I went to a Myers-Briggs workshop for pastors today. It's not my first go-round with Myers-Briggs. I remember being so fascinated with the type indicator when I first learned about it that I could not resist "typing" everyone I met. My karma ran into my dogma when my daughter became equally fascinated a couple of years ago and started to do the same thing. I remember trying to figure out my parents' types, getting them to take the MBTI short form, talking to them about it.
"Daddy," I said, "just because you scored as Thinking doesn't mean you don't have feelings, too."
"Well, Mawtha," he answered in his slow drawl, "maybe I don't!"
My mother came out right on the line for 3 out of 4 categories; it would have taken a more subtle version of the instrument to capture her, perhaps. And at the age she took it, I suppose she had done some of the lifework that brought her closer to the middle, naturally. My attempts to comprehend her did not end with her death, but there was one breakthrough moment that came for me the last time I did one of these workshops, an insight into how our relationship influenced my approach to the world, at least in her lifetime.
I've done some official version of the MBTI four times: twice in 1992 (for a church couple's group event and for a church governing board retreat, different facilitators so I did it twice within a few months); for a pastor's retreat about five years ago, and for today's workshop. There were differences between the first two scores, and I attribute those to the loss of a baby in between. I was grieving, and felt significantly less extraverted than usual. But even then, my letters were the same as the previous time, ENFJ.
It became a complaint from a certain person in my life (you know who you are–if you're reading…), that I was "just so J."
So it came as a surprise to take the test some years later, 13 or 14, and get a different set of letters, and to have them be ENFP.
I remember sitting in the living room at Rockcraft Lodge, surrounded by people I knew pretty well, wondering if I knew myself! I read the materials on ENFP, including that famous prayer interrupted by, "Look, a bird!"
They have a lot in common, those two ENF types. It's no wonder I felt okay about the other type description. But I've come to believe that in the dozen years between tests, the first two being followed closely by my mother's death, I came out from under her influence.
I realized that as a child, my people-pleasing little ENF self had bent toward J because it seemed like the simplest way to fit into her world.
I couldn't be I.
I couldn't be S.
Maybe I could be J. Maybe I could strive to be more orderly, to organize my brain like the one that penciled beautiful lists on paper lined and unlined.
I guess I gave it a good try. But in the years after her death and my divorce, I loosened my grip and found it felt right, and all those years later, a test validated the emergence of what was there all along.
I don't know why I'm a person who tries so hard to adapt to the people around her. I suspect it's a combination of my nature and the way my mother raised me, and I don't want to lose that quality entirely. But at 49, I wouldn't mind a life that fits like a hand-knit sock instead of the high heels borrowed from my mother's closet.