Psychological type refers to our ways of adapting to the world around us and to what goes on within us. We all have to live in the world as well as with ourselves; therefore it is important to develop the attitudes and mental functions that optimally facilitate both adaptations. Adaptation means conscious choice: the possibility of choosing rather than being compelled in one direction or another.
Psychological type refers, first, to our naturally preferred orientation or attitude: either to the "outer" world or the "inner" world. Second, psychological type refers to our naturally preferred ways of perceiving and making judgments. Many people are familiar with psychological type from the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) which is based on the pioneering work of C. G. Jung. Our answers to the questions on the MBTI establish whether our orientation is primarily to the "inner" or the "outer" worlds. Second, our answers reveal whether we naturally experience inner and outer life from the standpoint of perceiving or judging.
Before discussing psychological type in more detail it is important to keep in mind that we need to relate to both "inner" and "outer" worlds, as well as to be able to perceive and make judgments. But more of that after we discuss "inner" and "outer" worlds and our judging and perceiving preferences.
The "outer" world refer to what happens around us, "out there:" other people, events, things, the physical world. Our primary attitude/orientation is extraverted when the "out there" energizes us, draws our attention, and gives life meaning. In other words, our point of reference is "outside" ourselves. People whose natural attitude is extraverted typically like, need, and seek a lot of involvement with people and the surrounding environment. Paying attention to what happens "inside" is more difficult for people who naturally prefer extraversion. Persons who naturally prefer extraversion know the world, but often don't know much about themselves, that is, what goes on inside them.
The "inner" world refers to what happens in us: the thoughts, fantasies, dreams, and emotions that spontaneously come into consciousness or that we intentionally focus on. Our primary attitude/orientation is introverted when the "in here" energizes us, draws our attention, and give life meaning. People whose natural attitude is introverted typically like, need, and seek time to pay attention to, to ponder, and to process what goes on "inside," in the "inner world." Paying attention to what happens "outside" is more difficult for people who naturally prefer introversion. People who naturally prefer introversion typically know themselves (i.e., their inner experiences) but often are not well adapted to the "outer" world.
For example, the person with a strong extraverted preference may manage very well in the outer world but have trouble dealing with the inner world of emotions, fantasies, dreams, and possibilities (which utilizes the introverted attitude). This person will find introspection difficult, taxing, and even frightening, as though he or she had no solid ground to stand on.
Conversely, the person with a strong preference for introversion will often experience adapting to the world (which utilizes the extraverted attitude) not only difficult but intimidating and exhausting. Moreover, this person's way of adapting to the world will often lack subtlety and carry a level of discomfort. This person may feel overwhelmed by input he or she cannot process fast enough.
In addition to the two attitudes -- introversion and extraversion -- we must consider the two ways of perceiving (perceiving functions) and the two ways of making judgments (judging functions).
We perceive with the physical senses and with intuition. The physical senses -- sight, touch, smell, hearing -- give us information about what exists physically: objects, people, places, the natural and social environment. People who are naturally gifted with a strong sensation function do well with facts and figures and things. From our (American) cultural perspective, they are often called "realistic," which frequently means that they pay attention primarily to the tangible dimension of reality rather than to what intuition offers.
Intuition, on the other hand, is the function that provides us information about "invisible" connections among things and events. The intuitive function does not connect all the dots but "leaps" from here to there: one has the immediate perception of relationship without the intervening steps that make the connection obvious from the viewpoint of the sensation function. People who are naturally gifted with a strong intuitive function do well when it is a question of seeing possibilities, implications, and meanings.
As the name suggests, the two judging functions assign value, but in different ways. The thinking function, as it is called, is the function that makes judgments on the basis of a logical process and aims at an impersonal result. The feeling function, in contrast, makes judgments in terms of human values and aims at results that accord with individual or collective standards: appropriate or inappropriate, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, and so on. We will consider the thinking function first.
For example, we can arrange books on a shelf in several ways. We might arrange them alphabetically by author. Or we might arrange them by color (disregarding the alphabetical arrangement), or by size (disregarding color and the alphabet), or by date of publication, etc. Each of these ways of arranging the books is based on a certain "logic" -- alphabetical sequence, color, size, date of publication -- and disregards the other logical possibilities.
As mentioned above, the thinking function makes judgments on the basis of a logical process and aims at an impersonal result. Let us consider money. If we embrace the logic of "don't spend more than you have," and we have only $100 and the cost of something is $125, the thinking function would say "Don't buy it." According to this logic, the only consideration is available money.
The feeling function (which is different from emotion or emotional reactions) judges on the basis of individual or collective values. At the most basic and personal level, the feeling function operates in terms of "I like" or "I don't like," "It suits me" or "It doesn't suit me." At it's most exalted level, the feeling function says "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." There are, of course, countless steps between these two poles.
Interpersonally, for example, the feeling function takes account of one's own values as well as of the other person's values. For example, the thinking function might make an objective statement like "You're wrong. That's not the way it is." The feeling function would more likely say "Yes, I see how you can view it that way, although I experience the situation a bit differently." At the extreme, the thinking function operates insensitively, and the feeling function appears wishy-washy.
Just as we need to develop both the introverted and the extraverted attitudes to achieve optimal adaptation to the inner and the outer worlds, we need to develop both perceiving and both judging functions. This takes us to the importance of typological balance and the consequences of typological imbalance.
To be a fully-functioning and psychologically balanced human being we need to achieve a typological balance. Part of our maturation lies in correcting the our natural one-sidedness. We need to adapt to the inner and to the outer worlds, and those adaptations are best served when we are able to perceive the sensory data (sensation function) as well as the possibilities and meanings (intuitive function), and then judge objectively (thinking function) and in terms of personal and collective values (feeling function). This means that we need to develop not only our natural attitude of introversion or extraversion, but the other, less-preferred attitude as well. Likewise, we need to cultivate not only our preferred function (be it sensation, intuition, thinking, or feeling) with which we may be well-endowed but also those other functions that are lesser gifts. Actually, however, our natural tendency inclines us more in one direction than another. What are the consequences of typological one-sidedness? Of typological imbalance?
"The results are usually regrettable." (Myers, p.84) We do and say things of which we are later ashamed, or which we excuse by saying, "I never do things like that!" "I just don't know what came over me!" When an undeveloped attitude or function takes over, it behaves like an animal we have not house-broken. To the extent that we do not develop the an attitude or function, it will tend to take a lot of energy and to operate in an inferior, often negative and obsessive, way independently of our conscious choice.
Psychological Type in Everyday Life
Jung tells the story of two students -- one who prefers extraversion and the other who prefers introversion -- who start out their day off together related and communicating well. At a certain point, however, each falls into his non-preferred and undeveloped attitude. The consequence is that they are no longer able to take the other into account; they become self-centered; and their communication disappears. (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol. 7, pp.56ff)
Differing typologies play their mischievous role in the ways we relate to others at home and at work, as well as how we relate to what goes on in the background of our waking consciousness. Many interpersonal conflicts arise, not because the other is "mad or bad," but because the other person is typologically different and therefore hard for us to understand and relate to. Learning to understand the other person's typological "language" furthers mutual understanding, the possibility of cooperation, and can diminish the acrimony of conflict.
Developing all four functions (sensation, thinking, intuition, and feeling) in both introverted and extraverted ways to the best of one's ability is both a high ideal and a necessity of life because we live in two worlds, whether or not we consciously relate to them: an "outer" world and an "inner" world. To the extent we neglect either attitude or any function, an the one or the other world, we suffer.
On-Line Typology Resources
There are many resources on-line where you can learn more about psychological type, or complete a typology questionnaire. (See the Links page.
Developing a balanced psychological typology leads to personal growth, progressively greater balance in life, and toward the integration of personality, that C.G. Jung called "individuation." On the next page you will find a brief characterization of individuation, which is actually a natural and instinctive goal in life.
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For Further Reading
Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press (1984).