Mind Matters: Personality Types and Parenting Styles

9 min read

Preferred Approach to Personality
Which is the best way to look at personality? There are no correct answers to this question. The problem is that human personalities are so diverse and complex that there is no one best way of analysing this subject matter. Each approach has its own merits. The neuropsychological perspective is very scientific and opens a lot of information doors about brain functions, but it is too cold and distant and does not provide the insight that we seek when trying to assess the personality of a person.

Personality Tests 
There have been several tests that attempt to analyse and categorise one’s personality type. Some companies use them to determine who to employ. Some mental health professsionals might use the tests to aid in the diagnosis and management of psychopathological personality disorders. Most members of the public probably take these tests out of curiosity to see if the tests can accurately capture their personality. 
We will just look at three popular personality tests: a) The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), b) the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and c) The Enneagram.
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)  Introduced in 1948 at the University of Minnesota, it has since undergone several revisions. It is the most scientifically evaluated and the most comprehensive personality test. But in addition, it also evaluates psychopathology. This test is given to children above the age of 14 years.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) 
Inspired by Carl Jung’s (1875-1961) Psychological Types, this test was constructed by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers, and they published their Type Indicator Handbook in 1944. The test has been modified over the years and renamed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Originally it was recommended that the test be administered to children above the age of 14 years. The foundation of the MBTI is the tenet that there are four dimensions or dichotomies of how people perceive the world and make decisions. Each dichotomy creates a scale. The four dichotomies are:

1. Introvert vs. Extrovert
2. Sensing vs. Intuitive
3. Thinking vs. Feeling
4. Perceiving vs. Judging

The permutations and combinations of these four dimensions yield 16 personality types. Interestingly, the four scales used in the MBTI have some correlation with four of the Big Five personality traits, which is currently more accepted than the MBTI.

The Enneagram
The Enneagram system of personality types has come under a barrage of criticisms, including the lack of rigorous scientific validation and its links to mysticism. Using a nine-pointed star chart, it divides people into 9 types, and everyone belongs to one type all one’s life. 

Criticisms of Personality Tests 
One important attack on the validity of personality tests was made by the psychologist Walter Mischel. After reviewing dozens of studies on personality tests, he discovered that the results of many personality tests, including the MBTI and Enneagram, are not consistent. Up to 47% of testers end up with a different personality type when retested. He argued that if there is reasonable stability in personality traits, then the wild fluctuations in typing must be due to a flawed test.

Defenders of Personality Tests
Defenders of personality tests would point to all biological tests, such as blood pressure or tests of attention deficit hyperactivity, as having some degree of inconsistency. There will be fluctuations in the results depending on the time of day, or day of the week the test is conducted. It is argued that a test like the MBTI if the test subject is someone who is emotional or aggressive, then they are naturally more prone to variations in their tests, and it may also depend on environmental circumstances. The test itself, it is maintained, is good, and there is nothing wrong with it. Furthermore, it is sensitive enough to reflect a person’s constant changes in personality. After all, people behave differently at school, in the office, in a party, in a religious environment, with family members, and so on. The problem is that individuals get bored with repeated tests, and they can become capricious with multiple testing, and perhaps some may even sabotage them. Conscious and unconscious factors which can affect the expression of different aspects of personality, especially during testing, are not taken into account with these studies.

Another Attack on Personality Tests
The second attack levelled against personality testing is that personality is like a huge metaphorical elephant. We do not fully understand the nature of the beast. And the current state of the art in testing is still in its infancy. Thus, each test conducted is rather like a blind person feeling a different part of this proboscidean. People are too readily labeled as “individualist” or “challenger” or ESFJ (extraversion, sensing, feeling, judgment) or INTP (introversion, intuition, thinking, perceiving), or something else.

Personality Labelling
It is true that personality labels are somewhat obscure and not well-defined. Are we justified in labelling people and then using the labels to predict their future behaviour, their future partnership or job suitability? Until we gain a much better understanding of personality, it would be too presumptuous to use these tests to determine someone’s entire future livelihood. However, maybe one should not throw out the personality test baby with the entire testing bath water. One should continue to refine the tests.

Do We Have Multiple Personalities? 
We all hate being typecast because we do not consider ourselves to be one-dimensional. It is possible that we all have multiple personalities. We mould our personality to match the person we are interacting with at that moment in time. As for career advice, we certainly do not wish to be told which profession is best for our personality. 
However, there is an uncommon disorder of multiple personalities or dissociative personality disorder. Individuals with this condition have two or more distinct personality states that are usually long-lasting. Childhood traumatic events or child abuse may be the cause in some cases. Psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy may sometimes help, but the condition usually persists.

Can You Change Your Personality? 
The most famous change in personality following a head injury in 1848 is that of the railroad worker Phineas Gage whose left frontal brain lobe was pierced by a metal rod. Before the accident his fellow workers described him as “efficient and capable”, but after the injury, he was said to be “fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows.” He had become a moody, aggressive alcoholic and he could not stick to any jobs.
Another line of evidence that personality can change is a 2011 study, where people were given the hallucinogenic “magic mushroom”, psilocybin. Subjects given this medicine therapeutically became more open, and could withstand stresses. 
It has also been observed that extroverted toddlers evolve into introverted adolescents. As individuals age further, they are gradually become more extraverted, less neurotic, more congenial and more meticulous. Personality changes have also been noted in patients with Alzheimer Disease; in addition to memory loss, they also display apathy, agitation, aggression, delusions and depression. These changes have been reported by relatives and close friends.

Parenting Styles  Sometimes there is a mismatch between a child’s personality and that of the parents. The child may be more playful while the parent may be strict and obsessional. Conversely the child may want be alone, while the parent may want  to socialise. This mismatch can lead to clashes.

Understand both your own as well as your child’s temperament, and take a step back to look at the broader picture. Instead of becoming bothered and exasperated, try to think of some ways of solving the problem, or come up with compromises. 

Keep your needs separate
Another common parenting challenge is that of separating parental needs and temperamental style from that of our children. A parent may believe that a child “needs” lots of social activity, for example, when in fact, the parent desires it. Getting clear on your own parenting style and needs can help you maintain healthy boundaries and see your children as individuals.

Final Notes
What makes us distinctive and individual is our personality. We know that the brain plays a major role in shaping our personality, but the precise way this is achieved remains a mystery. It is made up of a constellation of different traits which are assembled in an infinity of combinations and permutations to create a universe of our minds. 

Each one of us is special.


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Written by Dr Kenneth Lyen
Illustrated by Lee Xing Yi


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