Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Alfred Adler have all contributed to
our understanding of human nature. The first two names come to mind for a
wide variety of contributions.
But I think Adler’s psychological principles are the most widely used in our day-to-day lives, and they are the least likely to be attributed to him. To help with this, psychologist Betty Lou Bettner has translated some of his principles into simple language in order to teach parents how to “raise kids who can.”* In essence she provides a system for creating more functional, responsible, and capable families.
Here are her “Crucial C’s,” their Adlerian principle, and my take on how personality type can help people achieve those C’s.
Connect: Everyone feels a need to belong and have a bond with others. When we feel secure, we can reach out and make friends. These connections help foster a concern for the welfare of the community.
Yet when you’re the odd person out because your type is different from everyone else’s, it can be difficult to feel this Adlerian principle of belonging and developing social interest (a.k.a. Gemeinschaftsgefuhl).
As an ST in counseling psychology grad school, I felt like a fish out of water; I had difficulty feeling like I belonged there. I did not know then that I was working against typical type in a field where NF and NT were far more prevalent. Hindsight has given me a different perspective, and I now understand how to get past those feelings.
Capable: We all need to acquire skills so we can accomplish our goals. It is important to feel confident and self-reliant while maintaining self-control for those moments when confidence starts to slip. The Adlerians talk about turning a felt negative into a perceived positive.
I have the privilege of working in a program that develops community leadership in small towns in Minnesota. A lot of my work consists of showing those who give so much to their communities that they are highly capable; they often don’t see it in themselves.
Many Introverts are reluctant to claim their leadership skill because they have a view in their heads that leadership belongs to Extraverts. Not true!! Understanding that Introversion describes how they gain energy is an eye opener for many people, and that knowledge helps them go on to embrace their capabilities as they help create healthy communities.
Count: Everyone needs to be valued and feel like they can make a difference. Adler talks of finding significance. The principle of social equality also prevails; we are on a horizontal ladder, not a vertical one in terms of relationships. We are motivated to do our best, and not always to be better than the next guy.
Psychological type gives us each a way to both count and to contribute to the whole, and reminds us to tell others, perhaps different from ourselves, that they count, too. All types are equally good. We have a horizontal relationship, not a vertical one in which one type is better than another.
Courage: We all need to be hopeful, resilient, and be willing to try. We need to cope with difficult times and learn from them. We need “the courage to be imperfect,” and we get at least some of that courage through encouragement.
Type gives us a roadmap showing what strengths might develop first and most effectively. It also reminds us where we might not do so well; we are not perfect! That can liberate us to try things that might not come naturally but are crucial to having courage.
I’ve found these four C’s to be quite helpful in reflecting on jobs that went well and those that didn’t, and on relationships that went well and those that didn’t. If one or more C’s are missing, things do not always go so well. Try them out on your own life, and see how type can help you uncover the missing C’s.
*B.L. Bettner and A. Lew (1989, 2005), Raising Kids Who Can, Newton Centre, MA: Connexions Press.
My daughter, Perrin, runs a program in mediation, and leads monthly
meetings of the mediators, all of whom are lawyers. She was telling my
husband John and me that the meetings are very discouraging because when
she introduces a new proposal, everyone just wants to air their
critical assessments. They get argumentative and judgmental; they don’t
listen to each other; the conversation goes all over the place, and when
it’s over, they haven’t decided on a single action to take.
It seems ironic that even mediators, who are trained in getting people to communicate and decide on a future course of action, have so much trouble doing the same when they are together.
John, said, “It’s amazing how you can add really smart people to a room and the room becomes dumber.”
I said, “It could also be that most lawyers are TJs. They prize their ability to find flaws, and are usually valued for that ability in their work. They believe that they are moving things forward with their criticisms, and don’t see that it usually stops things in their tracks.”
John has been running groups all his working life, so Perrin asked him what she could do to make the meetings more productive.
He told her, “Put them through an exercise that will do three things. It will help them express their thoughts, both positive and negative. It will help them listen to and learn from each other. Finally, it will help them be in action when they leave.”
“Please tell me about this exercise,” Perrin said.
“Start off by telling them that you would like to try something new in this meeting," said John. "Tell them that people’s default setting is naturally to be critical. That’s human – we want to make things better, but if we only discuss the negative we can lose the excitement that we need to pursue new projects. Tell them that you are going to present a proposal that could make this program even more powerful, and as you speak, you’d like them to be thinking about one question…What excites you about this proposal?
“Ask them if that makes sense to them. Get them saying yes.
“We call this ‘framing.’ It is creating the kind of positive listening you want to be speaking into.
“Then give your proposal in a 5-7 minute talk.
“When you are finished, tell them, ‘We’re going to take two minutes so you can write down what excites you about this proposal.’
“After two minutes, go around the room and get people’s answers. Write them down on a white board. When you are finished, look at the answers and ask people what the most common themes are.
“Now ask people to take two minutes to write down the one thing they would add to make this proposal even better.
“Go around the room and gather their answers.
“Now ask people to write down what they would commit to do, or what they would request help with, so that we can implement this proposal by the next meeting.
“Go around and get people’s commitments. Doing this allows everyone to leave in action, with a clear deadline."
Perrin tried this at the next meeting of the mediators and said she had never seen the group so animated and energized. Usually ideas for new projects dissolve into nothing with all the talk about how “It’s complicated,” and “We don’t have the resources.” But after asking three questions: What excites you about this proposal?, What would you add to make it even better?, and What would you commit to doing so it can be implemented by our next meeting?, everyone was focused on the goal and what they could contribute, instead of all the little things that might go wrong.
Perrin also noticed that the commitments people made were all over the type table. For example, some people were working on the analytics and some were making phone calls to people. John told her, “Groups are difficult to get focused, but once you do, it’s worth it for the synergy of the different talents that are available to help you.”
The new project was running by the next meeting of the mediators, and they were able to celebrate what had worked for them.
“The most important thing is to get people personally excited about a goal, and committed to helping in a specific way,” John said. “Once you do that, people find ways to overcome all the little obstacles along the way.”
“Those are nice wildflowers,” my husband said when we were walking in the woods. “They are,” I agreed.
Then I looked at them more closely. “Those aren’t wildflowers,” I said. “They’re weeds! I just spent the afternoon picking them out of my garden.”
“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed?” he asked. “That’s a good question,” I said, admiring how the flowers were a welcome surprise in the dark woods, and then remembering how they were choking out my daisies at home. “I guess it’s just location.”
I was remembering that conversation recently when we attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Ed, who died recently of a heart attack. All of his life Ed went to great lengths to make life difficult for people, most often his family. So at his wake we were all astonished to see a steady stream of people lined up for five hours to tell his wife and sons that he had “saved their lives.” Many of them were sobbing. I shook my head in wonderment and thought, “I guess it’s just location.”
You see, Ed was a defense attorney, often taking on the most challenging cases, and he was very good at it. At home, he made life difficult for his family. At work, he made life difficult for plaintiffs and prosecutors, thereby often getting his clients a “not guilty” verdict.
We don’t know what type Ed would have identified himself as because he would never have a conversation about type, or anything personal. However, his wife had no doubt that, although he wasn’t very well-adjusted, he was an ESTP. She said that if you took away the friendliness and social sophistication, the profile fit him perfectly: active, resourceful, manipulator of the environment, risk taker, nerves of steel, ruthless pragmatist and skillful negotiator.
After the funeral, his family and friends were sitting around telling their favorite Ed stories, and I kept hearing “ESTP” in those as well. One of the men who had grown up in Ed’s neighborhood told about how, when they were boys, his friend was always talking about this cool guy who had lots of old cars and motorcycles. He accompanied his friend to the cool guy’s house, because they were told he needed their help for “just a minute.” Three hours later, after the two boys had helped Ed work on one of his old cars all afternoon in the hot sun, he gave them ice cream. “The thing is,” the man said, “Ed could make it sound like that was a fair exchange.”
ESTPs are usually good at selling people on whatever it is they are selling, because their extraverted sensing allows them to read people’s motivations through nonverbal cues. He probably picked up that the boys were feeling like hot shots for working on a car all afternoon, and ice cream was reward enough. I could imagine Ed using his sharp senses to “sell” a judge and jury as well.
It is said that life is never dull around ESTPs, and most of the stories his family told illustrated that point. Apparently, one of his favorite ways to generate excitement was to beat the system and get a good deal, even though he didn’t need the money. His sons told how he made them lie about their ages to get into amusement parks for children’s fees, and his wife said he made her carry her two-year-old in a blanket so they could pass him off as an infant and get him on the airplane for free.
She also told how he bought her a fur coat for half price by arguing for 30 minutes with the salesclerk about the value of its fox collar. He could shamelessly make himself such an annoyance to others that they conciliated just to get rid of him. ESTPs like to live on the edge, and it seems that the edge for Ed was just past the point where people could keep saying no, and just below the point where they called security. From what I understand, a lot of his legal tactics were the same.
ESTPs are the most pragmatic of all the types, so the end often justifies the means. My favorite Ed story is the one where he held a big outdoor party on a chilly day. He asked my brother to go to Home Depot and charge six large space heaters. His friends enjoyed the warmth of the space heaters and the party was a great success. The next day, Ed packed up the space heaters in their boxes and had my brother pick them up and return them to Home Depot. My brother says that it’s six years later, and still, if he tries to return anything to Home Depot, even a small bolt, they call the manager. (Notice that he got someone else’s name on a list.)
To be fair, my brother also revealed that he’d been picked up for selling drugs when he was a teenager, and Ed not only got him off, but took him to rehab and turned his life around.
When my sister was married, I refused to go to her wedding because I thought Ed was a weed, and would choke the beauty out of her life. For the most part, that turned out to be true. As a husband he was often absent, cold and indifferent. As a father he was usually harassing, mocking or raging. As a brother-in-law he walked right past us without acknowledging our presence. But to desperate people in the worst crises of their lives, facing the judicial system and possible imprisonment, Ed was the most beautiful wildflower they had ever seen.
It never ceases to amaze me how people (and animals and objects and life itself) can elude my judgments of good or bad. I keep trying to sort them out, but they keep doing things that don’t fit into my categories. But then, as I walked behind the casket and passed the sorrowful faces on Ed’s former clients, I thought, “Maybe that’s good.”
No, I am not making a political statement. I’m talking about a movement in children’s playgrounds to encourage unstructured play.
Take a bunch of hay bales, some old tires, some planks, and maybe a climbing tree with an adult playworker…and what do you have: the Anarchy Zone.
Or create a huge mud puddle, add some tires and planks, buckets, tools and an adult playworker and voila…the Anarchy Zone.
Now, who seems to have the most trouble adapting to these playgrounds? Well, it’s the parents! (Ha, I bet you were thinking I was going to suggest a particular type or two!!) Those playgrounds just do not look neat and clean and pretty. And after playing with them, the children do not look neat and clean either.
Why are Anarchy Zones catching on?
Here are several reasons:
- Kids who play outside in nature are more likely to enjoy nature as adults, and nature has a positive effect on mental health.
- Kids who play on these unstructured playgrounds are less likely to get injured than those who play on the more structured ones.
- Kids who take risks when they are young are less likely to indulge in risky behaviors (like drugs) later on. (As an aside, a friend’s granddaughter in Norway is just “graduating” from her preschool to elementary school at the age of six. To mark this passage, her school presents her with a jack knife. She is trusted with this potentially risky instrument and is immensely proud of it; of course, she has been taught how to use it properly.)
Now if we look at this through the lens of type, what we are doing is encouraging the development of both Sensing and Intuition.
Sensing will help kids identify what is exactly there. What are they playing with? Are the materials soft, hard, movable, pileable? They have to pay attention to reality to make things work.
Intuition will help kids figure out different ways to play with the objects. Will they make forts, mountains, caves, or mud pies? They have to look for possibilities. And there’s no one right way to play.
We’re asking children to develop their Intuitive-Perceiving (NP) side to explore – they’ll stay open to possibilities and switch things around constantly if they wish.
They’re also utilizing their Sensing-Judging (SJ) side to learn exactly how things work, and they can test these things in order to keep themselves safe.
In these scenarios we have faith in our children and believe they can be in the Anarchy Zone and still thrive. With all the apparent chaos in our world, adults may at times feel a strong sense of impending anarchy. We need to access SJ and NP strengths throughout our lives. Why not get started in childhood?
I have moved several times in the past few years. Moving is a pain! While normally I like making decisions, the decisions involved in moving were not fun. What to move…what to throw away…what to give away? I’m an ESTJ, known to be organized and willing to make decisions. But moving, well, moving is different.
I have never been one of those people who sorts their closet twice a year getting rid of anything they haven’t worn in the past year. I have numerous sizes of black pants, just in case. I have my prom dresses (from nearly 50 years ago), just in case I ever have grandkids who want to play dress up.
What I discovered in moving was how wonderful friends are for helping. Through their eyes I could see the foolishness of moving multiple boxes of rags when only one box was needed.
They did not stop and reminisce over clothing worn for special events, cherished books whose plot lines I loved, special knick knacks acquired on trips, etc. They simply packed every cupboard I assigned them. Occasionally they would stop, hold up a broken something or a particularly unattractive something, and inquire. They were right…toss it.
I did ask a relative, a librarian, how to handle books. She said there are three categories of books to hang on to. One, first editions – okay, I have none. Second, books needed for your profession. Oh dear, I have tons, although the word “need” is open to interpretation at times. Third, highly sentimental books such as your first reader. I did finally give away my set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books.
The librarian’s advice was useful up to a point. What really helped was culling my books to contribute to a fundraiser. Seeing a second life for books, or for anything for that matter, is a comfort.
Another technique I recently observed might work for you, too. An ENFP friend was having difficulty sorting the sewing room of his late wife. There were lots of memories including the partially completed kayak cover she began making for him decades ago; he admitted she didn’t particularly like kayaking!
I spent hours with him boxing up dozens of zippers, reams of material, scraps of leather, piles of patterns, skeins of yarn, yards of lace, etc.
A dear friend of his (an ISFJ) knew what a trial it was to close out that sewing room. She said we could cart it all over to her home, and she would go through it for her own art and sewing projects and then donate the rest to a new immigrant center. This sharpened our focus because we did not have to decide about the usefulness of each item. We just had to box it all up.
But you should have seen this friend’s husband’s face (an INTJ) when we unloaded box after box of sewing stuff. They too are planning to move in a year and he was hoping this stuff would not remain as something for them to move. I did check with him recently – all the stuff has found a home. Whew – and we’re still friends.
I’m curious as to whether you have any techniques that could help in sorting and moving. And how does type fit into the patterns or relationships that govern these decisions?