Is it right to ‘put people in a box?’

Is it right to ‘put people in a box?’

I used to teach ‘psychology,’ (in the sense of understanding ourselves and other people rather as an academic discipline), to senior executives from across the world. They all found it fascinating, (well, we are all our own favourite anecdote) until it got to Jungian Typology, Myers Briggs Type Indicator where the cry would invariably go up, “you can’t put me in a box, I am unique,” paradoxically mainly from the ENTJs, thus putting themselves in a “I am unique” box! So, is that the case, that we limit ourselves by putting people in a ‘box?’ Hmm, interesting question and the answer? As ever, ‘well, yes and no.’

If we take a humanistic approach to classifying individuals, then we find there are 7.888 billion unique personalities in the world, thus making it impossible to even attempt to characterise people. People, like organisations to be fair, are like all other people, some other people and no other people. So, we see MBTI as a starting point to understand people, so we put them in the box precisely so we can get to know them and take them out of the box, not to leave them there, shoe-horned in and saying, “well it’s mostly like me.” It is a starting point, not an end point, the beginning of the self-discovery journey.

Jungian typology emerged from Jung's deep-rooted belief in the multifaceted nature of the human psyche. He proposed that individuals possess inherent preferences for perceiving the world and making decisions. This gave birth to the four fundamental dichotomies: extraversion vs. introversion, sensing vs. intuition, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving. These preferences formed the foundation of the 16 distinct personality types that make up the MBTI. Jung's typology was a truly radical departure from his contemporaries, who often focused on the deterministic nature of behaviour, whilst Jung offered a far more dynamic model that celebrated individuality while acknowledging common patterns.

I have seen so many other psychologists who are so entrenched with MBTI that, anyone disagreeing with their ‘type,’ is beaten with an item analysis, ie they go through question by question asking, “then why did you answer it in that way?” In truth, it is from the reflection, the discussion, that real learning emerges and, using the MBTI results as a framework for a far more in-depth discovery of an individual. Sometimes the assessment supersedes the person, the individual themselves. I have even seen psychologists and some managers make decisions about people based solely on their results, rather than this being an excellent jumping off point for an interesting discussion and exploration.

Jung was only interested in ‘individuation,’ ie someone finding their “true self,” and all the benefits that would bring. And so the influence of Jungian typology on modern psychology and self-discovery cannot be understated. The MBTI, (developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers), brought Jung's ideas to the forefront of personal assessment, discovery and growth. It is approachable and accessible, quite ‘safe’ in that sense, and so enables people to understand themselves better, fostering empathy and understanding in relationships. MBTI has empowered individuals to embrace their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses without judgment, leading to personal growth and development.

Despite some critics, who would like ‘the answer,’ Jungian typology continues to be ever more popular with individuals seeking self-understanding and personal growth. Its enduring relevance can be attributed to its flexible nature, which allows for personal interpretation and adaptation. Jung's typology serves as a starting point for self-reflection, sparking discussions and self-awareness that transcend the confines of a test result. It invites individuals to embrace the complexity of their personalities while acknowledging the potential for change and growth.

And if you don’t yet know your type, try it here: it will take you 4 minutes.

Jungian typology endures as a testament to the profound impact of Carl Jung's work helping people understand themselves and achieving ‘individuation,’ which he defined as, referring to, “the lifelong process of psychological development and self-realisation that leads a person to become their unique and true self.

Through his exploration of personality types, Jung’s legacy is a framework for self-discovery and understanding that continues to inspire and provoke discussion. While criticisms and controversies persist, (they always do) the enduring relevance of Jungian typology lies in its capacity to empower individuals to navigate the intricate world of their own psyche. As long as human beings recognise the need to understand themselves, connect with others and be the best version of themselves, Jung's typology will continue to be the embraced.

And if you think that Jung, and psychology are dry and academic, just have a look at some of the outrageous quotes he made about personality types, possibly a little prejudiced at times, certainly very human and very, very funny.

Jung on ‘Extraverts’

“Extraversion is characterised by…a desire to influence and be influenced by events, a need to join in and get “with it,” the capacity to endure bustle and noise of every kind, and actually find them enjoyable.”

“Constant attention to the surrounding world, the cultivation of friends and acquaintances, none too carefully selected…”

“…His conscience is in large measure dependent on public opinion. His religious convictions are determined, so to speak, by majority vote.”

“He has no secrets he has not long since shared with others. Should something unmentionable nevertheless befall him, he prefers to forget it. Anything that might tarnish the parade of optimism and positivism is avoided.”

“He lives in and through others; all self-communings give him the creeps.  Dangers lurk there which are better drowned out by noise.”

“Provided he is not too much of a busy-body, too pushing, and too superficial, he can be a distinctly useful member of the community.”

Jung on ‘Introverts’

“The introvert is not forthcoming…holds aloof from external happenings, does not join in, has a distinct dislike of society as soon as he finds himself among too many people.” 

“In a large gathering he feels lonely and lost. The more crowded it is, the greater becomes his resistance.” 

“He is not in the least ‘with it,’ and has no love of enthusiastic get-togethers.  He is not a good mixer.”

“He suspects all kinds of bad motives, has an everlasting fear of making a fool of himself…and surrounds himself with a barbed wire entanglement so dense and impenetrable that finally he himself would rather do anything than sit behind it.”

“His picture of the world lacks rosy hues, as he is over-critical and finds a hair in every soup.”

“His own world is a safe harbour, a carefully tended and walled-in garden, closed to the public and hidden from prying eyes.”

“Crowds, majority views, public opinion, popular enthusiasm never convince him of anything, but merely make him creep still deeper into his shell.”

“In spite of these peculiarities the introvert is by no means a social loss.”

Jung on ‘Sensing’ vs ‘Intuitive’

Jung saw this scale as the process involved in becoming aware of something, ie how we take information in, process and access it and identified two kinds of perception. Sensing is a taking in information in a tangible, concrete way, focusing, according to Jung:

“...on the perception of actualities...These are the fact-minded men, in whom intellectual judgement, feeling, and intuition are driven into the background by the paramount importance of actual facts.”

Intuiting is a process of taking in information in concepts and visually, around future possibilities and where, according to Jung:

“...actual reality counts only in so far as it seems to harbour possibilities which then become the supreme motivating force, regardless of the way things actually are in the present.”

Jung on ‘Thinking’ vs ‘Feeling’

This is how we make decisions, and both of these can be used in either the outer, extraverted world or in the inner, introverted world. Thinking judgments are based on objective criteria or principles, as Jung describes:

“...judgement is reserved as to what significance should be attached to the facts in question. And on this significance will depend the way in which the individual deals with the facts.”

Feeling judgments are based on personal, interpersonal, or emotional values as Jung describes:

“...adaptation will depend entirely on the feeling value he attributes to them.”

Thinking types tend to make their decisions based on data, evidence and rational thought. They tend to be pragmatic and not swayed by antipathies or emotions but prefer empirical data. Feeling types tend to make their decisions based on values, emotions and impact on people. This makes ‘Feeling’ decisions more difficult to quantify. As Jung himself (a ‘T’) confessed:

“…I freely admit that this problem of feeling has been one that has caused me much brain racking.”

All quoted from: “Introduction,” Psychological Types, CW 6, pars. 1-7 “Psychological Typology” CW 6, pars. 960-87

Photo by Esther Jiao on Unsplash