By Maya Kirpalani
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 personality typology. Brinder Aulakh Anand, an Indian astrologer and Tarot card reader, feels that labeling according to the rules of astrology is accurate. She, however, prefers linking astrology with numerology for they complement each other and therefore should not be studied in isolation.
Is it possible for a practical, down-to-earth Taurean to also be a Piscean dreamer? ‘Yes,’ is Aulakh Anand’s quick reply. ‘The Taurean could have been born on May 7, and 7 is the number of a potential dreamer.’ She elaborates: ‘Suppose a person is born on August 31. That makes him a Number 4 Virgo. But Number 4 gives him the characteristics of an Aquarian, for example, a deep desire for freedom. While, at the same time, being Virgo gives him the stable quality of a square. In the astrology columns I write, my predictions are usually holistic.
Aulakh Anand also turns to Tarot cards for her predictions: ‘They help determine a kind of personality. Take the high priest card, it shows there is a mystic element in you.’ Your Tarot card will symbolically represent your basic personality
But can astrology help you improve ? ‘Certainly,’ says Aulakh Anand. ‘There are higher vibrations and there are lower vibrations. You don’t have to change your personality, you can grow within your type and reach a higher, more advanced level where there is more unity.’
There is a different kind of unity in Chinese astrology with its tendency to veer toward the birth year rather than the birth month. The 12 lunar signs are each named after an animal and those belonging to it will share certain characteristics with the animal. Expect the Snake-born to be skeptical, the Dragon to be domineering, the Rooster to be flamboyant.
And expect the vata (air-ether) type in ayurveda to be both enthusiastic and excitable; the pitta (firewater) type to be intense; and the kapha (earth-water) type to be relaxed. Ayurvedic treatment works on the premise that your humors or energies depend on the type to which you belong. Explains Delhi-based ayurveda practitioner Devendra Triguna: ‘You have to belong to one of the thee—vata, pitta or kapha. There can be a mix, but the predominant one in each person cannot change. All ayurvedic treatment begins with finding this out.’
According to Greek philosophers, you are what you look like. Going by that logic, a ‘horsy’ person is reliable; a big-built muscular male, the neighborhood bully. Arguably, the most ‘physical’ system of typing is the one conceived by American psychologist and physician William Sheldon in the 1940s. Finding a link between the body and mind, Sheldon’s three types are: the soft, often fat, endomorphs (gut-dominated, viscerotonics); muscular and tough mesomorphs (muscle-dominated, somatotonics); and the delicate, fragile-looking ectomorphs (nervous system-dominated, cerebrotonics). Sheldon has also developed three seven-point scales that give 343 possibilities. A 4-4-4, for example, would represent a perfect balance of all types. A typical endomorph is unhurried, deliberate and calm; a mesomorph, energetic and active; an ectomorph, tense and nervous.
And what happens when an excitable mesomorph male marries a laidback endomorph female? Read books that reassure you that men are from Mars, women from Venus ? Delve deep into the yin/yang, right brain/left brain, masculine/feminine controversy ? The Chinese yin and yang literally mean the shady and sunny sides of a mountain. They are not really separate, in fact they merge together when, say, the sun moves across the sky. Yin represents the masculine side of our temperament; yang, the feminine. This is somewhat like purusha (the spirit, masculine principle, represents consciousness) and prakriti (nature, feminine, represents procreation). In the same vein, the left brain is considered analytical, male; the right, intuitive, female. But here too there are overlaps, types within types.
You could, then, turn to the enneagram, the latest way of finding out more about yourself and others around you. A new system with old beginnings, the star-shaped enneagram can be traced back to Pythagoras. It is derived from the Greek words enneas, meaning nine and grammos or points. Using the enneagram for personal growth is a concept introduced by Russian mystic George Gurdjieff who learnt it from an ancient Sufi text. Bolivian psychiatrist Oscar Ichazo applied the enneagram to personality. This was further developed by his student, Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo. And, taking a cue from these spiritual teachers, counselor Helen Palmer began working with, and writing about, this system of typology. It is also used by Catholic priests and nuns all over the world.
According to Delhi-based writer and researcher Janet Chawla, the enneagram concept is picking up in India. She recollects the time she was introduced to it, almost 20 years ago, when she and her husband-to-be visited Kathleen Riordan Speeth, a counselor in California. Speeth identified their numbers: Janet is a 9, her husband, a 5. Says Janet: ‘She told me I am swamp queen, with a tendency to merge, to get engulfed or swamped.’ Her husband, who is dispassionate and detached is radically different from her. Chawla admits to being a typical 9, some one who can easily enter into the realities of others—a trait that helps her excel in her profession.
She adds: ‘The enneagram is a very useful and keen tool, but remember it is a map, a way of describing something. One should not become rigid about it. But yes, it influences the understanding of my own feelings and the way I move in the world.’
The enneagram types are distinct and easy to identify. Which is just as well, for in India we have no one yet to help find our number and the passion or fixation associated with it. As with all other systems of personality mapping, identification is the first step toward awareness and self-development.
A brief introduction to each type: Number 1 is the perfectionist who is conscientious and believes in avoiding evil; 2, the giver who is supportive and likes the feeling of being indispensable; 3, the performer who is achievement oriented and believes in competition and efficiency; 4, the romantic, who is emotionally sensitive and avoids the ordinary; 5, the observer, who is totally uninvolved and believes in controlling his emotions; 6, the doubter who is suspicious and likes to avoid action; 7, the picture who is optimistic and always wants new and interesting things to do; 8, the boss who is concerned about justice and power; 9, the mediator who takes on many points of views. These nine types are further divided into three groups or triads—feeling, doing and relating.
So, who are you? Take you pick. Be a cusp; an insider or an outsider. Go ahead, refer to typology systems old and new. Turn to Tarot cards; gaze at the stars; participate enthusiastically in the numerous number games people play. But do not be glued to your little label or use your type as a scapegoat. For your personality, unlike your blood type, can be changed. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you want to make of yourself.
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