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Does Your Type Change?

Does Your Type Change?

By Donna Dunning

Do people change their type preferences over the course of their lives? This is one of the most common questions I am asked when people are learning about psychological types. When describing their personality people will say, “my preferences were XXXX, but they are now XXYY” (substitute the X and Y for any type preferences). Can this be true?

The simple answer is no. Personality type theory says that your personality preferences are innate and do not change over your lifetime. But of course, there are never simple answers to complex questions. Obviously something is happening in a person’s life over time to stimulate these kinds of questions and statements about personality change.

Scores Change

First, let’s talk about your scores on personality type inventories. These can definitely change for a number of reasons. Self-report inventories are sensitive to situational variables and do not always provide an accurate representation of who you are. Sorting out what you can do from who you really are is not always an easy task. I have discussed this in a previous blog and I encourage everyone to validate his or her personality type preferences rather than take an assessment at face value.

Now that you have accurately identified your best-fit personality type, the theory asserts that this is your lifelong pattern of preferences. But we all adapt and change over our lifetime, so how does personality type theory explain these changes? Personality type theory acknowledges the role of social environment in molding behavior. In fact, personality type theory assumes you will learn to use all of your preferences to adapt as necessary to cope with your roles and experiences.

Behaviors Change

When I ask people to describe in more detail how their type has “changed”, they often express how they learned and adapted to circumstances by using non-preferred aspects of themselves. They explain the necessity and adaptive value of using alternative approaches in situations. This human flexibility and ability to learn and develop is one of the aspects of personality type theory that I highly value. Not only does the model allow for adaptation, it assumes that people will naturally be motivated to learn and grow throughout their lives.

Like a Rock

The petroglyph above is on a rock overlooking the ocean on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. This image has endured countless rainstorms and waves. It reminded me that our personalities are constant, even though our situations keep changing.

So, are you changing? Hopefully. If you are learning and developing you are likely trying on and mastering new behaviors throughout your life. Are your personality type preferences changing? Not according to personality type theory.


Want to learn more about personality type and how to use it to understand yourself and others?

Introduction to Type and Communication describes in detail how personality preferences influence communications.

If you live in the USA, Introduction to Type and Communication is now available on Kindle.

Introduction to Type and Learning can help you find your motivation for learning and help you learn more effectively.

If you live in the USA, Introduction to Type and Learning is also available on Kindle.

Looking for a practical resource to help you plan your ideal career? Check out my book, What’s Your Type of Career?: Find Your Perfect Career By Using Your Personality Type

Want to use your personality type to excel at your career? Check out 10 Career Essentials: Excel at Your Career by Using Your Personality Type

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 at 11:20 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 Responses to “Does Your Type Change?”

  1. Tom Haddon ENFP says:

    I quite agree, but I think many of our altered personas can be short lived, as dictated by immediate circumstances. The metaphor I like to use with my techno-type friends is that our personality is like the base energy state of an elemental atom (stay with me now). It can stay it’s basic, low energy state forever and be happy. But if stimulus from the outside world pushes it to a higher level, it requires additional energy. And if the outside energy is removed, it comes back to it’s normal state after a bit. And so it is with us – we have a base personality which is our home, preferred state. If required, we can adapt into a different persona, but that takes energy. The farther “away” the new persona is, the more energy it takes – and the more rapidly we tire. Eventually we have to go back home. If we are required to stay in this altered persona, the stress may lead to negative reactions, even mental illness. My ten cents…

  2. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Tom,

    What a great metaphor. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Deborah says:

    I’m an ENTP, female, age 42 and very interested and dedicated to living with a conscious awareness of my own personal development (self actualization/realization) the whole of my life and have seen a dramatic balancing of each of my characteristics…bringing feeling into my self as much as thinking is the last of the four and it’s been intensely interesting. I too would pause at describing myself as an ENTP lately because of this developed ability to hold different perspectives and have contentment with those perspectives..a more integral approach. That said, I’m writing to agree with the statement that we at the core we don’t change EVEN at the level of turquoise consciousness (spiral dynamics)–cosmic consciousness–and increasing ability to engage from different traits. As I write this I still have this notion that maybe I am wrong and maybe there are levels of complete transformation that are be witnessed within a lifetime, a metamorphosis, a sign of an accelerating evolution of ecstatic man. I kinda like that vision of possibility….but then again…I’m an ENTP. : )

  4. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Deborah, You demonstrate your use of Extraverted Intuition (ENP) so well by describing the breadth of possibility for ongoing growth and development. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Kathleen High says:

    I am an MBTI practitioner, and have been administering the MBTI for a few years now. I agree with everything you listed and appreciate how well you articulated this important issue.
    In addition to everything you mentioned above, I have also noticed a pattern I tend to see: Those people who prefer perceiving tend are more prone to emphasizing the possibility of changing personality type because “they don’t want to be put in a box.” They tend to find having to commit to one best-fit type feels rather constraining to them. Whereas individuals who prefer Judging, don’t usually struggle with this concept. They tend to not have a problem with “being put in a box”: As long as it is the right box. However, if someone tries to put them in a wrong box, they are likely to become rather irritated.

  6. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Kathleen.

    Thanks for your observation. How people respond to a situation is always interesting. I’ll have to look for this pattern. I find people’s comfort with being typed links directly to how the material is presented. If they sense some types are presented as “better” or think the typing will be used for a purpose they are not comfortable with, they can become suspicious and resistant to the process.

  7. Rosa says:

    Very well said. I am a strong believer in type not changing. We all simply adapt through behavior over time. If anyone observed me now, they’d have no clue I was an INTJ. Thanks to social adaptation I can appear very ESFP in certain settings, but at the core, my natural preferences are definitely INTJ.

  8. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Rosa, Thanks for pointing out so clearly why we should never infer a person’s personality type simply from his or her behavior. I agree it is important to adapt and learn to use all aspects of ourself, preferred and non-preferred.

  9. […] your true type does not). Frequently Asked Questions about Myers Briggs Personality Testing Does Your Type Change? | Dunning Personality Type Experts Type theory states that psychological type doesn’t change, but my type changed when I took […]

  10. Crono says:

    My question is whether you think it’s vaguely within the realm of possibility that type change is possible. I’m not talking something more mundane like gradual change over the course of a lifetime, but more that 1 in 1000 or 10,000 sort of extreme experience that could actually go so far as to change something much deeper in a person. I’m just curious if your position is that it is completely and totally impossible, or, if, in theory, there is room for the possibility.

  11. Donna says:

    Hi Crono, Good question. The models of Jung and Myers assume that type is innate and does not change. However, I think anything is possible. Research has shown personality changes (measured by observation and trait instruments) after brain injuries. I imagine severe stress and trauma could also change neuro-functioning and result in a change in a person’s mental functioning. I guess I would say never say never. 🙂

  12. Stephen says:

    I’m skeptical about the notion of type not changing. I would think that many of us who rely on MBTI to some extent (such as for our own personal development) have a vested interest in type staying fixed. We are all operating in an intellectual paradigm that seeks to see the world as static. That’s our system and our method. Our goals influence our perceptions, and dictate what we reinforce. Most of us on some level believe that MBTI is more credible and a better investment of our energy if it appears to be able to delve deeply enough to find the unchanging personality.

    Surely a few people change types. Maybe even more people would change types if our environment and our society celebrated change as much as it (currently) celebrates consistency. If there was no reason for any of us to live up to our precedent, why would we bother?

    For what it’s worth, I had a slight judging preference until I dated a very strong perceiver. I haven’t gone back to the judging preference in four years. People who straddle personality borders probably “change types” more often and readily than people who fall neatly into their type.

  13. Paulina says:

    I would like to say that I was once INFP (junior high school), but I truely did not enjoy my type at all, there was something sad about it, I guess my desire to be more social and my shyness (probably the result of intuition-fueled feelings). which did not allow for it. All that was combined with my friends who were not very contact-initiating too towards me, which I wanted. Then, something very very good happened to me which gave me the answer to many questions tacitly being there in me but not spoken out. The message behind all of these was so amazing I wanted to tell it the entire world. Once becoming incredibly happy, I have started to nourish people around me, excite them the way I have been excited. Now, I guess, this social need plus the need to inspire with just really much lower level of shyness make me more of an ENFP, also reading the descriptions of the two types, I’d say I am more of an ENFP, with the echo of my previous INFP. Also, when it comes to “being energised by social interactions” for sure I am. One more thing, quite interesting, is the fact that all these I to E change seemed to have happened to me all along with the fact I started to drink coffee (at the age of 18) and might have contrubuted to the change. According to the article, the varible which might have contributed to the change of prefernce is enviroment imposing it. Nevertheless, in my case it was not imposition but inspiration. Does not it look like personality change? Of course, I know MBTI theory does not presupposes it, I am asking u about your own reflections or maybe some other articles which did the research on the subject. Greetings to all of you!:)

  14. Donna Dunning says:

    Paulina, Thanks for your comment. Sounds to me like maybe you have learned to use extraversion to make connections, become inspired, and inspire others. This is a great positive result. According to the personality type models this experience would make sense for an INFP as you learn to use and develop your Extraverted Intuition (Ne). According to personality type theory, everyone extraverts and introverts part of their personality. If you are interested, this article explains the idea of type development for INFPs in more detail.

  15. Laura says:

    Although I agree with you in theory, I do believe trauma can change personality types, at least for a time. I suffered through several severe emotional abusive relationships (except for a parent, my own bad patterns – which I now recognize and avoid). It has taken me YEARS to start reacting even a little bit like I used to. My strongest traits – like introverted and intuitive did not change (or maybe were encouraged by the situation?), but I have become MUCH, MUCH more rigid. Now in a completely healthy relationship I am trying to re-learn some of the fluid, natural person I used to be. What is your take on this? I am very curious as to how someone who has studied this subject extensively might see it.

  16. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Laura, I certainly agree that trauma can change how people think and react. However, the personality type model does not measure or address our behaviours or fixed traits. Rather, it is about natural preferences to approach and process situations in certain ways. As your describe, people can get stuck in certain ways of reacting as a result of their situations, but the theory says their personality preferences do not change. Sometimes people respond to stress and trauma by flipping into their non-preferred functions (the grip) and other times they can get stuck in and exaggerate their preferred functions. I admire your interest in thinking about your reactions and trying to figure out what is going on. Sounds to me like you are on a journey back to defining who you naturally prefer to be and learning to regain your balance and flexibility. I have writing some posts on typical responses to stress. If you go to my home page and search stress and your four letter type you can read more about how the personality type model addresses this topic.

  17. Mégane says:

    Hi! INTJ here.
    I agree that type does not change over time. However, if my Ni is 100% sure about it, my Te strives to understand why that is ;-). Is there any scientific evidence for that, do we have any clue? Could our personality type be determined by genetics? Or is it completely random?
    I’d like to know the official position on this.
    Thank you!

  18. Donna Dunning says:

    Hi Mégane, Psychology is a field inundated with assumptions, which, I agree, don’t help convince your Extraverted Thinking. Te looks for the “right” answer or truth. Nature vs nurture issues have always been contentious in psychology. In my opinion there is always a combination of factors involved… many I think we don’t yet (or maybe never will) understand.

    There is lots of evidence of physiological differences in brain structure, function, and chemistry between people with different personality type preferences as well as observed behaviour differences between very young children, but someone could always argue these are the result of environmental influences rather than innate. There hasn’t been a “personality type gene” identified and I imagine expression of personality preferences likely wouldn’t be as simple as a gene or two (This comment is pure personal opinion). Certain environmental conditions will likely change brain chemistry and act to “turn on or off” genes that may be present.

    I wish I had a clearer answer for your Te. As far as I understand, at this point, innate preferences are simply an underlying assumption of the model.

  19. The way you explained each point with necessary details and maintained good balance between theory and practice is really commendable. Thanks a bunch for sharing.

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