6/24/2006

Meyers-Briggs Musings: An Existential Crisis

So, recently I have been on one of my periodic Meyers-Briggs kicks, which inevitably provide me with some insight into an issue I am dealing with at the time, revealing to me that issues's connection with some integral part of my personality. Which can be both reassuring (I'm not cazy, it's just part of who I am) and disheartening (great, it's part of who I am, which means there's no way to get rid of it; I have to find some way to work within it).

This time is no different. Having exhausted, for the moment, my favorite M-B study, Nurture by Nature, I turned to another classic--Please Understand Me, by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates. This one has a whole chapter on the four temperaments--SJ, SP, NT, and NF. Now, if you're not too familiar with the typology, feel free to contact me for a tutorial. For this entry's purposes you need only know that I happen to be an NF--Intuitive Feeler. Anyway, I hadn't read this chapter through for several years, and I was, as usual, shocked by the accuracy of the assessments.

First of all, there were several paragraphs which provided a more apt description of the pattern of my relationships than I would have expected from the people who know me best, myself included. I reproduce those here...:

" The NF can bring to each relationship a heightened sense of meaning, lending drama to the events in those relationships. The NF is extremely sensitive to subtleties in gestures and metaphoric behaviors not always visible to other types; she is also vulnerable to adding dimensions to communications which are not always shared or perceived by others. The NF's relationships can fall into a pattern of enthusiastic anticipation accompanied by a considerable investment of effort and emotion, ending in a disappointment that what could have been was not.

The NF is seldom miserly in the energy and time she is willing to devote to a relationship, especially as it is developing. A like return need not be quid pro quo for the NF to continue investing generously, as long as some response is forthcoming. No matter how the NF structures her relationships, she needs to have meaning. She wants their significance appreciated, or, at the very least, recognized as existing. Only through this kind of feedback does the NF know that she has unique identity. "

Eerily accurate in every particular, and especially applicable to my romantic interests much of the time, particularly the last sentence of the first paragraph... The chapter also contained an equally accurate description of my overarching goal/purpose/desire in life:

" 'How can I become the kind of person I really am?' asks the NF. She hungers for self-actualization, to be and to become real. To be what she is meant to be and to have an identity which is uniquely hers. Self-realization for the NF means to have integrity, that is, unity. There must be no facade, no mask. To have integrity is to be genuine, to communicate authentically, to be in harmony with the inner experiences of the self. Living a life of significance, making a difference in the world, satisfies the NF's hunger for unique identity. "

Once again, all too true. The prophetic nature of this section extended even to my intended profession:

" Most writers come from this group. Writers who wish to inspire and persuade, who produce literature, most often are NFs. The search for meaning as a necessary pilgrimage for all people is advanced by the NFs in their writings. Very often the other types, the SJs, NTs, and SPs, are troubled by the thought that they ought to be pursuing these values, even if, somehow, the search for meaning and integrity does not beckon to them. The reluctance of 88 percent of the world to join the search for self-actualization is a great source of mystification to the NFs. "

And it was this last section, specifically this last sentence, whose implications, as I reflected on them while sitting in my car this morning, brought me to a state that can only be described as existential crisis. Because if the assorted above assessments are correct (and I cannot deny they are, for me, at least), and if in fact NFs most value having significance and meaning in their life, and find this significance through encouraging others in the search for self-actualization and identity, then the worst possible thing you could tell such a person is that 88% of the world is not particularly interested in this search. For that removes from their plans for the future the very sense of meaning which they so strongly crave.

And that is, of course, precisely what I am most interested in doing with my writing. And is it really fruitless to attempt to persuade almost nine tenths of the population that this is valuable? And if so, what on earth am I doing with my life?

These moments of questioning, even of crisis, are, I think, inevitable events at certain points along the winding, sometime bumpy, road of life--and especially along the particular section of that road on which I am currently travelling. And I am sure it will look much more optimistic by the light of morning. But any thoughts or reflections are, always, appreciated.

I hope you are content with your own life's purpose, or with whatever it is that drives or satisfies you in life. Best.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Bruce said...

Well, if you've read my thesis, you know that I believe in Maslow's theory that the drive toward self-actualization is part of the inner nature of all mankind, and not just those of a certain personality type. Those who seem unconcerned with such issues do so because they are focused on the more basic needs, such as survival, safety, love, esteem, understanding, and aesthetics. When the lower needs are met sufficiently, the individual proceeds naturally towards self-actualization objectives. The last time I took the Meyers-Briggs inventory, I was also in the NF category. These categories reflect how people perceive things and not the underlying needs which are universal to all humanity. Self-actualization being such a slippery concept, other personality types may prefer to focus on ideas that lend themselves to more concrete representations. Lacking overt hunger for identity, integrity, unity, and harmony does not render these objectives valueless. Some people can manage to get what they need without constantly searching for it. It might be frustrating to attempt to sell the importance of these concepts to those who are perfectly content to live in a way which seems less complicated, but I wouldn't categorize such efforts as being necessarily "fruitless." You just have to rethink your strategy a bit.

But then, what are these "romantic interests"? Perhaps there is another part to this story. Is there a romantic crisis involved as well as an existential one?

Bruce

3:37 PM  

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