After months of writing, playing, and thinking with author and psychiatrist Dr. Sana Johnson-Quijada, I find myself finally understanding at a deeper and more significant level what she truly advocates when she talks about being friendly to ourselves. Self-care has several pieces—moving parts that are different for everyone, depending on the specific need—but her basic message is simple: work on loving and appreciating the unique individual you were born to be, and everything good in life will follow as a matter of course.

I had the opportunity to hear Sana speak at her three-part workshop series this past Tuesday, where she asked me to share with fellow participants about my journey of self-care and what I have been learning from our reading/writing process as she delves into questions like: Where do emotions and behaviors come from? I found her workshop to be a time of reflection and learning. Although as an editor I can hear her speaking voice often in her writing, I believe her greatest gift resides in the quality of her actual voice, the warm voice of a Healer. When she speaks, her voice adds nuance to her message; something about the tonal quality leads the listener deeper into self-reflection.

Sana uses Meyers-Briggs temperament typologies as a way into discussions of temperament and biological influences on our perceptions. She teaches that self-care is not a moral issue; even more importantly, she advocates that differences in temperaments are not a basis for moralization. We can use an understanding of temperament (and its biological origins) to choose to put aside guilt, blame, shame, and feelings of ownership over spouses and children, or over anyone. When we focus on owning ourselves fully for the people we were born to be, we do not have to catch ourselves up in conflict over trying to mold, own, or shape others. Letting go of this conflict is friendly to ourselves primarily, and of course, also friendly to others secondarily.

You can take the Meyers-Briggs/Jungian typology test here.

Okay, that is the intellectual side of what I heard… But I also had a true epiphany on Tuesday night:

So often as a mother I have been caught up in the task of shaping my children. But what for? Or, better to ask: for whom? Katie and Eric are who they were born to be. Already. Yup! Using their individual temperament typologies as a basis for moralizing their behaviors  is not appropriate. Whew. Letting go of shame and blame already. I am not talking about safety behaviors, or letting them lie, cheat, or steal. I am talking about behaviors of TEMPERAMENT. Say that I am a person who, by temperament, looks at everything as part of an intuitive big picture (the forest instead of the trees). Say that one of my children is a person who looks at the small parts as each in and of themselves as a sensory experience (a tree, not a forest). One of those is not more right than another; however, we have to realize that we are using a different emotional language to look at the world, to make decisions, to experience life. As a mother, I do not need to moralize this issue, conduct fruitless attempts at transformation, or frustrate myself with a battle.

I can choose to let it be.

I can choose to accept the people I love for whom they are.

Suddenly it seemed clear, listening to Sana. And I began to think: my purpose as a mother is to be a guide, a helper. My purpose is not to put asunder what nature has made in my children, or to worry about it. Of course I think that my way of looking at the world is something I want them to emulate—I mean, don’t we all? We all have an intrinsic and somewhat inescapable bias toward our own temperament—how can we not? And right at this point is when we need to use our metacognition to realize that bias is there, and back away. Let our bias be there, but back away.

So I went home and went bananas-obsessive with the Meyers-Briggs test. I took the test answering for myself several times. Then I took the test as Katie, as Bill, as many other people in my extended family. Each time I was floored when I read descriptions of the temperament typologies. I recognized my family in the descriptions. Even people that have been more of a mystery to me, or with whom I’ve not been on the same wavelength… I thought, hey! I’m onto something here! So much of the time miscommunication is simply a different style in which we see the world.

We can choose to try to learn each others’ languages and lenses of perception. As Sana would likely say, that choice would be friendlier to everyone.

It turns out that Katie and I, for example, have some key differences in our perception styles. We actually talked about this yesterday. I told her I love her for who she is, period. I told her that when we disagree, we can choose to think about acknowledge and celebrate our differences instead of having a conflict. It empowered her, and I could see some of the pressure lift off her shoulders. Releasing pressure on myself to make her speak my language released pressure on her. We’re in this life together, co-existing. My greatest gift to her is to give her the tools for her self-discovery, not telling her who she is or will be.

I am an INFJ (the Idealist Counselor). For a long time in life, I tested as INTJ (the Rational Mastermind, which is what Bill actually is). My feeler-thinker expression varies, and neither is my dominant expression. I get my energy from being alone (Introverted), but I love to use that energy to be with people. My most distinctively, most highly expressed traits are iNtuit and Judge. Naturally enough, the careers recommended for me include English Teacher and…Editor/Writer. Glad I’m on the right track there.

Are you into this? If so, there is so much to read about each temperament. All I can say is that everything I read about (on various sites) INFJ makes me nod my head in agreement.

What is the punchline in all this? It’s kind of like this:

Understanding biological factors such as temperament —> celebration of self —> celebration of others —> less need for conflict —> more loving world

Great message, no? What temperament type are you?