This post is much longer than usual - in fact it's huge! It is a piece I have written for the Baptist Ministers' Journal.
Personality and Spirituality: What are you?
When looking through the annual magazine of the National Retreat Group, one can find many courses on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram held by Retreat Houses. Having undertaken one, friends are likely to ask; “What are you?”.
I will give a brief description on both the MBTI and the Enneagram but for further explanation of the different personality types a list of further reading is given.
In recent times spirituality has been typically expressed in different ways. Philip Sheldrake describes spirituality as “the human response to God that is both personal and ecclesial. In short, ‘life in the Spirit’”. While Roy Kearsley stresses “that repentance is a moral act involving the turning of the whole person in spirit, mind and will to consent, and subjection, to the will of God”.
I prefer to think of spirituality as our relationship with God as opposed to our knowledge of God which is theology. As with any relationship there is change and growth in becoming more Christlike and this is found in each of the descriptions.
The MBTI was based on Jung’s work by Katherine Briggs (born in 1875 in the USA) and developed by her daughter Isabel Myers who was disturbed at the number of people who were asked to undertake tasks for which they seemed to have no aptitude during the second world war. However, it was difficult for an unqualified woman to break into the psychological establishment in America and it was not until 1975 that the Consulting Psychologists Press took over the publication of the Indicator. From that moment it took off and has now become the most widely used psychological instrument in the world.
The MBTI is made up of two pairs of attitudes and two pairs of functions.
Attitude - Extrovert & Introvert
Function - Sensing & iNtuitive
Function - Thinking & Feeling
Attitude - Judging & Perceiving
Each of us uses both, but prefers one of each pair, and it is these preferences which make up our type which consists of four letters; E or I, S or N, T or F, J or P.
Many people can work out their type from the descriptions of the attitudes and functions, but to obtain a more accurate typing and to discover how much of a preference one has, it is very useful to go on a Myers-Briggs workshop. Once booked for a workshop, a questionnaire is received, consisting of 150 questions devised by Myers-Briggs. The form is returned and a qualified evaluator plots the result on a scale of preference from nought to seventy. These results are only for the person concerned and cannot be compared with other peoples results because the score is the difference in preference only and does not measure abilities or development.
By studying the MBTI we can see how different people prefer to get their energy, take in information, analyse that information and also prefer either acquiring or sorting that information. This not only affects the way we live our lives at home and at work but also involves our spiritual lives, influencing the way we prefer to pray, how we like our church services and all aspects of church life. By acknowledging our type, we begin to understand why we may sometimes find some forms of spiritual activity lacking in meaning, fulfillment or satisfaction, and rather than feeling guilty or thinking that there is something wrong with us, we may wish to explore other ways of prayer and worship.
The MBTI can help to explain why some people prefer to worship where they are open to their senses being stimulated, as within Roman Catholic churches, while others enjoy strong biblical preaching to get them thinking and yet others prefer a charismatic service. It could also explain why prayer meetings are often attended by only a small proportion of a church and why some folk get benefit from going on retreat, whereas for others it seems to be a boring waste of time!
In a recent television program on Silence, we could see that for some, being quiet and on one’s own suited them, while for others it took several days before they could adjust to that way of life, but having discovered it, they found it quite profound, showing that prayer and silence is needed by us all but far more difficult for some to achieve.
Different personality types will prefer to pray in different ways, be attracted to different Gospels and like to sing different hymns and songs.
Morton Kelsey in Companions on the Inner Way admitted that “it is often difficult for us to see how those of a totally opposite type from ourselves can be Christian!”
This statement has been of the greatest help to me as I have also realised that not only those who I have found difficult, but especially those who I know have found me difficult, are of a different type to myself!
As well as each individual having a personality type, churches will also have a distinctive personality type and it may be very different to that of their minister!
And so we have to be very careful within our churches to understand the church’s personality if we wish to introduce change. We often say that people do not like change but it could be that a church is suited to the present form of worship. Introducing a more informal form of worship will not suit those who prefer order, whereas some changes will help others to grow in their spiritual lives.
Although we are aware that we grow and develop physically from babyhood, through teenage years into adulthood, middle years and old age, we often do not realise that our personalities go through a similar maturing process.
It is believed that the four letters in our MBTI type never alter, but in mid-life we can start to discover and use aspects of our shadow type. I am an INFP and my shadow type is ESTJ. Undertaking academic study in my forties forced me to use my T function and J attitude.
By using our shadow type, the differences in our preference becomes smaller and as a result we become more balanced and whole people.
However, one of the problems of exploring the MBTI is that once we have found our type we can tend to use it as an excuse for the way we behave and the way we prefer to worship.
While the MBTI concentrates on our preferred way of behaviour, the Enneagram looks to our way of coping with life which in turn influences the way we act.
There is mystery and secrecy surrounding the Enneagram and its history.
It is thought to have originated in Afghanistan nearly 2000 years ago, with links into early Christianity in Persia and then into Moslem Sufi circles in central Asia and India. Until the last century it remained an oral tradition, with the Sufi master only imparting that aspect of the Enneagram relevant to their student’s personality.
It was introduced into the United States in the early 1970s by Oschar Ichazo, who studied the system in Chile, and from there the Enneagram was passed on through lectures.
Around the same time it was also taken up by G.I. Gurdjieff, who was an early pioneer in adapting Eastern spiritual teachings for use by modern Westerners. Gurdjieff worked with the teachings and developed the basic diagram of nine points in a circle, naming it the Enneagram, meaning nine points. Although the teachings were passed on to others, including religious orders, especially the Jesuits, part of the instruction was to keep the method a secret. However, by the 1980s this part of the instruction seems to have been dropped as many courses have been held and books published.
The Enneagram identifies nine personality types and their inter-relationships; the basic idea being that very early on in our life we slowly realise that we are unloved, which leads to some form of compulsion. It is the way in which this happens that affects us to such an extent that our Enneagram type is formed. Each type is known by its number but in some books each of the nine types is named after the compulsion. However, because many of us find it difficult to acknowledge our compulsions, which can be thought to be rather negative, other authors use the gift of each type to give a more positive description.
The nine types are:
One: The Perfectionist or The Reformer
Two: The Giver or The Helper
Three: The Performer or The Achiever
Four: The Tragic Romantic or The Individualist
Five: The Observer or The Investigator
Six: The Devil’s Advocate or The Loyalist
Seven: The Epicure or The Enthusiast
Eight: The Boss or The Challenger
Nine: The Mediator or The Peacemaker
The Enneagram was originally developed as a spiritual tool to be used by the Sufi master, to enable them to help their directee to grow spiritually but the way it is now presented in books and short courses does not generally encourage people to grow but is usually just for the interest of the student.
The Sufi master would slowly discover the personality of their student through the answers given by the student to his questions. There was no one set of questions for everyone, the next question asked would depend on the previous answer. It was a time consuming occupation and although we now have books to study, it can still take a long time to discover one’s type and many have found that although they thought they were one number, further study has revealed that their first decision was wrong. This could be due to the fact that within the Enneagram we can have elements of a neighbouring type and move from one type to another depending on whether we are feeling secure or are under stress. A fellow student appreciated this attribute by describing it as the Enneagram’s “fuzzy edges”.
However, serious and lengthy study of the Enneagram can show us our compulsions and those things which hinder us from becoming the person God created.
At one course I attended, the tutor had made a three dimensional illustration of the nine pointed diagram, looking like a nine sided pyramid or teepee, with each of the nine sticks reaching from the nine points on the base meeting at the top. As we each mature, we travel up from the point of our type and at the same time become closer to the other types. This helps to explain why for some people it is difficult to know their type, realising that they can see aspects of themselves in each of the nine types.
Whereas within the MBTI we grow and develop by using our under developed shadow side, within the Enneagram, spirituality and development are intertwined. It has to be noted that there are some who have tried to link the two methods of typing which can be found on the internet.
However, we have to remember that both of these personality typings were designed to be used by others as a shorthand method of getting to know the personality of another. But in recent years has become a tool for each individual to discover and learn more about themselves.
By accepting who we are, acknowledging our faults and the type of person we are and knowing that God still loves us despite all our failings we can grow and become the person God created.
But at the same time the personality typings can be used in superficial ways for ourselves or to second guess the personality of others, including biblical characters.
There are books on both the MBTI and the Enneagram which explore the issue of Jesus’ personality type and the conclusions have been that he is a perfect balance of all the personality types. Part of Jesus’ divinity is that he was the perfect human being and in our spiritual development we can be described as human becomings.
One of Susan Howatch’s characters explains that “by putting yourself under the microscope in this way, you’ve learned something you didn’t know before - and that’s definitely a step forward on the spiritual journey where our first task is to know ourselves as well as we can in order to grasp what we can become.”
And that is how we should use these personality typings; as a tool to enable us to go further forward in our walk with God.
But both the MBTI and the Enneagram are only tools, “something useful up to a certain point.” We cannot rely on man-made tools to guide us on our spiritual journey but must keep our eyes on Jesus, our one true counsellor, be aware of the love of God and be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Bruce Duncan, Pray your Way (London: DLT, 1993, reprint 1998)
Peter Malone, The Same as Christ Jesus: Gospel and Type (London:St.Paul’s, 2000)
W. Harold Grant, Magdala Thompson & Thomas E. Clarke, From Image to Likeness
(New York: Paulist Press, 1983)
Malcolm Goldsmith, Knowing Me Knowing God (London: Triangle/SPCK, 1994)
Lynne M. Baab, Personality Type in Congregations (Washington: Alban Institute,1998)
Maria Beesing, Robert J. Nogosek & Patrick H. O’Leary, The Enneagram
(New Jersey: Dimension,1984)
Barbara Metz & John Burchill, The Enneagram and Prayer (New Jersey: Dimension,1987)
Peter Malone, The Same as Christ Jesus: Gospel and Type (London:St.Paul’s, 2000)
Suzanne Zuercher, Enneagram Spirituality (Indiana: Ave Maria,1992)
MBTI and the Enneagram