Is it possible to change personality type?

introvert mbti personal development personality self knowledge Mar 14, 2018
Leaves of different colours

Do you ever wish that you were a different MBTI personality type? Perhaps, for example, you find yourself thinking that life would be easier if you were an extrovert. If so, then this blog post is for you!

When I tell people that I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as part of my work, I often then get a lot of questions about how MBTI works, whether it’s robust, all of those kinds of questions. But one of the most common questions I also hear all the time is whether it is possible to change type. Very often this comes from someone who consistently used to test out as one type, and now consistently test as a different type. From their experience, it might be logical to assume that they have changed type. But is that really what’s going on?

Well, the official position of the MBTI community is that it is not possible to change type. There are differing theories as to whether we are born with our type or whether we develop it in our early years. But all the official teachings are clear that once type is set, it does not change.

To some extent, I think this intuitively just makes sense. In theory, we could wake up tomorrow and decide to be a completely different person. But we don’t do we? Our current coping mechanics and automatic thoughts are very deeply ingrained, and we can’t just turn them off through willpower.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, our personality is defined as the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. These sound to me like traits that are likely to be fairly constant in a person’s life.

The way we show up to the world may evolve, but short of extreme examples, such as a brain injury, the core qualities and motivations that make up our personality tend to be fairly constant. That’s how we know we’re still the same person! Therefore it is not surprising that our personality type would also be a constant in our life.


So how do you reconcile this with the real-life experience of people who claim to have changed type?

My usual response is to say that the fact that someone receives different results at different times in their life says more about the low accuracy of testing than it does about how our personality develops.

A forced choice written test, such as those that are usually available online, cannot measure the range of ways that a person shows up to the world. They therefore have a very high error rate.

And very often the ways that someone’s type results vary in a written test can show up in a very predictable way. The best way to start explaining this is to use myself as an example.

I am an INFJ. It took me a long time to figure this out, but I am now confident that I am definitely an INFJ.

For several years when I was younger, I believed that I was an INTP.

Although INFJs and INTPs are very different types, it is actually not uncommon for young INFJs to test out as an INTPs. The reason for this is that all types have a tendency to over-identify with their ten-year-old process when they are younger or when they are in a defensive phase of their life for whatever reason.
(Not sure what I mean by the ten-year-old process, check out this blog post)

I was 19 when I first started to engage with MBTI and I was working through a fair amount of existential angst at the time, so it is completely predictable that I would have been showing up to the world in a defensive way and over-identifying with my ten-year-old process. In my case, my ten-year-old is Accuracy (introverted thinking) which is the driver process for INTPs, hence why I tended to test out as an INTP.

This pattern will look slightly different for different types. And there will be different variations even within people of the same type. But I would say that 80% of the mistypes that I encounter come from the fact that someone is overidentified with their ten-year-old process in one way or another.

However, there are also several other predictable patterns of mistyping, and these include:

  • Someone who has developed a strong relationship with their co-pilot, may change in how they type on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. For example, an ENFP who has a strong relationship with their co-pilot may type as an INFP.
  • An intuitive who has grown up in a family of sensors may type out as a sensor, for example an INTP may type as an ISTP.
  • An extroverted thinker (especially ExTJs) may type out as an introvert because they are often not sociable in the way that we stereotypically associate with extroverts.

So far, every single person who I have spoken to who thinks they have changed types, actually fits into a predictable pattern of mistyping that can be identified by a profiling conversation. It’s not that these individuals have actually changed type, it’s that the forced choice tests that they have been relying on have been unable to process the variety of ways in which it is possible for one type to show up to the world.


So is it absolutely impossible to change personality type?

As someone who advocates personal development and the gradual extension of our comfort zone, I definitely believe that substantial changes in how someone shows up to the world can be possible over the course of a lifetime. However, this is definitely not the same thing as changing your personality type.

In all honesty, there is a part of me that is very resistant to the idea of completely ruling out the possibility of changing one’s personality type (after all, I’m the type of person who is open to quite a lot of possibilities thinking!). I’m not sure that it’s my place to categorically say that this is completely impossible in all situations. But I can say that in all the conversations about personality type that I have had, I’ve never seen an example of it.


And here’s a slightly different way of looking at it…

Given that all types have unique gifts and talents and no one type is any better than any other – why would you even want to change type?

A lot of the conversations I’ve had with people who would like to change type seem to be coming at it from a place of (perhaps unconsciously) assuming that some categories of personality types are ‘better’ than others. But that is a complete misunderstanding of the MBTI system. Every single personality type has gifts and talents that are specific to that type.

If you’re someone who would actually like to change type, then I have to ask ‘what does it say about your patterns of wounding that you would want to be someone else?’

Yes, personal development is important and, yes, substantial change in how you show up to the world is possible. But this is all about using your understanding of your type to focus on developing the gifts and talents that come with your type. It is not at all about trying to become someone else. That would be a complete waste of the gifts and talents that are uniquely yours.

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, then you know that I am all about personal development. But for me that is about recognising the beauty of being who you really are.

So know that, whatever personality type you are, I think you are amazing!

And if you’re still not quite sure what personality type you are, then I still think you’re amazing! But you may also want to consider investing in a personality profiling conversation at some point.

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