Why I like trait theories;

Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me if I’ve ever written a research paper, like, just for fun. Which I thought was kind of a funny question, not in a laugh out loud kind of way, but in an unexpectedly candid way, because my first flash of a thought was, “hasn’t everyone?” Only moments later did I realize that, that is indeed an inaccurate sentiment. No, of course everyone hasn’t written research papers for fun simply because it’s the most logical way to organize all of their sources and thoughts on the many extensive subjects that peak their interest, and certainly not since they were 8. I told him that I had, quite frequently, then inquired whether he ever had, and he told me the thought had never occurred to him until that moment. Again, I was taken aback, before settling into the reality that he is more than likely “the norm,” and I am the oddball. 


This is just a recent example out of hundreds, even hundreds of thousands of others of a similar nature. I’ve always been the oddball, the bookworm, the absent-minded professor. That, combined with my penchant for wide open spaces, androgynous clothing, days of solitude, heart-wrenching, tragic, dark stories and big words, has always kept me on the outside of that neatly packaged box labeled “normal.” I used to think that everyone thought like me, because I wasn’t aware that there could be another way of thinking, since this is the way my brain has always operated. It didn’t take long to realize I had a knack for offending people by saying exactly the wrong thing; whether that be correcting someone’s grammar mid-sentence, fact-checking their story before the punchline, or simply telling the truth when asked a straightforward question. You might be surprised how easily telling the truth can turn you into the arsehole in the room, you might not. 


I used to think there was something wrong with me, that I needed to change. I was hard pressed to find an individual who shared my brain language or understood my many, leaping thoughts and interests. And besides that, no matter how tactful I thought I was being at any given moment it was never gentle enough. But the other thing about that was, I’ve never actually cared whether or not people liked me or approved of me— this is apparently an unusual trait. And while I’ve always tried to live by the philosophy of “Do your best, follow your dreams & don’t be a dick,” I also adhere to the unfortunate maxim that some people are impossible to please. And while that’s not okay, it is the truth, or my currently undisputed version of it, and I simply do not have the time to worry about how displeased you might be with this or that, because I am doing my best, and whatever offensive thing I said, i meant it—but I didn’t mean it like that. So please, just save us all the time and talk to me directly about it, because my intentions are decent.


For these reasons and countless others that I intend to unpack as we move forward, I often thought I was broken when I was younger. And as silly as this might sound to you now, what changed that for me wasn’t finally finding a man who accepted me with all my quirks and eccentricities firmly in place and loved me in spite of… And it wasn’t the invention of social media or a life-changing lyric. It was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). 


A little backstory to the backstory: When I was sixteen nearly all of my friends were older than me, by a couple years to ten, fifteen, even twenty years. (Even now some of my best friends are twice my age.) My core group was two girls who I had grown up with, who were a couple years older than me, and one guy six-ish years older than us. One of our favorite things to do in those years was a thing we affectionately called “together-alone time.” We would rendezvous at our favorite coffee house in town, called Vinaka, with our separate, usually vastly different reading material, we would sit at the group table aaand read quietly together. Wild, I know. Occasionally, if someone read something particularly interesting they would bring it up to the group, often reading passages verbatim, even frighteningly long ones. Sometimes this would spark a vivid discussion, and sometimes with quiet nods or gently hums we would return to our independent readings.


It was one such day that our token male friend brought up the MBTI, which we all thought was vaguely interesting and eventually agreed to take the free test online. What did we have to lose? It was free and so were we. We knew each other better than anyone in our lives in those years, and after a brief description of what the letters meant we attempted to guess each other’s types. Naturally, we were all over the place on our guesses, since we didn’t actually understand any of them- but the one thing they unanimously agreed on was my undoubtable extroversion. Which came as a complete shock to me, even in my most sociable hour. 


We read our results out loud to each other in an In-n-Out Burger, and later, down a winding, possibly haunted, forest road. We laughed at how accurate the descriptions were and talked about the implications of our newfound insights. 


As fate would have it, those three turned out to be the three personality types that I have since noticed to be the trend of people I still gravitate towards. (I won’t tell you what they are, not just yet, because I don’t want you to think I won’t like you simply because your type isn’t in my top 4.) One of the girls and I are the same type, despite being two of the most dissimilar people you are likely to ever meet. (Interesting fact: we are still rather close and have since discovered that we score very similarly on almost every serious and silly personality typing test we have taken.) Well the cats out of the bag, I guess. One of my favorite types, is my own, but I’ll never tell you the other three.


That night I stayed up all night researching. I read articles until my eyes bled. I took notes, I recorded sources, I wrote summaries. I was high on understanding. For the first time, possibly ever, I felt ~*normal*~. I was reading about other people who thought just like me. I learned that my type was less than 3% of the population that had taken the test, and women of my type are less than .5%. My whole world was beginning to make sense. You know when you read something and the connection in your psyche is so intense that you feel you could’ve dictated it telepathically to the author? No? That’s okay, I expected that. But that’s how I felt reading article after article about situations that, with names and places changed, might as well have been my stories, page after page of thought processes that have been mine for as long as I can remember. It was incredible. And not once did I feel boxed in, labeled, or reduced to a formula. Instead I felt understood, affirmed, and connected. I suppose I wasn’t feeling normal at all, besides the fact that there is no such thing as normal, what I felt was so much more than that. In lieu of being ‘accepted’ into society I was given a legend to the human race. Now that I knew that all of these things I’ve always known about myself are indeed true, it was as if I was given a license to be myself, even though myself is quite unlike most everyone else.


And that, in a life-size nutshell, is what sparked, ignited and forever set ablaze my passion for trait theories. Not for sake of simplified labels and neater packaging of personality, but for sake of understanding, introspecting and growing into my best self, and with any luck helping you in your journey, as well.

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