A couple of weeks ago, I published 20 questions writers can ask to get to know their characters. Some of those questions focused on Myers-Briggs personality breakdown.
For purposes of characterization, I’d like to delve more into Myers-Briggs. So, this will be the first post of four on the topic. I hope to write a post about each pair (not necessarily in order.)
DISCLAIMER: I’m no expert in psychology or Myers-Briggs. I’m just speaking from my very basic understanding of the big differentials, applying what understanding I have to creative writing. This post is meant to help writers, not to provide psychological testing or personality feedback.
If you aren’t familiar with Myers-Briggs, it definitely has its limitations. Still, it can be useful to explore fictional characters we’re creating. The system presents 16 personality types based on four pairs of contrasting characteristics. Each pair represents two ends of a spectrum, so it’s not as though a person must lie extremely far on one or the other, or never exemplifies the trait that doesn’t “apply” to him or her. Rather, the trait that “applies” is the one that a person (or in our case, a character) exhibits most often.
The pairs are:
(E)xtroversion versus (I)ntroversion
(T)hinking versus (F)eeling
(S)ensing versus i(N)tuition
(P)erceiving versus (J)udging
Knowing a character’s Myers-Briggs type might be helpful for certain writers, especially if you’re having trouble figuring out how that character would act.
This post is about the thinking/feeling function. What are some quick things authors should know?
- This function affects our decision-making: how we rationalize decisions. So, if your character needs to make a decision, especially a big one, it’s worth considering what criteria he or she will give weight to. Basically, people who are “thinking” are more apt to base decisions on reason and logic, giving less weight to emotion or feelings. For an extreme example, think of Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory.” He is definitely someone “thinking.” In contrast, “feeling” people give a lot of weight to their emotions, values, and other intangibles when making a decision.
- “Feelers” are more likely to make exceptions and consider extenuating circumstances. This is because they give primacy to emotion, and they feel for people in trouble. It’s not that they feel rules are made to be broken or they devalue fairness. It’s that they value mercy, tact, and compassion. In contrast, “thinkers” recognize the logic and reason behind rules and are more likely to apply them consistently and expect them to be applied consistently, perhaps even rigidly. It’s not that they can’t be merciful or can’t value mercy. But they do place a high priority on truth and justice. An iconic literary example of this aspect of “thinking” is Javert from “Les Miserables.”
- “Feeling” people aren’t necessarily emotional. I suppose they can be, and are more likely to be than thinkers, but the feeling function deals more with validating For instance, I’m a “feeler.” A great example of that was when I made the decision to leave my doctoral program. It was not a “thinking” choice. I was doing well in school, had an article published, had a clear path to a career. But, I couldn’t feel that I belonged. I couldn’t feel that I was making a difference or would a difference in the world working in my particular field. I couldn’t make myself feel that my work mattered in any real sense, and that was a huge deal for me. The decision to walk away was based on how I felt, not based on reason, logic, or external conditions. That’s what “feeling” means in this context.
- “Thinking” doesn’t mean you ignore emotions, whether your own or other people’s. If I were a “thinker,” I would likely have concluded, “I know it’s hard right now, but stick it out. Get the degree and then go from there. Just GET the degree. You’re halfway there. You don’t have to stay in academia afterward, but why close the path? Keep the option open! You’re succeeding, so why quit?” Thinkers aren’t necessarily going to deny or ignore how they feel, or how other people feel. Thinkers can be caring, responsible people. They’re just more likely to give primacy to logic and reason in decision-making. They will recognize and examine emotion and if they can’t rationalize its basis logically, are likely to dismiss it as a factor in a particular decision. But they won’t just ignore it from the get-go.
- Thinking/Feeling is not about selfishness or unselfishness. Whether we base decisions on logic/reason or emotion, we can consider other people to a greater or lesser degree. I, as a feeler, could make a selfish decision because I feel it would make me happy, even if that decision would hurt someone else. A thinker could use logic to justify a selfish decision: could consider other people to a greater or lesser extent as he chooses what data he will reason from to make his choice. I have a job offer…. If I’m a thinker, I can choose to consider the effects of relocating my family along with salary, opportunities for advancement, etc. as I reason out the best choice, or I can choose not to.
- Remember this is a spectrum. Feelers are not incapable of reason. Thinkers, again, don’t outright dismiss emotion. It’s just a question of which you give more weight to. I happen to be an INFJ, and reading up on my Myers-Briggs type recently, saw somewhere that INFJ’s lean toward feeling but many of them tend to have a well-developed thinking function as well and may sometimes even come across as thinkers. Basically, on the Thinking-Feeling spectrum, INFJs are closer to the middle than some other types, though we are on the feeling side of it.
I hope you enjoyed this post. And I hope you come back for the rest of the series. I had tried to get back to blogging every day, but there’s just not enough time for that. I’m going back to my semiweekly schedule, so you can look for posts on Mondays and Thursdays from now on.