Thursday, May 17, 2007

Prayer and the Myers-Briggs Personality Types

I studied psychology and human biology in college so I'm pretty familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There are 4 components to an individual's personality type under the MBTI. The first is Extraversion vs. Introversion. Does the person feel energized or drained by being around other people? The second is Sensing vs. Intuition. How does the person take in information- by paying attention to the facts & details collected by the 5 senses or the "big picture" through a "hunch" or "sixth sense"? The third dimension is Thinking vs. Feeling. How does the person make a decision- objectively through logic and rigidly applying rules or subjectively by taking into consideration how others will be affected by it? The thinker cares most about "justice" while the feeler cares most about "harmony". The final dimension is Judging vs. Perceiving. Does the person prefer organization and structure or flexibility and spontaneity?

Although there are 16 possible different MBTI types, a combination of 2 dimensions play the predominant role in how we relate to the world. They are NT (Rational), NF (Idealist), SJ (Guardian), and SP (Artisan). I came across a very interesting Canadian website that discusses how the MBTI influences our preferred form of prayer.

NT's are introspective and pragmatic, seeking mastery of knowledge through logical investigation. They prefer Thomistic Prayer, where they use reasoning and the syllogisms of formal logic to pursue the "transcendental" values of goodness, beauty, unity, love, life and spirit.

NF's are introspective and cooperative, seeking meaning and significance through diplomacy and unifying people. They prefer Augustinian prayer, focusing on a personal relationship with God. The 4 steps of the Lectio divina can help: reading between the lines of scripture to find the deeper meaning; reflecting prayerfully to try to apply it one's own life; responding to God's word with personal feelings; and quiet contemplation to be open to new insights.

SJ's are observant and pragmatic, seeking belonging through organizing and logistics. They prefer Ignatian Prayer, imagining oneself as part of a scene in order to draw some practical fruit from it for today.

SP's are observant and cooperative, seeking technical competence through performance. They prefer Franciscan Prayer, flexible and free-flowing and totally open to the presence and voice of the Holy Spirit present in each one of us. Often it involves acts of service or appreciation of the wonder of God's creation.

According to a 1996 article in U.S. Catholic, 12% of Catholics prefer Thomistic Prayer, 12% Augustinian, 38% Franciscan, and the remainder Ignatian. That very nearly corresponds with the distribution of the 4 temperaments in the U.S. population: 10% NT, 16% NF, 27% SP, and 47% SJ.

I have always found myself drawn to the Augustinian form of prayer, even during the period of my life when I had drifted away from formally practicing Catholicism. I'd always believed it was due to my mom's influence as she is Protestant, given all the importance Protestantism places on having a personal relationship with Jesus. Undoubtedly that did play a role, but I do also have the "Idealist" NF type. According to the book Nurture by Nature by Paul & Barbara Tieger: "Idealists value relationships above all else and tend to be the most empathetic and philosophical of the 4 temperaments....They begin in childhood what is often a lifelong search for meaning...and their place in the greater scheme of things." That is exactly what Augustinian prayer is all about and why it appeals to me over the other prayer traditions.

P.S. I am aware that some Christian theologians have concerns about the influence of Carl Jung's neo-Gnostic spirituality on the MBTI. I certainly reject Jung's view that the good and evil sides of human nature ought to be integrated in an equal and balanced way into a single overarching wholeness (like the Chinese Taoist concepts of yin and yang) and his belief in "psychological bisexuality" of the animus & anima archetypes. However, we as Christians can separate the wheat from the chaff and use the MBTI as a tool to help better understand personality traits while still rejecting Jung's philosophy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner, Christian, and a brand new homeschooler. I appreciate this post (especially the disclaimer) and I own the book Prayer and Temperament which elaborates on this subject--I highly recommend it.