How I applied useful concepts from the personal growth seminar “est” and MBTI
I have encountered personally in conversations, and also observed in the media over the past couple of decades, a great deal of skepticism, scorn, and ridicule, if not merely indifference or dismissal, from many people in reaction to the est training, which I completed in 1983, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tool, which I first took in 1993 or 1994. I would like to share some concrete examples from my own life where information and perspective that I gained from these two sources have improved my life, both in my own way of conceptualizing and approaching things, and also in my relationships with others. I do this with the hope and intention of showing that est and MBTI have positive value, and encouraging people to explore these and other tools for personal growth.
One important insight that I gained from the est training is an understanding and the experience that I am not my opinions, and my opinions are not me. Opinions are neutral things, and they may be something I hold, or agree with, but I can separate my self from them, and I can discuss them, and I can change or discard them, but I am still the same “me”. I am not more or less “myself” in relation to what I think or believe. Before I did the est training, whenever someone would question an opinion I held, I felt personally attacked. I identified my self with my opinion or belief. My emotional response to attack, like for many other people, is to defend and/or to retreat, so when I perceived of my “self” being “attacked”, I gave in to the standard fight or flight response, and therefore I did not get the opportunity to explore the opinion in question to see if the person who questioned me had some important new information or a perspective that I had not previously considered. It is not that I always remember this or that it is my first response, but once I notice myself responding in the old way, I can then take that step back and remember the separation between self and opinion. That choice is now available to me, where it wasn’t before. When I find myself in conversations with another person or people who disagree with me, my response now is to draw them out, to ask them about what they believe and why they believe it. I regard myself as if I were a reporter on a fact-finding mission. I step back and I do not feel attacked. I learn sometimes from this, and other times I do not, but I no longer feel attacked, and I find that I can more easily become friends with people even if we have disagreements. That was not the case for me prior to doing est.
Another valuable tool that I got from est and still use in my life is the ability to accept responsibility without attaching blame to it, even if someone is trying to heap blame upon me. This is similar to what I said above about basically not identifying my self with what I think. I do not have to feel or think of myself as a “bad person” because I made a mistake. I have come to the belief that guilt is an emotion that I need not wallow in. If I feel guilt about doing or not doing something, saying or not saying something, I take that feeling of guilt as a sign that I either need to take some action to rectify the situation, and/or I need to apologize to someone about it, and/or I need to learn from the situation so that hopefully I will not repeat it, and then forgive myself, and move on. Hanging on to guilt is something I see many people doing, and it not only holds them up and blocks them off from taking action, they often pull that feeling in and create a scenario or self-definition that involves beating themselves up about it, or they wallow around in feeling guilty in a way that serves as a self-indulgent excuse for not improving things. “I’m so awful, I’m such a screw-up, I can’t do anything right.” That kind of negative self-esteem can affect a person for their entire life if they allow it to. There are many ways to come to these realizations, and I make no claim that est is some kind of “cure-all”. One of the characters on the tv show “SOAP” called est “The McDonald’s of Psychiatry”. That’s amusing, but it denigrates a very useful and powerful experience. I believe in an eclectic approach to life. I look at many things, explore many ideas and experiences, and I take what works and leave the rest. est is only one of many helpful experiences I have had in my 49 years.
I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Index at a science fiction convention in the early years of my marriage, when I was living in Alexandria, VA, in 1993 and 1994. It was given as part of a panel, and I also took it again when I read “Do What You Are”, which is a book about finding employment/a profession based on your MBTI personality type. The basics, if you have not encountered MBTI before are: There are 4 “continuums” in how people tend to interact with the world. Most people use both sides of each continuum, but are most comfortable on one side. The traits are Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/Intuiting, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. (The use of these words in the MBTI context is not exactly the same as their dictionary definitions). I am a strong ENFP. My husband was an ISTP. Understanding the differences between how we approached the world was very helpful to me in learning why we were so different about socializing with other people, and about our communication style with each other. As an “I”, John (as they put it in the book), “got his batteries charged” by mostly being alone. I, as an “E”, got mine charged by being with other people. We went to conventions and parties, but he often wanted to leave well before I felt ready to go. Once we had two cars, we would each take our own to events. Even though I felt it wasted gas, it gave him the opportunity to “flee” once he had had enough of being with others, while I could then come home at my leisure, and neither of us had to give up on what made us happier and more comfortable. It also explained why he would not always respond immediately to a question. “I “people tend to figure out in their own mind first what they want to say before they say anything aloud. “E” people often start talking right away, and as they speak, what they think becomes clearer to them. This is also a very useful data point for teachers. If they know about it, they can realize that the “I” kids need more time to come up with their answers, while the “E” kids put their hands in the air more immediately. They can then allow the “I” kids the time they need to respond to questions without thinking they are not good students, or are not as intelligent or knowledgeable as they “E” kids are.
My boyfriend is an ENTJ. The source of some of the friction in our relationship became clear to me after I asked him to find out his Myers-Briggs type, which he had never done before. Gerry often asks me to give him a list of what I want to do in the course of my day, and how much time things will take. These are reasonable requests. However, the rub comes from the fact that as a “J”, he is uncomfortable not knowing the answer to these things. I, as a “P”, am uncomfortable stating these things in advance, in nailing things down. I prefer to leave things open-ended. He regarded what I said as more concrete, whereas I regarded it more as a guideline, but not a definite plan or promise. In addition, I have always had a hard time judging how long things will take, and as a person with ADD, I also get distracted easily, so it was making me upset when he would come home and ask me what I’d gotten done, and then he would get upset when I hadn’t done what I had said I wanted to, or if things took longer than I said they would. Understanding the differences in our types has helped me to understand more about why this has been an area of friction. That leaves room for us to discuss it without feeling the need to blame each other for our preferred method of dealing with things. I feel clearer about stating goals for the day, but not necessarily promising to do specific things, and working on figuring out how to allocate enough time for things. He understands that just because I tell him what I would like to do, it is not necessarily what I will end up doing. It’s still a work in progress.
I want to be clear that I am not talking about using the types as excuses to get out of doing things, or for taking what other people feel is “too long” to get things done. It’s merely another “tool in my tool box” that helps me to process how I and my loved ones function, and to figure out how to improve.
I am curious to know how other people feel about their experiences, if they have done a personal growth seminar such as est and/or taken the MBTI, if they feel that they have also taken tools from those experiences that have had an ongoing positive impact on their lives and relationships. I look forward to hearing what people have to say in response to this article.