"I figure we all crazy," said Donny. "It's just a question of figuring out how, not whether." --"Original Sins," by Lisa Alther
"I believe that in the world of psychological theory, the '80s will belong to C.G. Jung," says Otto Kroeger, a Washington psychologist and consultant in organizational development.
"During the '60s the emphasis was on sensitivity training and encounter groups, the '70s were clearly transactional analysis, but the '80s will be marked by awareness of type."
Among other things, "awareness of type" tells you why the ENTP (more on what that means later) always has an idea for a new business, but can't get the newsletter out on time. Why the ESFJ always knows the right thing to say and the right clothes to wear, but can be such a pessimist. Why the ISFP will bake you a cookie instead of saying "I love you," and why the INFJ can't remember your name but will always laugh at your jokes.
Jung's theory is that there are 16 basic psychological types, the result of the infant personality making four simple and instinctive choices on how it will use its mind. Around 1942, amid the sorrows of World War II, two Pennsylvania women who shared an interest in Jung decided it was time to make the Swiss psychiatrist's typology palatable and practical for laymen. They believed that rather than limiting or confining people, as labels do, Jung's observations were the key to releasing greater mental flexibility, growth and tolerance of others.
So Katharine C. Briggs (1875-1968) and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980), questioned people whose types they were already pretty sure of, about attitudes, behavior and responses to items. They designed a psychometric questionnaire that they named "The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator."
The MBTI takes about 30 minutes to complete and is designed to uncover a person's natural bias in four areas: extroversion or introversion, sensation or intuition, thinking or feeling, judgment or perception. Knowing these four preferences it becomes possible to describe with amazing accuracy an individual's basic point of view and modus operandi.
When it was introduced 20 years ago, the MBTI received a cool reception from organized psychology. But through the work of a few persevering enthusiasts, it is now well on its way to becoming the most widely used personality measure for nonpsychiatric, or normal populations. In the last two years, membership in the Florida-based Association for Psychological Type has grown from 4,000 to 9,000 and includes mental-health professionals in 30 countries.
The MBTI is used by teachers to help them present material in different ways to different children and to give rewards that really feel like rewards. It's used by marriage counselors to offer couples a nonjudgmental vocabulary for describing their differences. Career counselors and managers use it to direct people to areas where they'll contribute the most.
Researchers give the MBTI to groups and come up with revelations like sexual styles or the personality makeup of corporations. The individual can use it to develop "psychological patriotism" (Myers' words) and of course, to change.
"Myers' description of type is very positive" says Judy Vogel, who uses the test as manager of program development for the Marriott Hotel Corp. and in private counseling. "People are moved when the major themes in their life are made clear and acknowledged and appreciated. The defensiveness around change diminishes immediately.
"One of the things that sets the MBTI apart from other personality-assessment tools is that you get a lot of information quickly, yet there's so much more to explore if you choose."
"The more you use it, the richer it becomes," says Mardy Ireland, a staff psychologist for the George Washington University Counseling Center. "It never goes flat."
Here is a brief description of the basic instinctive choices we've been making to become what we are, according to Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers, with analysis of the data based on MBTI research.
Are you an extrovert (E) or introvert (I)?
The difference between the two is their power supply. Extroverts are actually charged up by people and grow stronger among them. Their time alone is more tiring than their time with others. The diversity of the human race is like fuel for them so they seek out extensive interactions.
Introverts can also enjoy people, but for shorter time periods and in fewer situations. People don't recharge introverts. It's solitude and space that restores their psychic energy. As a result, their best and strongest side is never exposed to others, but unfolds in privacy and reflection.
Because introverts must rely on their weaker side to handle people, they prefer a few long-standing relationships, where they have already sorted out the meaning and are less apt to be surprised. Because they are a minority, they often go through life feeling inadequate and guilty about their preference for territory over faces.
Kathy Myers, a Washington educational counselor and psychologist--and Isabel Briggs Myers' daughter-in-law--uses the MBTI along with other personality assessments to help students begin to build up a portrait of who they are. She remembers a young man whose father was with the State Department. His family didn't seem to mind moving frequently, but the boy hated it.
"I was able to explain to him that he was an introvert and preferred long, close relationships," says Myers. "The rest of his family were extroverts and could look forward to all the new faces."
Do you perceive by sensation (S) or intuition (N)?
The difference between sensory and intuitive types may matter the most because it ignites so many misunderstandings: Two people can look at the same thing and receive completely different information.
Two-thirds of the population are sensory types, placing their greater trust in what their five senses tell them. Intuitive types listen more often to their sixth sense: hunches. S's are intensely interested in what is actually here or was here. N's feel a little out of place in what others call The Real World and instead are forever imagining what could be here, the possibilities for the future.
S's focus on facts; N's scan the scene and gather impressions. S's lean toward usefulness and practicality; N's to imagination and daydreams.
Do you judge your perceptions by thinking (T) or feeling (F)?
This is the only difference that we hear as a bass or soprano, but the stereotype is only slightly supported by statistics. Six out of 10 women report they use feeling and six out of 10 men report thinking.
T's will side with an argument that "makes sense;" F's will defend a position because it "feels right." The thinking types become better judges of inanimate objects or theories, while the highly developed and differentiated feelings of the F's will allow them more accuracy in judging people and their values. Both can have logical thoughts and stormy feelings; the difference is the importance they attach to them.
"A problem arises when you get too many people together who share the thinking preference," says Alan Brownsword, an internal organization development specialist at the Department of Education and a Washington specialist in MBTI. "They reinforce one another and create an atmosphere that is really dehumanizing."
No one type dominates in government, he says, although the preference for thinking preponderates at the level of managers. "A mix of thinking and feeling types in leadership positions would create a healthier organization. Any significant issue should be decided both impersonally and from a value perspective."
In marriage, according to Isabel Myers, the thinking and feeling types only hurt each other when they insist on the other making decisions in the less preferred way. According to Jung, you can choose just one method of judgment at a time and since birth we've "enjoyed" one more than the other.
Jung considered thinking and feeling to be equally reliable or faulty methods depending on the level of skill.
Which do you use more, judgment (J) or perception (P)?
Do you tend to hold strong opinions on most things and do you give advice without much prompting? Do you do your best work after you separate, sort, arrange and list? Do you spend as much time in preparation and clean-up as you spend on a task itself? Are you restless until things are decided, whether or not you enjoy decision-making? These are all the characteristics of what MBTI researchers believe are 60 percent of the population, the J's.
If your answer is no, you emerge as a P. You prefer to keep your opinions and options open, gathering more and more data. Instead of coveting order in your life, you're content to just live in it. You're more interested in the process than the outcome, and you definitely subscribe to the play ethic, even before the work is done. You enjoy randomness and often miss deadlines.
One of the things that organizational consultant and former Lutheran minister Kroeger--whose clients include the J-dominated U.S. Army--advises P's to look out for: the J's "bitch factor," the result of interrupting a J's schedule with new tasks or a J's opinions with new data.
"But in 10 minutes or so, they'll work out a new opinion or a new schedule that includes you. So the best thing to do is just dump the new information on them and run."
On the other hand, the P's can make the J's jittery because P's rarely have a firm plan or opinion. But this same quality allows them to be tolerant, curious and adaptable to the plans and opinions of J's. They can also keep J's from deciding things too quickly.
If you've been able to find yourself in these cursory descriptions, you have four letters, the Myers-Briggs shorthand for your personality type. The profiles, however, are much richer than the letters can convey.
Brownsword, who also works with families of government employes and is writing a book on psychological typing, would like parents, especially, to be aware of type. Although the test isn't usually administered to children under age 12, parents aware of the principles can most likely recognize emerging patterns.
"Instead of trying to make their children more like themselves," says Brownsword, "they could use that energy to help their children be the best in their types."
One boy was causing his family grief by making clever but hurtful remarks whenever his brother or sister spoke. His type, the ENTP at its best, is a great improvisor and deals imaginatively with people and ideas, but does enjoy playing the game of verbal one-up.
"You could tell the boy not to do something that's totally ingrained in his psychological makeup, but he won't hear it," says Brownsword. "Any time you tell a child that in essence what they are is no good, they have to deny it, deflect it or strike back.
"But if you can affirm him and say 'this is a necessary part of your personality and your charm, but it can get you into trouble' then he'll hear you. He'll learn to monitor it."
Jung said that people spend the first part of their lives developing their style, the second part promoting it and the last part developing the neglected choices. That's the wisdom we hope for in old age, to know the mental functions we're best at, but to be able to call on the others when needed.