Why zodiac signs and personality types say more about humans than we think

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An author makes the case for zodiac signs and personality types as new languages to be learned, in an attempt to approach others with more empathy and understanding. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Just to get it out of the way, I’m a Capricorn with a moon in Libra and a Cancer ascendant, born in the Year of the Sheep. And I’m an INTJ-T with a Type 5 Enneagram.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing over all these types. While I have a base understanding of most of them, I’ve found myself becoming everyone’s go-to guy for astrology. I’ve been asked to explain signs or read natal charts right after meeting a new person. I’ve been asked to write about why Duterte is such an Aries. I’ve had to answer tons and tons of compatibility questions and that’s always a good laugh.

What I find most interesting is that maybe 80 to 90 percent of the time, I read people right. It blows their minds, and they just want to keep talking about their signs.

If you think about it, over the past year or two, zodiac signs have moved from the world of mysticism into popular parlance without any of us really noticing. Similarly, you start to see psychology tests like the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) outside the context of classrooms and company team building activities.

People are talking about themselves in these terms, and that’s fascinating! I never imagined I’d hear someone say, “Oh, it’s my moon in Virgo,” in casual conversation, nor did I expect that I would just get it.

Learning a language isn’t simply developing a vocabulary but broadening your way of seeing the world. Astrology presented a new paradigm that was especially useful for a person with poor EQ.

 

These are all types that have been around for years, if not millennia. The 12 zodiac signs were developed in Sumeria as early as 1370 B.C.E. after key constellations. The Chinese developed their 12-year cycle over centuries based on the 11.86-year orbital period of Jupiter. Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers developed the MBTI in 1943 based on Carl Jung’s typological theory.

What explains the sudden surge in popularity, then? My first thought was millennial narcissism — this need to obsess over the self and all its minutiae, or to find things to identify with (e.g. why we share a meme and say “me”). It’s easy to fall into that baby boomer trap of, “Wow it’s all about you, no?,” but I find it’s much more than that. I’ve always found that understanding the self is not only meaningful, but essential for functioning in a social setting.

For instance, I’ve always had an empathy problem. I find myself forcing logic onto situations when sometimes, what you need to do is listen. Recently, that’s something I’ve learned to watch out for, and I’ve been doing better at respecting people’s emotions. It took being told that Capricorns and INTJs make for poor empaths who need everything to fit into a logical framework.

More than that self-awareness, the signs gave my poor EQ an entry point to understanding other people. Growing up, I never had this vocabulary for the people I interacted with. Where I used to say “Oh, she’s so annoying,” now it’s “Well, because she’s a Leo, she finds ways to make everything about herself.” Where it used to be, “I don’t know why he doesn’t really talk about his feelings,” now it’s “Scorpios tend to be emotionally opaque.”

It was like learning a new language, and like any language, it comes with its own worldview. Learning a language isn’t simply developing a vocabulary but broadening your way of seeing the world. Astrology presented a new paradigm that was especially useful for a person with poor EQ. Finally, a language to understand people in! It helped me verbalize perceptions I didn’t know you could have about human nature and human personality.

The signs helped me navigate social interaction much better, just because walking into any social situation, I immediately had a framework to work with. Instead of meandering blindly through a conversation, I could start anticipating personality traits of a new Gemini I meet or ticking off boxes on my mental checklist of “What makes this person a textbook Taurus?”

Still, these types have helped so many people just make sense of themselves — to pick themselves apart and understand who they can be at their best and at their worst.

 

My sign and all my other types also helped me understand myself better as a person. Capricorns are hardy, logical, and determined. INTJs are analytical and present big picture perspectives. People born in the Year of the Sheep naturally draw other people towards them.

I can’t even tell if it was a matter of verbalizing existing personality traits and cataloging them per type, or gaming myself into developing these traits because I’d found out they that’s what Capricorns or INTJs or Sheep did. Still, these are parts of me as I see myself.

I can even dissect a thought that runs through my head, or a decision I make and say, “Oh, that was my Cancer ascendant acting up” or “Wow, the moon in Libra is out to play” or “The Capricorn’s trying to rein everyone in, good.” That’s a level of self-awareness I didn’t know was possible.

The skeptics among you must be wondering, “Well, the signs aren’t real.” Honestly, you’re right, there’s no objective proof supporting it. Birthdays are random; cusps, moon and ascendant signs sound like means of explaining away what doesn’t fit into your sun sign. Even the MBTI and RHETI aren’t considered entirely credible by psychologists, because they lack scientific accuracy.

By no means should you ever make your types your sole basis for any sort of big life decision, because they have zero objective bearing. Still, these types have helped so many people just make sense of themselves — to pick themselves apart and understand who they can be at their best and at their worst. That’s important.

The stars don’t dictate your destiny; a thousand material factors and personal choices come into play. I suppose these types are best seen for their heuristic value — as worldviews worth your consideration, because of the way you start to see yourself in a new light, and to make yourself in the image of your type at its finest.