When Personality Tests are Damaging

Written By Gabrielle Lee, Singapore

Introverts are quiet, shy, and don’t like meeting people.
Extraverts (or “extrovert” as this psychology term is often spelled) are loud, seek attention, and love meeting people.

You’ve probably heard such descriptions of personality types. You may have even used similar words to describe someone’s personality—or your own.

It’s pretty evident that personality assessments are all the rage these days. More and more companies and organizations pay for their staff to undergo these assessments and more and more of such “quizzes” have sprung up in recent years.

In fact, schools have also started using personality tools early to help their students become more self-aware. This is probably because we’ve realized how our personalities can influence our behavior, how we relate to people, and how we respond to people and situations.

Some years ago when I first used a personality tool, the results confused me. I had long assumed that others expected me to be extraverted so I tried to fit myself in this mold. It was disturbing to find out that I in fact preferred introversion.

I’ve been behaving as an extravert all my life . . . how could I be introverted?

In a way, the results explained why I had been at war with my own personality so much while growing up. Years of social pressure and my peers’ behavior had convinced me that being outgoing was a good trait. So I had tried to be an extravert yet I still received remarks that I was “anti-social”, “aloof”, and “arrogant”.

On top of that, this personality tool, which also looked at decision-making, showed that I preferred thinking (being logical, analytical, reasonable) over feeling (being relational, empathetic, compassionate). No wonder I was often described as “cold” or criticized for expressing objective, analytical thoughts in situations where empathy was expected. People often said they were surprised at my lack of “appropriate emotions”.

And so I tried hard to gain acceptance and avoid rejection. I pretended to be friendly and likable, although, I felt I was really a cynical personality inside. This made me guilty and bitter—I felt guilty for being “fake”, and angry with others for not giving the “real” me a chance. After years of discouraging remarks, I even became deeply convinced that I wasn’t capable of truly loving or caring for someone. I felt flawed and unlovable.

What made it even more ironic was that I had been working as an organization development consultant. I’m familiar with the theory, design, administration and interpretation of the results from personality indicators. However, I couldn’t reconcile the difference between what I knew and what I felt about my own personality.

Then God spoke to me one day through a sermon. The pastor cited Jeremiah 1:5, which says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” The message was about embracing the intimate relationship God wants to have with us because He designed us and knows His masterpieces best. No quirk, flaw, strength, or weakness escapes Him. And He deliberately placed us in our families, our countries, and our community for a specific purpose. In that moment, I heard God telling me:

My child, I’d planned for you to be who you are—including your personality. You are cherished and loved in my eyes, and soon others will realize it too. You have nothing to hide or fear, for I’ve been shaping you into the person you’re meant to be.

I sat up in attention. The message overwhelmed me and I found myself silently asking, “Is that you, God?” I had never heard Him so directly and clearly before. I felt exposed and vulnerable, but there was nowhere for me to hide.

As I prayed and surrendered my years of guilt and self-rejection, crying out to God to heal my emotional scars, I was flooded with a tremendous sense of relief. I found myself reveling in the unchangeable fact that Jesus loves me unconditionally. I didn’t have to do anything else to earn that love. For the first time, I tasted the freedom of living in the truth of His word and I no longer felt ashamed of myself.

Psychologist Carl Jung got one thing right—personality is innate. It’s innate because it’s God-given. Our Creator lovingly handcrafted each of us uniquely. While we are all called to be Christ-like, I believe that we are created differently, so that we can reach out to the world creatively through our unique ways of interaction.

After my renewed experience with God’s love, I felt empowered to change the parts of my personality that were misaligned with my purpose on earth. For example, instead of reacting with my “thinking” preference, I now try to put myself in the shoes of the other person first. Some qualities can be learned and they do get easier with practice.

Whether we are extraverted or introverted, whether we are thinking or feeling people, we are all capable of reaching out to others and building meaningful relationships. Ultimately, it is important to remember that no personality tool can capture God’s unique design in each of us.

5 replies
  1. Joel Li
    Joel Li says:

    I don’t really think personality tools are the root of the issue here …

    More like pressure to conform…

    Reply
  2. Mimi
    Mimi says:

    I agree with the first comment. It sounds like the personality test allowed you to accept who and how God made you. That doesn’t mean we don’t work to develop those traits that aren’t our natural strengths, just that we accept our natural selves and work with our gifts rather than trying to pretend to be someone we aren’t. God bless.

    Reply

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