Why personality type doesn’t actually matter

In my courses about personality type, INFJs ask the most questions. ENTJs ask the fewest questions.

The only type less fun than an INTJ is an ISTJ. So if an INTJ wants to look fun they need to marry an ISTJ.

ENFJs were the nicest about me being late to every webinar and they were the type most likely to book a one-on-one coaching session after the course.

ENFPs take the personality test the most times and they get the most varied results. When I tell them that, they still take the test a million more times.

Melissa is the person I had the most fun doing courses with. We were both learning so much from each class. That’s the thing about courses — don’t ever take a course from someone who isn’t learning alongside you. Otherwise they won’t be engaged in the material. I remember that from college. The graduate level courses where the professors taught obscure topics from their unpublished books were the best courses because they were using each class to work out one of the chapters.

The courses weren’t as fun when Melissa wasn’t there. But you can really only motivate Melissa with interestingness. Money doesn’t motivate her. Well, she is motivated by relationships. She’s loyal. She might be the most loyal person in my life, to be honest. I have fired her 400 times. She stopped working for me many years ago and then I couldn’t fire her anymore so I just started firing her as my friend.

It’s super messed up. But even as I write that sentence, firing her as my friend, I admit that it’s almost comforting. Because she knows I have a problem and she is still there for me Melissa edited this post. And even though I get angry at her and rogue post without having her edit, if there’s a post in the last ten years that you loved, Melissa edited it.

If there was a post in the last ten years that you hated it was probably from a time I was really lonely. People ask me questions like, “What is the personality type that is always pushing away people who are nice to them?” The answer is that trauma trumps personality type. It’s so lonely growing up in an abusive home, and it’s so crazy comforting to recreate that loneliness wherever I go.

Now that I’ve mastered MBTI I always have my eye open for other useful tests, so I was struck by this AMA on Reddit: I got a 0 on the ACE and a 7 on the PCE. Ask me anything.

I looked up ACE. It’s a test of 10 traumatic things that can happen to a child. In the US 65% of people will have a score of 1. About 13% of people will score about 4. I got a ten. I thought maybe I was answering the questions wrong, so I googled to see if a parent being arrested means I should answer yes to a parent being in prison. The answer I found was directed to healthcare practitioners, about how common it is for people who answer yes to a question and then to try to backpedal to the practitioner how actually it wasn’t that bad and tell them that the answer maybe actually should be a no.


I looked at the PCE. It’s a list of 7 things that happen before you’re 18 that build resilience. I read through the beginning quickly and score zero. What? I google what if I score zero on the PCE and I see that lots of people are triggered by the test questions. That makes me feel better. I read through the test again slowly and notice each question reminds me of all the times I tried to get people to help me and it didn’t work. I give myself two points for believing in my own abilities.

I read the test again to see if I’m a good parent. I panic that this is actually the list of what’s important in parenting but no one told me. It’s all about are there people in the child’s life who love the child and are available for the child. I want to give Z the test, but he’s an ISFP, he’ll just answer the questions in a way that he thinks will make me feel good. So I take a different tactic. I ask him questions at random times.

While we are setting the table for dinner I say, “Do you feel like you can talk to your family about your feelings?”


“I’m just asking. I want to make sure I am supporting you.”

“You can support me by giving me your fries.”

“Okay you can have my fries. Do you enjoy participating in community traditions?”

“What are you even talking about? We don’t have a community. Is this a meme?”

It took me a few days to recover from that.

Later, while we were walking the dog, I ask another.

“Do you think there is an adult who loves you and cares about you besides me?”


This answer is nothing to him. Just another one of my crazy questions.

She has literally been the most important person in my kids’ lives. I can’t believe it. I’m impressed that she’s been able to maintain herself as such an important person all these years. That somehow she has known all the right things to do. I’m very impressed. I have to confess that I’m also a little surprised. I chalk that up to me having no idea about any of this stuff. I mean I scored terribly on all of this.

But it’s the culmination of everything I’ve learned from the last ten years of studying people and personality and patterns. That none of it matters. What matters is keeping people in your life and treating them with respect. That makes a good family and a good life, and we each have to overcome all our personality conceits in order to do that.

31 replies
  1. Madelyn Lang
    Madelyn Lang says:

    Your last paragraph is so important and I’d like to quote it. My adult kids are always doing these tests and missing so much in real life. Well well said.

  2. Minami
    Minami says:

    You can’t say INTJs aren’t fun and then talk about how much fun Melissa makes everything for you. :)

    The truth is that fun is subjective – to, of course, personality type! What’s fun for an ESTP can make, say, an INFJ want to die.

    I personally find INTJs the most fun people. They are incredibly smart, hilarious, always have an interesting project, and they’re amazing listeners. So spending time with them is always relaxing, entertaining, informative, and low-pressure.

    And yes – they are loyal. My best friend is an INTJ. She has literally saved my life. And the lives of many of her loved ones. She has been my Melissa.

    I think INTJs don’t get credit for how loyal and helpful they are because they do it so quietly and without any fanfare at all (unlike us F-types who have the reputation for helpfulness, which I’m pretty sure is solely because we make a huge deal out of it).

    Also Z is an ESFP. You were right on your first and longest decision about what is type is. He’s just deeply depressed and traumatized. We can talk more about how he’s definitely an ESFP if you want. :)

    And one thing about ENFJs: they will be the nicest about you being late, but they will also be the most pissed about it – I guarantee it. They just won’t tell you to your face. They’ll talk about it behind your back. The good news though is that once you do something useful for them, they will forget all about it and forgive you immediately.

    • agreedINTJ
      agreedINTJ says:

      As a female INTJ, I fully agree with you on:

      – INTJs are super interesting, ‘fun’ and our humor is tragically under-appreciated
      – yes, fun is subjective. Boring ppl will find INTJs boring, interesting ppl find INTJs extremely interesting
      – we don’t need much credit for being quietly loyal and helpful; a thoughtful, genuine compliment once a year can even be enough; however, if you continuously take advantage of our kindness and loyalty, one day when we’ve had enough, you will get the INTJ door slam and have no clue what happened
      – her son Z is defo an ESFP. Se primary, then Fi secondary. It’s just that his recent trauma is making his Fi appear to be his primary function. He is (or was) way too social to be a natural introvert. Suggestion: help him rediscover his extroverted sensory life-affirming priorities so that he doesn’t end up drowning in his introverted feelings
      – ENFJs are nothing if not talkers and storytellers. So yes, they are most likely talking about how you are late behind your back along with a story they created. This is the kind of behavior INTJs abhor. Being two-faced/insincere. If we talk behind your back, we will also give you RBF in person. None of that fake duplicitous nonsense

      – Minami, are you by any chance an INFJ? I recognize a lot of Ni in your observations (thumbs up)

  3. Christine
    Christine says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. I have a Melissa and even when she’s not around, I go to her in my mind and I feel comforted. Thank you to Melissa for “getting you” and to you for recognizing her w this post. As usual, your posts indicate your heart of good intentions.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hm. That’s interesting. Maybe you don’t need any resilience if nothing bad happens. But really, I have noticed from the thousands of coaching sessions I’ve done that people who live in trauma really underestimate the trauma they live in.

      For example, when I ask someone, did you grow up with an alcoholic parent, people either say no or some other thing that is not yes. They say something that is like, my parent was difficult, or my parent drank but doesn’t qualify as an alcoholic, or my parents had a hard life, or something that reveals how much kids normalize any behavior they grow up with.

      So it makes me think that maybe in order to answer the test questions really well we have to have so much therapy to sort through our own life that the test questions become sort an afterthought.


  4. Caitlyn
    Caitlyn says:

    I got a 1 on the ACE and a 7 on the PCE. My younger sister is the one who attempted suicide. I wonder if she would get the same PCE score as I did.

  5. D
    D says:

    Why are ISTJ’s the least fun? Whats one thing I could do to shed that title? Thanks in advance from a somewhat unfun but friendly ISTJ.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We each want to be everything — like all the things that are good about a person we each want to be. But we can’t be strong in everything. As an ISTJ you are great at being right. You don’t open your mouth unless you’re saying something you are right about. There is no BS from you. No stupidity. But this means you are really careful about what you say and you don’t see a point of talking just to be silly. The people who are the most fun — ENFPs, for example — don’t do any research to figure out the right answer. They go by their gut. But I bet you would say fun is doing research to find the right answer. And probably each personality type finds their own fun. Fun is in the eye of the beholder, or something like that.

      You don’t need to change. You are fine how you are. It’s good to know how other people see you so that you can understand yourself better. But you don’t need to change unless you are having trouble getting along with someone who is important to you. My point is that everything is relative, and relative to everyone else, ISTJs are not all that fun. Just fun for themselves.


  6. Juliana Mann
    Juliana Mann says:

    I’m so glad Melissa is there for you and continues to be. I always get different results on personality tests, so it’s never clicked for me. I’ll have to check out the ACE and PCE.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You eliminate almost all the types if you retake the test and get a lot of different results. Most people only take the test once. And the people who do take the test multiple times only end up with two different results. So I think you’re an INFP, because the only other option would mean you’re the dance-on-the-tables type, and I know you, and you’re not :)


  7. Bettywhitechan
    Bettywhitechan says:

    I’m glad you found the ace test and are finding some value in it. When I have read your posts in the past, I’ve thought of a pyramid that shows the heirachy of needs. It seems you focus a lot on things near the top of the pyramid, but your base has a weak foundation. For example, it’s important that your children don’t feel insecure about food. Putting money towards food stability is more important than expensive cellos or other luxuries. Getting these priorities straight will be very helpful for your children.

    • Cobscookie
      Cobscookie says:

      Relax, she has plenty of food, based on the post about food insecurity despite a full freezer. Teenagers tend to say, “We don’t have any food in the house,” when what they mean is “all we have is ingredients.” I’m self-employed was horrified to read my kid’s journal for English class when he was doing high school from home because of COVID. He would daily write, “We never have any food in the house, I guess I’ll just have to eat toast and cold cereal again today.” They were on their own during the day but I made dinner every night. Then came the day when he wrote, “Mom has been at her desk all morning and once again we don’t have any food, so my brother and I decided we should cook. He made pasta and I made muffins from a box of mix. We didn’t have enough to eat because we only cooked one box of pasta, but the muffins were great and I was surprised to learn how easy it was.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  8. Christine
    Christine says:

    This is wonderful. I would qualify the last statement, “Keeping THE RIGHT people in your life.” I have a 5 on the ACE and I think there’s a habit and ironically safety is keeping the wrong people around.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I wonder about my own judgement all the time. I wish I could keep one person in my life who could be the official arbiter of who the right people are to keep in my life.


  9. Thequasiphycist
    Thequasiphycist says:

    Just curious, wouldn’t you count your grandparents as non-parent adults who cared and loved you?

    I’m asking because I immediately thought of my three aunts, who were extremely present.

    I didn’t realize how important they were until now, and am really grateful. Ill let them know.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      On the PCE you needed two non-parent adults to get a point. I counted my grandma but not my grandpa. He was really checked out. I think he had probably been checked out for decades by the time I got there. If my grandma had dropped dead I would have had to go to someone else’s house.

      I kind of liked how the questions made me think like that — about who, really, did I count on. And what does it mean for a kid to count on someone. My brother also found a person to count on. Not in our family. We each had one adult. That saved us. So maybe you only need one. Or maybe we would be in way better shape if we had each had two.


      • Thequasiphysicist
        Thequasiphysicist says:

        Right, they asked for two adults.

        Maybe it’s the same effect as having only one mentor vs having several ones.

  10. musikproStL
    musikproStL says:

    I’ve been reading your posts for years and assumed that because you were so open in revealing your traumas (child sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect/abuse, etc) that you were aware of the ACE study and questionnaire. I’m glad you found it. There is definitely a link between the brain damage sustained from childhood trauma and adult dysfunction. I think you probably consider Asperger’s a greater influence, but I believe many of the things you write about (relationship difficulties, financial management issues, travel/directions, and general executive function) are probably more a result of your childhood trauma.

    I also believe INTJs make good friends for those with trauma in their backgrounds because of the INTJ’s loyalty, expertise and interest in learning about what affects their friends. My friend who scored a 10 on the ACE quiz says I’m the most caring non-caring person she knows, referring to the INTJ characteristic of not caring about things that don’t directly concern me. She doesn’t see how much her well-being does directly affect me because I care about her and want the best for her.

  11. M
    M says:

    It’s beautiful how you found all of these systems to help you to understand people better and you share it with everyone. You remind me of a sunflower growing in the radioactive zone, still surviving, slowly removing toxins as best you can and making your tiny corner a better place while fully aware it’s still toxic. I admire that about you.

  12. Susan
    Susan says:

    So I was stalking other copywriters to get ideas for my life purpose statement/website/blah and I found a woman who not only shared her enneagram in her bio, but also her CliftonStrengths (!!) I am obsessed with all things self-discovery and I had never heard of this. So, of course, I got off-track and took the test. It’s really good! Have you tried it? Also: I got a 0 on ACE and 8 on PCE. Miraculously, I evaded pedophiles in my childhood (stuart and tracey/creep boyfriend, I’m looking at you). I credit reading age inappropriate true crime stories and horror novels. they made me wary and distrustful of all adults.

  13. Kat
    Kat says:

    Penelope, would you like to write something about managing autistic people. They are very hard to manage, it always end up that I have to try to fire them. Firing is expensive, complicated, and avoiding them 100% isn’t possible in life.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      My advice to you is to look really carefully at why you hire these people in the first place, since you’ve identified it as a pattern for you.

      If you were in a profession where you HAVE to hire autistic people, like architecture or engineering, then you wouldn’t be writing this email, because it would be part of your job strengths to manage autistic people. So I assume you’re not in one of those fields, and you’re hiring autistic people anyway. And the question is, why?

      You are hiring autistic people because you’re drawn to them, because you’re autistic. Which is normal. Autistic people like autistic people. Even though autistic people are difficult. If you understand your own autism better you’d be able to manage people with autism more effectively. Bonus: most of your relationships in life are probably with people who have autism and if you can do better managing people at work your personal life will get better too.


      • Kat
        Kat says:

        It would be nice if you can write more articles on managing others with autism.

        There are many people in life who you have no control over hiring. From your vendors’ vendors, your client’s clients, consultants, your bosses’ connections, your coworkers from other departments. Most of the time I don’t choose who I work with.

        But, I think you do ring a bell. When I think about those who potentially have autism they either end up being alone (they become sole proprietors in fast paced jobs, so when they screw up they ignore the present project, and quickly move on to another) or their teams are destined to fall apart because of a slew of behavioral problems. Including drug users and other disorders. Those who are on the spectrum seem to be unable to tell when someone shows up at work stoned for example.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Rules to manage people with autism.

          1. They complain about everything so the game is to give them nothing to complain about.

          2. Take nothing personally. Take responsibility for everything. Part of the game is to give them nothing to put onto you.

          3. Ask them what they want to deliver to you tomorrow. It can be anything. In the whole entire universe. sit there with them until they tell you what they will deliver tomorrow. Ask them for a very clear definition of what the deliverable will be. And a time. And a method of delivery. You need it to be very very clear so its very clear if they do it or not.

          4. do that for two weeks in a row. they will probably quit. or you will have to fire them. if they actually deliver what they say they will for two weeks then you can have a discussion of what is the point. let them decide what is the point. they have to have a point that they want to be the point.

          5. continue to set the deliverables the same way every day for two weeks. but now make sure that every day the deliverable is aimed at THE POINT.

          6. they will either quit, or fail and you fire them, or you will have learned how to manage someone with autism.

          this process will take you two hours a day for six weeks.

          Bonus tip for parents: this process will take you six years.


  14. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Most times I agree with what you write, and benefit from it, sometimes I hate it and want to scream at you, “What are you thinking!!!!!!” This time, I was struck by the sleeper ending, “What matters is keeping people in your life and treating them with respect. That makes a good family and a good life, and we each have to overcome all our personality conceits in order to do that.” AMEN Sister!

    Thank you for the reminder, I need it right now.
    P.S. Please write more frequently. I miss your voice in the long lulls…

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