Your personality. It’s you. It’s what people talk about when they mention you.
“She’s such fun.”
“He’s a go-getter.”
“She’s more the quiet type.”
How does your personality develop? It’s a mixture of your genetic makeup, as well as what you receive (or don’t receive) from your family in childhood — basically the “nature-nurture” model.
All of that makes you — you.
There are all kinds of personality tests out there that can be fun and/or informative to take, from silly made-up versions online versions to established inventories that mental health professionals might rely upon.
Some of you may have taken the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory. Although not well-validated empirically, it is easy to understand and is based on the work of the early psychiatrist Carl Jung.
The test evaluates four dimensions of psychological functioning – sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. The theory goes that each of us has a primary preference for one of these — and that preference strongly influences how we see the world. For example, is your focus on your outer world or inner world? That would indicate where you are on the extraversion/introversion spectrum. How do you prefer to process information? Is your focus on facts (“Just the facts, ma’am…”) or do you tend to interpret meaning to those facts? When you make decisions, do you tend to be logical/consistent or do you consider more personal unique circumstances? And lastly, are you more decisive in your approach or do you like to stay open to more ambiguity?
You could be a ESTJ or an INFP, an ENFJ or an ISTP. There are sixteen different score combinations, complete with descriptions of the strengths and potential vulnerabilities of each personality type.
When I was in graduate school, my nine other classmates and I sat around after taking the Myers/Briggs and tried to guess, based only on the letters, who had scored what way or who was who.. They were sure – absolutely certain in fact — that I was an extrovert.
They were wrong.
But I’ve heard from some people – that the whole concept of PHD is actually naming the INFJ as dysfunctional. Or wrong. Or sick.
Does PHD Pathologize Being An INFJ on the Myers-Briggs?
A reader who’d scored high on my questionnaire for PHD wrote in, “Several years ago, I took the Myers Briggs personality test, and what it said… lines up a lot with PHD. I got INFJ on three separate occasions, which is described as caring immensely about the needs of others sometimes to the detriment of self, avoiding conflict, being a caregiver, and an introvert that appears to be an extrovert. Could it be that I just am an INFJ but not PHD? Did PHD turn me into an INFJ? Am I overthinking this?” Another reader lambasted my work on PHD, saying that it was obvious I didn’t know the distinction between and INFJ and an INFP, and I was unfairly pathologizing that personality type or category.
Many have written to me wondering if they fit into the perfectly hidden depression rubric or if it’s just them, “How do I know if it’s depression or not? Maybe it’s just the way I am.“
There may be several traits that are shared between INFJ and PHD. Yet, the first is a style of being, thinking and feeling. PHD exists, often unconsciously, as camouflage for underlying despair, loneliness, and trauma. What may have initially begun as an adaptation to cultural pressure, familial expectations or traumatic expectations and abuse can create an entrenched cycle of rigid control over painful emotions, shame, and silent suicidal thinking.
INFJ is a personality style. While the syndrome of PHD is created by pressure and trauma.
Can a personality style have a more painful shadow?
Of course, there are many seemingly positive ways of being that, taken too far, can become problems.
When does being cool as a cucumber become avoiding personal conflict at all costs? What’s the line between focusing on the well-being of others, and shutting off personal painful emotion? When does putting others first become terrible self-care?
There’s a line that’s crossed, perhaps subtle at first. But it can be crossed; it’s a matter of degree. It’s very rewarding to be a helper, to love well, to put the needs of others first. With my work on PHD, I’m trying to reach the people who’ve crossed that line – to help them believe that there’s a way out of destructive perfectionism.
And if this is you, please pay attention. It could save your life or the life of someone you love.
Note: If interested in taking the Myers Briggs, please know that there is a fee attached. Dr. Rutherford has not received any financial reimbursement for this post.
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has arrived and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life.
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Originally published on Sep 24, 2017; updated and republished on November 27, 2022..