The world inside our minds can be a fascinating place. For some of us, it’s even more “real” than the outer world. Introverts in particular approach the world from the perspective that reality is what we bring to it from within. However, every type has an introverted and an extroverted side. Extroverts have an inner life, just like Introverts have an extroverted persona they use in the outer world. We all prefer one or the other as our starting point for conceptualizing reality, but every human being has an “inner world” of some kind.
The question of what our inner world looks like is probably most interesting to introverts, but I think it’s one that extroverts benefit from considering as well. None of us walk around all day with our minds a blank slate waiting for something outside us to fill out thoughts. We’re all using our inner thought life for something, even if it seems to just be running on automatic.
The Book of Proverbs tells us that as a man “thinks within himself, so is he” (Prov. 23:7, TLV). Even if you’re not a Bible-reader, it’s still a principle that we can apply. The things that we think about on the inside shape who we are and who we’re becoming on the outside. It’s impossible to separate what our inner world looks like from the reality of who we are as a whole person. Read more →
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Myers-Briggs. I’ll defend it against people who say it’s useless, write and re-write posts trying to come up with the simplest introduction to function stacks ever, and spend my time musing about how type influences both real people and fictional characters. But as much as I like the Myers-Briggs system of personality types, I also know there are things it’s not meant to do.
In fact, applying Myers-Briggs wrongly is one of the biggest reasons it has come under so much criticism. For example, you can find quite a few articles online that argue Myers-Briggs is basically useless in a work environment. They’ll tell you it’s not a good indicator of job performance nor is it all that useful for screening potential employees. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering those aren’t the test’s purpose. And it’s unfair to dismiss a test for not doing something it wasn’t meant to do in the first place.
So what is the Myers-Briggs test supposed to tell you? And just how much can we apply what we learn from finding our type to real life?
This Is Your Brain On Decision Making
The Myers-Briggs test is designed to measure how people’s minds work. It describes their preferred mental processes or “cognitive functions” (to use the technical term). Contrary to what so many critics of the test think, it doesn’t force people into dichotomies. Rather, each type has a “stack” of preferred functions. So an ENFJ type isn’t someone who’s 100% extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. They’re a type that prefers making decisions with Extroverted Feeling, learning new things with Introverted Intuition, and then also uses Extroverted Sensing and Introverted Thinking to a lesser extent (click here to learn how we get from the four letter type to the functions).
These characteristics of Myers-Briggs theory means that taking the test can help you: Read more →
The most complicated aspect of Myers-Briggs® personality types is also one of the things that makes it a useful theory. It’s the answer to criticisms like “But people aren’t 100% introverts or extroverts” and “Sometimes I use thinking and sometimes feeling, so the test must be wrong.”
Myers-Briggs® theory describes complex, nuanced, dynamic personalities using something called “function stacks.” That term refers to mental processes (functions) that people use in a certain order (stack) of preference. But when you start trying to study function stacks and people are throwing around phrases like “Extroverted Intuition” and “Introverted Thinking” it starts getting confusing, especially after you learn ENxJs don’t even use Extroverted Intuition and IxTJ types don’t use Introverted Thinking. What on earth is going on?
I’ve written about cognitive functions before, but I feel like I’ve always fallen short of explaining the concept both simply and concisely. I’ll link to those more in-depth posts at the end of this article, but right now let’s try and break this topic down for the simplest function stack guide on the Internet.
What J and P Really Mean
Contrary to popular opinion, Judging and Perceiving aren’t a sliding scale. They aren’t even meant to stand on their own as an aspect of your personality — they’re just in your four-letter type to describe how you use the other letters. Thinking and Feeling are both Judging functions because they’re involved in how you make decisions. Sensing and Intuition are both Perceiving functions because they’re about how you learn information. Read more →
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.
Some of you might think that title is strange, but my fellow introverts will understand. The hours of mental preparation that go into making a two minute phone call. The sense of dread when the phone rings and you aren’t ready to talk with someone. The pressure of sounding engaged and alert while thinking fast enough to avoid awkward silences. Most of us view the telephone in much the same way the Dowager Countess of Grantham does.
But I had a truly enjoyable phone conversation with a friend this weekend, and I realized this wasn’t an isolated incident. When he asked for my number my first instinct was panic, then I realized there wasn’t any reason to. I talk with my sister on the phone for hours almost every day. I chat with my dance team when we’re coordinating practice times. I enjoy the unexpected call from my cousin or a select group of friends. Chatting on the phone really isn’t all that scary.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in many ways a stereotypical introvert in regards to the telephone. We don’t have caller ID on the landline and the calls are rarely for me, so I refuse to answer when it rings unless I recognize the voice and want to talk with them now. My cell phone is set so it doesn’t even ring unless the number is in my contacts list and, in general, I much prefer written communication. There are times, however, when telephones are a preferable method of communication. Read more →
Kathryn Brigs and Isabel Briggs Myers had no formal training.
The test doesn’t allow for complex personalities or that someone can be a little bit of an extrovert and a little bit of an introvert at the same time.
Similarly, the judging-perceiving, thinking-feeling, and sensing-intuition “scales” don’t allow for people who use both.
About 50% of people who take the test twice within 5 weeks get different results.
Test fails to predict success in various jobs and doesn’t provide meaningful data.
The test remains popular because it only gives positive results. These results are vague and hard to argue with, much like astrology and pseudoscience.
Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase on that website.
Setting aside the first arguments for now, I think these points are a good criticism of some of the free tests going around which make people pick just between the four letter groups. None of this, however, takes into account the science behind Myers-Briggs. In fact, if the critics would bother reading Isabel Myers’ book Gifts Differing,* they would find most of their points have nothing to do with actual Myers-Briggs theory.
The Truth About Extroverts and Introverts
The video I linked above correctly states that Jung’s theory allowed for people who didn’t fit neatly into a single category. But then they say Kathryn Briggs and Isabel Myers “took Jung’s types but slightly altered the terminology and changed it so every single person was assigned only one possibility or another. You couldn’t be a little bit of an extrovert or a little bit of an introvert.”
In fact, this a complete misrepresentation of Myers-Briggs theory. Read more →