Entries for month: April 2015

People Never Change, but Boy, Do People Change

I went back to my hometown recently for my nephew’s wedding, and I was in the company of my ten brothers and sisters. I hadn’t seen most of them in about five years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

After the wedding, when I was back home, there were two thoughts that kept popping into my head. One was…

     “People never change.”

      The other was…

     “Boy, have we changed.”

The first thought, “People never change” kept coming to me because it seemed that all of my brothers and sisters had the same virtues and vices they had when they were little kids and we were all running around that big house together. My ISTJ sister is still entertaining or annoying us with her many opinions. My ESFJ sister is still comforting or annoying us with her motherly attentions. My ISFP brother is still charming or annoying us with his gentle spirit. You get the picture, so I won’t go through all ten of them. All I can say is that I kept feeling déjà vu. I’d been there before.

It disturbs me to realize that people don’t change, because I’m an INFJ. My greatest joy in life is trying out new ideas for personal growth. The type theory was one of those ideas, so was learning to be a good listener, to express my needs without anger, to be self-loving, attuned to the present and content with the life I have. I feel like I have gone through tremendous changes in my life, and I’m a completely different person than I was when I was a kid.

But the truth is, I was relating to my brothers and sisters in exactly the same way I did when I was a kid, playing the role of the wise counselor or the person with big ideas for improving the world. Sometimes it was welcome, other times it was not, but I was dismayed at seeing how little I had changed.

In the type community, we talk of “type development.” We make it our goal to practice the strengths of our type only when it’s appropriate and to be flexible enough to call on something else when it’s needed. I love that goal, and the pursuit of it takes us to exciting places.

Let’s not delude ourselves, however, that our personalities are like soft clay that we can stretch and shape at will. I’m beginning to realize they are more like great hunks of granite, and although we may be able to make tiny chips around the edges, 99% of it remains exactly the same.

That brings me to the second thought that kept coming into my head after being with my family, which is, “Boy, have we changed.” Yes, we all had the same virtues and vices, but there was something very different in our gathering. There was a peace, an acceptance of each other that had not been present in any of the gatherings before this.

You know the prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I think that after five or six decades of trying to change each other, we finally had the wisdom to know that none of us were ever really going to change, and the serenity to say, “So be it.” 

People talk about growing older only in terms of its bad side - the weakening body. They don’t talk about the fact that there is also a mind growing stronger, a mind that can finally accept both sides of people, and best of all, both sides of itself. 


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Different or Difficult?

We know that personality type helps us realize that people aren’t really trying to drive us crazy – they just see the world in a different way!

But does that excuse some behaviors that really are difficult, even though they are different?

And isn’t it sometimes true that a strength can really become a liability when overused? 

I have a friend who is an ENFJ.  She is so good at making people comfortable in her presence and in getting under their skin to their essence.  This is quite helpful to her as a divorce attorney.  However, when a friend visited with her recently, she left feeling like she had been with a “vibe sucker.”  She felt absolutely drained.  It wasn’t a matter of a different style; those behaviors became difficult.

As an ESTJ, I value efficiency and can be pretty good at attaining it in many things that I do.  When I am driving somewhere with someone else who is not efficient in their routing, I become difficult.  I offer unsolicited advice and occasionally even unsolicited criticism. 

An INFP friend was so focused on his values that he cut off valuable allies who could help him realize his dreams of creating an egalitarian community.  He became difficult to work with. 

Years ago, my friend, the late Susan Brock, came up with a STOP model to help us identify when type was being misused – and to stop it.  Here it is with my modifications:

S – Stop strutting your type.  Yes, you can be proud of who you are -- some call it being psychologically patriotic.  But you’re not the only one who does things well.  And at some point in the future you’re bound to have a need to try other approaches that may not be natural ones, but nonetheless are what will be needed at the time. 

And even more to the point, you’re bound to meet someone of your exact same type who might appear to be a complete jerk, turkey, wally (or whatever label you want to use).  Learning to stop the strutting will likely save you some embarrassment in the future. 

T – Talking about everyone’s type.
  This is about labeling and gossiping, which at times turn can into statements like, “what do you expect…she’s just a Thinking type!  She doesn’t care about people and what she said in that last meeting just proves it.”   No one likes being gossiped about. And stereotyping is not what type is all about!

O – Obsessing about type.  Type doesn’t explain everything.  Putting the type model on every little thing that people say and do just doesn’t work.  Not all ESTJs love chocolate (or maybe they do!). 

P – Pushing tasks on people because of type. This is the one where we might say, “Oh you’re the Extravert; you should give the oral report.”  Or “Sensing…let’s see, that means you should take the notes at the meeting.”  We all need skills in a variety of areas.  To not encourage the Introvert to give the report or the Intuitive to take notes unnecessarily deprives them of a chance for development. 

Let’s try to recognize when different is different and when difficult is difficult and not get them mixed up.


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