Exploring the MBTI and Myers Briggs Personality Types and applications | Personality Pathways

Questions, Quandaries, and Queries about Personality Type with Lenore Thomson

Are mental functions skills?

Lenore Thomson Bentz . . . on Personality Type - Volume 1, No. 3.

Have a question about Personality Type or Carl Jung's Theory of Psychological Type? Send them to Lenore at lthombentz@aol.com. She will respond in this ongoing "Dear Lenore" column.

Page Three, Volume 1, No. 1

JM: Your approach to type as the characteristic way we appropriate experience and give it meaning changed my approach to teaching MBTI ® theory. Instead of saying a type uses a function, I try to convey the more difficult characteristic orientation of each type. This approach alleviates the quagmire of labeling behavior, such as watering plants, as using Sensing.

LTB: Jung didn't describe the functions as skills; he compared them to the four directions on a compass. Orientation, not innate ability. For example, you can make a reliable correlation between North and whale fishing, but orienting yourself by North won't give you the skills to work on a whale boat. Conversely, taking a job on a whale boat won't tell you how it feels to orient yourself by North.

Each function orients conscious awareness in terms of its own psychic content, just as the four directions orient us to different parts of the external landscape. To take a direction always leaves a path not taken. If you're going North, you're axiomatically not going South. Over time, favoring one orientation over another becomes habitual, assembling a consistent approach to the meaning of our experiences.

JM: How do you understand what it means to differentiate a function? Some type theorists believe that type development means differentiating all eight function-attitudes.

LTB: When people talk about differentiating non-preferred functions, they usually mean engaging in specific behaviors that have become associated with the function's differentiated form. For example, an Intuitive type who strives to notice more details may describe the effort as "developing more Sensing." In general, there's no downside to this sort of thing. Stretching beyond our habituated comfort zone and learning to do new things keep us healthy and alive.

This isn't, however, what Jung meant by differentiation. As orientations, the functions are always operating; they're part of everyone's cognitive architecture. Every minute of every day, they're turning our bodily and emotional experiences into cognitive events. Differentiating one means that we've gained some willful control over the brain states involved in that aspect of our experience and are directing them to conscious ends.

The word "differentiation," after all, is analogical. Jung borrowed it from the field of developmental biology. Before a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine wall, it's an undifferentiated cell mass. It's only after implantation and division that individual cells begin to differentiate. And what this means is that the cells become specialized, turning some genes off and others on, so that the cells are capable of supporting particular tasks in the growing embryo. For example, some cells differentiate for the operation of the heart, thereby becoming what the heart needs in order to grow and develop. Once a cell specializes, it acquires a "type," and it's suited to support a particular system of the body.

It seems to me that Jung borrowed these existing terms deliberately. Undifferentiated functions are like undifferentiated stem cells. That is, they're conflated with each other, without specialized purpose, operating in concert with our emotional needs. However, as a person adapts to a particular environmental context, one of those functions becomes differentiated, supporting the expression of developing strengths in real-world terms.

This is the basis of the Ego identity, and it occurs at the interface of culture and nature, just as a specialized cell will always be shaped by the organ it's supporting. The type model shows us what this psychological structure looks like once a function has been differentiated. If type were an innate pattern that we simply lived out, Jung's theory would make no sense.

In Jung's model, orienting ourselves by one function is not natural; it requires conscious choice. "Natural," from this standpoint, means reacting to circumstances as they occur, guided by instinctual patterns of behavior. Jung believed that consciousness had allowed humans to disrupt the direct connection between immediate emotional needs and behavioral responses. We get control over the brain states involved in those responses and direct them to conscious ends.

Those conscious goals are compensated by functions that have not been differentiated. This compensation is what keeps our conscious choices in touch with the motivating flame of our living, unadapted potential.

In other words, our differentiated function sets our conscious direction. Having all eight competing for control is hardly a condition of wholeness or balance. What you want is a differentiated function flexible enough to enlist information from the others and to take that information into account when decisions are being made.

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Next Section - Am I an unconventional personality type?

Do you have a question about Personality Type?

Send it to Lenore at lthombentz@aol.com

See her most recent Q & A on Jung's Personality Type Here

Lenore Thomson is author of "Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual" and the former editor of the Jungian Journal Quadrant and a lecturer with the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York City.

Jeanne Marlowe, a friend and associate of Lenore, is a type consultant with more than 20 years of experience teaching people about Personality Type.

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Lenore Thomson Personality Type an Owner's Manual
"Personality Type: An Owner's Manual" by Lenore Thomson

A layman's guide to understanding Personality Type and the theory of Psychological Types originally proposed by C. G. Jung. Lenore Thomson was the former editor of the Jungian Journal Quadrant and a lecturer with the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York City.
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