Carl Jung’s Theory of Personality

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I really like the Myers-Briggs system of personality typing, but I often feel like the whole topic is shrouded in a quagmire of misconception – even by those who devotedly follow its “creeds”. This is especially true in forums like PersonalityCafe.com, which I love, but threads can be largely made up of people posting declarative statements which are factually untrue, and partaking in reams of over-indulgent self-analysis.

In general, a lot of people seem to be interested in the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) because provides them with an easy way to typecast people and stick them in comfortable boxes. This is a criticism I hear often from those who are against MBTI. Also, most people encounter the system through their workplace, where it is normally used in the context of team-building. I actually find that use of MBTI reasonably dull, although it is always revealing to hear what personality types my colleagues think they are. Ultimately, who cares that much about work?

What I actually find really interesting about MBTI is the theory of the eight cognitive functions, and the role they play in personal development. The basic context behind the functions is that Carl Jung (a contemporary and colleague of Sigmund Freud) came up with his theory of personality based on a premise of opposites. At its most simple, “introverts” gain their energy from the inner world of the psyche and “extroverts” are energised by the external material world.

In addition, extroverts and introverts can also be classed as either “sensors” – someone who prefers to gather information about the world through their five senses – or “intuitives”, those who prefer to inhabit the abstract, cognitive realm.  Finally, on top of introvert/extrovert, and sensor/intuitive, a person can display either a “thinking” preference – meaning they are better at rational or logical activities than interpersonal relations – or a “feeling” preference, or that they are more comfortable dealing with people rather than the impersonal.

This idea is Jung’s grounding for his theory of human personality, which was built upon in more recent years by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs. They added a fourth preference – whether a person prefers “judging”, meaning that they favour their decision-making function, or “perceiving”, meaning that they prefer their information-gathering function. These four ‘categories’ result in a combination of four letters, denoting your personality type. In my case, “Introvert”, “Intuitive”, “Feeling”, Judging” – or, INFJ. Myers and Briggs developed a test that subjects could take to determine their type.

This probably all sounds a bit complicated and a lot of people naturally have no interest in delving into type theory. They just want to know their type so they can either reinforce their opinion of their own good qualities and rationalise their not-so-good, and make quick judgements about other people that they know. A perfectly valid way to approach it, if that’s what you find fun.

I mainly care about the potential rewards of type theory, if researched properly – which are twofold. A) I think it can be used to delve more deeply into the psyche by providing a system and language for such a purpose, resulting in increased self-knowledge, and, B) it can encourage personal growth by affirming that everyone is different and providing real tools that anyone can use to develop their abilities, and relate more effectively with others. It hardly needs to be stated why these two ends would be desirable!

So, in a nutshell, that is why I like MBTI so much. I think Carl Jung was an awesome psychoanalyst, thinker, writer, and all-round great person who contributed so much to our understanding of human nature. He was a mystical and superstitious individual who believed in the interpretation of dreams, the power of coincidence and signs and symbols.

Type theory is an exciting field which is un-established – often mocked – and full of possibility. I will continue to use his personality theory to inform my understanding of myself, and others. It has helped me come to terms with a lot of things about myself, and accept both my strengths and failings (largely). Reading about it on the internet is also great for procrastinating.

If you want to find out more about MBTI, start with Personality Junkie – A.J. Drenth’s writing style is incredibly accessible. 

Image: Carl Jung, credit: Orlonponzo

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