project
back into the Biblical scene.
The Augustinian (NF) temperament accounts for 12% of the general population
but as much as 50% of those who make retreats and frequent houses of prayer.10 It is
characterized by creativity, optimism, strong verbal skills, persuasiveness and
outspokenness. Those having this temperament are typically good listeners and
peacemakers, hate conflict and tense situations, prefer face to face communication,
cannot handle negative criticism and feel hurt if treated impersonally. They relate well to
others and are enthusiastic, empathetic and compassionate. Augustinian temperament
spirituality usually finds meaning in everything, wants to make a unique contribution and
needs to understand God’s love in the present, sins and all. Those demonstrating this
9
Ibid., 47.
10
Ibid., 60.
9
spirituality tend to be the most cared for spiritually and need this care. They benefit from
transposition, prayer that uses creative imagination.
The Franciscan (SP) temperament accounts for 38% of the general population.11
It is characterized as being free, unconfined, compulsive, not tied down by rules, loving
action and crisis-oriented. Those having this temperament respond quickly and
dramatically; are flexible, open-minded and willing to change their position; and are good
troubleshooters, negotiators and diplomats. They bring a sense of excitement, are the life
of the party, seem full of stories, and survive temporary setbacks. Franciscan
temperament spirituality combines an active view of God speaking in creation through
the senses with a need for other-centered action and acts of service. Those demonstrating
this spirituality are impetuous, generous, spontaneously praising and seizing the present.
They need real and literal rather than symbolic and thrive through celebration.
The Thomistic (NT) temperament accounts for 12% of the general population.12
It is characterized by a syllogistic method of thinking (e.g. the Scholastic Method), a
progression of thought from cause to effect and a desire to understand, comprehend,
explain, predict and thereby control reality. Those having this temperament are logical;
intelligent; gravitate toward things complicated, exacting, or challenging the mind; they
thirst for truth and hate error. They tend to be perfectionists, workaholics, and poor
losers, often having poor interpersonal relationships and emotional responses. Thomistic
temperament spirituality is similar to modern science with a firm emphasis on self
discipline, preferring neat and orderly forms of spiritual life. Those demonstrating this
11
Ibid., 69.
12
Ibid., 79.
10
spirituality pursue transcendental values, such as truth, goodness, beauty, unity, love, and
life. They thrive by asking questions like who, what, when, where, why, how in prayer.
Temperament Comparisons
Myers-Briggs
Greek Gods (Kiersey)
Church Fathers
Hippocrates
Church Leaders
Gospels
Biblical Characters
Gary Smalley
DiSC
Children's Literature
Charlie Brown Characters
SJ
Epimethean
Ignatius of Loyola
Melancholic
James
Matthew
Moses
Beaver
Consciencious
Eeyore
Linus
SP
Dionysian
Francis of Assisi
Sanguine
Peter
Mark
Peter
Otter
Influence
Tigger
Snoopy
13
NT
Promethean
Thomas Aquinas
Phlegmatic
John
John
Abraham
Golden Retriever
Steadiness
Pooh
Charlie Brown
NF
Apollonian
Augustine of Hippo
Choleric
Paul
Luke
Paul
Lion
Dominance
Rabbit
Lucy
Conclusion
The application of the MBTI to spirituality occurs on two levels, both personal
and in interactions with others. For the individual, an exploration of Personality Types
offers better self-understanding as well as a dimension for growth based on integration.
Within Christianity, this allows the individual to understand preferences and challenges
in prayer, worship and other spiritual disciplines. For interactions with others,
Personality Types provide a quick and general way to understand the attitude and action
preference of others and respond accordingly. For the individual in Christian ministry,
this allows for leadership based on the needs of others and for growth through
appreciating diversity.
13
This chart is a compilation of Myers-Briggs through Gospels from Chester P Michael and Marie C.
Norrisey, Prayer and Temperament (Charlottesville, VA: Open Door, 1991), 16-22, and Biblical through
Charlie Brown Characters from Young Ladies Christian Fellowship, “Personality Types,” Young Ladies
Christian Fellowship [home page on-line]; available from http://www.ylcf.org/you/personality.htm;
Internet; accessed 11 March 2007.
Bibliography
Benfari, Robert. Understanding Your Management Style. New York: Lexington, 1991.
Faucett, Robert & Carol Ann Faucett. Personality and Spiritual Freedom. New York:
Doubleday, 1985.
Francis, Leslie J. Personality Type and Scripture: Exploring Mark’s Gospel. London:
Mowbray, 1997.
Johnson, Reginald. Your Personality and the Spiritual Life. Formerly titled Celebrate,
My Soul. Gainesville, FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type, 1999.
Jung, C. G. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Edited by William McGuire. Vol. 6,
Psychological Types. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.
Keirsey, David and Marilyn Bates. Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament
Types. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis, 1984.
Michael, Chester P. and Marie C. Norrisey. Prayer and Temperament. Charlottesville,
VA: Open Door, 1991.
Myers & Briggs Foundation. “How Frequent Is My Type?” The Myers & Briggs
Foundation. Home page on-line. Available from
http://www.myersbriggs.org/my_mbti_personality_type/my_mbti_results/how_freque
nt_is_my_type.asp. Internet; accessed 24 March 2007.
Suzuki, Lisa A., Joseph G. Ponterotto, and Paul J. Meller, eds. Handbook of Multicultural
Assessment: Clinical, Psychological, and Educational Applications, 2nd ed. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.
Young Ladies Christian Fellowship. “Personality Types.” Young Ladies Christian
Fellowship. Home page on-line. Available from
http://www.ylcf.org/you/personality.htm. Internet; 11 March 2007.
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