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.