How to Deepen Conversations about Personality Type (11 of 30)

Recently, I have found that the more I dive into and learn about personality typology systems (Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, etc.), the more I tend to get frustrated when I find myself in conversations that are using them simply as a means for surface-level identification and differentiation.

Conversations like these:

“I’m a ENTP, what are you?”
“I’m an INFJ.” 
“Oh, cool.”
“What about your Enneagram type?”
“I’m a four.”
“Sweet. I’m a seven.”
“Nice. Good to know.”

[end of conversation]

I find myself wanting to scream, “We aren’t using these in the way they were intended to be used!” But then I remind myself that I am part of the conversation too.  I am not letting on that I have been digging into cognitive functions stacks and instinctual variants, listening to podcasts and reading books. I am not asking questions that further the conversation or bring depth or to it.  Plus, I have to remember that not everyone has the time or desire to dig into the depths of personality psychology like I do.  Some people are content identifying their type and moving on, and that’s okay.  And some people would love to deep dive, but don’t know there is more depth to it or even if they do, they may not know where to start.  Because it honestly can all be incredibly overwhelming and convoluted, especially at the beginning.

And so today I have been brainstorming ways that I can engage more deeply when a conversation about personality type comes up.  I have come up with five questions that could help further the conversation:

Questions to Deepen Personality Type Conversations

  1. What do you feel like your type says about who you are?
  2. How do you feel your type impacts the way you interact with the world and the people around you?
  3. Has knowing your type helped you to see things about yourself that you hadn’t been aware of before? Can you think of any examples (and would you be willing to share them)?
  4. Has knowing your type helped you to plan steps in your personal development or identify ways you wish to grow?
  5. Are there ways you feel like you don’t fit with the stereotypes of your specific type? Parts that may not resonate with you?  Is there another type that you have mis-typed as in the past or tend to identify with?

And ideally asking these questions (or similar ones) would help to deepen the conversation, opening more doors for getting to know one another, more avenues for sharing and conversation.

For example, I am an INFJ. As an INFJ, my highest leverage point of growth (according to Personality Hacker, a site I am semi-obsessed with) would be developing my Extroverted Feeling (or Harmony as they have nicknamed it). So if someone asked me question 4, I could respond with something like:

“Through understanding more about my type (and myself) I have realized that I am not very great at having healthy boundaries with people.  I tend to go for quick and easy fixes to avoid conflict, instead of pressing into real solutions in order to find true harmony. I have been getting to dig deeper into my psyche to find where that originates, and through self-awareness I am working to establish more sustainable boundaries and a more healthy relationship with conflict.  What about you? Do you find you’re able to engage in conflict? Are there any specific ways you hope to grow or traits you wish to develop?”

Ideally, this could either continue our conversation about type if they have a knowledge of the system beyond the pop psychology aspect, or, equally compelling, it could launch us into a more general (yet still deep) conversation about life, struggles, ambitions, and growth.

So, what about you? Do you have answers to any of the questions above? Do you think they would be helpful for deepening a conversation about personality type? Are there any more you would add to the list or any strategies you have found for deepening conversation?  Let me know in the comments below!

How to Deepen Conversations about Personality Type (11 of 30)

What is an HSP? (8 of 30)

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

by Elaine N. Aron, PhD

Book Review

Brief Description of HSP: Highly Sensitive People make up 15-20% of the population and have nervous systems designed to react to subtle experiences.  They are therefore more likely to become overstimulated and have high level of emotional reactivity.

There is so much about this book I would love to share, however I will try to keep it relatively brief (but highly recommend that if any of this sounds interesting or applicable to you that you get yourself a copy of the book and/or check out all of the awesome info on the HSP site).

If you would like to pause and take the HSP test, you can do so here.

Note to Non-HSPs

If you are part of the majority of the population (those who are not Highly Sensitive People) you can also benefit from this post and this book. However, some non-HSPs may react negatively to this new classification (as a non-HSP) and therefore I have added a note from Aron to non-HSPs:

Sometimes non-HSPs feel excluded and hurt by the idea that we are different from them and maybe sound like we think we are somehow better.  They say, “Do you mean I am not sensitive?” One problem is that “sensitive” also means being understanding and aware.  Both HSPs and non-HSPs can have these qualities, which are optimized when we are feeling good and alert to the subtle.  When very calm, HSPs may even enjoy the advantage of picking up more delicate nuances.  When overaroused, however, a frequent state for HSPs, we are anything but understanding or sensitive.  Instead, we are overwhelmed, frazzled, and need to be alone.  By contrast, your non-HSP friends are actually more understanding of others in highly chaotic situations.

(from the Preface, page xxvii, emphasis mine)

Quick Facts

  1. “Everyone, HSP or not, feels best when neither too bored or too aroused.” We are all seeking our optimum arousal state, which we can influence in all sorts of ways.  You can increase you level of arousal, for instance, by turning on music or drinking coffee. We can all become overwhelmed by too much arousal. (6)

  2. “People differ considerably in how much their nervous system is aroused in the same situation, under the same stimulation.” (6)
  3. 15-20% of a given species is very sensitive to stimulation (6)

  4. Arousal may appear as blushing, trembling, heart pounding, hands shaking, foggy thinking, stomach churning, muscles tensing, and hands or other parts of the body perspiring.” (10)
  5. “One general rule is that when we have no control over stimulation, it is more upsetting, even more so if we feel we are someone’s victim.  While music played by ourselves may be pleasant, heard from the neighbor’s stereo, it can be annoying, and if we have previously asked them to turn it down, it becomes a hostile invasion.” (9)


Overview of HSP Characteristics

  • Depth of Processing
  • Overstimulation
  • Emotional Reactivity/Empathy
  • Sensing the Subtle


The Book Includes:

  1. Self-knowledge (what does it mean to be an HSP)
  2. Reframing activities (helping to change the view of certain past “failures”)
  3. Healing from deeper wounds that arose from being, by nature, sensitive
  4. Help with feeling okay when out in the world and learning when to be out less

(quoted/paraphrased from the preface, page xxviii)


Science Supports the Existence of High Sensitivity

Author’s Note

Basically, this book begins in the Author’s note (2016) with scientific research supporting the existence of this trait, which seems like an absolute necessity in today’s world for validating any claims.

“…many species—now we know it’s more than one hundred, so far, including fruit flies and some fish species—have a minority that are highly sensitive. Although obviously the trait leads to different behaviors depending on whether you are a fruit fly, fish, bird, dog, deer, monkey, or human, a general description of it would be that the minority that has inherited it has adopted a survival strategy of pausing to check, observe, and reflect on or process what has been noticed before choosing an action.  Slowness to act, however, is not the hallmark of the trait.  When sensitive individuals see right away that their situation is like a past one, thanks to having learned so thoroughly from thinking over the last time, they can react to a danger or opportunity faster than others. For this reason, the most basic aspect of the trait—depth of processinghas been difficult to observe.  Without knowing about it, when someone paused before acting, other could only guess what was happening inside that person.  Often HSPs were thought to be inhibited, shy, fearful, or introverted (in fact, roughly 30 percent of HSPs are actually extroverts, and many introverts are not HSPs). Some HSP accepted those labels, having no other explanation for their hesitancy.  Indeed, feeling different and flawed, some of us found the label “shy” or “fearful of social judgment” self-fulfilling… Others knew they were different but hid it and adapted, acting like the less sensitive majority.”

(author’s note, pages xiii-xiv, emphasis mine)

The research suggests that it is connected to both serotonin and dopamine levels and that it is genetic.

“Although everyone agrees that much of one’s personality is inherited, no researches had found genes as strongly associated as this when they studied the standard personality traits, such as introversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.  These researchers in China looked at high sensitivity instead, believing it to be more ‘deeply rooted in the nervous system.'” (page xvi)

High Sensitivity ≠ Introversion or Neuroticism 


Related terms: biological sensitivity to context, differential susceptibility and vantage sensitivity, orienting sensitivity

Quotes that Stuck Out & Things to Remember

Not the Ideal

If you remember only one things from this book, it should be the following research study. Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University compared 480 schoolchildren in Shanghai to 296 in Canada to see what traits made children most popular. In China “shy” and “sensitive” were among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates… In Canada, shy and sensitive children were among the least chosen. Chances are, this is the kind of attitude you faced growing up.

Think about the impact on you of not being the ideal for your culture.  It has to affect you—not only how others have treated you buy how you have come to treat yourself. (15)

The book entitled Quiet by Susan Cain discusses this idea of cultural differences in ideal personality traits often and in a broader context, specifically regarding the Extrovert Ideal in our western culture. If you are not an HSP, but are an introvert who often feels marginalized by our culture, I recommend checking out Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking as well.  Keep an eye out, as I also plan to do a review of that book in the coming weeks.

Arousability and Intuition

“What this difference in arousability means is that you notice levels of stimulation that go unobserved by others.  This is true whether we are talking about subtle sounds, sights, or physical sensations like pain. It is not that your hearing, vision, or other senses are more acute (plenty of HSPs wear glasses). The difference seems to lie somewhere on the way to the brain or in the brain, in a more careful processing of information…

This greater awareness of the subtle tends to make you more intuitive, which simply means picking up and working through information in a semiconscious or unconscious way. The result is that you often “just know” without realizing how.” (7)

I would fascinated to know what percentage of HSPs type as an Intuitive within the Myer’s Briggs (MBTI) system. If you have done or read any research regarding this please comment or contact me!

HSPs and College

Sometimes, however, we take too big a step.  College can be that for some HSPs.  I have know so many HSPs who dropped out after the first term (or after their first return home, often at Christmas).  Neither they nor their parents nor their counselors understand the real problem, overstimulation from a whole new life—new people, new ideas, new life plans, plus living in a noisy dorm and staying up all night talking or partying, plus probably experimenting with sex, drugs, and alcohol (or nursing your friends through the aftereffect of their experiments).

Even when the sensitive student would rather withdraw and rest, there is that pressure to do what other do, be normal, keep up, make friends, satisfy everyone’s expectations.  Whatever trouble you had in college should be reframed. It was not some personal failure. (85)

I have honesty found this passage, and so many others, to be surprisingly life-changing.  I am learning to give grace to past-Megan for things that I used to be frustrated with her about… Being too “weak” to stay at all the noisy, crowded group events or to be able to keep up with all the social events of our friend group. Being so hesitant to live in a house with 7 girls and being too “lame” for not loving it (in fact, it was actually kind of torturous a lot of the time.  see #5 in the quick facts section above…). Being too “anxious” to do much public speaking (or getting so nervous and sweaty and jumbled when it couldn’t be avoided).  What were your experiences as an HSP in college?

Self-Esteem and Worth

Sooner or later everyone encounters stressful life experiences, but HSPs react more to such stimulation  If you see this reaction as part of some basic flaw, you intensify the stress already present in any life crisis. Next come feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. (5)

These are the quotes that make me wish that everyone could learn more about this topic… But as long as sensitivity is seen as a defect, there is little hope for healthy self-esteem to develop in those who are being viewed as inherently flawed.

Talking about “curing” your shyness or “conquering your syndrome” cannot help but make you feel flawed, and it overlooks the positive side of your inherited trait. (104)


Others Tidbits

HSPs often have more bad dreams than do their non-HSP counterparts.

“As you reparent your body, the first thing to realize is that the more it avoids stimulation, the more arousing the remaining stimulation becomes.” (51)

“…overarousal can be mistaken for anxiety.” (78)

“Ignore the barbs about ‘lightening up.'” (100)

HSPs probably make their greatest communication errors by avoiding the overarousal caused by unpleasantries.  I think most people, but HSPs especially, dread anger, confrontation, tears, anxiety, “scenes,” facing change (it always means the loss of something), being asked to change, being judged or shamed by our mistakes, or judging or shaming anyone else…Furthermore, your intuition is leaping ahead. In a very real, arousing, semiconscious imaginary world, you are already experiencing various ways the conversation might go, and more of them are distressing. (156)


In Conclusion

In this post, I tended to focus on the more overarching quotes, facts, and descriptions from the book.  However, I do want to point out that there is a wealth of information to be found in the later, more specific sections of the book about things such as strategies for handling overstimulating situations, helpful anecdotes, parenting a HSP child, parenting as an HSP yourself, medications such as Prozac, activities for personal reflection and growth, work situations, healing from past wounding, and so much more. So if this has held your attention and interest thus far, I highly recommend checking out the entirety of the book!

Additionally, there were a couple of really great pages about determining a vocation that I wanted to share, but I think I will save that for an upcoming post, giving the fact that life direction is still something I am definitely working on identifying. Stay tuned!

What is an HSP? (8 of 30)

this > that > the other thing (3 of 30)

One of the things that most frustrates me about myself, and humanity at large, is our seemingly constant and often rash judgements (of situations, people, actions, ideas, beliefs). Sure, there are some things that most people will agree are bad… murder, rape, racism.  And I don’t disagree. But too many judgements are made based on ignorance, misunderstanding, a cultural norm, or excessive pride. So many people have been hurt in the name of “goodness”… But if it causes that much hurt, how good can it actually be?


When you think of the words ‘witchcraft’ or ‘wiccan’ what comes to mind?

Some people would say spells, potions, magic, evil, or Satan.  But where have you gotten these ideas from?  Do you know if they are accurate? Have you researched these things for yourself before making a judgment about them?

I use this example particularly because of my own experience.  Being raised in the Christian tradition, the primary information I had about witches, wiccans, and paganism was incredibly biased and vague. In general the sense that I got was that these practices were evil, dangerous, and from the devil. However, I recently was doing some of my own research (all the while feeling embarrassed for my curiosity, ashamed for my interest, and fearful of judgment if my husband, family, church members, or peers found out.)  But the things that I found were so incredibly different from what I expected.  Take this YouTube video for example (skip to 2:55 for the start of the list):

All this isn’t to say that I am now a practicing Wiccan or anything… it’s just showing a pretty stark example of my assumptions having been based on the views of other people/institutions.  How many of my other beliefs and assumptions have I just absorbed and integrated into my life without checking their validity?

Another example along the same vein is the practice of tarot card readings.  Have you ever participated in a tarot card reading?  Do you simply view them as erroneous attempts at “fortune telling”? Consider these quotes:

“Tarot cards do not tell the future; rather, tarot is a tool for spiritual guidance and enables the person receiving the reading to connect to his or her inner wisdom,” she told INSIDER. “Tarot readings help a person understand what he or she needs to know about a particular situation. Decks are best used as a tool of inner wisdom and guidance, as readings give a person insight to past, current and future events based on the person’s current path at the time of the reading. The cards do not necessarily reveal what will happen, but instead, allow a person to gain an understanding of a situation and determine the best course of action based on what is known and what the cards show.”  (source, emphasis added)

Tarot is a divination method. It’s like a tool for your intuition; it doesn’t just say something on its own. It just helps you reframe a problem and see it from a new perspective.” (@1:56)

“Contrary to what the uninitiated might think, the meaning of divination cards changes over time, shaped by each era’s culture and the needs of individual users.” (source)
So based on these definitions, saying that tarot cards are dangerous is about the same as saying that listening to one’s own intuition and insight is dangerous.

So What?

So, let’s take another specific example: I hate when I see my own tendency to judge and yet I never feel better when I judge myself for how judgmental I am being.  In fact, even as I write this I am making a judgement. I am saying that one way of interacting with the world and people around me is better than another way. (An open-minded, intentional, grace-filled approach toward the world is, in my opinion, inherently better than a close-minded, rash, judgmental approach.)

And yet I am open to the idea that I may be wrong in this… and I would love to have a calm respectful conversation about it with anyone who is willing.

And I guess that’s my point.  At the end of the day, I think most of this comes down to a difference in values.  Something that is not going to be easily “fixed” or reconciled.  Something that takes time, honesty, and a willingness to journey into the uncomfortable.

Perhaps more empathy can be gained by thinking about the situation in terms of personal values:  If one person’s highest values are authenticity and personal freedom they are going to deem different things and ways of being as ‘good.’  (For example, freedom of speech, regardless of its potential impact on others.)  If someone else values interpersonal harmony above all else, they will be more likely to desire restrictions to personal freedom for the sake of getting along. Others may value commitment, patriotism, sacrifice, equality, efficiency, etc. And all of these impact their views of what is right, good, and desirable.  (Another post I wrote about a similar topic of ‘what is classified as a good reason?’ can be found here.)  Not to mention that all of these things are parts of a greater system running… You don’t just come out of the womb with these values.  There are so many things at play in every situation, that have brought us to where we are in this moment.  If you really understood all of those factors (from inborn temperament to family structure to childhood experiences to past relationships (see articles/books/podcasts on systems thinking for more info)) do you think there would still be room for judgment?  Or would we all be able to give each other (and ourselves) a little more grace?

And the thing is, I don’t see what harm could possibly come from this openness to conversation.  Especially given the fact that gentleness and acceptance and a desire to dig deeper don’t mean I am/you are necessarily condoning the behavior. What they do often point to is a preservation of humanity and a desire to understand. And it’s in these spaces of love, acceptance, grace, humility, and connection that we can move toward true goodness (whatever that may be).

Some Questions to Consider

🔸 What things are you judging because you don’t understand them? Or because they threaten your way of being? Or because someone else told you they are bad/wrong?

🔸Do you find yourself using the words ‘weird’ or ‘normal’?  What can that show you about the judgments you are making?

🔸What things in your life do you tend to feel judged about? Your way of parenting? Clothing choices? Career path? Aspects of your personality?

🔸Where are the spaces that you feel the least amount of judgment?  Are you cultivating those spaces in your own life and with the people around you?  


this > that > the other thing (3 of 30)


Imagine you’re up on stage, about to give a speech.  You are at a conference and have been asked to share something deeply personal about your life—something you’ve wanted to get off your chest for a while, but haven’t known how.  You are looking into the spotlight, trying to picture the audience, trying to gauge the crowd, to get a feel for who you are talking to.  You aren’t sure who is listening or how they will react.  Is the crowd filled with strangers? Your family? Your current employer?  A potential future investor? Will this personal story change how they view you?  Will they lose trust in you?  Change how they interact with you?  Will it forever impact your relationship with them?  You second guess your desire to share—maybe it isn’t such a good idea after all, maybe you’re risking too much. But then you hear a voice in your ear, a voice that reminds you that you don’t need to be ashamed.  A voice that reminds you that other people struggle, other people have insecurities.  And then the voice asks you: if you can share something that positively impacts just one person’s life, isn’t that enough?