Monday, August 13, 2018

Myers-Briggs Can Help Caregivers and Patients

You’ve probably taken the test at work or as part of a self-understanding workshop. The Myers-Briggs Personality Type system helps us to understand ourselves and others, and to learn about our preferences and most importantly—the way we get and manage energy.

You know the words even if you don’t know your type.: 

These four dyads represent a continuum of preferences, or ways we operate in the world and with both ourselves and others. 

What I love most about Myers-Briggs is that it is “nonpathological” meaning there is no good-bad, or right-wrong identity. Each of these is neutral and helpful. Over the years I have found that using these types and this language a great way to work through relationship conflicts and conversations—whether workplace, friendship or intimate relationships. 

But recently I have been thinking about how Myers-Briggs can be helpful to caregivers. I’m part of a care team for a friend with a serious illness and as the team is volunteering to do everything needed, I see the types come into play. The introverts would like to visit one on one, the extraverts are hoping for group activities or a crowd at dinner. The N’s are reflective and guided by their gut, the S’s ask for tangible specifics.

 Without understanding that these are “types” it would be easy to become annoyed. One could be tempted to criticize in a situation like this, but there is the beauty of learning how Myers-Briggs Typology works. Each person –or type--is managing their own energy in a situation that is already energy demanding. Simply knowing that can cut through the “Can you believe that she…?” and “Who would ever want to…?”

Another way that we can effectively use the language of Myers-Briggs helps to better understand the needs of the patient. Our MB type doesn’t vary a great deal when we become ill—but it will instead become more manifest.

Try this test: If I am very ill I would like my friends to
  1. a. Visit me a lot, stop by, bring the joy every day
  2. b. Limit visits call before you come, maybe no visitors at all.
There you see (a) an Extravert patient and (b) an Introvert patient. It’s so tempting to think, “That’s just wrong” or “She doesn’t really mean that” especially if yours is the opposite type. So, it is crucial to check your assumptions --and your type.

It is the E and the I that need the most attention. The issue is about how energy gained and conserved. Both patients and family caregivers need enormous amounts of energy—so it’s important to assess each one’s type. No, you don’t want to administer a test, but pay attention, or recall how they handled energy before the current situation arrived. 

It is most challenging when the caregiver and the patient are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The extraverted patient may want lots of visitors and say, “stay for dinner” and “we can all watch a movie in my room”. An Introverted caregiver will be drained by that. 

You are not a bad caregiver if you dread that. But, paying attention to Type, you can ask another Extraverted friend or family member to “host” those experiences and you use that time to get away alone for a while.

An introverted patient will prefer to limit visiting hours and say, “no drop-in’s please”. Extraverted caregivers—you need to be careful to not think, “Oh, we need to cheer him up—let’s all go over and play cards with him.”

Remember there is no right or wrong way to be a patient or a caregiver, but we can make situations much more difficult by not paying attention to each person’s preferences, and not noticing when our own Type is influencing our thinking. This is one place where the Golden Rule is absolutely wrong. Do not do to others what you’d like to have done to you. Instead, think about Type. Know your type and your preferences and ask questions. 

The small paperback, “Please Understand Me” by Kiersey & Bates is an excellent introduction to the Myers-Briggs Typology—and it includes a short quiz that can help you learn your own preferences.