Parenting with M-B Theory {radio interview}

This is the beautifully edited presentation of a conversation Dennis and I had for his weekly radio show, Live the Life.

In it we touch on what Myers-Briggs theory looks like in application with children.  Most of all I see the interview as a teaser.  There is so much to this theory (as I’ve tried to explore in my own series of articles) that, naturally, 25 minutes won’t cover it all.  But I hope even a couple of stories can spark a few imaginations to see the usefulness of a theory applied to real life.

My favorite resource for practical family application is the book Mother Styles by Janet Penley and Diane Eble.

I think anyone interested in a deeper understanding of type application will find enough in that book to keep applying for a very long time.

I’m still trying to decide whether to post the 1.5 hour lecture I gave back in January.  I suppose this is my toe in the water of public opinion.  Yes. It really is different for me to hear my spoken voice than just to see my written words out there.

Anyway, check out the recording if you have time, and please come back over here to let me know what you think.

M-B #9: More About Cognitive Functions.

Acknowledging from the beginning I’m treading on thin ice, here’s what I’ve learned about cognitive functions.

First of all (if you want to) refer back to the typing children post (and maybe even the original processes post), because the four groups we divide children into are what we refer to as the cognitive functions.


With two worlds to notice/spend time in (the inner world and the outer world), each of the cognitive functions develops first in one of those two directions.

When a child is developing his or her Dominant function s/he will do so in his/her preferred world.

That is, as in introverted, dominant-intuitive, I didn’t follow my mother around all day telling her stories. I spent my story-creating time *alone* (or, when I was a bit older, with a single trusted friend).

In contrast my extraverted, dominant-intuitive daughter once shouted at her brother (who’d reached his limit), “But I can’t tell it if nobody’s listening!”

My N is introverted (Ni).  The stories are rich, but largely private. As a child I hid in the basement to tell my stories aloud.

Melody’s N is extraverted (Ne).  The story doesn’t exist if there’s not someone else participating.

(This is not an ultimate definition, but CFs are slippery things, and I’ve found examples the easiest way of getting a clearer view of them.)

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Myers-Briggs #8: Appreciating Differences

Whole charts have been created about how different combinations of Type make for different sorts of friendships or conflicts.

For example, you’re likely to have a fairly easy friendship with someone who shares your two inner letters, because you approach the world with a similar orientation.

Or, if your outer two letters are the same, you might be good roommates because you have relatively similar habits.

When your inner two letters are both reversed, you become one another’s “enigma,” wondering what in the world makes that person tick?

An ISTJ might be the hardest for me to truly understand (or me for them), but we tend to tolerate each others’ presence fairly peaceably.  We may neither of us want to be the other, but I think we are able to appreciate the unique contribution of the other person’s type.

The truly hardest type for me to appreciate is the Innovator, aka SP, quadrant. What they’re good at are things I don’t feel a need for, and it’s hard to value a group if you don’t see them as fulfilling a necessary role.

~ ~ ~

This really bothered me.

Here was a group of people (almost 50% of the population!) that I admitted I couldn’t see the value of.  Not only did it mess with my view of myself as an accepting, loving person, it seemed really unhealthy.

I read all the reasons of course (they’re in every typing book or article-series out there), and I understood them cognitively, but I was embarrassed by how little difference the information made.  None of the examples I saw in my real world were helping, either.

So I prayed about it.

Yes, I prayed about a personality quadrant. I hope you can understand why.

About this same time I was working to figure out the types of the people closest to me (some were taking the quizzes, some weren’t).

My parents and my husband were of deepest interest to me; my parents (I’ll admit) because I wondered how who they were had affected who I am, and my husband because, well, he’s so perfect for me, and I’ve got this private research going with type-pairing in successful marriages and my own little personality theory about the marriage’s M-B type.

Anyway, because of how balanced they all are (or maybe it’s just how well I know them?) they were as tricky to suss out as I was.

What I ended up doing (instead of trying to pick their preferences) was jumping to the deeper level of cognitive functions. (Please understand this has everything to do with how long I’ve been playing with this theory, not something I expect anybody to try.)

My husband has a delightful mix of traits that I appreciate in both my parents, but at a level I like so much better (which is perfect considering I live with him now, not them).

  • They all have a solid Fi (they’re much at ease than I when encountering opinions different than their own)
  • Jay and my mom both bemoan their poor memories (but since they know their weak spot, they know how to compensate for it, so they both are very conscientious and careful to remember important things) I called this Se
  • All of them are good at producing a quotable soundbite in a please-help-me crunch of time.  Which makes sense because Te is the natural opposite of the Fi I already mentioned.
  • And for Mom and Jay, the natural opposite of Se is Ni, which is my dominant process, and may explain why I can feel like I have a such a good connection with either one of them

(I’m giving this process much more organized and incremental that I ran it in real time, but I wanted to offer a model in case anyone else should find it useful.)

Now, for all that my mom and my husband are both very detail-oriented (Se), my husband is more fun to be around (sorry, Mom).  In terms of hierarchy, my mom’s Te is over her Se, while for my husband it’s reversed. She works before she plays. Sometimes to the extent that I wonder when (if!) she plays.

I lined out the remaining order of preferences and made a shocking discovery.

Best-fit I have for Jay is ISFP.

I am married to an Innovator.

And when I said that sentence aloud, I responded with, Yes, I knew he was brilliant but I didn’t know he was SP!

I checked my “math.”  And I laughed, and thanked God for his many good answers to many prayers.

Now I can appreciate SPs like I never knew I would, because I am learning how many people I already love and appreciate are this type.

And the ones that bug me?  Yeah, Innovators  also make the highest percentage of my bug-me group, but that’s to be expected.  We are most irritated by that most different from (or the most similar to) ourselves.

But God is always gracious: What he designs is good, and I firmly believe that if you ask any designer to elaborate on the brilliance of his design he will be happy to oblige.

Myers-Briggs #7: “But it doesn’t work!”

I take such delight is discussing ideas with people I know in real life.

Sure, you can find someone willing to discuss most anything on the internet (and for that I’m profoundly thankful), but there is something extra special to me about watching someone respond to my thoughts and ideas in real time.  Getting to see how their brains work.

A month or so ago at church, I was “speaking the language” of M-B with someone across the table, and the woman next to us asked what was going on.  So we explained some of the basics I covered in my first article, and the three of us ended up spending about an hour on the topic (it was potluck Sunday).

Friend #2 (the one new to the topic) ended up taking one of the on-line tests and being impressed (as I think we all are upon first exposure) by how accurate the type description was for her.

When we spoke again on the subject it was plain she’d been educating herself. She’d gotten to the place of recognizing people of other types and the four patterns in adults and children and so on.  She saw it as an interesting tool, and I felt excited to have another person in my real world that knew the language.

Then, before long, I got a frustrated e-mail from her.  The description of the type she tested as– though accurate– was off on several key points. And, she said, the quadrant description of the group she was in got her wrong in several important ways.

And I laughed out-loud.  Not at her frustration, but in vivid recollection. Here’s how I responded.

MB is descriptive, and provides a vocabulary.  It opens our eyes to a set of dichotomies that many people are not aware of. (This is the primary goal, and that’s been fulfilled in what you’ve learned.)

The main challenge you have is that maturity (as I see it) has a great deal to do with “fluency” along the whole length of each spectrum (T<—>F, P<—>J, etc).  The more mature and balanced you are, the more difficult it will be for one side to jump up as 100% *you*.

The best way I’ve found to find an elusive M-B preference is to look for which specific areas require more thought or concentration.  As an N-dominant person, I now know why I get exhausted working out details in real-life (as opposed to organizing novels, which is also work, but not nearly as draining), and with that understanding I was able to tell Jay, in the case of Melody’s teeth issue, “I’m worn out dealing with detail-gathering [S & P demanding stuff], can I please just pick somebody who made a good impression [N & F application] and move forward [J]?”

When he said yes, the pall that had been hanging over me for days evaporated.

Most people start out in M-B with Wow, how could a generic description be so accurate?! Then, as this enthusiasm leads to looking closer, they notice inconsistencies between the depths of who they are, and descriptions that are so detailed they seem like they should cover everything.

When I first discovered M-B and recognized it’s accuracy and implications, I was beyond excited.  I think I experienced what Isabel Myers and her mother felt, when they began the project in a genuine effort to promote world peace.

Really. According to her son (in the book linked above) this project was was the direct result of WWII.

Understanding core identity and motivations is a huge part of getting to peace in most relationships, so I can understand this thought process. But what happens (coming back to myself and my frustrated friend) when you don’t fit into one of 16 neat little boxes?

First of all, you can know this is normal.

How do I know? There are pushing-past 7 billion people in the world.  You’re not going to squish that many individuals into 16 boxes and have everyone in each box look the same. So type descriptions make an effort to collect behavior components connected to that combination of four preferences.

I always enjoy it when someone tells me their type and it’s the same as someone else’s that I know. It’s helpful to be reminded that what might bug me about one (that, admittedly, I’d blamed on type), does not exist in the other.

It is my continual reminder that individuals are individuals.  Even when they fall into patterns.

Which I still believe they do.

On one level, once you know the categories and typical motivations (and weakness), M-B theory has done its most-important job for you.  It’s guided you outside of your automatic way of seeing the world, and opened your awareness to different ways of experiencing reality beyond your own.

Congratulations: you are one step ahead of a lot of folks.

But for a lot of us (me included), that’s not good enough.  We see the potential of getting our our type *exactly* pegged, and there is an impatience (approaching at times desperation) to eliminate ambiguity.

If you are frustrated by what you don’t know, I have two thoughts.

  1. Feel free to ask for help or additional input from those who know you (and M-B language) and will listen to you.
  2. Remember that your M-B type doesn’t tell you how to live or who you are (really). It is to provide a language and patterns to understand interactions. Give yourself time. And if it’s painfully hard to wait and watch, that might be an indication you lean toward the J preference of the final scale.

Myers-Briggs #5: MIT

With my talk now officially less than two weeks away, I’m coming back to this topic. {wink}

The Most Important Thing about the Myers-Briggs tool (to me, obviously, I’m the one writing this) is the necessity of understanding and accepting our differences.  Especially when it comes to our children.

There is a quote I picked up some time ago, and tucked away in my noveling notes, because it fit one of my characters so well:

I don’t think the deepest hunger of the human heart is to have love for one’s self. Rather, it is to be loved. My goal is not to sit in a room or on a hillside and tell myself how much I love myself. My goal is to mean something to the people who mean the most to me.

My hunger is to have somebody big and powerful and important in my life say, “I love you,” and then I will have the confidence that I am loved. When that big and important and powerful person hurts me and humiliates me and beats me down, it creates the deepest and the most excruciating pain I can ever experience.

(From Pain and Pretending, p. 142; emphasis added)

The point is I don’t see the value in (directly) teaching anyone (our children included) to love themselves.  I think (especially for our children) our job instead is to communicate our high esteem and value for them as they were created. 

When they perceive that we value them, they will have a solid foundation to learn how to value themselves.  (This in contrast to having yet another “to-do” on their list that we don’t do– like going to school.)

Our tendency as human beings is to see where we’ve got it together, assume (not unreasonably) that this is the definition of “together” and try to guide other people to the truth we have discovered.

This is not necessarily bad, because we all can learn from one another.  Where it becomes harmful is when we don’t notice that we are shaping someone into our own image, rather than letting them grow as their differences would take them.

And this does not mean surrendering to the weaknesses of any type: this is where sensitivity and wisdom must combine.  Just because I know my ENFP daughter doesn’t inherenely or automatically “think things through” doesn’t mean I give her a pass to be loopy.  It means (ideally) I have more patience with her as I specifically coach her through this weak spot.

If I can emphasize anything about understanding your child (or any other person in your world, for that matter), get to know who they really are, and strengthen them to become the best version of that they can be.

Parenting with M-B Insights

Young children can be divided into four groups, just as adults can, but because Children’s types are still developing the groups are designated only by dominant process: N, S, F or T.

Children whose dominant process is N tend to be very imaginative, seeing possibilities, thinking of the future, frequently storytellers and often lost in their own world.  They can be very focused on things others don’t notice, and still miss the obvious.  These are the kids who genuinely don’t notice they’re stepping on the only book left on the floor.

Children whose dominant process is S tend to be very grounded and practical children.  Their wants and delights are physical: bright colors or quiet spaces, building towers and watching how they fall. Their distractions and distresses, also lean to the physical: the cold, a stickiness, or stone in the shoe. They have a high attentiveness to the information gathered through their senses: tastes, textures, sounds sights and smells.

Children whose dominant process is F tend to be very aware relationally, either with regards to how their behavior affects others, or how others’ behavior affects them.  Compassion, people-pleasing and cries of unfair are all things that seem to show up “early” in these children.

Children whose dominant process is T tend to be very confident.  They know what they want and frequently how to get it.  They value competency, proof, and proving themselves. They are often more interested in things than people, and can seem mature for their age, based on their lower emotional volatility.

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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.

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Myers-Briggs, phase two: 4 Groups

So a while back I started talking about M-B and how it works.

Phase two is taking the spread of 16 types (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 options works out to 16 distinct combinations) and dividing them into subgroups in order to make generalizations and shortcuts.

Yes, this might be called creating stereotypes, but I prefer to think of them as jumping-off places.  A common language (again) that allows for a starting point from which to look at individual variation.

Convention in M-B discussions does this dividing primarily by combining two letters and describing the characteristics common to types sharing that pair of traits:

  • SJ
  • SP
  • NF
  • NT

These groups conform roughly (depending on whom you read) to the series of divisions throughout history where prominent thinkers also divided humanity into four groups in order to make generalizations.

The most common (or popular?) one when I was in school was an indirect descendant of the “humors” theory using the original Greek terms Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic.  Thankfully with a broader application and a more complex set of assumptions than personality being caused by an “excess of certain fluids in the body.” (Which was the original explanation.)

The four M-B groups have also been named by various writers and researchers

  • Stabilizers (aka Guardians or SJs)
  • Innovators (aka Artisans or SPs)
  • Catalysts (aka Idealists or NFs)
  • Theorists (aka Rationals or NTs)

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Myers-Briggs and Why it Matters

I’ve referenced M-B a load of times in conversations since March, and figured it was worth while to take a moment to say why. As well as update those who’ve fallen through the cracks.

That is to say, anyone who’s missed out on my jiffy-summaries in real life.

To begin with, I really like what Camile had to say about this being a valuable exercise. It’s not just splitting hairs and certainly not setting up a hierarchy.

But I have one huge reason why I love the framing power of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The #1 Reason:

It is a vocabulary.

Language is the best way ever discovered of imposing order on reality.  And by having this vocabulary (especially when having it as a shared vocabulary) people can save so. much. time– and emotional angst– that can be better spent on real things, rather than misunderstandings.

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