Monday, May 7, 2012

on birth order + the Myers-Briggs.

{yes, this is a photo of the olsen sisters. from here.}

Jordan and I are big believers in the power of birth order.

We’ve skimmed the books, done research online, and observed plenty of family members and friends. Sure, neither one of us is a psychologist or licensed counselor, but in our humble opinions, this birth order stuff is for real, and the longer I work and the more people I meet, the more I wish we all walked around with two pieces of information bound across our heads: 1) the results of our Myers-Briggs tests, and 2) whether we’re eldest, middle, youngest, or only siblings.

Have you taken the Myers-Briggs? (There’s a free, online version available here.) We had to take the test as part of our freshman orientation class in college, and I cannot tell you how invaluable my results have been to me over the years. In fact, of all the things I learned in college, that might be one of the most helpful. Thanks to my Myers-Briggs results, I can better understand why I am the way that I am.

According to Wikipedia, my results can be broken down as follows:

Introversion preferred to extraversion.
INTJs tend to be quiet and reserved. They generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extraverts gain energy).

Intuition preferred to sensing.
INTJs tend to be more abstract than concrete. They focus their attention on the big picture rather than the details and on future possibilities rather than immediate realities.

Thinking preferred to feeling.
INTJs tend to value objective criteria above personal preference. When making decisions they generally give more weight to logic than to social considerations.

Judgment preferred to perception.
INTJs tend to plan their activities and make decisions early. They derive a sense of control through predictability, which to perceptive types may seem limiting.

As an INTJ, I know I lose energy from being around people. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy parties or gatherings or friends; it just means when the parties and the get-togethers are over, you can find me asleep on the couch or staring silently in a corner. (Jordan, an ENTJ, comes home full of energy and ready to talk about it all. Our differences in the introvert vs. extrovert debate contribute to a lot of discussions at home; the fact that I know he is an ENTJ helps us better figure out why one of us is upset or tired or excited or hopeful.) I also know I function better with a plan; I like to know deadlines in advance, and I'm okay with not always knowing the exact answer to any particular problem. I'm analytical and creative and work well by myself. (It's why I function best with a boss who gives me a task, then leaves me alone to do the work.)

When I was a little girl, my grandfather told my mother that he knew I was smart because I was content to not have all the answers, and I was comfortable going to look for them. I'm confident in my abilities and capable in leadership positions. I'm also demanding in what I expect of people (oh, so true!), and I take a while to warm up to others. (Knowing this about myself helps me keep these parts of myself in check; I don't always handle my relationships with grace, and I'm working on it.) As a result, I am terrible at small talk, which makes me a terrible bore at cocktail parties and work functions. Networking, despite my best efforts over the years, is a loathsome task I've pretty much given up hope of ever perfecting or enjoying.

I'm independent and wary of authority based on tradition, rank or title. I'm not big in showing my emotions (though this has changed slightly over the years), but I'm loyal to those I love. My home and family are extremely important to me, and life is good when those two things are under control.

Do you see how helpful Myers-Briggs results would be in getting to know a person? Knowing Jordan's personality type helps in arguments and discussions; it doesn't hurt that we're very similar and therefore know when to take it easy on the other. I can see how Myers-Briggs results would be especially beneficial in an office setting. In fact, if I were ever to become a manager of some kind (a role that my personality would probably thrive in), I'd love to have employees take the Myers-Briggs. Wouldn't it be helpful to know how best to manage a certain personality type? Wouldn't it be beneficial to know the girl standing in the corner isn't a terrible communicator, she's just introverted? Wouldn't it help to know who thrives with a boss who's hands-off versus who needs a little bit more guidance or input? In church, wouldn't it be helpful to have the same type of information? We would know so much more about each other and why we do the things we do.

I believe birth order functions in the same way. As an eldest child, I'm responsible and reliable; I'm a natural leader and rule-follower. I'm also bossy and tend to be hard on myself and on others. As a kid, I was punished differently from my younger brother because I was already pretty tough on myself. I beat myself up enough. Just the other day, I was running late to work and had to call my boss to let her know I wouldn't be in until 9:00. At 9:01, as I sat quietly preparing for the day, my boss came by and chided me, half-jokingly. "Tsk, tsk," she said, and you know what? It was devastating. I'd already beaten myself up enough. I didn't need an additional reprimand. If I'd had "eldest sibling" tattooed across my forehead, she would have known that really, no punishment (no matter how slight) was needed.

 Jordan, too, is an eldest sibling, which means we can butt heads with one another. We both tend to be stubborn and think our way is the better way. We've also noticed that since we've known each other, we'll each take turns fulfilling the "younger sibling" role. For example, Jordan is a rather extreme rule-follower. In marriage, I tend to be the more easy going of the two of us in that area, often urging Jordan to be a little bit more lax. Otherwise, we might drive each other crazy.

Growing up, my friends were all youngest and only siblings. We meshed well together, probably because I was a little bit bossy and a lot organized, while my friends were content to go with the flow and would encourage me toward spontaneity. In college, I gravitated toward eldest siblings, and we joke now that in our entire group of friends from college, there's not one youngest sibling among them. As a result, we all travel really well together — we've got a lot of planners and organizers — and it's fairly easy to gather together every few months or so because we're all pretty loyal and determined to make things happen.

I'm curious, then, to know what my blog readers and friends are. Have you taken the Myers-Briggs? What were your results? Do you think they're accurate? Are you an eldest, youngest, or only sibling? Do you think that's shaped your personality at all?

* Update: Those of you interested in birth order might enjoy reading Kevin Leman's The Birth Order Book. I haven't read the whole thing, but what I have read is pretty fascinating. Let me know what you think! 


katie said...

This cracks me up (in a good way, I'm laughing with not at you). My old boss was an INTJ and he was always talking about it and referencing it. He was also always referencing mine (which I can't even remember now - probably the middle child in me). So I wonder if it's an INTJ thing to be so interested in Myers-Briggs...? Very interesting!! And I'm obsessed with birth order... Josh and I are both middle children, so we are both laid back - maybe a little too much, ha! I know that the way we function as a married couple would drive my sisters crazy, but it works for us!

fuzzin said...

I am an INFJ.
-moderately expressed introvert
-slightly expressed intuitive personality
-moderately expressed feeling personality
-moderately expressed judging personality.

Apparently I'm the confused middle child.

Brittany said...

Haha I loved that first comment--I am obsessed with little personality analyses, and have been since elementary school. I've taken the Myers-Briggs several times, and I get mixed results--halt INTJ and half INFJ. Which makes sense, really. I fall into both categories depending on where I am in life.

I'm an oldest child as well. And I act like one.

So I guess we're pretty similar? It's probably why I love you and your blog so much.

Elizabeth Dean said...

I always get rated as introvert but my mother always thinks that's silly. There have been a lot of books lately written about the history of introverts. The most recent is "Quiet" by Susan Cain. She writes about how American culture in the Progressive Era stigmatized introverts as being un-American, recluse, and suspicious. This started a way of thinking that tried to discourage shyness or 'wallflowering' as a bad social trait and tried to make them extroverts. It is really an interesting book.

Erin said...

I'm an INFJ, which makes complete and total sense. Now I have a hankering to get my husband to take the test to, as I am curious what he is.
I am also an eldest child, aka bossy and organized. ;)

jenna said...

I am an ENFJ. My freshman year, when I first took the Myers-Briggs, I was an extreme extravert. However, by the time I took it again my senior year, I had balanced out a lot. I measure as an ENFJ, but I am no longer extreme. My "number" on the scale showed a 0, and once it even said that I was introverted. I kinda think I am some sort of hybrid of the two... I am energized by people, but not large, overwhelming groups-- that drains me of energy. I thrive in the smaller, more intimate settings. If I have had to spend a lot of time around lots of people I don't know well, I need to be around people that know me to be reenergized.

(I have noticed that this shift has occurred mostly in my 4 years of youth ministry. Something about always meeting people, being in large groups of people who expect something from you, having to "be" a certain thing... it will wear you out. Or at least it does me!)

Oh, and I am definitely the oldest child. Yeah...

Annie said...

I was only two paragraphs into this when I burst out laughing, because I feel if we had our Myers-Briggs results and our birth order taped to our foreheads it would answer so many questions about so many people!

That said, this post explains why you and I get along so well. I'm also an INTJ oldest child, so just about everything you say in this post about yourself is true of me as well.

I definitely think these types of analyses are incredibly important to discovering more about ourselves and the people we love. I also like the Five Love Languages (I took the test but never read the book), StrengthsFinder (my mother doesn't swear, but if she did, it'd probably be by this book), and Multiple Intelligences (eight different learning styles). All of them have helped contribute to my understanding of who I am and how I learn, and that, in turn, has helped me get more out of my education, and out of my life, than I would have otherwise.

Kara Gehret said...

I am a 100% text book example of an ENFJ.

Skin and Blister said...

I'm also an eldest child... off to take the MB test

Lauren said...

Depending on the day, I can test as an ENFP, ENFJ, or INFP. I call myself an introverted extrovert, which is just a perfect encapsulation of my 50-50 personality split. If you take two polar opposites, I am somehow both of those things :).

I am also TOTALLY an eldest child :).

Skin and Blister said...

I'm an INFP apparently and the Wikipedia description of that pretty much sums me up 100%

The comment about liking people's blogs based on their results really intrigues me. I can see how that would definitely be possible.

Laura said...

I have taken the Meyers-Briggs through an offsite at work. It was super interesting to see how different (and alike) the people in my department are. I am an ENFJ. Which works well because I enjoy being around people and organizing events for us :) I wrote about it here:

And finally, I am both an oldest child and a middle child. I am my mother's first child (I have a younger brother), but my father was married previously and I have 3 older siblings. How would you explain this?

Anne said...

I've been reading your blog for a little while now, but not sure if I've commented before. Anyways, I loved this post and I have taken the Myers-Briggs test before, however I took it again because I thought that maybe my personality had changed. And I was right, it had. I used to be an extrovert in high school and a little through college, but now I'm an introvert.

I'm an ISTJ, very close to you, so I could totally relate to everything you're saying. And the S of my test was like 1%, so really I'm pretty neutral on the S or N scale. But I'm also an oldest child, so it sounds like we're alot alike. And my name is Anne, so we have that in common too :)

chet said...


another online personality test identified me as "cute, cuddly, and dangerous."

ms.composure said...

Stumbled onto your blog and just wanted to show you some blog luv! def enjoyed this post :) New follower via email

Ashley said...

Eldest child, hate small talk at social events and love my few close friends!

annie said...

okay guys... embedded comments aren't working, so this could be slow-going, but let's try anyway:

@ katie - Jordan and I were in the bookstore the other day and came across "The Birth Order Book" by Kevin Leman; he gives all kinds of parenting scenarios and suggestions for people like you and me who married the same sibling-type. :) We're not ready for parenting just yet, but it was pretty interesting all the same.

@ Brittany - I knew we'd be similar! :) I'm an INTJ, but my lowest percentage (in fact, it's 1%) is between the T and the F... I guess I can't quite make up my mind if I'm a thinker or a feeler. And yes! I am obsessed with these kinds of quizzes. I could take them all day long.

@ Elizabeth - It'd be neat to take the quiz FOR someone (i.e., your mom take it on your behalf, I take it for Jordan, etc.) and see if the results come out the same. It'd be interesting to know if our loved ones see us the same as we see ourselves.

@ Jenna - I definitely think we can change as we get older. My mom said she's become less of an extrovert as she's gotten older, and I've become way less of a "thinker" vs. "feeler." Plus I read somewhere that the lower your percentage, the more balanced in that area you are... so maybe you're not just a hybrid introvert/extrovert; you're really just balanced. You're happy with both.

annie said...

@ Annie - Okay, no wonder we get along so well! :) And I've heard so much about the StrengthsFinder (Jordan's dad raves about it), and I'm kind of dying to try it.

@ Kara - I'd be interested to know which of these personality types "mesh" well, because some of my most favorite people are ENFJs. :)

@ Lauren - I'm impressed that you get different results each time -- I'm always the same thing. The percentages fluxuate a little bit, but I'm also a rather extreme introvert and extreme judging type; the other two are a bit more balanced. Maybe your different results mean just that: You're more balanced across the board. *(And I'm starting to wonder if most bloggers are eldest children, lol, because most of my commenters are eldest siblings!)

@ Skin and Blister - So far, it's kind of true! A lot of my commenters are eldest children, and a pretty big percentage seem to be introverts. In "real life," I'm friends with a lot more extroverts - maybe they help bring me out of my shell? - but I'm friends with a lot of eldest children, too. So interesting!

@ Anne - Hey Anne! It sounds like we're "kindred spirits." :) Another commenter and my mom both mentioned that they used to be extroverts, but over the years were becoming more introverted. I'd be interested to know if that's typical. I've pretty much been an introvert my whole life (and my husband thinks he used to be an introvert; now he's an extrovert), but I wonder if the I and the E are the ones most people change on through the years.

Libby said...

I, too, am an INTJ and eldest child. I think that's why, as I read your blog, I can related to just about everything -- overcommitting, loving to read, etc. Carry on!

Annie said...

You should! Let me know if you do - I'd be interested to know what your strengths are. It's mostly helpful for careers, so it's nice to know going into the job market what makes me a valuable asset and how I work best and why.

Erin said...

I love it!! I am totally into the Myer-Briggs assessments. I am a ESFJ, though J/P are really close. I waiver between the two. And, I am the middle child. 3rd of ten kids.
My husband is the eldest child & an INTJ. I am working on trying to discern my kids "letters" also!

Rachael L. Anderson said...

I want to read that book to see what it says about youngest children! I am the youngest of three, and my husband is the same. (which is why our arguments last forever bc we can't stand to be wrong!) I am an ESFJ/P.

annie said...

@ Erin - I waiver between the F/T, which I've heard means your more moderate and balanced in those areas. And wow, 3 of 10! My mom is 7 of 8, and she says she definitely exhibits "youngest child" characteristics. My extended family and I are super, super close, and we've talked about how even though my cousin is the eldest of two, she really exhibits the qualities of a middle child -- because my brother and I were like her older siblings! I think that can be pretty fascinating to see play out as well.

@ Rachael - My husband and I were skimming that book (it was on the Barnes and Noble bargain table recently!), and it said that when two eldest children get together and marry, they may have to be careful a) not to favor the eldest child, and b) to avoid pressuring and instilling expectations of perfection (since that's kind of our tendency anyway). The book gave all kinds of tips on the different pairings, how they parent together, and what their strengths and weaknesses might be. So interesting!

jenna said...

@Annie & Annie! We did the StrengthsFinder stuff as a ministry staff this past year and it was SO insightful!! I liked it way more than the typical spiritual gift or personality test. It described me spot on!

Whitney said...

Ok, I just stumbled on your blog and had to comment on this post because I am obsessed with personality tests! Middle child, INFP.

Have you heard about the Enneagram? It's another really fascinating personality test, but it looks at how personalities are formed around a basic fear/basic desire. That is something I wish was taped on everyone's forehead. Alas.

Anonymous said...

I just took the Myers-Briggs test this semester for one of my psych courses. INFP! (Although, T and F were exactly equal, so it defaults to F for some reason.) And I'm the eldest child, too. Never thought about how me beating myself up about stuff sometimes might come from the whole birth order thing, but it makes sense.

So happy to have read this post. The Myers-Briggs test was possibly the best thing I've done so far with my psychology studies.

jagdish said...

Myers-Briggs results would be especially beneficial in an office setting. In fact, if I were ever to become a manager of some kind (a role that my personality would probably thrive in), I'd love to have employees take the Myers-Briggs. Wouldn't it be helpful to know how best to manage a certain personality type?