Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Melancholic or sanguine? Thinker or Feeler? Should you explored the Enneagram, or leave that one alone?
Have personality tests entered into your life yet? Do they influenced the way in which you see yourself?
The rise of personality tests can influence us in positive ways, but they can also be a distraction, or worse, an obstacle in the pursuit of sanctity. At its best, personality typing can become a fun, absorbing way to get to know yourself better. Various methods are used by counselors, therapists, and hiring managers all over the world. Each method of personality typing has its strengths and weaknesses. Many fit well within a Catholic worldview. Others are less compatible.
We all know that pseudo-mystical methods like the zodiac, palmistry, and Essence mapping are dangerous and illicit ways to understand ourselves. But what about more mainstream methods?
With hundreds of personality tests available, let’s stick to just a few of the most popular. The Four Humors (or Temperaments), 5 Love Languages, the ever-popular Myers-Briggs, and even the mysterious, often-debated Enneagram.
The Four Humors
Deciding which of the four humors you’re most aligned with has been a popular pastime since the Middle Ages. The fact that this method is rooted in pre-Christian Greek culture and refined by Medieval thinkers makes it an especially attractive option.
Books like The Temperamant God Gave You can help you figure out whether you’re a sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic, or choleric. Each humor has its strengths and weaknesses.
Spiritual directors often employ the four humors. In fact, there is a wealth of spiritual guidance to be found within the four humors method. Saints like Thomas Aquinas and Hildegard of Bingen used the humors to understand themselves and those around them.
Unlike many modern methods thought, it can be a little confusing to find out your humor. The division of types is often murky, especially for well-balanced individuals.
For years I knew that I was primarily melancholic, but my secondary humor was a mystery to me. I felt completely frustrated by this method because it seemed like such a challenge. But, with good direction, and the wisdom of people better acquainted with the humors, I finally figured myself out.
Good guidance – either spiritually or just among friends – is a great way to make sense out of the four humors. After that, it’s easy to connect with saints who share your type. Take inspiration from the holy men and women who share your personality quirks and seek to imitate them as they grew in holiness.
If you’ve spent any time in the business world, you may have come across the Myers-Briggs personality types. This method is very popular among guidance counselors and Human Resource Managers.
Myer-Briggs offers a great, base-line approach to personality typing. Everyone is cast as either an introvert or an extrovert; sensing or intuiting; thinking or feeling; perceiving or judging.
Those distinctions put together make up your Myers-Briggs type. I’m an INFJ, for example. That means I’m an introverted, intuiting, feeling, judger. That may seem like a lot of jargon words, but the Myers-Briggs gives guidance and explanations along with personality typing. Once you find your type, it’s easier to understand how and why you see the world the way you do.
The Myers-Briggs is one of the most popular methods of personality typing available today. It’s also a great fit for Catholics who a looking for a method that’s a little more mainstream than the Humors. Myers-Briggs doesn’t get caught up in new age distractions and rarely idealizes one type over the others. It just gives you some basic insights into yourself, advice for using your natural strengths, and general self-improvement principals.
The Four Love Languages
Do you remember when the 5 Love Languages craze hit the Catholic world? I do. Ten years after Gary Chapman initially marketed the love languages, my then-roommate and I read the book and took the test – eager to figure out how we felt loved. With its limited options though, we left the test disappointed.
Despite its prevalence in Catholic marriage preparation and couples’ therapy, the Five Love Languages do have some drawbacks that a Catholic should be cautious about. Primarily the method’s focus on “getting my love tank filled” the way I want it to be.
Proponents of the Love Languages do encourage everyone to use these principles generously. Ideally, the Love Languages should teach you to appreciate the way other people show you love. It’s also meant to teach users to tailor their loving gestures to the individual. Detractors argue that the method itself makes a generous application unlikely.
If you’re using this method, try to look beyond your own type and appreciate the many ways your friends, relatives, spouses, and children show love. Even if it’s not your ideal way.
One of the dangers of any personality typing is that it can reduce us to a label and teach us to expect the world to cater to that label. The 5 love languages can encourage this limiting attitude. So, use it with care. Try to treat the love languages an opportunity to love others better, rather than a way to dictate how others ought to love you.
…What about the Enneagram?
With Catholic speakers and spiritual directors like Fr. Richard Rohr promoting this personality typing method, we can’t avoid the influence of the enneagram. Often promoted as a spiritual version of the Myers-Briggs, the enneagram definitely has a spiritual edge.
Unfortunately, that spirituality is rooted in New Age philosophy and not the Catholic faith. As Fr. Mitch Pacwa explains in his book, Catholics and the New Age, the enneagram is based on a heretical, ‘esoteric’ Christianity combined with Eastern philosophy.
At its most basic, introductory level of course, the enneagram feels like any other personality test. We answer questions about our likes, dislikes, dreams, and interior life. But as we delve deeper into this model, it’s easy to spot the occult influences.
Fr. Pacwa stated emphatically that the enneagram is both “bad theology and poor pastoral practice”; Pope St. John Paul II says that this method “introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.” He also uses the enneagram in Jesus Christ: The Bearer of the Water of Life, as a prime example of New Age Gnosticism, which is in “conflict with all that is essentially Christian.”
With so many warning against it, and a wealth of other options at our fingertips, Catholics are better off avoiding the enneagram and pursuing other, more licit means of self-awareness.
Catholics and Personality Types
Have you ever heard that the easiest way to talk to strangers is by asking them about themselves? For most people, we are our own favorite topic of conversation. That’s one reason why there are so many ways to label and explore our own thoughts, minds, and inclinations.
Human beings are beautiful, uniquely fascinating creatures, but we are just creatures. At the end of the day, if your desire to know yourself better distracts from your desire to know Christ better, set it aside.
If, on the other hand, your exploration of personality typing allows you to embrace Christ and your fellow man more completely, then enjoy all the licit options available to you.
Personality typing is a fun way to get to know yourself and your neighbors better. Keep it lighthearted, and remember, whatever your type says about you, there’s always more to the story. Each person is unique. We share common traits and tendencies, but each of us is a one of a kind individual, passionately loved by God.