M's Reviews > Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type

Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers
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's review
Jul 09, 2010

it was amazing
I own a copy

This is a refreshing, homespun sort of book, but don't be deceived by its apparent simplicity. Myers spent most of her life in a singleminded obsession with her Indicator. Her type-related observations on learning, growing up, occupation, and marriage are an interesting exhibition of the common sense once taken for granted but that has gone the way of the passenger pigeon. The book is worth reading if only for her ideas about learning.

The insights I've gained from Gifts Differing and related materials have enabled me to relate more sympathetically to people when I wish, and (more importantly) to have people respond to me more favorably than they might've otherwise. In the seminar required for licensing, we were required to promise not to use Myers' type theory to others' disadvantage. A person's type potentially tells you so much about his strengths and weaknesses, his predispositions and disinclinations, that for people in sales or customer service, this book will prove a gold mine, certainly well worth the investment in time.

Myers talks about attitudes and functions as though they were traits, characteristics you can have more of less of; her theory, though, posits that they don't vary like traits, but exist in terms of either/or (either introverted or extraverted, perceiving or judging). Many people who read this book have been typed by the Indicator. As one of them, I at first had the misperception that my scores told the strength of my preferences. Actually, the scores merely express the confidence with which the intrument has typed you on each scale, not the extent to which you're introverted or extraverted, intuitive or sensing, and so on. A high score on a particular scale means the Indicator has likely typed you correctly there. A low score possibly means your environment has prevented your natural type from developing as it should.

I might have found it helpful to know that the J/P scale doesn't represent an aspect of the personality as the other scales do but is a mechanism of the Indicator to show which of the functions is extraverted. If you're a J, your judging function is extraverted; a P, your perceiving function is extraverted; knowing that, you can deduce which is dominant from the attitude (I/E).

Myers can be confusing when she refers to people as intuitives when intuition is their auxiliary function or thinking types when thinking isn't their superior function. (According to Jung, your type is your superior function in introversion or extraversion; in addition, Myers specifies an auxiliary in the opposing attitude and J/P orientation.) She does this in the same way that she blithely speaks of extreme extraverts (all extraversion is the same) or extreme perceivers (there are no degrees of perceiving). The reader, however, knows exactly what she means. There's a difference in degree between being poor at organizing and scheduling and being the sort of person who wakes up in a new world every day. Common sense tells us that much about type is to be grasped from a trait perspective, even if it contradicts theory and invites the strenuous objections of the writers who, with almost religious devotion, update the thick manual.

Myers was an INFP. A quirk of the Indicator is that it types her as a perceiver though her life was foremost about introverted feeling, a judging function. Unlike the other scales, which relate to workings of the personality, the J/P scale is a behavioral dichotomy that pertains to how you live outwardly. As a consequence, introverts find themselves typed according to the way they live in the world that's least natural for them. The life of an INTJ is primarily about inner perceiving, which is nonlinear and open-ended; but INTJ is considered a judging type because outwardly such people tend to plan things and keep things organized. Well, that's true until middle age, when, if a person has lived fully and in accordance with his type, his superior function starts burning out and he must turn to his dark function for the energy that can make his later life vibrant.

I had intended this to be a short review, but I guess it's too late for that. A last thing I should add, perhaps, is that Jung's approach is humanistic, while the MBTI is a people sorter from the human engineering tradition, a pigeonholing device designed to help people fit like cogs in the great industrial machine. (The Myers people will not be happy with me for having brought that up.) Jung's experience was that people are more complex than can be imagined and that type is at best difficult to ascertain, while Myers felt that sorting people should be neat and simple. Against considerable odds, she succeeded in creating an inventory that does just that.

It's no wonder millions of people have been typed using the MBTI. Temperament-wise, when it comes to sizing people up, or simply understanding yourself, the ideas behind the instrument Myers devised offer a ready assessment tool useful everyday in the most practical ways.
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