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Decoding Your Nature

Tzivi Zuckerman

Why do people act the way they do? What makes a person unique? Personality-type systems can help you delve into these questions — and teach you a lot about everyone in your life, including yourself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

“I’m an ESFP. What are you?”

“Oh, I’m an INTJ. I’m also a 4.”

To the uninitiated, this type of dialogue can seem like some sort of confusing code language. But for people who are familiar with personality type systems, these letter combinations and numbers are the key to gaining a clearer and deeper understanding of yourself and others.


Identifying Character Traits

You may have never heard of personality type systems, which methodically divide people into separate categories based on individual temperament. But, in fact, these systems are quite popular. And for good reason — it’s hard to resist the idea of a cheat sheet that can help you better understand your nature, from what motivates you to what makes you act in a particular manner.

The idea that there are distinct, innate differences in temperament actually dates back to ancient times. The Greek philosopher Plato was prominent among those who proposed four categories of people, each of who contribute to society in a unique way.

In more recent times, you might say that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung is the father of personality type systems. In the 1920s, he suggested that people perceive and react to situations differently because they’re compelled by distinct, inborn personality traits.

The Myers-Briggs personality type system, created by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, is an interpretation of Jung’s work. There are four pairs of opposing personality traits, for a total of eight traits, each of which is designated by a particular letter (see sidebar, “Which Type Are You?”).

Since then, numerous other personality systems have been developed. Psychologist David Keirsey created a variation of Myers-Briggs, called KTS-II, which focuses on four central temperaments. Another personality model, titled the “Big 5,” is arranged along similar lines, but includes an additional component to measure for emotional stability. The Enneagram, which supposedly stems from ancient origin, is a popular number-based model that includes nine basic personality types.



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