Entries for month: February 2011

Personality type is a habit – a cognitive habit

This post feels like it’s going to be a bit all over the place. Apologies in advance. Maybe I don’t want to feel boxed in today – or maybe I don’t feel like boxing others in. So, here goes…

Personality is a habit. Habits can arise from innate predispositions, from environmental demands, and from the interaction between the two. Habits arise from practice. Consequently, personality type is a habit. A particular kind of habit.

In some models of personality, we look at a habitual ways of behaving, or orienting to relationships, or orienting to power. From a type perspective, personality is a habitual way of using one’s mental functions. Thus, we have a psychology of cognition - of how we orient our consciousness. These cognitive habits may or may not show in a particular behavior, a particular career or partner choice, and so on.

And now there’s that word – choice.

We may have a constitutional predisposition to get such needs as security, affiliation, freedom, power, and identity met in certain ways. We may also have a constitutional predisposition to use certain mental functions to get those needs met. BUT, this doesn’t also mean that we can’t choose our behavior. In fact, civilizations are built on the human capacity to choose behavior – to get some needs met in ways that don’t destroy a society.

This is one of the functions of the ego – to aid in adaptation. And to help us choose – consciously. We constantly make “adjustments” between innate predispositions and the outer socio-cultural environment. Jung noted that starting in youth we often develop a particular function to help us adapt to and survive in the world. Predisposition interacts with environment and is mediated by the ego. Thus a set of habits – and a type - are born.

Of course there’s vastly more to people than their type; the functions of S, N, T and F do not, for example, constitute one’s will, memory, imagination, intellect and emotions. This is one explanation of why all INFPs, for example, aren’t psychotherapists. Or why all therapists aren’t INFPs. Predisposition. Environment. Adaptation. Choice.

Since type is about cognitive orientation, note too that just because a person identifies as a certain type, we shouldn’t presume to know how they’re going to behave – or what they’ll choose. Since we’re adaptable creatures, we can develop habits that don’t seem to match our preferences.

And now there’s another word – identity.

How do I identify? What is my sense of self? It’s possible - and probably natural at least initially - for someone’s conscious identity to be a bit “tied” to a way of orienting to self and the world. For example, any given ESFP’s sense of self may be more or less tied to Sensing and Feeling - and they may have more or less access to other functions. Thus, one ESFP might be quite comfortable using Thinking and characterizing a particular thing they thought or did as “tough-minded.” In contrast, another ESFP might have something they said or did pointed out to them as “tough-minded” and they might be quite upset by that characterization; it flies in the face of their conscious sense of self. Just because a function was relegated to the unconscious, doesn’t mean it goes away or ceases having impact in our lives.

It’s in these eye-opening and/or uncomfortable moments that the unconscious “reminds” us of a larger self and world of which we are unaware. Lesser-preferred functions continue to operate and we need to honor them. Otherwise, we’re in danger of becoming rigid in our identity, letting nothing in that doesn’t fit with our sense of self or our view. We become a stereotype of ourselves and in that rigidity become fragile. Sadly too, we remain out of touch with the energetic ground of our being and psyche - the foundation out of which the differentiated and adapted self emerges. If we respond to the call to move beyond our adapted self and conscious identity, then maturation can continue.

In some ways all of this talk of innate predispositions and adaptation to the environment sounds so… clinical. Or purely biological. Mechanistic even. But in emphasizing how we as egos and identities adapt to our environment – how we negotiate between inner and outer forces - I neglect the beauty and the mystery and the vastness that is everything other than the ego and identity. The unconscious, the larger self, the mystery, the spirit. But that’s what happens isn’t it? In focusing on one thing, we push other things aside for a bit. But that doesn’t mean those things aren’t there, right?

Trust me, they’re there.