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.

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