I just ran across this question in a LinkedIn group:
Do Typology Instruments Box People Into a Category Using Labeling?
The poster wrote:
My understanding is that Jung did not mean for his theories to be used as "labels." He meant them to help people grow and develop beyond a way of being. I have often heard people say things like, "I'm an INFP" or something similar. It makes me think people take these letters as a personality label and I am uncomfortable with that rigid interpretation.
Now, first of all, we should note that the phrasing used in the question is "I'm an INFP" or something similar. There's a big difference between a label given and a label accepted.
Personally, I'm not a fan of giving people labels (i.e. labeling; verb transitive). And, in fact, the ethical guidelines of administering the MBTI®, strongly recommend non-labeling language:
Present type preferences as tendencies, preferences, or inclinations, rather than absolutes. Though people have preferences and predispositions, all people have every capacity and function described in the theory of type.(They leave out the fact that all people do not have equal access to or comfort with every capacity and function.... But I digress.)
That said, it can become cumbersome to say "People with a preference for INFP tend to ..." every time. When everyone knows the language, it can often be a lot simpler to use shorthand wording, e.g. "INFP tend to ...". Even 'INFP' is itself a shorthand for "dominant introverted feeling and auxiliary extraverted intuition". This is why language shorthand (i.e. jargon) was invented.
I understand when people say "I don't want to be labeled", "I don't want to be put in a box", or "Why can't I just be a person who does things?". But keep in mind that the 4-letter code you get from the MBTI is a label that you choose for yourself. It's not a label assigned to you by someone else. If you don't agree with the type the MBTI suggests, you are encouraged to read the other profiles and find the type that matches you best. In fact, part of the MBTI process is to ensure that you choose your best fit Type.
And, after all, don't we choose labels for ourselves all the time? Here are some of mine:
I am a cat lover, a techie, a reader, a Mac user, a tea drinker.
I don't eat mushrooms (but I'm not a shroom hater).
I'm an American and progressive ("left-leaning").
I'm right-handed, secular, cis, straight, and female.
I'm a spouse, a daughter, a sister.
I am an HSP Introvert (both are in the brain, by the way, not just 'labels'.)
I am INTJ.
We all have labels. We all use labels.
But... can't labels be used to limit people?
Someone in the LinkedIn conversation said:
If we stay stuck in self as content, we are not adaptable and flexible. I fear that type is often presented as content rather than as a language for describing behaviors and mindsets in a process way. For example, when I say I'm an INTP, my reference for that could be that I AM an Introvert and NOT an extravert, therefore, I might start avoiding extraverted situations. In my view the goal is to use type as a language or a frame that says this is the perspective I am coming from at this point in time...
Well, yes. And I think that's A Good Thing™
"I AM an Introvert and NOT an extravert, therefore, I might start avoiding extraverted situations..." and I do.
Or, at least, I start paying attention to situations in which I may need to extravert (verb) myself and in which I know that my energy will dwindle. No matter how much I extravert myself, no matter how much I "flex", I will never be an Extravert. That's brain-based energy-based fact, not "labeling".
My knowledge that I am an Introvert helps me to understand why I don't enjoy parties with many people I don't know, why I write better than I speak, why coming up with responses to questions in real time is difficult. That knowledge also informs my decisions about whether (and what) I wish to do to help me navigate these situations.
To my mind, Introversion is a very important "label", necessary for growth and development. It allows me to manage my energy wisely and intelligently.
I'm in a lot of online groups with people who say "Until I realized I was an Introvert, I thought there as something terribly wrong with me." When they learned about Introversion -- when they claimed that label for themselves -- those people didn't feel boxed in. They felt freed.
Our labels -- self-identified, self-chosen, well-understood labels -- are what help us to communicate ourselves to other people, understand other people, and grow and develop as people.
I will endeavor to never say "you are ABC" or "he is XYZ", unless you (or he) have given me permission to do so. In return, I ask you to understand that when I say "I am _______", I'm telling you something about myself. You're free to do the same.