Myers-Briggs Personality Theory, phase three: Preferences and Processes

So first we looked at the terminology for M-B observations, then after ending up with 16 combinations we looked at how they subgroup into four distinct quadrants.

In preparation for phase three, I’ll review/rephrase a bit of P/J explanation.

My mom has this great line that is used to explain just about every confusing thing people do:

Your perception is your reality.

How you see the world shapes who you are.  And you can’t convince someone they’re not seeing something they see.

Perception in typing code is designated as either S or N.

Every healthy person has access to both, but one will be more natural while the other requires more energy the deeper you go, or the longer you’re required to sustain it.

Similarly with Judging (F or T), deciding what to do, how to act, concerning the information collected via the perceiving function.

Here’s a handy chart for the more visual folks:


Now, while all these preferences exist in every person, they will not all be applied with equal skill.

Like all skills– remember even walking is a skill– practice is necessary to develop preferences to their fullest potential.

Isabel Myers in her book Gifts Differing describes a healthy pattern of type growth.

From a very young age one of the four preferences (S, N, F, T) is inherently most attractive and the most-used.

It is the first response for everything: the hammer that makes every problem/action/choice look like a nail.  This is the Dominant Process.  This preference of choice will be applied in the child’s preferred world.

That is, if the child is extraverted, s/he will use the dominant process to interact with the world around him/her: whether people or things.  An introverted child will apply the dominant process alone: to him/herself and the bits of the world under his/her control.

Once this preference is firmly entrenched (some theorists say ~ age 5 or 6) the child then begins to balance that extreme focus with the unused center letter of his/her type.  That is, if s/he grew first with the Perceiving function (S or N) now s/he will learn to apply the Judging function, and vice versa.

This Auxiliary Process serves to balance the child not only in making decisions, or collecting information (where s/he may have been deficient before), but also in expanding the child’s world.  If s/he is an introvert, and so applies his/her dominant process to the inner world, the auxiliary process draws him/her out and provides a frame of reference for the outer world.

You can begin to see how someone heavy on the P side could love collecting information, but never knuckle-down to acting on it, while those whose J-function is stronger might jump to conclusions (ACTION!) without taking in enough information to make an informed choice. Both functions are important for maturity.

This also showed me how it can be healthy to let children be “unbalanced,” at least at first.  It’s a way of allowing very young children to focus on only one thing at a time.

About the time they hit “school age” children are established enough in the first process to add a second spinning plate.  This one (again, according to some theorists) becomes locked-in during early adolescence.

The point is that personality– the expression of who an individual is– grows and manifest in these preferences. As we grow older, we become more like ourselves.

What we pay attention to (P) and how we make decisions (J) shows who we are.

~ ~ ~

This is useful because (ah, all you S-types were waiting for this) knowing how to see preference will help you identify type in your child at an earlier age, and make you wiser in how you approach your differences.

When Jay and I had been married 5 or 6 years, he got a new assistant; a man about his own age, who’d been married just a  year or two.  When the new guy learned how long Jay’d been married, he asked (with a hint of desperation), “Does it get any easier?”

In his characteristic way, Jay answered slowly, and with complete honesty.

“Well, it can,” he said. “Because now I know what bothers her and I can choose not to do those things.”

When we know the different types that surround us, we are still are faced with all the same conflicts and challenges that were there before.  My hope is that, now seeing the differences for what they are– equally valid ways of interpreting and interacting with the world– we will know what we are doing rather than blindly throwing fuel on a fire.

Next time I will offer some specific examples.

One thought on “Myers-Briggs Personality Theory, phase three: Preferences and Processes

  1. Brooke says:

    I love your husband’s response!!!

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