Saturday, May 31, 2014

Random Enneagram Conversation

So, I wore my enneagram t-shirt to Petco today…

Cashier: What's that symbol mean?
Me: Oh…well, it's the enneagram…uh, it's a system to find your personality type.
Cashier: What's a personality type?
Me: Oh. Uh…well, are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs?
Cashier:Myers what?
Me: Oh. Hrm…
Cashier: Is it a devil worshipping thing? If it is, I want to hear all about it.
Me: No, nothing like that. The symbol is an enneagram. Each point represents a different personality.
Cashier: So, you're like Sybil, then?
Me: No, everyone just has one. You can learn about yourself and other people. You know, the Jesuits really like it. Loyola has workshops all the time--
Cashier: Oh, I see.

(To my husband, after we leave)
Me: This is why I never leave the house.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Difference Between Understanding and Application in Type

So, there's been a trend lately of people giving simplistic explanations of type dynamics and then concluding with "If you still can't figure out your type, then there must be something wrong with you!" (And yes, I have seen it expressed in exactly that way.) More subtle variations imply or state that the person has somehow failed to grasp the basic concepts of a system, because, after all, knowledge of type dynamics=knowledge of oneself and it's impossible that a person wouldn't instantly have an epiphany once they know the basics of type dynamics, right?

To be fair, I'm pretty sure the people that say this are just repeating what they've heard others say, and so they haven't really thought much about it, let alone examined the underlying assumptions. It does, however, seem to equate knowledge of a construct with knowledge of the self and, ironically, shows that the person doesn't understand what is exactly at work in a personality construct.

Personality constructs are maps. Their purpose is to help us understand and categorize people along certain parameters. What that means, essentially, is we're trying to reduce the complex down to the simple so that we might have a better way of sorting through the muck of human interactions and self-knowledge. However, because they're imperfect, they're mere maps and some people are bound to be exemplars more than others. Further complicating this is the paradox that if we had perfect self-knowledge, we wouldn't need to place ourselves on the system to begin with. In other words, due to both deficits in our self-awareness and limitations of any construct (Jung, the enneagram) a person could conceivably have absolutely perfect intellectual knowledge of the system and still be completely unable to identify their type.

Of course, I do recognize the importance of landing on a type. The two biggest reasons why people tend to not land on a type are that they (a)don't want to be wrong or (b) don't want to settle for something that seems like an inadequate description of the self. (B) comes from ego, and perhaps an excessive amount of stereotyping of the different types. (A)by contrast comes from the compulsive trend in the enneagram and MBTI of second-guessing others' types. This leads to a neurotic need to be "right" in one's own self-assessment, lest the spotlight be pointed at oneself. Of course we all meet people that we wonder if they're really the type they claim they are. The problem, though, is that telling people what type we "really" think they are subverts the process. When people try on a type, if they're committed to self-awareness, will come to look at themselves in a different light and then they'll examine themselves under this lens. In time, however, if it's not the right fit, they'll move on to another type. But, and this is key, the process is important. It's important because even mistyping leads one to ask questions and introspect in a way they might not otherwise. It makes them more conscious of patterns, it gets them watching for patterns, and so if they decide a given type doesn't fit, they've at least been given additional information to help them figure out what type might be a better match. If too much is imposed from the outside, though, it interferes with this process, either by creating a defensive attitude or with a compliance that shuts off otherwise important avenues of explanation.

In short, finding one's type is not a simple thing. It's a complex process, and that's the idea. Jung's goal, and the goal of the enneagram, was to uncover deeply subconscious complexes under the premise that they must be brought to light in order to be dealt with. If you don't understand this, then perhaps you're the one that's conceptually confused.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Revisiting Introverted Feeling and Extraverted Feeling

I wanted to say something about introverted feeling and extraverted feeling. I think there’s a lot of people mistyping themselves because of how these functions get oversimplified, i.e. that Fe gets reduced to simple conformity and Fi gets the distinct privilege of individuality and authenticity.

Fi is a very moral function, a morality that is generally uninfluenced by social values, but—and this is important—is an INTROVERTED function. What this means is that the person often articulates very little about their morals, if at all. It’s very easy to cross their values, because you don’t know what they are. For example: the chair of my department in grad school had Fi as his lead function. I taught for three semesters. At the end of my third semester, I had my first cheating case. We were required to bring the chair in when we talked to the student. While the fact of her cheating was quite clear, the university guidelines were not. At one point, we sent the student out of the room to discuss her case. I stated how I thought we should proceed. He didn’t really say anything. We brought her back in, and I explained she would get a 0 for the assignment, at which point the chair encouraged her to appeal. Afterwards, he implied my decision had not been a moral one but did not elaborate. Fi is shown here in the subtlety of his values and the discomfort of articulating them too directly.

Fe is a hostess function and is warm, expressive and inclusive. They are more influenced by social norms and oriented towards the social language of gestures, tone and so forth. As such, they can be group oriented (especially when combined with the traditionalism of Si) but they must feel that the group’s values are aligned with their own. They aren’t chameleons changing values when they change groups. That would be too utilitarian and strategic for them. Rather, they have the values and seek a group that exemplifies them. However, Fe is an EXTRAVERTED function, which means the values will be expressed quite readily. You are unlikely to be confused about what they are. For example, my mom’s an INFJ. Many years ago, her (Episcopalian) church got a new priest, who was gay. A number of the parishioners were threatening to leave the church. At a meeting to discuss the new priest, my mother stood up and took on the whole group, telling them why such a homophobic move was wrong, and how in general they were being reactionary and ridiculous. When the group is going astray, Fe users (especially INFJ) have no qualms about being outspoken so that the group maintains its integrity. That is usually more extraverted than Fi users are comfortable with, who prefer to express their values more subtly and like to quietly live them out in their own way.

When I was in grad school, I had a rather aggressive student hassling me. He objected to a course policy and confronted me in my office. The way he communicated it was rather unnerving (attacks on my character, a creepy amount of attention to my mannerisms and his perceptions about my emotional state) and, after an hour, when I tried to conclude the discussion, refused to leave. An INFJ adjunct professor heard what was happening and got a senior faculty member to intervene. The next week, an INFP graduate student instructor, who had overheard the discussion, came into my office. He expressed his sympathies in a low-key manner and knew just the right thing to say in a few sentences, although we didn’t talk about it for terribly long. He inquired as to how I was feeling, without offering any advice. The INFJ also talked to me about it, but she sat me down and told me exactly what I needed to do to protect myself, all the reasons why she thought it was a very scary situation, shared similar experiences that she’d had and in general, was very passionate and expressive.

These aren’t my typings of them, by the way, but rather their own self-typings. (In all the examples, actually.) I think the last example really demonstrates the Fi and Fe difference, in terms of how introversion and extraversion influence expression of values, both in terms of style and intensity.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Judging, Perceiving and the Functions

There's a misconception that the judging and perceiving preferences are irrelevant because of the “cognitive” functions (Jung actually presents us with a theory of the unconscious). This stems from a fundamental lack of knowledge of Jung's work, the early interpretations of it and the reception of it in the Myers-Briggs community. In this post, I will argue that the current function model is not only closer to the Myers-Briggs than Jung, but is in fact no more than an extension of the functions as conceptualized in the Myers-Briggs theory. I will further argue that since judging and perceiving preferences refer to which extraverted function one uses, there ought not be a disconnect between typing via the preferences or the functions except in borderline cases.

1. For years before the Myers-Briggs, most Jungians did not think the auxiliary was in the opposite attitude from the dominant.

2.Isabel Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs were aware of the functions and in fact Myers talks about them in Gifts Differing.

3.They needed a way, however, to determine a whole type with the MBTI. Taking a few lines from a passage in PT, they took Jung to mean that the auxiliary would be a complementary function in the opposite attitude from the dominant. In other words, If you were INFJ, you would have Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Feeling. This was quite possibly their most controversial move. It took awhile for Jungians to warm up to the idea that the auxiliary would not be in the same attitude (i.e. that an Introverted Intuitive with auxiliary Feeling would not have Introverted Feeling).

4. They then used J/P to distinguish the more conscious extraverted function. i.e. J/P is how you act in the outer world and many J/P questions are written to reflect that distinction.

5. However, if you look at the more conscious extraverted functions of the type, you see they match up with J/P relatively well. For example, an INFP has auxiliary Extraverted Intuition, which if you’ve read and understood Jung, you know that it has a lot of the attributes normally associated with a perceiving preference. With an INTJ, the extraverted function is Extraverted Thinking, which even a cursory understanding of the function shows that this has a significant overlap with the judging preference.

6. You therefore can’t say that the functions render J/P obsolete for two reasons:

(a)If you assume, for example, that ISTP uses auxiliary Extraverted Sensing, you are using the Myers-Briggs system of stacking the functions…which the judging/perceiving distinction is meant to indicate.

(b) As the more conscious Extraverted function is reflective of the J/P distinction, you need to ask yourself what you actually gain by saying J/P is irrelevant. Since the system of function stacking you're employing is the same one being used by the Myers-Briggs and since J/P refers to which Extraverted function one uses, a blanket rejection only muddies the waters, resulting in confusion and mistyping. In other words, whether you go by the preferences or the functions, an INTP still has an Extraverted Perceiving function and still acts in a spontaneous, exploratory way in the outer world. Whether you determine you're INTJ by the preferences or the functions, you still have an Extraverted Judging function and act in a judging way in the outer world. Except in the case of someone that's very close on J/P, there shouldn't be a major difference whether you go by the preferences or the functions.

For example, suppose you test as INTP with a very clear score on P. You conclude by the function model that you’re actually an INTJ. Have you stopped to ask yourself why, if you use Extraverted Thinking, a function which is extremely structured and systematic (see Haas and Hunziker) in trying to make the outer world as logical and coherent as possible, you endorsed so many of the perceiving options on the inventory? Obviously, the person is either having a disconnect in her self-knowledge or she's just stretching to make a type fit.

7. As a final note, bear in mind that the Myers-Briggs theory still retains the compatibility model with regards to functions and J/P. So, when people claim that they are uncovering a lesser known but more accurate interpretation of Jung, they're mistaken. Allow me to reiterate: the eight-function model being employed in the so-called "cognitive" functions system is closer to the MBTI theory than it is to early interpretations of Jung. The exact same function model you're using is employed regularly by MBTI trainers and practitioners. If you take the MBTI Step II, you will see a ranking of your function order (four function model) on your report. Naomi Quenk has written extensively about the inferior function and the MBTI. Indeed, she suggests that if a client (e.g. with a slight preference clarity result) absolutely can’t decide between J and P, that you have them determine which function they like to use the least. So, if you absolutely cannot figure out if you’re INFJ or INFP, you should determine which you prefer less: Thinking or Sensing.

And with that, I’m going to refill my coffee…

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Thought

Be careful of people that (a)seem to give too many different people the same type and (b) seem to always have conflicts with people of that type. They may be people who are in need of mental health treatment but are projecting their problems onto others by scapegoating a given type.

Generally, the pathology works as follows: they identify a certain type that they consider a problem. (Six, INFJ, etc.) If you really get to know them, you may find out this is the same type that they believe a parent figure to have. They will usually have a past history of conflict with this type. They also will assign a statistically improbable number of people with this type. Then, when there is a conflict, they will cite the person's type as the cause of the conflict.

I used to know someone that did this. He believed his mother was a Type Six. He then identified many of his exes, former friends and adversaries as this type. He also seemed to know a disproportionate amount of supposed Sixes: his boss, his friend's roommate, his best friend, a number of women he had befriended online, a co-worker…you get the idea. As I got to know him better, I learned that he was rather unstable: he had physically assaulted one of his girlfriends, cheated on another, abused cocaine, flew into rages and even brought a lawsuit against a friend's roommate who had forced him to leave the premises.
The thing with personality disorders is that there's a tendency to believe one's own behavior is normal and that others are the problem. (This may be truer for personality disorders like Narcissistic and Antisocial than for disorders like Borderline or Avoidant where the extent of internal suffering may lead the person to seek help.) The enneagram especially is attractive for that reason. Partly because the type descriptions focus on the negative, but also because it gives one a lot of ammunition when in conflict with others. It's a great system, and while I don't think most people misuse it in that way, it is an unfortunate (if less common) side effect.

Of course, not everyone who over-diagnoses a certain type is pathological. Most of the time, it's due to a lack of critical thinking. Sometimes, too, people don't distinguish between the general energy of the triads and the primary types. i.e. you might pick up on the fundamental gut energy and type a lot of people as nines who are eights or ones and so forth. Where you have to be careful is when the person also disparages that type and seems to have a lot of conflicts with people of that type.

If you see someone that is assigning a given type to too many people, ask them their parents' types. If one of their parents' types is also the type they over-type in others, then take what they say with a grain of salt.

Also, bear in mind that no one affiliated with the enneagram has done extensive research to determine which types are "most common." (The MBTI people have done this, which is why they speak of the relative rarity of the types.) So, when you hear someone say that a given type is "common" realize that a lot of confirmation bias has likely played into this determination.