Last revised

Am I My Type?

Many who have not explored psychological type fully may experience it as limiting; putting people in boxes.  Having delved into its various aspects for over ten years, I find it to be empowering -- it releases people from boxes they don't know they are in.

It has nothing to do with whether or not one "knows" the model of type or not -- it's not like the MBTI* bestows a type on you as if it were a Social Security number.  Our code is there from the beginning -- it comes with us into the world as part of our DNA.  Thus, I don't have to be aware that I have INFJ preferences before I begin experiencing INFJ preferences.  

". . . man brings with him at birth the ground-plan of his nature. . . ."

Now, I doubt there's a single person alive who doesn't know from painful firsthand experience how it feels to be misunderstood or dismissed. And many misunderstandings can be traced back to a simple difference around type, whether it's ever labeled that way or not.  Type is something that happens "to us" until we become aware enough to make conscious choices about how we use it -- even if we don't use type terms!  Understanding our type is at its best when we begin to experience it as a set of choices rather than a knee-jerk reaction to living life.

There are many type experts whom I admire and respect, such as Linda Berens, John Beebe, Katharine Myers, and Dario Nardi, to name but a few. Some of these people have studied this field for decades, and continue to discover themselves through models of type, as do I.  It's an ever-unfolding quest.  We find the topic riveting, because every day we discover something new about ourselves and others by looking at the world through this lens.  (I have begun to understand that you can never really "get" type -- it's an ongoing journey.)

As a means of understanding myself and others, for personal growth and improved relationships, understanding my type is invaluable.  For anyone to say that type is "narrow and limited" indicates that they have not explored all the different facets the theories have to offer.  And I really am my type -- in the broadest sense possible.  Type isn't something I "have" or something I "choose" -- it's as much a part of me as my eye color.  Type is not a "measure" nor is it a "prescription" for who we are.  It does not dictate anything as regards our religion, ethnicity, educational background, upbringing, morals, etc.  It is not a prison sentence!  Nevertheless, I experience and express each of these dimensions of life via type and archetype.

Psychological types are not about traits.  This is a vital, critical distinction I must stress, and believing it is about traits creates a trap that people fall into all the time with these theories/models.

Traits are what show up in some type descriptions people use to verify their type.  People decide they are or are not a given type pattern depending on how well they identify with the traits listed in type descriptions as if they were horoscopes.  And this in turn may shape one's thinking about what type actually is.

Now those type descriptions are created from the assumption that when a person is the living embodiment of pattern (type, temperament, interaction style, archetype), certain traits are likely to show up with that pattern.  It's a pretty good assumption, and yet each of us can readily find an exception to some trait in a type description of our preferred pattern. 

For instance, here are five traits typically ascribed to folks with a preference for introversion:

  • Shy

  • Soft-spoken

  • Unsociable

  • Slow to respond

  • Untalkative

So I have a preference for introversion, and I frequently manifest behaviors that belie every one of those traits.  What gives? (Am I mis-typed?)

The theories and models of psychological types cannot be reduced to a shallow litany of traits.  (In fact, type was expressly intended to combat the damaging measuring stick of "preferred" traits and regulated "normalcy.")  A better characterization of type preferences is more akin to "philosophical differences."  I believe I am a collection of philosophical predispositions, energy patterns, and particular forms of consciousness.  And that's how I am my type.

Curiously, my preferences end up having me more often than I experience having them.  They are so second nature to me, so ego-centered, that to articulate them would be like initiating a conversation about breathing.  And how can one ever comprehensively express the degree to which breathing defines them?

I am not a collection of traits glommed together -- but my personality is a systemic pattern.  Just as one cannot identify a tree simply because it has leaves, we must see a trunk in order to know it is truly a tree.  We must discern the overall pattern, not the individual parts.  And while most trees are brown and green, not all of them are.  So it's erroneous to overlook a tree simply because it's not the colors we've trained ourselves to expect.

For me, interacting with type is a way of peeling my own "onion" -- it's a way of getting under all the layers and finding out what's really going on.  It's a method of noticing where I'm conscious, and where I'm unconscious.  It's hardly a reduction; it's an expansion.  It's a discovery of what I'm naturally good at and where I have room for development -- or may never excel, period.  It's also about recognizing my comfort zones -- my habitual ways of behaving, my peculiar habits of mind.

For some people, a comfort zone might show up as retreating into "philosophical discussion" rather than answering a simple question with a direct answer.  For some people, a comfort zone might show up as fighting instead of loving, of kicking someone to the curb rather than appreciating their needs or respecting their alternate point of view. 

Thus, someone who prefers extraverted Feeling might say, "I cannot be with selfishness and whining!" -- and what they really can't be with is their own selfishness and whining.

Or someone who prefers extraverted Thinking might say, "I cannot be with illogical, emotional outbursts!" -- and what they really can't be with is their own illogical, emotional outbursts.

(You know, I'd heard this kind of thing for years, and I was unwilling to believe it until I accepted type.  And some people discover their type this way -- by recognizing what they're unable to be around.)

This is why we talk about knowing our shadow by our projections.  Not acknowledging your shadow makes one prudish and self-righteous.  You're above it all, godlike.  Type is reduced to a formula for figuring out what's wrong with other people.  Your motives are pure, your conscience is perfectly clear.  It's everybody else who's at fault.

Then, when we move into archetypes, energies of mythological proportion begin to emerge.

When one of these aforementioned processes is carried by the archetype of the "hero" (or heroine), the ego simply must defeat the processes that challenge its primacy.  And the eternal battle is pitched, just as it has been pitched throughout history.  Not that any given process is "wrong" -- each has its place -- but when does the champion cross the line into being a bully?  At what point in the process did Hitler-the-advocate-for-Germany become Hitler-the-oppressive-monster?

Jung's general theory of neurosis is equated with "one-sidedness."  Treatment aims at extending consciousness beyond the dominant one-sidedness -- usually of the ego -- to the other parts of ourselves that we have repressed.  John Beebe has said that any psychology which claims, in effect, "you are right and everybody else is wrong" is not a very useful psychology.

I invite you to examine the times you feel self-righteous in order to recognize your own habits of mind, and to discover how your Shadow is alive and active in you.

So how do we ever grow past these primal patterns of existence?  Well, it is said that the Gods will enter mainly through the wounds in human life... demonstrating there are things beyond our ego control, and that sometimes our ego perspective is insufficient.  In other words, sometimes we have to get hurt.  Perhaps a life-threatening illness will teach the strong how to be present to weakness; perhaps experiencing celebrity will teach the weak how they are surprisingly strong.  As Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill me makes me stronger."

Whenever things don't go the way we hoped and planned, we might re-frame our shock and disappointment as waking up to a deeper design.

I link this notion to a passage of Marianne Williamson's that I like.  (She uses the term "Holy Spirit," and I don't know what term would be less religion-based.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit represents the Collective Consciousness.  My tendency is to call it the "Universe.")

Here is the quote:

Any situation which pushes our buttons is a situation where we don't have the capacity to be unconditionally loving.  It's the Holy Spirit's job to draw our attention to that and help us move beyond that.  Our comfort zones are the limited areas in which we find it easy to love.  It's the Holy Spirit's job not to respect those comfort zones, but to bust 'em.  We're not at the mountaintop until any zone is comfortable.  Love isn't love until it's unconditionalů and the Holy Spirit has a highly individualized curriculum for everyone.  Every encounter, every circumstance can be used for these purposes.

Since type is about habitual patterns, we can also say that type is about comfort zones.  How these "comfort zones" are uniquely expressed demonstrates how each of us is a distinct individual.  But these comfort zones and expressions are communicated via the type pattern.  Which means anytime we are experiencing a knee-jerk reaction, or doing "business as usual," we are in the domain of type.  And sometimes it takes a whole lotta pain to change our patterns and open up to the possibility that one-sidedness is not the answer.

In that light, the ability to be tolerant and not to allow one's buttons to be pushed is an excellent measuring stick for one's personal growth and development.  It's a signal that many life coaches use as a crucible to help their clients evolve.  We don't have to call it "type," but the type pattern is present whether we acknowledge it or not.

I invite you to look at your own comfort zones -- to notice your habitual ways of being in the world -- and consider trying on a new behavior today.  Consider looking at the thing you deplore, and strive to identify that thing in yourself.  Maybe find a way to be with it, perhaps even to love it a little.  You'll be a little bit better for it -- a little less neurotic.  A contribution one can make to the world is not to add to the general prevailing unconsciousness.


*Note: The MBTI« is not type either -- it is merely a tool for helping discover best-fit type patterns.

Suggested reading:  Original Self: Living With Paradox and Authenticity, by Thomas Moore

* * *