I have personality envy.
Recently, I called my husband’s attention to a woman we interact with frequently at a medical office. I told my husband, “She has the kind of personality I’ve always wanted.” She’s warm and personable, friendly but not intrusive. She seems naturally kind and steady, and she puts people at ease. And she’s really good at small talk. By contrast, I am caring and interested in people but highly reserved, moody, socially anxious, and naturally sarcastic. When I meet people, my brain fills with inappropriately personal questions about who they are and where they’ve been in life, and I can’t think of anything appropriate to say. Oh, and when I’m really on a roll, I can keep up small talk for all of about three minutes.
I don’t know whether personality envy is normal, or if it’s just me. I suspect most people would like to be, at the very least, a slightly better version of themselves. I assume most would change some things about their personalities if they could. But sometimes I long for a total personality transplant, so maybe I’m less comfortable with myself than typical. Actually, this is in keeping with my specific personality type, which tends to over-examine itself, obsess over personal growth, and feel like a misfit. For people familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I’m an INFJ. Introverted, intuitive, perfectionistic, often more at home in my own idealistic mind than in the real world. It’s not so much that I don’t like myself—it’s that I think life would easier if I were more like the people whose personalities I envy. Ironic, isn’t it? A personality type partially defined by the fact that it inherently feels wrong.
Although I don’t have the social energy of an extrovert, I’m very interested in other people. And I love thinking about—and noticing—personality. I enjoy getting to know others’ personalities, and I like to learn about personality theory and speculate on how other people would score on personality inventories (I know, I’m not supposed to do that).
Explanations of personality theory and descriptions of specific profiles usually give examples of famous people who fit into one category or another. I find it interesting that I often find Jesus on those lists, usually categorized as an INFJ or INTJ. I’m not going to try to speculate on the personality type of Christ himself, but it brings up an interesting question: how do we relate to God’s personality?
I’m aware that personality envy is a form of self-rejection, and I’m learning more about accepting me as I am and pursuing growth at the same time. Yet even as someone with personality envy, I tend to assume God is a lot like me—or at least like the best elements of my personality. I figure God is highly organized, intimate in his friendships, passionate and deeply caring, fiercely loyal, imaginative and intuitive, totally self-aware, and a great planner. I can find evidence of all these characteristics in Scripture and in my own experience. That’s a pretty good endorsement of my positive qualities. It’s easy to believe everyone should be more like me—at least in these ways I clearly reflect the image of God.
But I have to admit God also clearly displays opposing characteristics. There is plenty about God’s ways that seems disorganized and messy (of course, like many disorganized people, he knows where everything is). He has many friends and loves them all deeply—he doesn’t have a limited capacity for only a few intimate friends. He’s obsessed with detail but he’s also completely focused on the big picture. He’s totally immersed in the past and in the future, and completely present in the here and now. He takes great pleasure in delighting both the senses and the theoretical mind. He’s completely aware of others and he never tires of engaging himself in our lives. He is so open and yet almost completely mysterious. Full of perfect plans and totally spontaneous. A deeper feeler and a higher thinker than we can even imagine. And his character provides a great endorsement of personality qualities I see in people who are dramatically different from me—some of whom I envy and some of whom I don’t even like.
If we’re all made in God’s image, and he is defined only by himself, God is the only complete personality. He represents the best of everything we see in ourselves, plus perfection and a completely unlimited nature. This means God’s image is really big and very diverse in its application to humanity. We see this diversity not just in the surface-level differences that make us all unique, but in core personality itself. It truly does take all kinds not only to make a world, but to reflect even an imperfect image of an unfathomable God.
We are all made in God’s image and extremely valuable. I must learn to respect and cherish the aspects of God’s personality I see reflected in other people, who are very different from me. And I must value my own personality—it shows the world a bit about who God is! So next time I feel frustrated that my husband lacks the organizational skills I believe all people should possess, perhaps I should remember this is one of the specific ways he is made, differently from me, in God’s image. My husband’s spontaneity is not a shortcoming—it’s an expression (flawed, yes) of God’s personality. And maybe next time I feel like a loser because I can make small talk for only three minutes tops, I can find comfort in knowing this is a side effect of a way God has made me to reflect him.
© 2012 Amy Simpson.