Friday, March 13, 2009

Guilt and Personality Typing

When I sat down to think about guilt (I use the term "sat down" metaphorically of course), I thought about the first year after Safa was born. I cried almost every night before I finally fell asleep, thinking of all the ways I'd failed my children during the day. During that time, I felt like my day was made up in large measure by decisions about who to let down next. This doesn't happen as often as it used to. But at that time, they were all very young and The Black Hole of Need was deep indeed.

Guilt is insidious. It will begin a slow creep up my back to sit upon my shoulder and whisper in my ear all the ways I'm not measuring up. It's crazy-making. In my darkest moments I find myself wanting to poll every mother I can find and see how I stack up: How much time do you spend playing what they want to every day? Do you plan menus for the week? How often do you consider turning in your pink slip? Do the sheets really need to be changed? After all, there are no peer evaluations, no gold stars, no reviews, when your feeling vulnerable.

But the truth is, there are as many ways to be a good mother as there are mothers. There are no perfect mothers. There is no Right Answer to any poll question I could come up with that would give me any real information about the job I'm doing. Every mother has her strengths and weaknesses.

Enter the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on Carl Jung's 1923 book Psychological Types. I first found my type when I was 15. And again in a Personality Theories class I took in college. I have found personality typing to be helpful in many instances in my life, giving me information about myself and the people in my life. So a couple of years ago I went looking for a parenting book relating to personality types and I found MotherStyles, written by Janet P. Penley. This book was enormously helpful in allowing me to see what strengths I brought to my mothering and helped me let go of a lot of guilt. It helps you find your type out of the 16 distinct types, then tells you what your Strengths as a mother are and also what your Struggles might be.

Typing is accomplished by determining your preferences:

Where do you get your energy? (E)xtraversion or (I)ntroversion

What information to you pay the most attention to? (S)ensing or I(N)tuition

How do you make decisions? (T)hinking or (F)eeling

How do you like your life to be structured? (J)udging or (P)erceiving

Most people know whether they are an extravert (this is the correct spelling in this instance) or an introvert, but basically the question boils down not to one of being shy or gregarious, but do you feel energized by the party (E) or exhausted by it(I)?

When processing information do you rely on your five senses, the facts, details, and reality (S) or do you rely on "hunches", relationships, abstractions, and possibilities (N)?

When making decisions, do you think with your head, are you concerned with truth and justice, value logic, are you skeptical (T)? Or are you led by your heart, trust your gut, do you value relationships and harmony (F)?

Do you like a planned, orderly life that is organized (J)? Or are you spontaneous, take life as it comes, open and flexible (P)?

I am an INFJ. This type represents about 2-3% of the population. It's no wonder if I compare myself to other mothers I going to feel on some level that I don't measure up. BUT, if I recognize my personality type, if I see where my strengths lie, then I can recognize that I do have gifts as a mother, that I'm not failing at every turn. For instance my type is the "Know Thyself" mother. Which I find funny considering I went searching for the book and am subsequently writing this post. INFJ parents place a lot of value on self-discovery. Our strengths are connecting one-on-one with each child, giving emotional support, providing insight into deeper aspects of life, and creativity. Our struggles are the tedium of everyday life, idealizing life and holding incredibly high expectations of ourselves and family, and self-sacrifice resulting in resentment.

Yes. That is me in a nutshell as a parent. There are lots of things I'm not good at. But I am good at showing my children what I perceive to be the deepest beauties of the world. It does stress me out when they are all crazy and goofy and loud at Sun Harvest. I do not find this fun and/or funny like some mothers would. My children may not grow up with a particularly playful mother. But they will grow up aware of dusk's light, the beauty of a pear, the importance of compassion, and the ability to detect the emotion displayed on someone else's face.

Most of my friends are extraverts. Let's take an ESTP (about 6-8% of the population) mother for example. This is the "Action Adventure" mother. Penley says this kind of mama's strengths lie in making the ordinary exciting, encouraging her children to explore the world, playing with her kids on their level, and flexibility. She also might struggle most with routines, being still and quiet with her children, and being easily distracted. It's clear that an INFJ and an ESTP parent will approach child-rearing in different ways. But neither is better or more effective than the other. Just different.

It can also be helpful to know the type of your co-parent. Seeing what the other person brings to parenting can create a deeper understanding of how and why we each parent as we do. (Knowing your child's type can be incredibly helpful too!) Obviously, personality typing isn't an exact science, I have a lot of Perceiving mixed in with my Judging. And there are other forms of personality typing. The Enneagram has been very helpful as well. If you are interested, tell me your type either in the comments below or in email, and I'll tell you your strengths!

The next time you start to compare yourself to someone else, whether you are a mother or not, think about your strengths. Don't let guilt and doubt whisper in your ear. Embrace your unique abilities. Remember the gifts you have to share.


Monica said...

Interesting, Ashley! From years ago, I am remembering that I am an ISFJ... and I think dh is the complete opposite, on every count. I'll have to ask him again to see if that's true.

Anyway, just wanted to say I related to so much of what you wrote here...

"But they will grow up aware of dusk's light, the beauty of a pear, the importance of compassion, and the ability to detect the emotion displayed on someone else's face."


Ashley said...

thanks for reading monica...

Kelsey said...

What does it say about me as a parent that I am unable to figure out my type? I think it could be ESTJ, but I only feel solid about the E and J.

Unknown said...

I love that one can take note of strengths as a parent. Just identifying those attributes seems so empowering. So, can this typing help the mother of adult daughters? I'm not being coy. I believe that's a role you keep for life.

Ashley said...

i absolutely think it can enhance and give insight into ANY relationship you may have. so, in short, yes!

Bryna said...

Beautiful post. Thank you.

I am ENFP -- since high school. I even did the test to find out. I guess I was hoping I had changed/grown more...Although I think I cope better with it now.