Why Am I So Different?

Graphics by Susan L. Davenport

Graphics by Susan L. Davenport

Do you ever feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole because you seem to see the world differently than all the people around you? I do, and I have for years. In fact, I thought there was something wrong with me because I always felt out of place, even within my loving family.

I thought it was me that needed to change. Somehow, I needed to modify the way I looked at the world, so others weren’t always calling me weird (in a loving way). But I just couldn’t do it – I couldn’t close my eyes to the magic and beauty I saw in the world all around me.

After I started writing, my writing coach suggested that I use the Myers-Briggs personality typing to make each of my characters unique. That study has helped me immensely.

“Breakthroughs in the behavioral sciences often come from outside the field, and Jung’s ideas were given new life almost by accident. At mid-century Isabel Myers, a layman dusted off Jung’s Psychological Types and with her mother, Kathryn Briggs, devised a questionnaire for identifying different kinds of personality. She called it “The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.” Largely inspired by Jung’s book, the questionnaire was designed to identify sixteen patterns of action and attitude, and it caught on so well that in the 1990’s over a million individuals were taking it each year. Interest in the personality typology was restored in both America and Europe. (By the way, the test had been around as a research tool since the early 1950’s, and the Japanese became interested in it in 1962, the year of publication of Myer’s book. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.) (Keirsey, 1998)

“Instead of naming her sixteen types of personality with descriptive words, Myers elected to label them with a combination of letters, chosen from four pairs of alternatives, E or I, S or N, T or F, J or P, as indicated above. The letters represent the following words:

E = Extroverted           or        I = Introverted

S = Sensory                 or        N = Intuitive

T = Thinking                or        F = Feeling

J = Judging                   or        P = Perceiving” (Keirsey, 1998)

That sounds like it should be simple, but it takes a little more information to understand it. Within each pair of preferences, every person leans more toward one or the other. Let’s use some of the characters from my novel as examples.

  • INFJ: Jay Johnson, my main character. A young woman and horse trainer who is fighting to save her family’s ranch.

  • ENFP: Sam Hunter, a journalist, turned sculptor. He is Jay’s business partner and a possible love interest.

  • ESTJ: Josh Johnson, Jay’s angry Dad. He is the one that put the ranch in jeopardy. He wants to sell it and be done with it.

  • ISFP: Mary Johnson, Jay’s artist aunt. She wants to save the ranch, and help Jay and Josh learn to love each other again.

Each of these characters is different. They see the world through different filters, and the story is about them learning to work together to achieve a common goal. As a writer, I must study how each of them will react to the situations I put them in based on their personality type. So, what do the letters tell us about them?

E or I:

The first letter (E or I) stands for extroverted or introverted. That implies that it’s about whether we’re outgoing or not, but instead, it’s about where we focus our energy and how we recharge our batteries.

“The first pair of psychological preferences is Extraversion and Introversion. Where do you put your attention and get your energy? Do you like to spend time in the outer world of people and things (Extraversion), or in your inner world of ideas and images (Introversion)? …

“Everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Don't confuse Introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related.” (Extraversion or Introversion, 1997)

Back to our characters. How are they affected by this category? Sam and Josh are E’s and Jay and Mary are I’s.

Sam and Josh focus on the world around them. They gain energy by getting out in that world and being around people they enjoy. Sam makes jokes and is helpful and kind. He likes being around people and they generally enjoy being around him. Josh cut himself off from human companionship years ago and without that connection to recharge his batteries he has become bitter and angry.  

Jay and Mary are more internally focused. Their energy comes from within. They recharge by spending time alone. Mary recharges working quietly in her art studio with low music playing in the background. Jay prefers to wander out in nature listening to the wind’s music as it dances through the leaves.   

Are you wondering whether you are an E or I?

“Take a minute to ask yourself which of the following descriptions seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you?

Extraversion (E)

"I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I'm excited when I'm around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.

"The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as "outgoing" or as a "people person."

  • I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.

  • I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.

  • I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don't allow enough time to think it over.

  • Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.

Introversion (I)

"I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I'll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

"The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as "reflective" or "reserved."

  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.

  • I prefer to know just a few people well.

  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don't move into action quickly enough.

  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.” (Extraversion or Introversion, 1997)

S or N:

The second set of letters stands for Sensor (S) or Intuitive (N). These letters refer to how we gather information as we wander through life.

“The second pair of psychological preferences is Sensing and Intuition. Do you pay more attention to information that comes in through your five senses (Sensing), or do you pay more attention to the patterns and possibilities that you see in the information you receive (Intuition)?

"Everyone spends some time Sensing and some time using Intuition. Don't confuse Sensing with sensual. They aren't related.” (Sensing or Intuition, 1997)

So, how does this category affect our characters. Jay and Sam gather information through their intuition, while Josh and Mary gather information through their five senses.

When I was researching possible romantic interests for Jay, all the research information I found said that it would be difficult for her as an ‘N’ person to be married to an ‘S’ person. I am an INFJ, like Jay, and I am married to a ‘S’ person. I will admit that I have seen his eyes cloud over many times when I was trying to explain one of my ideas to him. And, I’ve been frustrated many times when he expressed his opinion about a situation that he considered cut and dried, and felt I just needed to let go of my whimsical ideas and get on with it. It has been difficult at times, but we’ve been married almost 37 years, and they’ve been good years, so it’s doable if you care enough for the other person to make an effort.

“Take a minute to ask yourself which of the following descriptions seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you?

Sensing (S)

"Paying attention to physical reality, what I see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. I'm concerned with what is actual, present, current, and real. I notice facts and I remember details that are important to me. I like to see the practical use of things and learn best when I see how to use what I'm learning. Experience speaks to me louder than words.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I remember events as snapshots of what actually happened.

  • I solve problems by working through facts until I understand the problem.

  • I am pragmatic and look to the "bottom line."

  • I start with facts and then form a big picture.

  • I trust experience first and trust words and symbols less.

  • Sometimes I pay so much attention to facts, either present or past, that I miss new possibilities.

Intuition (N)

Paying the most attention to impressions or the meaning and patterns of the information I get. I would rather learn by thinking a problem through than by hands-on experience. I'm interested in new things and what might be possible, so that I think more about the future than the past. I like to work with symbols or abstract theories, even if I don't know how I will use them. I remember events more as an impression of what it was like than as actual facts or details of what happened.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I remember events by what I read "between the lines" about their meaning.

  • I solve problems by leaping between different ideas and possibilities.

  • I am interested in doing things that are new and different.

  • I like to see the big picture, then to find out the facts.

  • I trust impressions, symbols, and metaphors more than what I actually experienced

  • Sometimes I think so much about new possibilities that I never look at how to make them a reality.” (Sensing or Intuition, 1997)

Despite the fact that I’ve been married to a Sensing person for years, or maybe because of it, I have found the differences between Sensing and Intuitive people to be a wonderful source of conflict in my characters. I simply take an ‘N’ character and an ‘S’ character and give them a problem to solve together – BOOM!

T or F:

This preference deals with how we make decisions. Those with Thinking preference tend to make decisions logically and objectively. Individuals who prefer the Feeling preference make decisions in a personal, values-oriented way.

“This third preference pair describes how you like to make decisions. Do you like to put more weight on objective principles and impersonal facts (Thinking) or do you put more weight on personal concerns and the people involved (Feeling)?

"Don't confuse Feeling with emotion. Everyone has emotions about the decisions they make. Also do not confuse Thinking with intelligence.

"Everyone uses Thinking for some decisions and Feeling for others. In fact, a person can make a decision using his or her preference, then test the decision by using the other preference to see what might not have been taken into account.” (Thinking or Feeling, 1997)

This one is difficult to figure out for yourself – at least it was for me. I research my decisions and compare data so I could be justified in thinking myself a Thinking preference, but I’m not. Ultimately, I make decisions based on what feels right, just like Jay, Sam, and Mary would. Josh, on the other hand, prefers the facts.

“Take a minute to ask yourself which of the following descriptions seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you?

Thinking (T)

When I make a decision, I like to find the basic truth or principle to be applied, regardless of the specific situation involved. I like to analyze pros and cons, and then be consistent and logical in deciding. I try to be impersonal, so I won't let my personal wishes--or other people's wishes--influence me.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I enjoy technical and scientific fields where logic is important.

  • I notice inconsistencies.

  • I look for logical explanations or solutions to most everything.

  • I make decisions with my head and want to be fair.

  • I believe telling the truth is more important than being tactful.

  • Sometimes I miss or don't value the "people" part of a situation.

  • I can be seen as too task-oriented, uncaring, or indifferent.

Feeling (F)

I believe I can make the best decisions by weighing what people care about and the points-of-view of persons involved in a situation. I am concerned with values and what is the best for the people involved. I like to do whatever will establish or maintain harmony. In my relationships, I appear caring, warm, and tactful.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I have a people or communications orientation.

  • I am concerned with harmony and nervous when it is missing.

  • I look for what is important to others and express concern for others.

  • I make decisions with my heart and want to be compassionate.

  • I believe being tactful is more important than telling the "cold" truth.

  • Sometimes I miss seeing or communicating the "hard truth" of situations.

  • I am sometimes experienced by others as too idealistic, mushy, or indirect.” (Thinking or Feeling, 1997)

J or P:

 This category reflects our lifestyle orientation preference: JUDGING (J) and PERCEIVING (P). That makes it sound like one-person judges everything around them, and the other soaks it up through their perceptions, but that's not it at all. It’s about whether you interact with the outer world in an organized, planned way or a spontaneous, flexible way.

“This fourth preference pair describes how you like to live your outer life--what are the behaviors others tend to see? Do you prefer a more structured and decided lifestyle (Judging) or a more flexible and adaptable lifestyle (Perceiving)? This preference may also be thought of as your orientation to the outer world.

“Everyone extraverts some of the time. This pair describes whether you extravert (act in the outer world) when you are making decisions or when you are taking in information.

“Some people interact with the outside world when they are taking in information. Whether they use the Sensing preference or the Intuitive preference, they are still interacting in the outside world.

“Other people do their interacting when they are making decisions. It doesn't matter whether they are using a Thinking preference or a Feeling preference; they are still interacting in the outside world.

“Everyone takes in information some of the time. Everyone makes decisions some of the time. However, when it comes to dealing with the outer world, people who tend to focus on making decisions have a preference for Judging because they tend to like things decided. People who tend to focus on taking in information prefer Perceiving because they stay open to a final decision in order to get more information.

“Sometimes people feel they have both. That is true. The J or P preference only tells which preference the person extraverts. One person may feel very orderly/structured (J) on the inside, yet their outer life looks spontaneous and adaptable (P). Another person may feel very curious and open-ended (P) in their inner world, yet their outer life looks more structured or decided (J).

“Don't confuse Judging and Perceiving with a person's level of organization. Either preference can be organized.” (Judging or Perceiving, 1997)

 “Take a minute to ask yourself which of the following descriptions seems more natural, effortless, and comfortable for you?

Judging (J)

“I use my decision-making (Judging) preference (whether it is Thinking or Feeling) in my outer life. To others, I seem to prefer a planned or orderly way of life, like to have things settled and organized, feel more comfortable when decisions are made and like to bring life under control as much as possible.

“Since this pair only describes what I prefer in the outer world, I may, inside, feel flexible and open to new information (which I am).

“Do not confuse Judging with judgmental, in its negative sense about people and events. They are not related.

“The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I like to have things decided.

  • I appear to be task oriented.

  • I like to make lists of things to do.

  • I like to get my work done before playing.

  • I plan work to avoid rushing just before a deadline.

  • Sometimes I focus so much on the goal that I miss new information.

Perceiving (P)

“I use my perceiving function (whether it is Sensing or Intuition) in my outer life. To others, I seem to prefer a flexible and spontaneous way of life, and I like to understand and adapt to the world rather than organize it. Others see me staying open to new experiences and information.

“Since this pair only describes what I prefer in the outer world, inside I may feel very planful or decisive (which I am).

“Remember, in type language perceiving means "preferring to take in information." It does not mean being "perceptive" in the sense of having quick and accurate perceptions about people and events.

“The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I like to stay open to respond to whatever happens.

  • I appear to be loose and casual. I like to keep plans to a minimum.

  • I like to approach work as play or mix work and play.

  • I work in bursts of energy.

  • I am stimulated by an approaching deadline.

  • Sometimes I stay open to new information so long I miss making decisions when they are needed. “ (Judging or Perceiving, 1997)

Delving into the Myers-Briggs personality types has helped me create much more diverse characters and conflict for my story, but more importantly, it has helped me to understand myself and how I interact with others. Just because I can’t make others see the magic I see, doesn’t mean there is no magic in their lives – it’s just different from mine.

We are each unique. We each interact with the world around us in a different way. Having different types is good, especially for the characters in my book. But, in real life, it can cause us to feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Knowing my personality type and why I see the world the way I do has helped me feel normal, even when surrounded by other types. Maybe it could help you too.

Here are a couple of Internet sites that offer the test for free. Have fun getting to know yourself better.