Early obstacles to MBTI Type development

Posted 11 Nov 2016 by Betsy Kendall, COO and Head of Professional Services, OPP

This content was originally posted on the Psychometrics Canada blog in October 2016.


MBTI functionsIn literature, both Carl Jung and Isabel Myers describe Type development as our ultimate goal; that is, to be able to use all the functions available to us as appropriate to the task. While our preferences provide us stability and identity, it is imperative that we also develop the ability to channel our non preferences in service of a task – to not only rely on our default habits, but to competently use whatever preference is most suitable.

With this in mind, Carl Jung also proposed a hypothetical development model that proposes that individuation – or the completeness of self – is guided by our own Type as a compass or starting point. During the first part of life, our primary goals are to become adept and confident with our dominant and auxiliary mental functions. This is how we come to embrace our natural Type preferences, and these core functions allow us to introvert and extravert appropriately while also being able to gather information and make decisions in fundamental ways. Once we have mastered these, the second part of our development, according to Jung’s Theory, will be dedicated to fostering a more intentional use of previously overlooked functions and preferences. In most cases, if Type is to develop as it should, this usually pertains to our third (tertiary) and fourth functions (inferior).

In other words, Type progression means solidifying the foundation first. However, if Type development hinges on the premise that the first and second functions are paramount to successful Type development over time, early influence of environment on a child’s awareness, growth, and confidence in their Type should be considered as pivotal.

Personality and self awareness Carl Jung and Isabel Myers emphasized the importance environment plays in the nurturing of our Type. In fact, Isabel Myers declared that the appropriate level of maturity and type development of an individual can be ‘helped or hindered from the very beginning’ as a direct function of whether a child’s environment nurtures or stifles their natural proclivity or function preference. If Type is to unfold to its utmost – or if an individual is to become mature and capable in all the functions – we must first be aware of our natural type, be permitted to use it confidently, and gain identity through its ongoing prominence. When this doesn’t happen,we may see this manifested as confusion in one’s actual type, or a tendency to poorly and inconsistently use behaviours associated with non-preferences. Alternatively, in her book Gifts Differing, Isabel Myers argues that if development does occur in the natural direction, this yields not only effectiveness but emotional satisfaction and stability.

So, what are the possible obstacles to early Type Development? What can keep a child from identifying, exploring, and competently using their own Type preferences? Understanding some possible hazards may help us understand both ourselves and others better – and perhaps clarify some of the confusion around true inherent Type versus stifled or counter-developed preferences.

Pressures of Environment

When an environment or culture conflicts with a child’s natural capacities, it forces them to depend on unnatural processes or attitudes. The result is often a falsification of Type, which may rob an individual of their true self, making them an inferior frustrated copy of someone else. In the words of Jung, “A reversal of Type often proves exceedingly harmful to the physiological well-being of the organism, often provoking an acute state of exhaustion”. A source of environmental pressure can be anything, from parental expectations (pertains also to Lack of Acceptance at home) to those of a school, society, culture or country. It is true that a child will often seek out niches or arenas where they can use their natural self, however, if this is not possible we may see a stifled effect or manifestation.

Lack of Faith in One’s Own Type

For less-frequently occurring Types (small percentage in the public), they may find their infrequency to be a developmental obstacle. For example, an INFJ (1.5% of the population) may feel isolated as only about one of sixteen of individuals possess these preferences. Their rarity may especially become obvious for a child during formative years of primary and secondary school when they seek affirmation from others while they form their identity. Often times, due to public reaction to ‘different’ equating to ‘inferior’, a child may not trust and exercise their preferences and therefore, they will not be developed enough to beneficial in general. The cycle continues, and these individuals then become victim to fewer opportunities and undertakings that would otherwise restore their confidence in their preferences.

Lack of Acceptance at Home

If parents understand and accept a child’s Type, the child then has a place where they can be themselves. However, if children suspect that their parents want them to be different, in a way that contradicts their Type, the children tend to lose confidence. However, if parents know enough to embrace the cues they observe, while encouraging the child to introvert and extravert appropriately, even the less-frequently occurring Types flourish. A great book that discusses this phenomenon, and gives parents some real advice on cultivating their childrens’ natural preferences is called “Do what you Are” by Tieger and Tieger. It should be noted that while children are far more susceptible, even grown-ups can have confidence in their own Type undermined by a loved one who does not understand, accept, or reinforce it.

Lack of Opportunity

Sometimes, and quite simply, a lack of opportunity to exercise one’s favoured processes can hinder development. Unknowingly, a child’s environment and the people in it (parents, teachers, etc.) refuse individuals the conditions necessary for good Type development: introverts who can get no peace or privacy, extraverts who are shut off from activity, sensing children required to only learn through concepts and words, and the examples continue. If no opportunity to practice is provided, one’s natural preferences become more primitive and uncertain. 

Lack of Incentive

A lack of incentive can hinder Type development. Growth is a stretching process, and children may not attempt to stretch themselves – their preferred perception OR their judgement functions – unless they are trying to perform or are motivated to do so. When they begin to take the quality of their competence seriously, children then stretch their best perceiving or judging function to see as much as they need to, or to take action in their preferred way to move forward. None of this happens however, unless children have a good reason or incentive for doing something well. This begs the consideration of motivation and effective reinforcement. A discussion on Motivation and Type Development will be addressed in a later blog! Stay tuned!

Exploring early influences

If you are exploring Type and Development with a client (this may not be for every client, of course), sometimes the following questions can guide a conversation around their early influences:

  1. In your Type, what was encouraged early on?
  2. What may have been discouraged, if anything?
  3. Where do you see yourself in the Development model – first half of life, midlife, or latter phase of developing other functions?
  4. Are there any developmental opportunities here? 

This post, and the quotes therein, inspired by Isabel Myers’ book called “Gifts Differing” and originally posted by Psychometrics Canada. 


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