Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Does Personality Change Because of Disability?

I’m not the same person I used to be. At least I don’t think I am.

For example, before I was diagnosed with MS and for a short time afterward, I didn’t have a lot of empathy for disadvantaged people. I assumed that most of these folks deserved their lot in life, and only a small percentage suffered from misfortunes that were not of their own making. I assumed the bigger problem in society was not that people were hurting too much, but that too many people were taking advantage of the system. I (mostly) joked that an effective welfare program should consist of nothing more than blankets and soup.

Today, having spent so much time with people who are suffering, and having suffered myself, my attitude is reversed. I now assume that the majority of disadvantaged people are that way through no fault of their own. I have come to realize that we need to do more to help people, not less. The fact that some are cheating the system is an unfortunate side effect of well-intended programs, not a reason to cancel these programs.

I’ve also changed in other ways. I used to keep my emotions bottled up, and I considered this a strength of character. I would almost never discuss how I felt about things that were going on in my life. That was nobody’s business.

I’m still a levelheaded person, and I believe this serves me well, given all that I am going through. But I must (sadly) admit that I do have feelings, and I no longer keep them unexamined and private. When I decided to become a disability advocate, and write a blog about living a contented life as a disabled person, I became introspective. I had to. Otherwise, my writing would not have been interesting or relevant.

I could go on. My life has changed in so many ways. Given this, am I the same person that I used to be, or have I become someone completely different? We could have a subjective discussion about this, but there is an objective personality test which most of you are familiar with. It’s called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I took this test several times before my MS diagnosis, and I consistently came out with the personality type, INTJ, which is rare. Only 2% of people fall into this category. INTJ stands for Introvert as opposed to Extrovert, iNtuition as opposed to Sensing, Thinking as opposed to Feeling (of course), and Judging as opposed to Perception.

If you would like to learn more about this test or take it yourself, click here.

I decided to retake the Myers-Briggs this weekend for the first time since I left the workforce in 2009. I wondered how much I had changed over this period of time. Maybe I had become an ESFP for all I knew. I sat down and took the test, and I was astonished by the results.

I’m still an INTJ. How could that be?

According to Myers-Briggs, my personality type is the same as it always was. I haven’t become somebody new. Yet my behaviors have changed significantly since I became a disabled person. I hardly recognize myself.

I’m no psychologist, but I can make a guess at what is going on here. As the Myers-Briggs test indicates, the essence of who I am has not changed. My view of the world has been turned upside down, but my methods of processing information are the same. It’s just that I’m exposed to different information. I’m not looking at returns on investment for multimillion dollar projects. I’m looking at my friend down the street who can’t get a proper fitting for her new wheelchair. I’m not studying flight schedules to see how many clients I can visit in a week. I’m learning bus schedules to see how I can get to my therapy appointment on time.

I’m not a different person. I’m merely looking at life through a different window.


  1. LaZst time I took the test I was an INFP; I will retake it sand see if I've changed, but I doubt that I have.

  2. Great blog Mitch. I like to think of myself as a watered down version of what I once was (25 yrs. ago.) I did not know you were a disability advocate. Is that a self appointment?

    In Truth and Respect,

  3. P.S. I am an ENTP.


  4. ENTJ for me. Interesting. I don't remember what I was eons ago after getting an MBA and entering a corporate international arena. What I think I know is that I am by far now a more compassionate person. For sure I would never have imagined myself a poet. If my former also hard-charging work colleagues only knew..... :))

  5. Webster, we are fellow introverts!

    JE, I'm glad you liked the blog post. as for being a disability advocate, that is definitely self-appointed.

    Judy, it seems like we followed similar paths to being more empathetic, minus the poetry.

  6. excellent. i have lately been feeling like i was different somehow, due to disability- how could i possibly be the same person? but i like your way of putting it - the same person, just looking through a different window.

    lifelong introvert, by the way.

  7. Hey Mitch, I've taken the test a bunch of times, both before and after becoming disabled, and I've been a consistent INFP.

    Going through the MS experience certainly does put A person through changes, and I think that's unavoidable. But I also think that it's extremely difficult to change the essence of a person, who they are at their very core.in fact, I think becoming disabled and being taken out of circulation, so to speak, may allow us to become who we are underneath all of the years of indoctrination and socialization we go through on the way to becoming adults, along with removing many of the self expectations we put on our backs when building our careers.

    In any event, you've been a terrific guy ever since I've known you,and I am genuinely happy that we became friends. Sorry I've been remiss in holding up my end of the bargain lately, but, you know, MS and all…

  8. Stephen, it's worth noting that Myers Briggs doesn't define introvert as someone who is shy, but rather someone who gets their energy from within as opposed to getting their energy from other people.

    Marc, very well said. And no need to apologize. I get it.

  9. INTP, here. I only took it about a year ago, when my invisible disabilities were becoming more visible. Thank goodness my friends and family accept me as I am on any given day. I haven't lost many friends because of MS, and the few who've jumped ship weren't that close, anyway. Love your blog!

  10. Lisa, I'm glad you found my blog. I'm also very fortunate to have friends and family who are accepting and understanding. it makes a huge difference.