These four things would seemingly come to two sets of pairs: (1) racial prejudice and gender stereotypes, then (2) personality types and love languages. Whatever dangers may exist with the misuse of personality types and love languages does not compare to the damage that has been done by racial prejudice and gender stereotypes.
However, I believe the cultural awareness that continues to grow about prejudice and stereotypes can help us see more clearly a common misuse of materials like personality tests and love languages (which, for the record, I am not saying are bad). In this post, I want to try to draw three parallels that I believe are instructive.
- Each of these is a way of trying to make complex things simple.
From the earliest parts of our education we are taught to make complex things simple by reducing them to categories. This is helpful teaching a child to clean their room (trucks in one drawer; blocks in another). It is also helpful in scientific efforts like dividing the different family, genus, and species of different living things in a biology class.
In relationships and with people, this is often more detrimental than helpful. We use many simple labels for complex things that skew our ability to have meaningful conversations: White, Black, Asian, Latino, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Northerner, Southerner, Hippie, Extrovert, Introvert, Type A, Depressive, Addict, Bipolar, etc…; which leads to the next point.
- Each of these miss the person for the category… especially when over relied upon
We think we know someone because of the category they fit in; we confuse knowing something about them for really knowing them. I am a white, Southern, pastor, counselor, rural-born male who now lives in the suburbs of a major city. Do you know me? I hope, culturally, we are getting past the point where the answer would be yes.
But what if I told you I am a Type A, introvert, compulsively structured, detail-oriented, phlegmatic, who prefers quality time to receiving gifts and physical touch to acts of service, and highly values achievement so I am more given to anxiety than depression. Do you know me now?
We are more prone to say yes. But I have told you nothing (at least in this blog) of my wife, two boys, upbringing, hobbies, sense of humor, life dreams, shaping life events, health, religious beliefs, or many other things that would come with being “friends.” The things I have told you would probably not be the things that would determine whether we could be good friends. Yet we live in a day when a test that measures these traits would be believed to tell us whether we’re compatible.
- The greater our confidence in any of these, the greater their danger
The more weight we give to things like personality tests and love languages (I choose those two simply because they’re most prominent), the less we hold ourselves responsible to ask good questions, listen to answers, value our differences, and build relationships around mutual sacrifice. Instead we insist people “accept us for who we are” and that they “meet our needs.”
Personally, I believe we can learn a great deal from personality tests and that we should learn how people close to us most naturally receive love. You can know a good deal about me from the things listed in the first two paragraphs of point two.
My concern is that these become short-cuts to getting to know and continuing to learn about people. When that happens, these useful tools become a form of relational laziness that will harm our relationships. It is not the harm of segregation or the suppression of women.
But it is the harm of marriages ending in divorce, children growing up without parents, and strained friendships because we thought a stereotype, personality trait, or love language could tell us and produce what only comes from getting to know a person and investing in a relationship. May we take the same time to get to know someone as a person who happens to have the traits of a particular temperament as we should getting to know a person who happens to come from a particular ethnic background.
If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Personality” post which address other facets of this subject.