Sometimes You Need to Go to Counseling. Sometimes You Just Need Permission to Relax.

Sometimes You Need to Go to Counseling. Sometimes You Just Need Permission to Relax.

Recently I’ve been thinking about going back to family therapy.

Everything’s been fine at home. Things have been really good, actually. But I’ve been a little concerned about one of my kids. This kid, by nature, is super-cautious, and he wants advance notice for everything. If we’re going to the beach in August, he wants to know in January. He wants to know on Sunday what we’re having for dinner Friday night. He does not want to take a new way home from Grandma’s house. Ever.

This child of mine is not like me. I fight routine, I reluctantly embrace structure (if at all), I like to improvise in the kitchen.

When I was a new mom I read something that’s haunted me ever since. It was in a Dr. Sears book, and he said something like “goodness of fit” between mother and child is an important factor for the success of that relationship, yet it’s very difficult to control.

I wanted to visit our old therapist because I needed a confidence booster. I wanted someone outside the situation–yet someone who had a history with our family–to verify that I was nurturing this very important relationship well. I wanted to hear that I wasn’t screwing my kid up. I wanted to learn what I could do to help ease his anxiety, and to make sure I wasn’t fueling it.

I just wanted to hear that I was doing okay.

Before I got around to making the appointment, I happened to pick up a book that’s been hanging out in my to-read stack for a while now: Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. It’s a great little MBTI primer.   

I flipped straight to the chapter on parenting, and it didn’t take long to identify my child in its pages. I’m parent to a little Guardian, an SJ who–according to MBTI lore–builds his self-esteem on his dependability, is prone to guilt, and has a security seeking personality.

Tellingly, SJs “respond happily to well-established, clearly-defined routines that bring them predictability.”

Mine sure does.

The book goes on to describe how different parent and child types interact with each other. The descriptions say where we’re likely to complement each other and where we’re likely to drive each other crazy.

As an Idealist, I’m likely to try to make over my child in my own image, until I eventually realize that he’s “a both-feet-on-the-ground little person  who is unusually concerned about responsibility, security, authority, and belonging, but who displays little of [my] romanticism or enthusiasm.”

I’m realizing it now.

My kid doesn’t need fixing. He’s doing great; he’s growing into the person he was bound to be from the beginning. I can encourage him, but I shouldn’t try to change him.

I can’t even begin to explain to you how freeing that is.

I’m a big believer in counseling: a good counselor can change your life. I’m a big believer in books, too, and sometimes a good book can do the same.

Maybe we’ll go back to family therapy one day; I don’t think it could hurt. But for now, I’m satisfied that we’re where we need to be.

And it feels good.

Does anybody else geek out about personality profiles like I do? Has understanding personality improved your relationships?

P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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  1. Linda says:

    I can’t say that I geek out on personality profiles, but I do find them helpful. I think realizing that my children are not my mini-me has helped me to parent them, especially now that they are teens. Relax, have a cup of cocoa and enjoy:-)

    • Anne says:

      “I think realizing that my children are not my mini-me has helped me to parent them.”

      Such a great way to put it. I’m slowly learning this one. Very slowly.

  2. I totally need to look into the personality profiles more! My 3 year old and I butt heads a lot. I struggle with her ‘obsessive’ tendencies and not knowing what is ‘just a phase’ or what will stick with her for life. Thanks for sharing.

    • Anne says:

      My 3-year-old and I butt heads a lot, too. I’m still trying to figure out if it’s because of his personality type…or if it’s because he’s 3! Or both. 🙂

  3. Tina B says:

    I might be the adult version of your little one. For many years of my life I was happy to be spontaneous with a few days notice. This was true even in adulthood. On a Friday morning, my best friend would call and say something like, “let’s go out of town shopping this weekend.” I would freak because I hadn’t planned for it. I just couldn’t do it. Somewhere in my 30’s, I got over it and now I’m the one initiating the weekend trip at 4:30 on Friday. For me, the personality profiles have put into words how I’ve felt for a long time and I find comfort in knowing that there are others like me.

    • Anne says:

      “For me, the personality profiles have put into words how I’ve felt for a long time and I find comfort in knowing that there are others like me.”

      Exactly! I don’t know why it’s so helpful to me to have these things articulated, but it definitely is.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I do geek out about personality profiles — mostly Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram — and find them very, very useful in my own life and relationships. My son, who has special needs, can be very clingy and wants to interact all the time; I can be easier on myself when I acknowledge it’s my being an Introvert that makes this so hard for me — not that I’m mean or selfish. I am also a “Six” on the Enneagram which explains why I tend not to need (or even really like) a lot of change and novelty in my life — something that also makes me a better parent to my kids b/c I can more easily accept the limits life has handed me. So yes, I think about life in terms of personality types quite a bit!

    I really appreciate your post. Sharing how you dealt with this vulnerable area in your own life gives the rest of us permission not to be so hard on ourselves too.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Jeannie. And for sharing what this looks like in your life. What you said about learning to “accept your limits” resonates with my own experience so much.

      I’ve only recently discovered the Enneagram profile and would love to spend some more time with it.

  5. Lisa says:

    Please Understand Me II Is one of my favorite books! I actually forced my husband to figure out his personality profile very early on in our dating life, and as part of our premarital counseling we had to do it again. I found that it really helped us identify why we were having some conflicts and also convinced us that these conflicts were normal with people with our personality types. It somehow made it all less personal!

    • Anne says:

      Oh my goodness, YES. I hate to admit this, but I seriously used to think my husband was absolutely terrible at having an argument. You know, once of those spousal we-don’t-see-eye-to-eye-let’s-figure-this-out discussions. I thought he did it wrong.

      Needless to say, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was acting 100% true to type. It helped me so much to (finally) realize that!

  6. Tim says:

    My geeking about personality types is limited to my own, but I’ve found it helpful when it comes to figuring out why I act the way I do in various situations, and how to moderate that so it doesn’t affect others negatively.

    When I first became a judge in the 90s, all judges were given the Myers Brigg inventory. The huge number came out in just one of teh 16 personality types, and I was in that majority, something like 75% of judges statewide. The remaining 25% were relegated to the other 15 categories of personalities.

    So it turns out I’m an INTJ as well as a Rational Mastermind. Now I know why I don’t like to take charge, but will do so if no one else wants the job!


  7. Kraut says:

    I am a complete personality geek who has been guilty of analyzing the type of pretty much everyone I know! The book you mention was my into to it all. Have you read Nurture by Nature? It’s a book on parenting your child based on his/her type with in depth looks at what each of the 16 types looks like in a kid. Very interesting!

  8. Meredith says:

    Oh wow. You have really spoken to me on this one. Yesterday I took off work to take my son to the zoo in a neighboring town. It is his spring break and I wanted to do something fun, just me and him. I didn’t tell him about it in advance just in case some sort of emergency came up and we could not go. I didn’t want him disappointed (yes, I know children need to experience disappointment, but that’s another blog post). So yesterday morning instead of going straight to my parent’s house where he is staying during the day for spring break, we took a right. When he asked why we were going the wrong way I told him the great news. I thought the surprise would be super exciting for him. He wanted to go to his grandparent’s house. Couldn’t we do this another day, he asked. I’ll have to say my feelings were hurt but I was not changing plans. In the end we did have a great time. But your blog today reminds me, he is a structured, rules-following, orderly guy. What I think will be spontaneous fun for him, is chaos in his world. In the future, I will tell him in advance and pray nothing happens to change plans. Thanks for the wonderful words you share with us!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, Meredith–I’ve done that so often! I’m so glad it turned out to be a fun spring break outing for him. (And now that I stop and think about it, that’s how it often turns out with my son, too. But the panic in the meantime is horrible!)

      “What I think will be spontaneous fun for him, is chaos in his world.”

      I might need to write that on my refrigerator. Or my forehead. 🙂 Well put.

  9. My husband and I just had a long conversation about this the other day. We did this test (you fill it out about your children – it’s supposed to only work for kids 7-13, but it was helpful for our almost 6 year old as well as our 7 year old): The people who released that test say that before age 7 you can really pin down only 2 of the letters, and only 3 before age 13, so we didn’t bother for the 4 year old for now. It was super illuminating to see the results for the older two children though.

    I also have the Please Understand Me II book and find it incredibly helpful. I also think it’s helpful to remember that my personality type (ENTJ) influences the way I perceive events and responses. Especially as I’m homeschooling very different tempered children, I have to remind myself a lot that something is the way I’m perceiving or interpreting it, and they don’t necessarily mean to irritate me (at least not always!).

  10. Rena says:

    I’m obsessed with personality tests. Have you ever heard of enneagram tests? We have an “enneagram and parenting” book that helps distinguish the personality types of your kids and yours and how you interact. Super interesting. Your son sounds like a 6, which is exactly like my husband and I am just like you (I’m a 7), which is completely the opposite personality type (more carefree and spontaneous). 🙂

  11. Erica says:

    I love personality tests. Personality Plus is how I discovered that my husband and I are basically polar opposites. Once we realized this we found more to laugh about than fight about.

    I took both the Keirsey and the Myers-Briggs tests as well, and was interested to come up INFJ both times, apparently one of the rarest personality types. This might explain my near-perpetual “no one gets me” attitude throughout childhood and my teen years; I barely avoided the stereotypical “dress in black and insist the world is against you” phase. 😉

  12. angie says:

    I’m into this kind of books and Counceling at important turns of my life has helped me greatly. I’ve read a Greek book recently(no translation available) and in there 3 personality types are analyzed that apply to all humans or so the aythor claims. But it has helped me tremendously to point out some very important traits of my personality that I was in darkness about. And it was so freeing.

  13. Carolyn says:

    Thank you for pinning this book!! I think my husband and I are having some conflicts because of our personality traits. I am a fellow idealist and INFP and my husband does not understand me! Lol. I just ordered the book and am excited to geek out on it, and even better, be able to give hubby something to read that will make sense to him.

    • Anne says:

      Carolyn, I hope you enjoy reading it and find it useful. Reading more about MBTI has been eye-opening for me personally and for my relationships. (I’m an INFP, too. 🙂 )

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  15. Jennifer says:

    I am just now discovering you because of your Summer Reading book list and I am really enjoying reading your posts. I am also a personality geek and an idealist (and I think those two things go hand in hand). I love Keirsey’s book and instantly implemented the test into the ministry I used to run.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words! (And I think it’s fascinating how some personalities geek out about Personality far more than others. 🙂 )

  16. Jenni says:

    Both my children are this way. They need advanced notice for everything. If my cousin and her son are coming to visit, they (including my husband) need like a week’s notice to ‘prepare themselves.’ It has taken me a long time to get used to this. I am an ENFP, and they are introverted and my cousin is… a lot sometimes.

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