Let’s Talk About How Our Personalities Develop

Traditionally, Myers-Briggs theorists have taught that people develop their primary function first, followed by their secondary function up until their 20s, then their tertiary function in their 30s and 40s, and sometimes they’ll go on to start using their inferior function later in life. It’s a neat, orderly formula. Too neat for my tastes. (If you felt lost when I started talking about functions, click here to read a post explaining that aspect of Myers-Briggs personality types.)

When you start talking about type development in more depth, though, Myers-Briggs experts will add that environment and an individual’s commitment to personal growth does influence when our functions develop and how well we learn to use them. They’ll also talk about life-long type development and offer tips for dealing with your less developed functions before the age you’re “supposed” to develop them. And I’ve also talked with people who feel like they developed their tertiary before their secondary function, or had to go back later in life and become comfortable with their dominant function because they’d been suppressing it. Clearly, there’s more going on than a neat developmental progression from one function to another.

Personality Hacker proposes a different look at how we develop functions, or “mental processes.” I’ve not seen them directly address the question of type development from childhood on, but they do see our secondary function as our growth position. We’re most comfortable using our dominant function and (baring some kind of trauma) it’s typically also the one you’ve spent the most time developing. This function is either introverted (i.e. focused on our inner world) or extroverted (i.e. focused on the outer world). Your secondary function is focused in the other direction — if you’re a dominant introvert, your secondary mental process it extroverted (and vice versa). But your tertiary function matches your primary one in terms of introvert-extrovert, so it can be more comfortable (though not as healthy) for us to spend time in that one rather than cultivate our secondary function.

What About Culture and Family?

I think our early experiences and upbringing have quite a bit to do with which mental processes we develop and when. For example, an introverted child leads with an inward-focused mental process. How their society and family treats their introversion will have a huge impact on their development. They might develop their extroverted side more quickly as a defense mechanism for fitting into an extroverted world. On the other hand, the same thing (developing their secondary extroverted function early) could also happen if given support for their introverted development as well as encouragement to stretch themselves in the outer world.

Alternately, our hypothetical introvert might reject the push to be more extroverted and end up developing their tertiary process more quickly than their secondary process. That could be a reaction against the external push to be something they’re not, or in response to a particular subculture that values their introverted traits. If no one’s telling you to cultivate a less comfortable aspect of your personality, then why bother?

The same can hold true for extroverts. Many cultures, including the United States, have historically held extroverted traits up as more desirable. If you’re constantly being admired for your outgoing personality, social skills, and ability to navigate the outer world, why focus on developing your un-cool introvert side in high school? Or maybe you’re an extrovert growing up in a family of introverts who constantly ask you to give them alone time or be quiet, and you suppress your dominant function’s development until you’re older. I’ve seen both happen.

There are other factors in play as well. An ExTJ guy would typically find encouragement for his dominant function, where a woman with the same personality type could face criticism for not “acting like a girl.” An ExFJ girl would fit more easily into what society expects from young women, while a guy with the same type might be told to “man up.”

Messy, Beautiful Variations In Type

Personally, I feel I developed my dominant function first (as an INFJ, that’s Introverted Intuition/Ni), stunted my own secondary function’s growth by being incredibly shy (Extroverted Feeling/Fe), ended up using my tertiary function trying to make sense of things (Introverted Thinking/Ti), and was completely blind to my inferior function (Extroverted Sensing/Se). That described me pretty much until age 19 or 20. At that point, I’d been in college for about a year and started working to overcome my shyness. That finally gave my secondary Fe a chance to develop into a healthy version of that function. At the same time, I started using Ni in a healthier way, too, while still occasionally tapping into Ti. As I started learning more about my personality type, I’ve also started trying to develop my Se (though I’ll admit it’s with little success so far). But since I’m not even 30 yet, I “shouldn’t” be consciously using either my tertiary or inferior function yet.

I’m certainly not trying to argue that Myers-Briggs gets everything (or even most things) wrong about type development. The MBTI is a fantastic tool for describing how people’s mind’s work, how we typically learn information, and the ways we interact with our worlds. And the typical type development model has lots of truth in it, including the fact that our primary and secondary functions are the ones we develop most fully. It’s just that there’s more influencing the nuances of type development than how old we are.

These variations are one reason why no two people who share a personality type will be exactly the same. We all have different circumstances that shape our type development, different levels of comfort with our type’s functions, and different ways of expressing how our minds work. If you feel like you didn’t follow the standard model of type development, don’t worry — you haven’t missed out on your chance to grow and there isn’t anything wrong with you. Our personality types aren’t boxes we fit in neatly or hoops of development we jump through. They’re a way of describing how your mind works and a tool we can use to accelerate personal growth, including developing all facets of our personality type more fully.

Save

Save

Save

Save

A Little Princess and Cinderella

Last week, I compared A Secret Garden to my favorite fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. The subject of this week’s Classics Club post, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, has fairy tale elements which are even more obvious.click to read "A Little Princess and Cinderella" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

It’s pretty much the exact same story as Cinderella — an only child whose sweet disposition is unaffected by being spoiled is left in the care of an unkind woman after her father’s unexpected death. The austere and jealous guardian transforms the girl into a servant who lives in an attic and makes friends with rodents and birds. Eventually, a wealthy man swoops in and rescues her (Tweet about it).

There are even jealous “step-sister” figures in the form of some of the girls at the school (we’re looking at you, Lavinia). And you could call Ram Dass a “fairy godmother” of sorts, since he transforms Sara’s dingy attic into a princess room simply because he notices she’s so kind and wants to do something nice for her. It’s a key fairy-tale trope — eventually Magic (or it’s human equivalent) will step in and set things right if only you’re a good person.

Continue reading

The Secret Garden and Beauty and the Beast

I suppose there might be better ways to spend a Sunday than baking scones, reading and blogging about books and watching Star Trek, but I really can’t think of any right now. They’re cinnamon apple oatmeal scones, and the books are by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and it’s classic Trek with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Does it get any better?

The Secret Garden #ccwomenclassics | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess are re-reads on my Classics Club book list. They were some of my favorite books as a child, and my sister and I watched the film adaptations over and over when we were younger. Since they also qualify for the Women’s Classic Literature event, I decided to make them my first classics reads for the new year.

I can’t tell you how much I wanted a secret garden. Actually, I never really outgrew that — I’m sure gardens surrounded by high stone walls covered with ivy are more alluring than ones just sitting out in the front yard where anyone can see them. That garden with its hidden door is probably why The Secret Garden was always my favorite of the two books. That and the fact that there were boy characters — books with just girls in them are nice, but books with boys and girls are better even when there isn’t a hint of romance. Continue reading

Why Homeschool Introverts?

One of the big things that introverts want people to know is that “introversion is not the same as shyness.” And it isn’t — just because someone is introverted doesn’t mean they are shy, and there are plenty of shy extroverts as well (Susan Cain has an article about this). People tend to assume shyness is the same thing as introversion, but that’s just not true. Introversion refers to a preference for how someone gathers energy — they are energized by alone time rather than by being around groups of people. Shyness is fear.

But how is it that we become shy? If it’s not inborn, then we must learn it at some point, usually quite early in our lives. You might see an outgoing child become shy, but it’s rare that a socially confident adult suddenly develops traits of shyness. So what happens to turn introverted children shy?

Confusing “Shy” and “Introverted”

The confusion between “shy” and “introverted” has a long history. Jung, whose work the Myers-Briggs test is based on, wrote that “the introverted attitude includes a tendency to be shy.” While extroverts can be shy (and it might actually be more difficult for them since shyness conflicts with their need to be energized by other people), shyness is more likely in introverts. A certain level of shyness might simply be part of the introverted temperament, but more extreme shyness and social anxiety is not an unavoidable part of introversion.

In his article “Are You Motivated by Your Fear or Your Preference?” Andy Mort says that understanding why introverts are believed to be shy and how that belief impacts society is important. Since introversion is so often confused for shyness, introverted children are often told that they are shy by well-meaning adults who think they need to “fix things.”

When I believed I was shy I adopted that label and acted shy; I feared certain social interactions because I didn’t want my ‘shyness’ to be picked up on, and so often withdrew. Shyness as an identity was reinforced by virtue of the fact that I believed my introverted tendencies were in fact me being shy. And the more I fought them by trying to be more extraverted, the more I withdrew (and more shy I believed I was) because I was using so much social energy. – Andy Mort

Rather than recognizing introverted children and teaching them how to be stable, confident introverts, we tell them they’re shy and try to turn them into extroverts. Someone once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” (this quote is often attributed to Einstein, but I can’t find out if that’s accurate). Similarly, when we judge introverted children by their ability to be extroverts, we send them the message that there is something wrong with them, and we label that something shyness.

What Next?

It’s obvious that a solution to this problem has to include a flexibility that allows for people to actually be individuals. It’s one of the great ironies of today’s society that we’re obsessed with individualism, but only if it fits neatly within a certain standard. This is one of the many reasons parents choose to homeschool — to tailor the learning experience to each child’s needs.

One of the most common arguments leveled against homeschooling is that it creates shy, socially awkward children. In reality, homeschoolers are no more likely to be shy than public schooled children. In her book Introvert Power, Laurie Helgoe suggests that homeschooling is actually the best way for introverted children to learn, at least until school reforms like the ones Susan Cain discusses in this interview can be implemented.

For an introverted child, homeschooling offers a chance for them to learn in their preferred environment — alone or in small groups of people they know well. Since they’re not stressed by the constant over-stimulation and energy drain of being around large groups, they’ll have more social energy available when they do interact with other children, which will help them develop stronger social skills and more confidence in social situations.

These social situations could be church gatherings, homeschool co-ops, field trips, play dates — pretty much any social activity with other children and with older or younger people. Since parents spend so much time with homeschooled children, they’ll usually know them well enough to tell when the child should be encouraged to get outside their comfort zone and make friends, and when to back-off and give them “introvert time.”