Personality Theories

I have long been fascinated with theories about personality typing.  Both in nursing school and in naturopathic medical school, we studied the MBTI psychometric assessment and determined our own psychological types.  This test was initially developed for gaining assistance with employment.  There are many free-online tests you can take to determine your own MBTI personality type. Back 20 years ago, as well as 30, I recall that I fell  under the classification of ENFJ.  I took the test again today and found out that I am now an INFJ.  While there are likely people who have found this type of testing useful, for myself, it did not help me to better understand myself, my own motivations, others, nor the motivations of others.  It also did not help me gain or confirm employment.

Whatever the goal of the personality test, many people enjoy categorizing themselves, be it for body type, diet type, or personality type.  As a society we appear to be obsessed with labeling, analyzing and fitting ourselves into boxes in order to improve our lives or the the lives of others.

Putting people into neat and tidy boxes appears to be useful when it allows us to better understand ourselves and others.  With understanding, comes the possibility for positive change.  One of the most interesting personality theories I have read is called the Enneagram Personality Theory.  This theory, while intriguing, has no scientific validity.

Peter Savich (who happens to be my brother), has taken this theory, and has created his own theory by linking the nine Enneagram personalities with patterning in brain function, specifically the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.  For the long version of his theory you can read Personality and the Brain: A hacker’s journey through the Enneagram and the emerging brain research.

Again, his theories are only hypotheses and are not scientifically validated.  It is my opinion that there are no technologies available today that would be able to confirm or refute his hypotheses, even if there were neuroscientists interested in doing so - and to date, there are none.  Even the very new technology of fMRIs at this point in time, only measures momentary short term brain activity rather than ongoing long term brain activity, so its usefulness would be greatly limited.  As well, interpretation of brain activity at the present time with this technology is quite challenging and may be open to subjectivity.  Regardless, I for one, would love to see if this theory could stand up to scientific examination.

The reason I believe it is possible that this theory could hold water, is because of my own observations.  I observe myself, my family members, friends and patients, determine their personality type (with or without their involvement) and watch how they cope with stress.  Consistently and predictably, I see patterns that emerge regarding these nine personality types.

Hidden assumptions and delusions are common reasons we have problems with others.  We assume people are like us and then we project our own values, thoughts and emotions on to them.  The Enneagram Theory allows for the understanding of completely different world views by differing personalities.  Peter Savich's theory drives the message home, that these differing world views may not just be a product of nurture, but one of nature and brain wiring.

Genetics may play a larger role in personality after all.  When trying to understand different approaches to problem-solving that each individual utilizes, we see that one size does not fit all.  In this case, there may be nine different sizes.