Entries for month: October 2010

MBTI Type and Life Stories (Archetypes)

We certainly know that type doesn’t explain everything. Still, though, even though I should know better, I find myself surprised at the differences within type.

Let me tell you what started me on this. I have a lifelong friend who is an ISTJ.  He’s a psychologist – and a therapist. A very good therapist. I emphasize very good because sometimes people misinterpret career data and say silly things like “ISTJ hmm? He’d be a better accountant.”  It’s silly, unethical and just inaccurate to the research to say something like that.  Which doesn’t stop people from saying it.

The “truth” here is that in general ISTJs are indeed more tough minded than, say, INFPs – who by the way are well represented among therapists.  And in a group of therapists, there will be more INFPs than ISTJs. Just as in any sample of accountants, there will be more ISTJs than INFPs.

Here’s the deal. All ISTJs aren’t the same.  No surprise there.  From a type perspective, some have more development of Feeling than others – and from early on. They also have different life histories, families, values, interests, training, experiences, etc.  People don’t choose careers simply because of their type preferences – or even primarily because of their type preferences.

People also have different life stories – different narratives about who they are, what they’re about, and where they’re going. Jung talked about some of these kinds of stories – or themes – and referred to them as archetypes.

Warrior for example is a universal archetype. Healer is another. Leader is one more. Sage is yet another. There are many, many stories – many narratives, many archetypes.

My ISTJ psychologist friend – for example – has a life story that is very much about being a healer. This – at least – is one of the reasons he’s a therapist. It’s one of the reasons he feels warm and caring. It’s also true that other archetypes/stories do take precedence at different times with him (warrior for example when he’s practicing his martial art). But in general he is quite different from the ISTJs I know who identify with a warrior narrative – who have also chosen a career that’s consistent with that narrative, like the military or law enforcement.

And so an ISTJ with a healer or caregiver story looks, feels and behaves quite differently from an ISTJ who is living more a warrior narrative, or a ruler narrative. In the reverse, we might also say that the warrior narrative looks different and is lived differently depending on whether the person is an INFP or an ISTJ.

My ISTJ friend finds it reassuring that it is “ok” for him to be a therapist.

But he knew all along that’s what he was going to be.  ;)


• Learn more about which archetypes are active in your life, and what story you are living.  


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It bothers me when people forget that everyone has every mental function – Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling.  Or that everyone has some basic human drives – for security, for belonging, etc.  Let me be specific here – sometimes I hear how uncaring Thinking types are, or how illogical Feeling types are.

But every type cares – and cares about people close to them; they just sometimes show it in different ways.

Let me tell you what triggered today’s topic for me. I was sitting with some colleagues and friends this afternoon; there’d been an unexpected death in our midst in this past week.   I remember some of the most soothing, calming and to-the-point things being said by some of our INTP members. “To-the-point” not in an impersonal way, but “to-the-point” in a “yeah, that’s what it’s like and that’s how I feel” kind of way.  Very personal in that sense. Yes their voices were more “even” than - say - someone with a feeling preference, but their voices were not uncaring. In fact, they very clearly cared themselves about this person and they cared about helping others deal with the loss too.

Maybe they didn’t speak the way the feeling types spoke, but the way these thinking types spoke was clearly coming from a place of caring – and understanding.  I also heard some of the feeling types wax a bit philosophical – and in anyone else at any other time, one might have said impersonal.  But it did give perspective.  And it clearly wasn’t the feeling type being in the grip of their thinking (nor was it the thinking types being in the grip of their feeling).  In neither case did it have that kind of exaggerated one-sided quality that comes with the grip experience.

In short, the Thinking types pretty evidently had feeling and the Feeling types pretty evidently had thinking. And both cared about this friend and colleague who had passed.  And they showed that caring in different ways – in ways that drew on both head and heart.

This reminds me a bit of the “languages of love” we read about these days. Some people show love through acts of service, some through touch, some through words.  Same thing with type. Love is shown in different ways. Loss is experienced in different ways. Caring is shown in different ways.

We will all miss our friend and colleague.


• Learn more about being in the grip (that often hidden part of our personality), and differences in the process of grieving.


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Climbing a different mountain

Greg Mortensen
One of my heroes is Greg Mortenson, the author of “Three Cups of Tea,” the story of a mountain climber who learns to reach for the top of a different peak.  It may be part of my INFP nature, but I am drawn to stories where the hero achieves maximum “save the world” effect in situations of dire need. 

Greg’s story starts with a failed attempt to summit K2, the second highest mountain in the world. On his descent he stumbles into the village of Korphe in Pakistan, where he has an epiphany about what his life’s work should be.  With typical American bravado, he promises to return to these engaging people and build them a school. His route to fulfill that promise is circuitous, but after a year of challenges he eventually builds that first school.

This achievement is astounding, and as an introvert I am doubly impressed because the key to his success turns out to be learning how to communicate with the diverse tribes in this very risky area.  He talked his way into victory!

Since then Greg and his Central Asia Institute have built and outfitted 131 schools in the most remote and dangerous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating over 58,000 students, most of them girls.  Even the U.S. military acknowledges his expertise in the region, and he has acted as a non-paid consultant to help forge trusting relationships with the tribes. 

His new book is called “Stones into Schools” and in it I found a wonderful description of how Greg views his personality.  Keep in mind that at the writing of this book Greg had "made 680 appearances in more than 270 cities, all in a three year period."  As you can imagine he spends more time presenting to large groups of people than most of us. 

Yet he is “an incorrigible introvert.” He does not enjoy the activities required of the spokesperson for a global non-profit foundation.  Instead he says, “I dream of privacy, revere silence, and I loathe any action that involves drawing attention to myself.

“Given these facts, the duties of speaking, promoting, and fund-raising into which I have been thrust during the last several years have often made me feel like a man caught in the act of conducting an illicit affair with the dark side of his own personality.“

We could argue that there really is no dark and light side to introversion or extraversion, but I find it comforting to know that a person who so deeply identifies with introversion can manifest such clearly out of preference behavior in such a wildly successful manner.
Perhaps there is hope for me after all.  Time to start climbing.


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The times they are a changin’ — I guess I am too

I used to love to think about things. I used to love to figure out how things worked. Come up with all the different things something could mean. Generate a theory about why something happened the way it did.   “Want to go sailing?” – “I don’t know much about it, but it’s always sounded fun.  Let’s give it a shot.” Which meant that before going, there would be some quick immersion in a lot of reading. Especially to grasp the principles of sailing.

I used to love understanding , making sense of,  and getting insight into the nature of things.

But now…  I find I just want to play. To jump in feet first to see what happens.  I want to try things out before I understand them. I want to experience something before I grasp the intricacies of it with my mind. Nowadays it’s more like this… “Want to go rock-climbing?” – “Sure, let’s go.”  Promptly followed by getting in a car and going.

This is one of the cool things about type. It’s not really static. It certainly can be seen as a static snapshot of “how you are” – an ENFP for example.  But in the type model there is definitely an expectation that people can change and grow over time. That they begin to access and integrate more of the other functions. Thinking types finding Feeling more accessible and even interesting.  Intuitive types finding Sensing to be a fun teacher and rewarding in itself.

And that is exactly what’s been happening with me.

Somehow over time that joy in understanding things became less… well… joyful. Not that I can’t do it when I need to – say for my job.  But at some point it had also become a habit of trying to understand things.  Needing to understand things. But something was missing.

What was it? The thing itself! The experience itself.

So now - these days - if a friend on the mat in the dojo says to me, “Hey what’s the general principle here?”  I find myself saying, “Mmm. I don’t know. Let’s just play and see what happens.” And a few knocks and bruises later, I’ve actually learned something new!  And I mean entirely new. Something that I could have never predicted. Something that emerged out of an accidental movement - that spontaneously grew out of a particular way we were grappling.
As it turns out, my body knows a lot of things my head doesn’t – and can’t – know.

And that’s a lot of fun.