“Never, ever let anybody tell you that you’re a type you don’t think you are. You know yourself best, and you don’t need to listen to anybody else who tells you otherwise. You are the type you say you are, and that’s that.”

Hi, hi! Today, we’ll be dismantling a very popular idea. Exciting, right? Yes, I’m certainly excited. But I also have to be careful with how I word this one, because a big fact of the matter here is that it may seem like I’m agreeing with people with awful opinions, but our perspectives are so misaligned that I seriously want you, dear reader, to understand that some words will appear the same, but the ideas behind them are radically different. Context is very important, and I hope I hold enough power over my words to make sure that the context behind them remains attached to them. That’s only fair, right?

So, here’s the context: typology attracts all sorts of people. And typology, as we all know, is a systematization of personality. It recognizes the idea of types, the transcendental concept of a psychological mold of sorts that our personalities necessarily belong to (and for the record, I don’t recognize this). This holds a lot of baggage, and it is its baggage that some people are really attracted to. An inevitability arises from that: people who place a lot of value in type also tend to believe that recognizing type comes with better understanding of a person and a better understanding of typology. This wouldn’t seem bad if the place where they came from wasn’t already bad—that type is something that exists. The way they handle what follows actually makes sense and it’s probably around where I would also be if I recognized type. But I don’t, and you shouldn’t either.

People like this—we’ll call them “type realizers” for brevity’s sake—hence see “understanding typology” as “seeing truth.” Makes sense, right? If you believe in type… and you absorb more information related to typology… in your mind, you’d be better understanding the transcendental idea of type… which would essentially be synonymous with “higher truth,” or transcendental truth. It shouldn’t be particularly surprising then that a great number of type realizers would take typology as gospel and form their worldview around it. They tend to theorize a lot about the nature of types—that type is like this [random behavior that you wouldn’t expect to be intrinsically linked to that type] or that type is like that [certain trait that has been linked to said type through anecdotes of people typed that way]—and are usually heavily opinionated about what types are. Obviously, I’m making a caricature out of the “typical type realizer” but I mean to visualize a mindset from where the big idea will come out.

Type realizers have mixed reception in typology communities, and I think it largely depends on whether or not what they’re saying resonates with the beliefs already held in their respective communities. This is, I think, where the heart of the matter lies. A very common type realizer belief is that some people are just too dumb to understand what type they are. Maybe they’re in denial. Maybe they don’t get typology. Maybe they’re trying to play up to an image. Maybe they’re... whatever. A type realizer would think that they’re just fooling themselves, and believes that they know the truth—because they understand type and they understand who that person is to fit into their respective assigned type. They’re just mistyped, and they don’t know it, yet.

And like… not everyone likes being told that they’re mistyped. They feel like they know what typology is, too, and that their journey through it amounted to them identifying as this particular type. To them, it’s ridiculous that the type realizer sees it a different way. They may see it as confusing… laughable… ignorant… stressful… or worth considering. Worth considering?

Somewhere, in the back of their mind, it may not sit well with a typology hobbyist that the type they identify with isn’t the type that they’re seen as. And they’re curious. Why? What if I’m actually mistyped?

And so, you can imagine where it comes in:

“Never, ever let anybody tell you that you’re a type you don’t think you are. You know yourself best, and you don’t need to listen to anybody who tells you otherwise. You are the type you say you are, and that’s that.”

I’m very sympathetic to the sentiment behind this idea because, I think, if type were a different thing altogether where self-identification was all that mattered, this is where I would be, too. And could you blame them for thinking that? Everybody says type is a personal thing. It comes from the inside, because you know who you are. All the theorists say it, too, don’t they? What’s that quote on the Myers-Briggs website? “It is up to each person to recognize his or her true preferences,” quoth Isabel Briggs Myers.

So, I guess the type realizer is a bit of a rebel. They must be seeing something that conflicts with that idea, right? If they’re not going to take the theorists at their word, there must be a good reason for it, surely? Or… is there? Maybe they’re biased. Maybe they just can’t respect people’s identities.

I think it’s very important, at this point, to recognize that both of these perspectives operate within a framework where a fundamentally incorrect assumption lies at the root: that type is real. There are different takeaways that follow after this, and I will tell you that the type realizer’s perspective makes perfect sense following that assumption and that the opposing perspective needs understand the assumption they believe in further and recognize that… they’re trying to reach a conclusion we’d reach as people who don’t recognize type without dismantling the core problem.

This is, well, because they don’t think they believe in type. A little weird, a little funny, but I think it’s usually true—the idea of confronting that type is indeed the core concept behind everything they discuss is something they find gravely uncomfortable. How am I able to tell what somebody believes in if they themselves can’t recognize that? Isn’t that super arrogant?

I think it’s better, in that case, to see this more as an inevitability they will be forced to explore if they accept the ideas they talk about rather than explaining it away as “irrationality.” Their values may not be aligned with the set of beliefs rooted in type—and it’s through understanding type that they will be forced to confront the root of the problem.

(I’d think of a name for this group of people, too, but I have no idea what it would be.)

Then we have to ask the question: what do type realizers get right? Type doesn’t care about what you identify as and how you understand yourself—there’s just one psychological type (which could be the sum of many different types from different typology systems) that exists and defines you and what anyone believes is your type is irrelevant. You are either typed correctly or not typed correctly, and this is ingrained in the idea of having a transcendental archetype that you belong to. Written out this way, type doesn’t sound so nice after all, does it?

It’s like this because it’s always talked about like this. Typology just can’t be divorced from type; you can certainly talk about various aspects within it and frame it around something else, but typology and the systems that create that whole all have their own ways of looking at the various categories that make them up. It’s like separating the art from the artist—does that really work if the art (type or aspects related to type) is just a subset of the artist’s (typology theorists and their perspectives) experience? It’s awareness that we’re searching for here.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if so much of what the artists believed hadn’t permeated typology communities today—if type were absent from typology today. Instead, it has evolved into people creating their own interpretation of type with multiple typology systems. Sometimes they intermingle within the One True Type theory and sometimes they are addressed individually… but type very much exists even today, and so many typology hobbyists are unaware of that.

But let’s go back to talking about that quote. I think we should be well aware now of what perspectives exist around it and possibly even why that quote is very wrong. Let’s spell it out now. Type realizers would be correct in saying that one big problem is that some people don’t understand the systems they’re using.

Ignoring whether or not we individually believe in type, these systems still can be created and applied in specific ways within their specific boundaries and constraints. It’s interesting, though, because certain typology systems leave more or less room for what a valid interpretation for a correct type is depending on who the person being typed is and what the system is itself constrained by. For example, Myers-Briggs’ introversion/extraversion scale is more behavioral than abstract and has fairly constrained ranges within which we can make viable interpretations of a person’s type; and on the other hand, its thinking/feeling scale is very abstract and can’t be assessed easily by other people—the answers come from a very personal understanding of those concepts.

But then… what if we don’t really understand what those constraints are? What if we don’t interpret typology theories—in all their abstractness—according to the constraints that have been defined. Ironically, you could probably make a “second layer” of constraint analysis (wow) revolving around how well people interpret a theory through how it’s communicated… but that’s very unnecessarily systematic and it may be less evaluative of the theory itself and more of language, communication, and how people interpret information.

We can maybe therefore discard an “everything goes” approach and say “the theory is written down as something and there’s a way to interpret it that should be as close to what the author meant as possible, which would be the desired way to approach it.” Using that idea, we can actually mark things down as “right” or “wrong”—as they should be, I think, if typology were to retain any meaning at all. So, if the theory is misapplied—if the theory is interpreted in a way that the authors’ words do not closely imply—the interpretation is simply incorrect.

And… this is a very real phenomenon. I would paste just the relevant excerpt, but a comment I posted on the databank once upon a time encapsulates this entire argument really well and contextualizes this particular issue very aptly:

That idea that we can only type ourselves best is totally false. The crux of most typology is superficial, and oftentimes our understanding of who we are is naturally too complicated to pigeonhole into personality types that cover only certain domains of traits that “tend to go together,” however a theorist would decide that. We’re complicated, contradictory creatures, and most confusion in typology just comes from the ambiguity it presents when dealing with the literal. There’s always a deeper meaning to it, you just have to search for it. It’s total bogus, but if you follow the pretense, it’ll take you somewhere... or everywhere, really. So many people are very confident about typing characters and celebrities and whoever else because we're only exposed to certain details about them that usually point toward something easy to pin down in a personality system. It turns out that the more you know about someone, the hazier their types seem to get. Why is that? It’s not because they’re just obviously a different type, but it’s because typology fails where people want it to matter. It’s just fun, superficial nonsense.

Typology is fun because the discussion is never actually about people, but the theory: who understands it? who doesn’t understand it? how can it be distorted? how can it be misinterpreted? how can it be reworked? how can we improve it? It’s another domain of total nonsense, but it’s enlightening nonsense. I’ve always been amused by how much everything surrounding typology has told us more about people than typology itself, and it’s that putting it on a golden pedestal for revealing things about yourself that really cracks me up. It’s not typology doing the work, it’s you doing the work. When it is typology doing the work, something usually goes wrong. Maybe you start believing in getting locked into certain types. Maybe you begin believing in One True Type theory. Maybe you start trying to fix yourself using methods that don’t suit you.

But there’s that problem: so many people just don’t understand how to use personality theories correctly. Forget that you don’t know a person well enough to type them—what about not ever being able to apply a personality theory correctly? I’ve never been very keen on using type to determine how somebody will be, because I’ve realized that (within the typology community), I’ve best gotten to know people on terms decided by how they approach typology. Maybe you could argue that I guess even after spending a couple of years hanging around here in my idle time, I still don’t really know everyone well enough to know their One True Type, but with every moment I spend with somebody, I get to know them more as a person. And if you understand how to use type theory, you can type that person you know adequately. It’s not “narrowing down to the right answer,” but more like “getting a bigger picture and applying theories correctly to type them like how you’ve known them.”

So, no. I don’t agree that we understand our own type best, but I would instead say that we know ourselves best.

There are so many layers of issues at play here, but we can possibly detail it out like this:

1) The layer concerned with understanding who a person is
2) The layer concerned with applying typology theory
3) The layer concerned with understanding typology theory and what that implies
4) The layer concerned with managing your biases and potential for reinterpretation of who a person is

I layered these out a little facetiously—the progression isn’t really about which domains the layers belong to but instead about how a typology hobbyist could get sucked into misapplying typology theory.

But why? It’s because both type realists and innocent type internalizers (I guess that’s their name now?) both operate around layer #4… the former having haphazardly dealt with layer #3 and the latter having skipped or ignored it. This was where I directed my attention in my previous comment, but it’s worth showing the bigger picture enwrapping the dynamic implied by the quote.

So then, let’s get rid of that type essentialism that the quote we’re talking about embodies and get a real leg-up over the type realizers: let’s recognize that type isn’t even real to begin with.

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