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, what you receive (or don’t receive) from your family in childhood — what kind of safety and nurturing they provided — what your experience is of your culture and the world around you in the years to come.

All of that makes you — you.

And we love to try to identify and understand what makes us tick.

Many of you may have taken the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory. It’s an easy to understand and fun way to look at personality (although not well validated empirically) 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?

Then you’re given a score, based on these four scales.

Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)

Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)

Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

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.

My nine other classmates and I sat around and tried to guess, based only on the letters, who was who. They were sure – absolutely certain in fact — that I was an extrovert.

They were wrong, by the way.

So…what does this have to do with what I’ve termed Perfectly Hidden Depression?

I recently received this email from Janet who had scored high on my questionnaire for PHD.

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?”

Great question.

Many people have written to me about PHD prior to Janet, asking questions not necessarily about the Myers Briggs categories, but rather,”How do I know if it’s depression or not? It’s just the way I am.” Or, “If I can act okay, am I really depressed?”

First, PHD isn’t a diagnosis. It’s a syndrome – a set of behaviors likely to fall together. By identifying the term PHD, I’ve tried to describe a persona that can be self-destructive, if carried too far. The potential for suicidal thinking is there, lurking underneath the surface.
You can call it a personality type. And perhaps someone whose scores as an INFJ shares basic characteristics of PHD — someone who is empathic, focused on others’ welfare, probably more introspective although looking outwardly extroverted, someone who’s decisive and a leader.
My concern is that depression can be found underneath this particular way of being — because there’s underlying shame. Because this way of being isn’t a choice, but a way of avoiding painful emotion. There’s a line that’s crossed, perhaps subtle at first, but it can be crossed.
When does not liking conflict become avoiding personal conflict at all costs, or not knowing where your own personal boundaries are? What’s the line between focusing on the well-being of others, and shutting down any personal painful emotion? When does putting others first become terrible self-care, not knowing how to accept help from others, and leading to emptiness and loneliness? When does being action-oriented become rigidly defining yourself by what you accomplish?
It’s a matter of degree. It’s very rewarding to be a helper, to love well, to put the needs of others first. All the INFJ’s out there are doing just that.
Yet it can become a way to erect a barrier between yourself and others — to hide from or try to pretend that the shame and self-doubt you pummel yourself with doesn’t exist — at least for the moment that your focus is on someone else.
But it can be there — waiting for you.
One woman I interviewed said, “If I let people know the real me, no one would see me as competent anymore. No one would ask for my help. I would lose everything.
She, luckily, was beginning to challenge those thoughts.
You can as well. You can risk feeling a full range of emotion. Joy and sorrow. Contentment and  hurt. Laughter and tears.
Be you. But simply be all of you.

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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.