By Maya Kirpalani May 1996 What personality type are you? It is only when you discover that, can you embark on your journey toward self-understanding and personal growth ‘You are not my type!’ How often have you had that said to you? Has it led you to wonder who you are, what the other person sees you as, and what you would really like to be? Then again, finding your particular type is not so simple. For it is not just an elementary case of labels: Male or female; young or old; black or white; bold or timid; extrovert or introvert. Astrology gives you 12 options (and that is not counting the cusps); there are 78 Tarot cards; the ancient Greeks had 30 personality patterns; the Chinese, yin and yang. There are Hippocrates’ four humors that inspired Rudolf Steiner’s sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic and choleric kinds; ayurveda’s vata, pitta and kapha; Sigmund Freud’s oral, anal and phallic stages of development that lead to three distinct personalities; also Freud’s id, ego and superego, stemming from the conscious, preconscious and unconscious minds; Carl Jung’s intuition and sensation; William Sheldon’s ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph; and the comparatively recent nine numbers of the enneagram. Closer to India, you can go back in time and even consider Manu’s caste structure, still prevalent in India—brahmins (the teachers/educators), kshatriyas (the warriors), vaisyas (the traders) and sudras (the servants). These four divisions represented the essence of each personality type and determined the role each was to play in life. neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a system that tells us that in each person one of the five senses is more developed. Slight, hearing and touch are the three senses used in the NLP approach to promote better understanding of others and ourselves. Whew! That almost appears as if we are all automatons desperately seeking our assorted personality types. This game of numbers interests even those who are not particularly good in arithmetic. Then you find types within types. You could, all at the same time, be a sensitive, stubborn, ambivert, ectomorph, Number 4 Taurean of the mixed vata-pitta kind. And more. But what exactly is ‘personality’? It is derived from the Latin word persona, the name given to the masks actors wore. Personality can be described by types—the grouping of various traits to determine a common pattern of behavior. There are many systems of personality typology, each endeavoring to tell you a bit about yourself, to give you insights into your character. But perhaps each system should come with a mandatory warning, of the kind that is printed on cigarette packs. It could read something like—Statutory Warning: Beware of oversimplification. Setting down in the niche created by your personality pattern, or your interpretation of it, is harmful. Or, Stereotyping is injurious to health. Each system does, however, teach us something about ourselves. Taken as tools to aid better understanding, they could help us see our strengths and weaknesses. Freud’s student, Alfred Adler, advocated a positive approach to personality typing. According to Adler, everyone is capable of finding out one’s weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these perceptions lead to compensation in other areas. For example, a handicapped child would try to be the class leader. There are some traits we are born with. Some are thrust on us (environment, upbringing and so on). And some we acquire during the course of our lives. Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf School system, used the four-temperament method to help understand his students: The sanguine, optimistic type, associated with blood or red humor; the easily depressed melancholic with black choler or bile; the phlegmatic calm temperament with white humor or lymph and mucous fluids; and, lastly, the volatile choleric kind with yellow choler or adrenaline. Observes Deepika Nath, a kindergarten teacher at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India: ‘I have noticed that by the age of five or six years, a child has developed his personality. Of course, circumstances can bring about certain changes, but by and large these traits remain. For example, a shy child will remain shy, though he will try to disguise this as he grows older. But it is difficult to totally outgrow one’s personality characteristics.’ Banking on this fact are recruitment agencies and HRD managers who often look at—and study—a candidate’s personality to assess his potentiality. Explains Anuradha Chakraborty, assistant consultant, A.F. Ferguson & Co., Mumbai, western India: ‘When we employ someone we consider his or her personality type according to the client’s specifications. Suppose someone wants an industrial relations person in a plant that has a reputation for indiscipline. We will look for someone who is strong and can face challenges, a person who is both aggressive and assertive, and skilled in interpersonal relations. In marketing, however, the specifications are different. Here we need someone who likes to travel, who is excited by change.’ Attesting the reliability of recruitment by type, Chakraborty points out that they use psychometric tests that look for aptitude orientation—to determine whether a person is outgoing or a good communicator or whatever the need maybe. They use the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Jungian typology and is probably the most widely used personality test in the world. Says Chakraborty : ‘We also check type through simulated situations. A candidate is given a decease study and then we see how the person deals with the situation. I find personality tests to be both important and reliable.’ In a lighter vein, but not to be dismissed lightly, is the importance of knowing your boss’s personality—it could help save many a career. As well as the sanity of many office goers. However, cautions Mumbai-based psychotherapist Dr Rani Raote: ‘If you are using the label to understand a person, as a tool, it is all right. For example, it is important for me to know whether a patient is depressed, angry, disinterested or suicidal. It helps treating a mental disorder. But do not try to squeeze a person into a certain mould. That would be more of a hindrance.’ Having said that, she concedes that knowing the patient’s personality type is important: ‘Awareness is the first step to change. If I know the dominant traits of a patient, it gives me a reference point. A paranoid schizophrenic personality has to be identified before therapy can begin. Often, the patient himself helps me in this categorizing.’ Many people will stick to a label as an easy way out, continues Dr Raote. ‘You tend to say, ‘I’m a Scorpio’ and leave it at that. But keep in mind that we have choices—we can choose to change. None of us is trapped for life, and that’s what obviously makes us different from animals. We have our individual characteristics, we are variable, we can adapt.’ The study of typology helps relationships and facilitates our understanding of all those close to us. But any tendency toward oversimplification should be avoided for there is no single type to fit a description. Moreover, a person can change over the years. Then again, a trait may be dormant or dominant at different moments in time. Determining these traits helps Delhi-based psychologist-counselor Arjuman Bano: ‘We have to find the personality type of a person—whether he is an extrovert, introvert or ambivert—before we can counsel him. We then know how to approach him.’ Bano uses personality tests and has detailed questionnaires to help identify a personality type. But, according to personal growth facilitator Khursheed Merchant, to try to identify a person’s type is in a way, retarding his growth. Says Merchant: ‘I find the giving of labels absolutely ridiculous. For you are not shy or timid or whatever. You are different things in different situations. To give a person a label, say, hypersensitive, is actually regressing his behavior.’ For her there is something very conclusive about determining a personality pattern : ‘You tend to get stuck in it.’ Rising above the quagmire of types, Merchant does not see the necessity of identifying the participants of her personal growth workshops that she conducts regularly in Mumbai and which have been attended by over 25,000 people. ‘I make them walk through fire for I feel that the person who does so often thinks of himself or herself as being timid. They are caught in a trap of their own thinking.’ For Merchant, a type is a concept; ‘it blocks them, it locks them,’ she adds vehemently, and then, reiterating for emphasis: ‘I find labels absolutely ridiculous.’ Yet they are not easy to dismiss, for we have been ‘typing’ each other and all those around us since time immemorial. The oldest, the most common and the most popular way of personality divination is the study of the science of astrology. Everybody knows of, and immediately relates to, the 12 zodiac signs. Over the years, both fortune tellers and seekers have increased in numbers; each looking to the other for sustenance. Linda Goodman’s books go hurtling to the top of the bestseller lists; editors often introduce astrology columns to help sagging circulation figures; and fond parents turn to the computer or the family pundit for the preparation of their newborn’s janam patri (astrological chart). The zodiac signs, with their infinite combinations and permutations, are said to represent all of life’s possibilities. The study of these signs leads to a good knowledge of per
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