I am fond of introspection, but it isn’t always fruitful on its own. So my data comes (although technically “data” is a plural, in common usage it is a mass noun, like water; which is how we get “data point” as a synonym for “datum”, and analogous with “water droplet”) from the comments of ex-partners and other people who know me well, some psychological profile quizzes and some of my own self-identification. This ended up getting LONG, so I’ve broken it up into three different posts: psych tests, other people’s views, and my own introspection. I’ve tried to cross-reference the overlaps (of which there are plenty). At the end of each post, I’ll do a little bullet-list of the points that I drew out, and that way I have a handy reference set for when I move on to the next stage.
First up, what does the science of psychology reveal about me, and what I’ve got to bring to the dating table?
Several of the psychology things were from the BBC Lab-UK website, particularly, “Can you compete under pressure?” and “The Stress Test”.
Starting with psychological profiles, my favoured system is the MBTI, or the related KTS – since I have the Kiersey/Bates book “Please Understand Me”, which includes the KTS instrument, I generally work from that one. These systems are the ones that produce four-letter codes for personalities, each character representing a binary state, for example E/I is extraversion/introversion. They seem to be fairly common in job interviews as well. Rather than look at the whole code, though, I think it’s more helpful to break it down and see what each letter means for me.
My two strongest identities under the MBTI or KTS are Introvert and iNtuitive.
The introvert is described as a person who finds social situations exhausting and prefers to recover energy by doing stuff on their own, for example, sitting and reading a book. It describes me to a tee. As much as I might be enjoying a social event that goes well, even so, I feel worn out by people. This is a big reason why I find it hard to get a handle on people, and why social events are not guaranteed to go well.
To be intuitive is described as being someone who lives in their mind more than their senses (the opposite figure is called “sensing”, after all) – ideas and concepts are their realm. In discussions I have been described as a “dreamy” sort of person, which ties in with this strong identity with the ‘N’ coding. Other ways it is described are “possibilities” and “expectations”, future-looking terms but also, for me, worry-laden terms, and they tie in with my not being outcome-independent. Some advice that I have been given on perhaps seeking more balance in this area is, “Go out of your mind and into your senses”, which is good advice but I struggle to achieve it when it might be most helpful.
Rather unhelpfully, my placement on the Thinking/Feeling dimension varies according to the situation or purpose of the test. This is perhaps summed up by the fact that the person who suggested I “go out of my mind” also described me as, “always tries to think how he should feel”. I have strong emotions and my actions and thoughts are without a doubt guided by them: but thought also helps direct emotion and action, too. Or, sometimes, overthinking.
Similarly, I fall right in the middle on Judging/Perceiving. This dimension is about how one likes decisions made: either settled and fixed or open and pending (moreorless). From my discussion of my dating desires, it seems as though settled and fixed is more often of interest to me than open and pending, but even here there are elements of both: the “catch you when you fall” concept depends on both: both “there’s something fixed to cling to/fall back on” and “there’s something pending and open to reach for”. It’s worth noting that in my teens, I came out strongly P on this: it seems as though my life lessons have shifted me more towards J.
Five Factor Model
If I like the MBTI stuff, then I am more of a sceptic when it comes to the Big Five (or “OCEAN”) traits, that are preferred by psychologists today (I tend to recognise a lot of the Big 5 Inventory questions when I do those online questionnaires). Given the amount of research evidence that is claimed to support this classification, this is something of a problem (or maybe, it explains why I think all of you humans are so weird). It is also noted on the wikipedia link above, that the Big Five are not as useful in terms of predicting behaviour. Nevertheless, it makes sense if I’m looking at what I’ve got, to see where I fall on these scales (if only to talk about why I think it’s wrong or dubious). Since I am less familiar with the Big Five descriptions, I’m going to be basing this on the info at the wikipedia link. Unfortunately, the Big Five results from the BBC questionnaire are unavailable at the moment (something about the site being down for maintenance) so I had to go find a different one to see where it says I stand currently.
Openness to experience
I typically score very high on openness, and would tend to agree that I fit most of the tendencies that are listed under this category: “active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity”. The main page for the trait suggest that this is closely related to the ‘N’ factor (intuitiveness) in the MBTI, and it is perhaps unsurprising that it is a trait I have some confidence in. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that it runs counter to the ‘J’ tendencies I discussed above, and the ways in which I look for fixed and certain things in life.
This is one that I find hard to make sense of, in terms of how it relates to me. I am sure my score varies widely on the scale depending on something or other; when I did it most recently, I scored somewhere in the middle. This makes sense, since reading the description on wikipedia, I find myself identifying with some points and not others. Significantly, I find this to be true on the lower-level divisions of “orderliness” and “industriousness” as well. This isn’t a case of being mildly conscientious: it’s a case of being strongly conscientious and simultaneously strongly not conscientious, depending on how you measure it. For the moment, let’s notice that my approach to the project exhibits some strong conscientiousness elements: I am attempting to take an orderly approach, be thorough, deliberation (which, being described as, “the tendency to think carefully before acting”, is a point that is generally true about my approach to dating and socialising).
Guess what? I score LOW on this one. This would be fine if it just meant sociability, but it doesn’t: “Extraversion is characterized by positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek out stimulation and the company of others. The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy interacting with people, and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals”
I like stimulation, and I am generally enthusiastic about whatever I choose to do. I also think of myself as a cheerful puppy most of the time. I even like some socialising, it just wears me out so quickly.
Another one where I score highly, perhaps unsurprisingly since my interaction goals placed the outcome for the other person as a high priority for me. Nevertheless, I have a tendency towards suspicion (or perhaps, it’s a learned adaptation) which is supposedly a trait of being disagreeable. I’m also not sure I could describe my view of human nature is optimistic.
Given that I have a history of depression, and am a habitual worrier (which is to say, if I’m not worrying about SOMETHING, then I’ll worry that there’s something I should be worried about but am not), it’s perhaps surprising that on the last test I scored around the high standard deviation mark, rather than much higher. (I think I scored higher on the BBC test when I did it a few years ago.) However, the key to understanding where I am in relation to this trait is to look at how I deal with those things. I know I worry all the time. That means that the fact I am worrying is a calming factor: I can take a measured look at what is worrying me and why, and decide if it’s anything that actually needs attention. Then I can say, “hello, worry, old friend; just sit in the corner and keep to yourself” – or, if it actually does need attention, then I can deal with the issue promptly. (That’s why it’s more worrying if I’m not worried: it means I don’t know if I need to pay attention to something or not.) I take a similar approach with depression – it’s a familiar face around these parts, and I know how to deal with it confidently. If it comes down to it, I also know where to get help. The same goes for stress, which is another factor mentioned.
On some of the other factors under neuroticism, a long time ago I made the decision to feel my emotions fully (it was a breakthrough when I realised depression was stopping me doing that): I revel in the highs and lows and feel stronger for it, so I tend to score highly for things like “emotional reactiveness”. I like to take a step back and think about what I am feeling, which probably drags those scores down somewhat (it’s just plain wrong to suggest that I have “problems in emotional regulation”). Crucially, most of the things I feel under neuroticism seem to me to be adapted rather than fundamental in the way that the Five Factor Model suggests it should be.
I also am a freak on some other factors: from the wikipedia page: “the Big Five Inventory found that women tended to be somewhat higher than men in neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.” So my high neuroticism and agreeableness make me more female (although low extraversion and average conscientiousness would put me in the male category). Furthermore, I’m a freak as a BDSMer, too: a study cited on the FetLife Psychology & BDSM group (abstract here) suggests that:
BDSM practitioners were less neurotic, more extraverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, … yet were less agreeable. Comparing the four groups, if differences were observed, BDSM scores were generally more favorably for those with a dominant than a submissive role
So being a neurotic, agreeable, introverted Dom is just weird of me. [grins]
Of the issues I’ve discussed for the Big Five, I feel that most of them are drawn out better from some of the other explorations I did ,and when I discuss those, I’ll refer back to the Big Five aspects that I think they represent.
Stress and Pressure
I felt it worth including these tests from the BBC Lab-UK experiments on the grounds that I find dating, and socialising in general, to be a source of stress and pressure. Looking at how I deal with those might (just possibly) be relevant to how I deal with the problems I have with dating etc.
The “performance under pressure” experiment wants to see what difference three techniques might make on performance in competitive situations. I was given the “Visualising Success” technique, which as it turns out, did improve my results on the test given. Visualising success is where you picture yourself succeeding at a challenging task and then go and do it. Certainly, if I can imagine how something is going to go well, then it generally helps me do well at it. As it happens, I do not know how to visualise success in dating or socialising situations and this is one of the questions on my list.
The other two techniques are a mixed bag: “self-talk”, where you tell yourself you will do well, doesn’t work for me based on past experience: I’m just too sceptical of myself when I tell me that. “If-then” planning is certainly something I do a lot; my difficulty is that when I try to do it for starting an interaction, I find that there are too many possibilities and I freeze up, or it just takes me too long to narrow down the possibilities.
Also under this experiment were some measures of what moods and approaches to emotions help. My results came back:
Happiness seems to be the best chance for success.
I notice my negative feelings and don’t ignore them
I look at the emotions I feel and examine or re-interpret them
(Do those last two remind you of anything, such as “neuroticism” above?)
The “Stress Test” offered the insights that I take a problem-solving approach to stress situations, sometimes also ruminating. I avoid distraction or increased risk. This means that I generally try to tackle the problem by coming up with a solution or way around it – much like I’m doing with this whole SCW project! However, I also have a tendency to dwell on my problems. The description for “ruminating” includes “negative emotions” in the things I dwell upon, but I think this isn’t accurate; instead, I take the approach described in the “pressure” experiment – rather than dwelling on them, I acknowledge them and examine or re-interpret them. While that can look like dwelling, since it involves calling them to mind and thinking about how they feel, I would say that the difference is that what I do is an active processing of the emotion, whereas dwelling would be more passive.
- Well, I’m introverted, who knew?
- I’m something of a “Dreamer”, focussing on possibilities and expectations. Mind rather than senses. (See also “openness to experiences”)
- Agreeable – caring about others
- Emotional (and proud of it)
- Worrying about stuff is no cause for alarm – or, “I’m worrying, so everything’s normal”
- Notice negative emotions and think things through to deal with them
- Deal with problems by thinking about them (notice a “thinking” theme here?)
- It helps when I can visualise success or plan “If-Then” scenarios