Do Personality Type Assessment Systems Put You Into a Box?

By Jack Speer | October 16, 2012

One of the most consistent criticisms I’ve heard of personality type classification systems over the years is that they put you into a box.

When somebody makes the “puts me into a box comment,” somehow I always think of SpongeBob SquarePants.

He’s the ultimate box character—square, silly, and not to be taken seriously. He turns up in cartoon episodes as a rock star, a cook, an ocean diver—but he’s always a square joke, and mostly a joke on himself.

What’s It Like to Be Trapped in a Box? (Help! Get Me Out of Here!)

To me, just looking at SpongeBob makes me think of being trapped in a box. When someone says you’re getting put into a box, that’s not good. It’s a limiting experience—like putting a baby chick into a cardboard box with holes punched in the top from air. You just want to call 911 for help.

I find that when people say that personality assessments “put people in a box,” they’re dismissing the whole concept of being able to assess someone’s personality through any kind of personality type classification system. To them, personality type tries to explain in a superficial way the huge variation of the human experience. It boils the essence of me down to a few paragraphs in a type description.

So does personality type put you into a box? It’s a reaction that some people have when they look at the type table, with its sixteen squares. I think in some cases there is merit to this argument when people use personality type to peg others in such a way that they limit their ability to do, to dream, and to become. In some cases they can take away your individuality and rob you of your freedom.

It’s true that the way personality type is interpreted by limited people can be limiting. I have known a few people who have been told that their personality types limited the career they might follow or the types of relationships that might have.

Yet I find that people who don’t want to be put into box are often already in a box of their own making. They are in a box out of their own fear of knowing who they really are and who the people around them are. They’ve grown comfortable with the chaos of the ambiguity of human relations, with the kind of pain that comes from not knowing themselves or others. It surprises me how many people tell me they just don’t want people to “know about them.” A personality assessment opens up questions they don’t want to answer. It holds up a mirror they don’t want to see.

Boxes, charts, colors, type descriptions—all the tools we use to describe personality types—are important classification systems. To dismiss these tools would be like saying that you don’t want to put the elements of the physical world into the Periodic Chart of Elements, or that the chart of human anatomy doesn’t really represent the complexity of the human body.

Personality type assessments are scientifically validated ways of revealing human personality and tendencies, and are the most underused tools possessed by the human race.They represent facets of the human personality that have immense value in navigating this Planet during the years we are allotted. My own personal assessment of “the box comment,” is that those who make it most often don’t grasp the tool. And frankly, that’s not surprising. Many who attempt interpreting personality type do it so badly that I sympathize with those who don’t understand it.

Personality type offers such enormous benefits to individuals and organizations that I am enjoying devoting a great part of my life to promoting human understanding through type. In a world of brutal conflict and constant misunderstanding, I know my efforts will be limited to a few successes.