Dean's childhood trauma and its effects on his MBTI personality type: aka John Winchester is an ass
So I happened to be scrolling down my dash when I noticed someone had done a Meyers-Brigg test. And it got me thinking about where Dean would score if he took the test. Naturally, I assumed someone had already done this (and they had) and the consensus was that while most of fandom sees Dean as an extrovert, Dean would rank as a fairly high introvert using the MBTI test.
And I can see that. But I’d like to argue something else. I’d like to suggest that Dean is a natural extrovert whose childhood trauma and repressed nature presents, in testing, as an introvert.
In other words, John Winchester continues to be a douchebag and here’s why.
I read this really interesting article a while back that talked about raising extroverted kids and the challenges this presents (especially if you’re an introvert). It was of interest to me, because my husband and I are introverts, and our child is the definition of extrovert, so this has been easily our biggest parenting challenge.
Now for those that aren’t familiar (and I can’t imagine there are many) introversion and extroversion are concepts contained within Jung’s theories on how people direct their energies. I think it’s important to note that you can’t really stereotype a person, even a character, because most people spend some of their time introverting and some of their time extroverting. That being said, most people identify (either on their own or through testing) as one or the other, so I think it is possible to categorize Dean using an MBTI Personality Test (the standard test to determine a person’s personality characteristics).
According to Meyers-Briggs, extroverts get their energy from active involvement in a wide variety of activities. They enjoy being around people and obtain energy from social interactions. They are action oriented and like doing. They are comfortable around a wide range of people and are often seen as outgoing. They are happiest when they can collaborate with others.
In contrast, an introvert gets their energy from ideas, pictures, memories and imagination. They prefer doing things alone or with one or two people they feel comfortable with. They take longer to act because they like to think out plans of action. They tend to be seen as reflective or reserved and prefer doing things on their own.
Right off the bat it’s pretty easy to see that Dean might fit within both of these definitions. Certainly he exhibits several core traits we would normally associate with introversion. He enjoys understanding details and building things (the car, the home-made EMF meter). He is interested in knowledge (aka is fairly well read on a number of subjects, even beyond the supernatural). He tends to keep his emotions private (though I would argue this is a result of him having repressed his natural inclinations—remember, John was a classic definition of an introvert who would have undoubtedly frowned upon open emotions). He keeps few friends and finds difficulty trusting (though again I’d argue this was John’s conditioning). Part of the problem with Dean is trying to determine his natural inclinations vs the psychological damage caused by his childhood trauma. Hence the reason for this meta.
I think if we tested Dean, he’d probably score pretty high on the introversion scale, but I think if you tested Dean in any scenario where John was not the domineering force in his life (aka 2.20, the Djinn episode, and 4.17, where we saw Dean as a salesman, or at any point before his mother’s death) Dean would score very high as an extrovert. He gains energy from people. He thrives in situations where he is included and loved and where his physical demands for affection (not necessarily sex) are met.
All of this is still obvious with present-day Dean, though deeply repressed. You can see it in how quickly and easily Dean makes friends, even if they are transitory. Throughout the series it is Dean and not Sam we see latching onto new people (Victor, Jo, Castiel, Benny, etc.). He clearly prefers hunting with a companion to hunting alone (the first thing he did after John went awol is seek out Sam). He finds energy and stress relief in casual sexual encounters (and I think this is by far the biggest indication, because I do not know many introverts who seek one night stands). He is open and friendly and talkative and charming in a way we tend to associate with extroverts.
And no, this is not always all an act. Dean genuinely enjoys socializing and interacting with other people. He just doesn’t think he’s allowed. A really big indication of Dean’s extroversion occurs in 5x03, when Dean’s idea of a last night on earth is a brothel (extrovert) whereas Cas’ idea of a last night on earth is sitting quietly (introvert). You can see it too in the way Dean doesn’t like to sit still. He’s a man of action. He’s constantly doing something, even if it’s just working on a car. When he does have free time, he tends to spend it in social places, like bars. And, perhaps most telling of all, he is terrified of being alone.
But, most of what makes Dean an extrovert, he represses, probably because these traits were things John (an introvert) frowned upon or had a low tolerance for.
The thing I have learned with my son is that extroverted children need and crave interaction and attention in the same way that introverts need and crave alone time. They are more demanding than introverted children. They are more physically affectionate. They are “clingy". My son is much happier after a day of socializing with his peers and adventuring than he is a day of sitting in the house colouring (rainy days are a nightmare for him, and yet one of my favourite things on the planet). And despite being an introvert, it is up to me to ensure that his psychological demands are met.
This means I have to go outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis to ensure he grows up well-adjusted and happy.
Can anyone see John Winchester doing this?
In an ideal life, one where Dean’s mother didn’t die and he grew up in a stable, supportive household, Dean would have been the kind of kid who accumulated large numbers of friends, talked non-stop about his world, did not enjoy being left alone, strived for adult acceptance and praise (this should sound eerily familiar), was very energetic, enjoyed trying new things, and was at times excessively affectionate (my son, for example, will take every opportunity presented for cuddles or hugs, to the point where my husband and I have to trade off because neither of us can handle the level of physicality that our son demands).
Unfortunately, Dean didn’t get the ideal life. Instead he was forced into an environment that is the exact opposite of what an extrovert needs to thrive. He spent most of his childhood alone (the exception being Sammy—and this really helps to explain Dean’s co-dependency). He was never given the opportunity to expand his network outside of his family, so instead of friends and teachers and mentors to cling to when his introverted father needed a break, Dean had no one. Is it any wonder then that Dean clings so fiercely to the idea of family?
This was a little boy who craved attention and affection that he never got. Can you see John cuddling with either of his boys after a hunt? Is it any wonder then that Dean used to crawl into Sam’s crib at night? Is it any wonder, too, that Dean, as he got older, began seeking casual sexual encounters as a way of meeting his need for affection?
But it’s more than this, because no doubt John reacted as most under-educated introverted parents do, and that is to grow increasingly frustrated with their child’s demands for attention and love. Dean was taught from a very early age that extroverted traits were an annoyance, something he needed to supress in order to earn John’s acceptance.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that running Dean through a MBTI test spits out an introvert reading.
So much of who and what Dean is can be traced back to John’s parenting, and while, no, a parent isn’t the definitive influence on a child’s development (god I hope not) in Dean’s case I think John had a bigger impact that most. Not just because Dean worshiped and idolized John, but because John was the only constant adult presence in Dean’s life, and for an extroverted child who needs and craves adult recognition and attention, Dean was getting precious little. In order for an extroverted child to grow up healthy and well-developed, they need a wide circle of people in their lives (parents, teachers, friends, external family, etc.).
Dean had John and Sam.
Is it really any wonder he clings so fiercely to the people in his life?