One of the most readily known facts is this: people are different. I’m sure I’ve always known it; I’ve surely recognized differences in peers, siblings, friends, teachers, and the like from the time I was small. But learning about differences never smacked me in the face, shall we say, until I got married and had children.
Entering a whole new family called in-laws, inviting little people you’ve never met to join your family and live there day in and day out, and watching your siblings become adults and then add people to their families really emphasizes that we’re all different.
Knowing we are different, though, is not the same thing as understanding we’re different. Seeing differences between people–why one person reacts one way when I would react in a completely different way–was really hard for me when it impacted my life in negative ways (such as frustration or offense). As it turns out, understanding those differences was important for me. Vital, in fact. And I can honestly say it has changed my life and my relationships.
By nature, I’m a sensitive person. In fact, I learned recently (but at the same time have always known) that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. That means I notice things other people don’t notice (or care about).
Then I actually take in all the things I see, hear, feel, and think. And they set up camp in my brain and hang out for a long time until I process them. Yes, every single one of them.
So while other people may not notice someone’s tone of voice, the temperature in the room, or exchanged glances, I notice them all–and not just notice but think about constantly and then process by assigning meanings and purposes for them all.
So things that are small and insignificant to other people are anything but for me. Both my brain and my heart run constantly, processing everything that happens around me whether it matters or not.
When I make a mistake, I feel it deeply. If someone doesn’t understand me or my motives or my decisions, I feel it deeply. When I want to help someone and can’t, I feel it deeply. And for a long time, I would feel bad for feeling it deeply.
Why can’t I brush things off like other people? Why do I keep thinking about something that was said or done when I know that the person who offended me really didn’t intend to hurt me? What is wrong with me? Why do I get overwhelmed so easily? Why am I so intense?
Learning About The Color Code
When my three children were small, my brother worked at a residential treatment center for troubled teens. As part of their training in helping those kids, the employees at the center learned about something called The Color Code.
The Color Code is about motives or the driving force behind people. It asserts that everyone has one of four primary motives: power, peace, intimacy, or fun. We are all a mixture of those motives, of course, but The Color Code helps people identify their primary motive, their driving force.
This was life-changing for me. Recognizing people do things for different reasons opened my eyes and my understanding. Yes, I can see how different my family members are, how different my in-law family members are, how different my children are, how different I am. But now I began to understand a WHY behind it all.
It gave me a different set of eyes, and with that set of eyes came greater compassion, patience, and empathy.
But there was an additional, absolutely vital side-benefit to learning about other people: I learned about me.
Learning About Myself
It sounds almost silly. Of all the people in the world, I spend the most time with ME! I have the most in common with ME! I know my every thought! It had never really occurred to me that I didn’t really understand myself.
At the time I first learned about The Color Code, I compared myself to other people a lot. I was very hard on myself, often for no reason.
After learning that I would sacrifice power, peace, and fun in order to achieve my top priority of intimacy (or relationships), my decisions began to make a lot more sense, and so did the decisions of others.
And the miracle of that was: while my compassion, patience, and empathy for others began to increase, so did my compassion, patience, and empathy for myself.
I saw a t-shirt once that said: “There are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two groups, and those who don’t.” I think this is true for personality tests, too.
I don’t view personality tests as putting people in boxes, though. It’s not limiting. It’s freeing. It helps you know a person’s story, and that helps you love him/her.
Learning the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator
This was just the tip of the iceberg, though. A few years ago, my sister-in-law introduced me to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. If The Color Code is college, MBTI is graduate school. It’s based on the work of Carl Jung, who truly had a gifted and deep understanding of humanity. Rather than just one motive, MBTI looks at four motives called “preferences”:
- How you take in information
- How you view decisions (the criteria you use)
- Which world you focus on (the outer world or the inner world)
- How you make decisions
There are sixteen possible combinations of preferences, and the beautiful part is that they are all equal. (Yes, we tend to think our own is right and makes sense, but they’re really all equal.) The Meyers-Briggs type tells me I’m an INFJ personality.
Learning this was like coming home. The preferences fit; the descriptions are me. I felt validated in a way I never had before. Looking at myself from the outside, as it were, somehow gave me permission to embrace myself.
And this is when life started to make sense to me. This is when I started to make sense to myself. Learning about differences helped me I stopped beating myself up for being different. Should I be the mom who makes her own gummy bears out of kale, or should I be the mom who makes doughnuts every Fourth of July?
Guess what. I can be either one. Both. Neither. Whatever I want. (And who cares!) I’m not wrong.
My tendencies and preferences and choices are just as valid, just as good, as anyone else’s. This is when I truly began having compassion, patience, and empathy for everyone AND me.
This isn’t to say I don’t always try to improve myself. I try to become better, more patient, and more understanding all the time. I still struggle. This isn’t to say I make excuses for myself because that’s “just the way I am.” But for me, embracing myself means validating my own feelings, strengths, and even quirks.
They are okay because they make me ME. I was never intended to be anyone else. I was intended to be the best version of myself, and that’s what I’m shooting for.
Right now I have an amazing blessing in my life. I get to teach a scripture class early in the morning to high-school students. To some it may not sound like an “amazing blessing,” but trust me. Most of the blessings come from doing it, but one of the blessings comes from the training I get before each new school year.
I watched the recorded training last week, and one of the speakers quoted a remarkable woman and her inspired perspective, which will stay with me forever. This is what everyone should know and believe.
“Our Father in Heaven needs us as we are, as we are growing to become. He has intentionally made us different from one another so that even with our imperfections we can fulfill His purposes. My greatest misery comes when I feel I have to fit what others are doing or what I think others expect of me.
For many years, I tried to measure the oft-times quiet, reflective Pat Holland against the robust, bubbly, talkative, and energetic Jeff Holland, and others with like qualities. I have learned through several fatiguing failures that you can’t have joy being bubbly if you’re not a bubbly person.
I have given up seeing myself as a flawed person. Giving this up has freed me to embrace and rejoice in my own manner and personality. Somewhere, somehow, the Lord blipped the message onto my screen that my personality was created to fit the mission and talents He gave me.
I have found that I have untold abundant sources of energy to be myself, but the moment I indulge in imitation of my neighbor, I feel fractured and fatigued and find myself forever swimming upstream. When we frustrate God’s plan for us, we deprive the world and God’s kingdom of our unique contributions.” ~Patricia Holland
For several days now, I’ve tried to decide what my favorite part is. It’s pretty hard. But I think it’s: “I’ve given up seeing myself as a flawed person.”
You Are Not Flawed
And that’s what has happened to me from learning about differences. I’ve realized we’re marvelous. We are different, we are trying, we make mistakes, but we’re marvelous. Each personality and perspective bring so much value to humanity. So, please: give up seeing yourself as a flawed person. You are not flawed. You are you. You are the way the world needs you to be.
We need people who are good listeners, people who are good talkers, people who plan ahead, people who wait to see what’s out there first, people who consider logic first, people who consider feelings first, people who like things clean, people who like things messy.
The world needs you, but more importantly, your world needs you. Wherever your own sphere of influence is– that world needs you.
Learning about differences helps us embrace our strengths, understanding they are ours for a reason. We are meant to run with our talents. Sure, you can develop additional talents and learn to do things that don’t come naturally to you but trying to be someone you’re not, often doesn’t work. That’s because God gave you talents that fit your unique and special purpose on this earth.
So love them. Embrace them. Be introspective if you’re introspective. If you’re good at teaching, teach. If you’re good at organizing, organize. Be outgoing if you’re outgoing. If you’re good at raking your neighbor’s leaves, rake your neighbor’s leaves. If you’re good at making people laugh, make people laugh.
You are marvelous being your own self.
Holland, Patricia T. “Portraits of Eve: God’s Promises of Personal Identity,” in LDS Women’s Treasury: Insights and Inspirations for Today’s Woman (1997), 97–98.