This post will be dealing mostly with how, in my opinion, the various approaches to characterise personalities and the stereotypes that follow, affect a person. The reason I’m penning this down is that I too recently got interested in one of these tests that can be taken, called the MBTI test. Now, I’m not going to be going into the details of how this particular test characterises the different personalities, but what I can tell you in short is that it is based on the basic cognitive functions and the test is designed to decide which of these cognitive functions are more dominant in a person. Based on this, they (the people that created the test) sort people into one of sixteen personalities which are represented by four letters. The actual test is paid for, but there are a couple of free tests online which have been designed to mimic the actual one. So for the sake of accuracy, because I couldn’t decide if they were accurate no matter how accurate the description they gave me about my personality (which was scaringly accurate(so many ‘accurate’s)), I took three of them and was pleased to find that they gave me the same result. Apparently, I am an INTP. Which stands for Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving. Once again, won’t be going into the details of all of this.
Another personality characterisation, which according to me is the most accurate, is astrology. That, obviously, was sarcastic. Horoscopes and typical personality traits predicted by astrology and sun signs are all Barnum statements – statements that are so open ended and open to interpretation that anybody reading them would interpret them as applying to them.
Some of the most common stereotypes that are tagged on a Scorpio, which is my sun sign, are that we are obsessive, possessive, secretive, reserved, pensive, brooding, intense, and mysterious to name a (a little more than) few. The reason I mention astrology in particular will be made clear at the end.
Some of the stereotypes (not the traits that are described by the actual people that devised it) that are associated with people with a personality that’s typed as INTP would be that we are supposed to be feelingless robots that work only on logic (kind of like Spock), that we are all tech savvy nerds who can’t make eye contact with “normal” people because of crippling social anxiety, that we are a walking talking depository of random facts and knowledge, that we almost never sleep, are very lazy, and are always tired (I just realised that the “quality” of those stereotypes deteriorated as I went on… I don’t know if that makes sense but it feels right).
Anyway, I’m here to argue that stereotypes, whether they be positive or negative are a bad influence.
So after I found out what my personality type was, I spent a lot of time on Tumblr reading up about various stereotypes, about experiences people had with others that could be explained if their behaviours were in line with their personality type. I came across a lot of posts that started with an incident or a thought, and ended with “what an INTP thing to do”. But most of these posts really had nothing to do with how a person’s thinking or personality was. Some others were not even in line with the actual defined traits of that personality type. That struck to me as odd. It felt too forced.
Later on, even I found myself in the same position. The third time I had taken the test was after I had read up quite a lot about these stereotypes and I realised when I was taking it, that I was not thinking of those answers in accordance with what I am as a person but with what an INTP would answer them as. I was aware of this fact because I knew that there were certain traits that were typically reserved for INTP and I didn’t show those, but when I was answering the question, I went with the stereotypical answer. For example, I remember one of the questions being if I let my emotions guide my decisions. If on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being strongly disagreeing, I would have marked that question as a 2 because I know that in the past I’ve had emotional outbursts where I have made way too many (stupid) decisions that were directed by emotions only, but that was not what the stereotypical argument was. I ended up marking it as 1. Now I know that all the tests are differently scored, but it was no surprise to me when I found out that my leaning towards being INTP (they give you percentages to determine how much each of your cognitive functions is dominant over its counterpart) was far greater than the first two times I took it. I’m not saying that this small observation and the inference that I’ve got from it, is entirely scientific; but it is suggestive. What I’m trying to say is, that the more I knew about what an INTP personality was, the more I wanted to stick to it; suppressing my real self in the process. This was just one example, and I remember doing this for many other things and decisions in real life, none of which I can remember currently (kind of when you listen to a song and remember that you liked it or not but have no clue about how the song went).
So, stereotypes are bad. I don’t conform with most of the ones associated with my type. I do have feelings. In fact, sometimes it feels like I have way too many of them to even make out which one is dominant, and this inability to differentiate and communicate about feelings might be why it is misunderstood by people as a lack of them. Imagine a sheet of paper that is of some particular colour. Now imagine making criss crossed lines on the entire sheet of paper. If you zoom out enough to see the whole sheet and blur the lines out a little, the entire sheet would look to be the colour of the lines. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy, a better one almost surely exists, but it makes sense to me. I also seem to be good at and very comfortable with public speaking, something which typically doesn’t come naturally to somebody who is introvert.
But there’s a catch.
A Guilty Pleasure
Yes, despite of what I argued, there is an upside to stereotypes; at least to someone like me. I, maybe because of an inherent superiority complex, feel a kind of comfort when I read about the stereotypes surrounding my personality type and my astrological sign. It makes me very happy to read that I’m considered to be an intense person, that I don’t trust people easily and therefore my friendship is very exclusive, that when someone has a problem, they come to me because they expect me to always have a solution or that they’ll always come to me if they want a brutally honest opinion. I like it when people assume that I could be completely devoid of feelings if I chose to. The reason I’m using ‘I’ for all these statements and not ‘we’ anymore is because I want to stress the fact that I feel important and I value myself more when I attach these stereotypes to myself. I explicitly state that because I don’t want such a thing to be open to interpretation, I want it to be known. So whenever I am feeling low on self confidence, I read through all those stupid articles that describe ME based on when I was born; and if there is anyone out there who feels the same way but feels that it’s stupid to be believing these superficial statements, then I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with being stupid every now and then if it’s helping you.
That, is where I shall rest this case.