MBTI: MBTI’s Limits and the Three Levels of Personality
One thing that’s great about MBTI is that it allows me an immediate window to a person’s general understanding of the world. It’s can lead to an open-ended discussion about a person that allows all parties to join in. On one hand, we’re talking about something I’m interested in (MBTI) and something they’re interested in at the same time (Themselves!).
But what are the limits and full extensions of MBTI? Certainly it’s more than merely a conversation topic, while a generalized test based on one’s own answers can only go so far, right? How can we know someone better than a complex system of stereotypes?
The initial idea for this post is that MBTI has its good and bad qualities. We start getting into right and wrong when we begin to stereotype and base our judgements on an entire type by what we see online. Now, to the outside world that doesn’t know or care about MBTI, this wouldn’t matter at all.They don’t see type so maybe they’re better off without it; they don’t see people with four letters above their head and don’t put them into one of sixteen categories that really are only theory when all is said and done.
Only you’re not supposed to use MBTI that way anyway. Yet even using it to it’s full potential can only let you know someone so well anyway before you either revert to stereotyping or choose to go deeper with whoever is in question.
Dan McAdams is a teacher and an author, among other things. But of all the things McAdams may be known for, his work on the different levels of personality may be his most interesting. McAdams has introduced to the concept of the three levels of knowing a person. Of these levels, each is a more intimate way of knowing someone than the level before it.
Say you’re digging a pool in your backyard and you happen to stab your shovel into a giant block of ice stuck in the ground. When it thaws, a caveman that looks like Brendan Fraser wakes up from being in his frozen slumber for centuries. You wake him, you take him, guy. We’ll call him Kramer. But now you’re going to tell your Pauly Shore-esque friend about the Kramer you’ve found. How do you describe him?
The first level deals in traits; broad descriptors of someone that can bring you to the level of saying you’ve met someone, but it won’t take you much further past that. You could know that Kramer is “extroverted,” “genuine,” and “loyal” from different interactions with him, but traits will only take you so far.
To know someone better, you’ll have to know the next level which is personal concerns. Anyone could describe a celebrity they’ve met at a meet-and-greet, but to take your relationship with someone past being an acquaintance, you’ll need to find out what they care about; skills, roles, values, goals. What does Kramer do? Was he a hunter or a gatherer? Was he a father, a brother, a husband? Can he dance the dance of his people or does he like to sit in the corner and let others be the center of attention? What does Kramer believe about life after death? It’s these things that will allow you to say you know a person better.
The third level of interpersonal knowledge is identity. McAdams refers to identity as “an inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose, and meaning.” What this means ultimately is finding out who the person is. You’re piecing together everything a person has done, is doing, and what might happen to really define a person which can’t be done with a simple description.
And this isn’t invalidating MBTI at all. This isn’t meant to say that MBTI isn’t really more than a witty topic of the moment. What I am stating is that limiting one to type and only type is what so many get caught up while trying to make sure they’re as special/cool/intelligent as they’ve always thought they were and this is self-defeating.
To elaborate, you are your type, but that’s not all you are. And that’s not all other people are either. Let’s not act like you’ve got somebody figured out because you know their type. Many have thought that I claim to know more about what goes on in their head than they do simply because of this MBTI system.
That, and I act like I know everything but that’s more of a personal problem.
But It doesn’t need to be used as some magic device that gives you a one-up on those around you. You’re not supposed to judge somebody based on type alone nor are you supposed to get along better with a type you’ve decided you like more. The people are still people regardless of type and we’ll only take MBTI past a party trick when it’s actually used to gain an initial understanding of those around us rather than limit our way of seeing them.