Modern Family is my favorite show on TV. It is very well written and the characters are in most cases amazingly well drawn. They’re exaggerations that ring entirely true. Given that I think about Myers-Briggs every day and constantly wonder about the types of people I know, it is perhaps not surprising to my faithful readers that I also sometimes ponder the MBTI types of fictional people. So let’s assess the extended Dunphy clan.
Let’s start with the easy ones. Claire Dunphy, the family mom played by Julie Bowen, is an ESTJ. She’s organized, decisive and action-oriented. Her judgments are grounded in facts and experience, not theory. Her largely P family views her as un-fun (sad!). ESTJ’s, used to getting things done in a no-nonsense manner, are perhaps used to this kind of judgment. If the rest of the world would get with the program and not leave it to them to manage every detail, they could chillax a bit.
Phil Dunphy, the happy, sensitive dad played by Ty Burrell, is an obvious extravert – you can’t really imagine Phil gathering energy by being alone with his thoughts. Phil’s also clearly a perceiving type – deadlines are reminders, to-do lists are not to be taken too seriously, and why be pinned down to a given plan if something else comes along? Sensitive and harmony-seeking, he’s a feeler, able to connect as much with the ladies in the Korean nail salon as with his buds at the Realtors convention. Phil has pretty developed sensing side. He’s not an intellectual and likes physical things, like tightrope walking in his front yard and fixing things. But his love of possibilities and childlike enthusiasm for new things puts him in the N camp. Therefore, ENFP.
Cameron, Claire’s large and in charge brother-in-law, is clearly an extraverted intuitive feeler. Out, loud and proud, expressive and creative, he prizes passion and authenticity. When Mitchell asks him to turn down the volume, and Cam says, “I can’t!” he’s speaking from the heart of an NF. Cam also has a lot of S in him, as evidenced by the hours he spends creating pop-up books for adoption applications, planning his outfits for Oscar Wilde-themed lunches, and, in his youth, fishin’, clownin’ and playing football at the University of Illinois. But his love of language and addiction to self-expression suggests NF rather SF. Finally, P vs. J. Cam seems like a P, in that he has a flexible relationship with time and routines. But he is also a dominant feeler – expressing his values and value-based decisions to the world on a constant basis – as opposed to a dominant intuitive who would keep the feeling part more inside. An ENFJ is a dominant feeler type, so I pick that over ENFP.
His partner Mitchell is an introvert. While chatty, Mitchell seems to get his energy from himself or his own space (or his personal computer, which he is constantly consulting when others speak to him). He is borderline uncomfortable in social situations that require chitchat. He is a thinker, in that he makes his decisions based on logic rather than the effect on other people. In this regard, Mitchell illustrates a sometimes forgotten point: thinkers have feelings, too. Mitchell has lots of feelings – but he doesn’t make key decisions based on personal values the way Cam does. Mitchell is also obviously a J, finding comfort in decisions and schedules.
But is Mitchell intuitive or sensing? It’s hard to judge. Mitchell has an inconsistent relationship with details – it’s hard to imagine a true ISTJ forgetting to send out invitations to his partner’s concert. But to me Mitchell lacks the self-containment that I see in INTJ's, who tend to be more still-waters-run-deep. And Mitchell does have the fondness for tradition that David Keirsey ascribes to SJ’s in his classic book, Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types: nice job, nice house, nice family. In Mitchell’s case, it’s a gay version of tradition, but it’s tradition nonetheless. So I vote ISTJ, although I could be dissuaded.
What’s interesting about both siblings’ marriages is that they involved opposite type pairings. It’s said that sensing and intuitive types in marriage have communication problems, and thinking and feeling types in marriage have relationship problems. So ESTJ Claire and ENFP Phil are bound to run into conflict, as are ISTJ Mitchell and ENFJ Cameron. This makes sense, because the result is television hilarity, which is surely intended by the writers.
My friend Rob Toomey, a creative lawyer and coach who happens to be a super-expert in type theory, gave me his quick opinions on the rest of the major player. Fiery, sexy Gloria, played by Sophia Vergara, is an ESFJ, another extraverted feeler who expresses her passions in every interaction. Husband Jay is an ISTP, a dominant thinker who has the mordant word economy often associated with that type. Gloria’s son, Manny, is another NFJ romantic who is obsessed by purpose, authenticity and calling: drinking French press coffee isn’t just a junior high preference, it defines who is he as a person. Though somewhat friendless and misunderstood, I would argue that Manny is an ENFJ who hasn’t yet found his social rhythm – he’s an extravert waiting to express himself on a broader stage (sort of how I was). According to my same expert source Mr. Toomey, Luke is another ENFP (like father like son), and party girl, rebel and bon vivant Haley is an ESTP.
Which leaves Alex, the Dunphy’s brainy, ambitious daughter. I’d say INTJ or INFJ, and Rob says ISTJ or ISFJ.
But here’s the thing that both Alex and Manny illustrate: the difficulties for children who are MBTI minorities within their own families. Alex is an introvert in a household of extraverts. She feels misunderstood and foreign, and in fact her family makes fun of her. They don’t really get what she’s about, and don’t try all that hard to figure it out. Manny is an intuitive with parents who are both sensing types. They don’t know what to do with his dreaminess and love of possibilities. The parents love their kids, but love isn’t always enough: sometimes you need to take the extra step and try to see the world through your own children’s eyes.
Next: Modern Family and the Enneagram