When People Try to Change You: The Pygmalion Project


February 10, 2016 by philipbullitthughes

imagesI have seen many people’s faces light up with excitement when they first learn of their MBTI type. They flip through the pages of a book, or read an article on a website, and suddenly they feel vindicated. There are others out there like them! They aren’t the only ones! Despite what their parents have said, they are not weird or unusual (though, I would say that you still may be weird or unusual, and that’s perfectly okay.) And then they take their newfound realization and declare it to each member of their family and to all of their friends. It’s almost as if they are finally able to say, “HA! I told you so!”

But the thing is, the other people they share their revelation with don’t always seem to care. Their mom might pat them on the head and then say, “That’s nice. Now why aren’t you married yet?” or a friend might pretend to read it and say, “Yeah, but you need to lighten up and party with me some time.”

And then you might want to scream. Didn’t they read the article you just sent them? Don’t they UNDERSTAND? And then it’s back to that same old feeling of being misunderstood.

Now you might be rolling your eyes at this point thinking, “Yeah well EVERYONE can’t feel weird or different.” And you’re right. Some people don’t feel that way. But many, many do. And that usually happens because of differences in personality. An iNtuitive growing up in a family full of Sensors might feel a bit odd in their eyes, accused of having their head in the clouds. Or a Sensor growing up in a family full of iNtuitives may feel left out of their fantasy world. A Perceiver might feel like their Judging friends think them incompetent, and the Judger may feel like their Perceiver friends see them as stiff or dull. The thing is, everyone at some point in their lives has felt as if their personality—the innate core of who they are—is being challenged; that someone might feel like the way they do things is wrong and that they need to change. That is due to a little something called the Pygmalion Project.

downloadIn ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a statue of a woman. He professed that he was not interested in women. But the statue he created was so perfect in his own eyes because he created it to be exactly what he wanted it to be (personality included), that he fell madly in love with it. Now the sad truth is that whenever we have a loved one in our lives, whoever they may be, we tend to make them our own personal Pygmalion Project—trying to mold them into who we want them to be. And, truthfully, if we’re honest with ourselves, that often looks a whole lot like us. And to make matters worse, no one is immune to it. How often have you heard a parent say they’d wish their child would be more responsible, that they would be more outgoing, that they would study more, or not work themselves so hard? The list of potential I wish’s is endless.

Now, you may be thinking: well I never do that! But think of it this way. How often have we said of another person: “I wish they would just leave me alone,” “I wish that person would open up to me,” or “I wish they shared this interest with me”? Probably more often than we’d like to admit.

The point of the MBTI is to help us understand each other. But, sadly, the truth is, very few people are interested in understanding other people. We want people to understand us—we want them to know how we function and to let us be who we are. So here is my challenge: if we are to place this expectation on them, then we should also be willing to bend; to devote ourselves to the study of our companions.

11479263-Cracked-face-of-female-Greek-sculpture-Stock-Photo-statueAnd then, my second challenge is this: Be okay with who you are. I know it’s cliché, but people will always try to change you into who they want you to be—usually unwittingly. Of course, it’s good to be flexible. It’s good to show others you care by doing certain things you may not want to do. But if you’re a bit on the nerdy side and you like that about yourself, don’t let other people try to remove that side of your personality. Or perhaps you’ve no interest in the world of fantasy and you feel like people are constantly trying to force you to participate. Kindly let them know that it’s not your thing.

That said, everyone must be vigilant. Telling others to leave you alone is easy. Remembering that you may be trying to change others might be more difficult to recognize.

18 thoughts on “When People Try to Change You: The Pygmalion Project

  1. margecake says:

    I think there are certain types who are more prone to doing this, what do you think?

  2. I totally felt the way you described. I spent most of my life as an INTJ or INTP (J and P were–and still are almost even). When I realized recently that I’m an INFJ, everything changed for me. “THAT’S why!” went through my head so often. It’s like I’m a new person.

    • Ah, great comment! So you feel like you were constantly trying to fit into the T mold?

      • I don’t know if I was trying to. It’s just what I thought I was. Or maybe I was and grew out of it? I don’t know. I always describe my results from before as Very clearly more I than E, Clearly more N than S, Somewhat more T than F, Barely more J than P. But somehow, as I’ve gotten older, I’m very consistently INFJ. Can it change over time?

      • Generally speaking you can develop the other traits if you practice them. It’s kind of like working out. But your natural functions usually stay the same. For example, you may be born quick, but not have the strongest muscles. However, you can lift weights to become stronger. But at your base, you’re naturally quick and not so muscular. I hope that makes sense!

      • I think that I was probably an F all of the time, but I’m also smart (not bragging; just genetics), so the T came out. Also, what you said before makes even more sense now. I come from a very non-demonstrative family, so it would make sense that my F side would be repressed and the T side emphasized. But that could be why I was so unhappy when I was younger. I was not being allowed to be true to myself. Wow, that’s some insight there!

      • That makes total sense! And I think it’s an interesting thing that we associate Thinking with intelligence. It’s actually not a factor when determining things like IQ. You have intelligent Feelers and Thinkers. They just display their intelligence differently!

      • Thanks for this post. I didn’t expect to learn so much about myself today. 🙂

    • Shaly says:

      Really interesting. I spent most of my life as an INFJ or INFP, but I realized I’m an INTP. I just want to be loved and fit in. If you’re typing yourself by the four letters, you may be wildly inaccurate. The cognitive functions are the reasons WHY you do WHAT you do.

  3. alex george says:

    For those interested: My Fair Lady is a great example of a Pygmalion project in action!

  4. kelly says:

    Excellent article, I read everything!
    I find so true what you say. Many people think has them, they should be curious to learn more about their surroundings.

    It is true that sometimes you can have influence without realizing it is a vicious circle. In my immediate family, some people do not like my personality too introverted, but I am what I am, I will not change for them.
    Anyway, very good blog, I follow you for a while. Roll on the next article.

  5. I’m an INFJ. One thing I’ve noted since childhood, is that others don’t think I live up to my potential. While that may seem so, their interpretation of how I am is from their perspective, not from an understanding of a more introverted person. My preferences to defer rather than engage, is a disappointment for those that know my gifts.
    I get how artistic types, musicians and writers (myself included) absolutely do not require affirming from others.
    We accept ourselves. 🙂

    • That’s very true. We all tend to measure success differently. I think it’s interesting that you call yourself “The Sage Lady” because that’s how the INFJ measure’s success–you aspire to the wisdom of a sage. So while others may not think you’ve reached your fullest potential, it sounds to me like you’ve have!

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