Personality Opposites Need to Be Exercised
The basic idea in Isabel Briggs Myers' Gifts Differing is that our personalities are comprised of parts whose attributes make them useful in different situations. They’re not all in use all the time. Those that get less use lose their strength and become what she calls weaknesses or “gaps.” But we need access to all of them when circumstances change, and it makes it easier when we exercise them, when we work toward balance. When we rely so heavily on certain personality strengths that we get out of balance, moving forward with Isabel's idea should restore balance.
The parts Isabel identifies are sensing as opposed to intuition and feeling as opposed to thinking. Sensing types prefer to rely on objective sensory perception – the body – to establish what’s real. Intuitives prefer to be guided by the internal subjective vision of ideas and insights – the mind. Thinking types prefer to base decisions and judgment on reason. Feeling types judge by weighing values to determine what’s important to them.
Behavior in practice requires a mix of all four. Choices, for example, aren’t reasoned if they don’t weigh values. But personality types often pit one part against another. Isabel characterizes them as opposites. They can behave as opposites, and it’s important to remember that they are opposites. As essential as they are in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, they lend themselves and their personality types to conflict.
An outward orientation toward the world of external objects makes us extraverts. An inward orientation toward internal subjective experience makes us introverts. Perceptives prefer the experience of spontaneity without the structure of mind. Judging types prefer their experience to be ordered with the structure of mind, by logic and discipline. This is how they want to be perceived: as free-spirited and spontaneous or as orderly and structured.
Different personalities choose a dominant key when they establish their preferences as a musician would with a composition. The dominant key is their personality type. But neither its choice nor their preferences separate them from the parts that aren’t preferred, nor are they prevented from changing their preferences. A musical composition will combine chord progressions from different keys. A preference for sensing doesn’t erase a personality’s capacity for intuition. A preference for thinking doesn’t erase its capacity for feeling and weighing values. Extraverts haven’t lost their capacity for introspection, and Perceptives are still capable of Judging. These parts are still there and in theory they are all accessible and serviceable.
Balancing Personality Opposites for Harmony and Personal Growth
The idea in Gifts Differing is that they are like limbs of our bodies to be used when they’re needed. They’re assets, resources. They can be make-or-break strengths that make the difference between coping and not coping when we anticipate change or face adversity. And they’re accessible.
But to be serviceable they must be exercised. Like muscles that atrophy with neglect, our personality type opposites lose strength when we don’t use them:
• Introverts who shun involvement in the external world become friendless, unsociable.
• Extraverts out of touch with themselves become superficial, lose their depth.
• Sensing types miss the meaning of things if they don’t stop to reflect.
• Intuitives who don’t sense as well as reflect lose track of facts.
• Thinking types, all mind and no heart, can have all the answers and no one to listen.
• Feeling types unused to reasoning take forever with decisions.
• Judging types averse to spontaneity miss out on its joys
• While perceptives, too caught up in spontaneity, can lose control of their lives.
Accessing and exercising these strengths is accomplished by “making full use of Perception and Judgment.” My last two website posts extol the potential of Isabel’s exercise to be useful in two ways: first, by replacing friction with harmony when opposing personalities conflict; and second, by enabling personalities to grow and expand with additional strengths – to become more balanced -- when needed to cope with adversity. We can think of the first way as self-help relationship counseling that raises awareness and promotes understanding. It can do this without subjecting conflicting personalities to pain because it’s collaborative. The second way defines what I mean by “personal growth” that puts conflicting personalities in league with their personality opposites instead of resisting them.
Besides helping to govern relationships, being aware of our personality types is essential for understanding how we can make ourselves safer and more effective in our environment. Circumstances change. We need the ability to adapt. We need personal growth: the ability manage our personality preferences so they don’t lock us in. So that we don’t fall victim to our weaknesses while applying our strengths.
It’s expanding and developing our strengths, a balancing process that keeps us from becoming so attached to our preferences – our prejudices – that we deprive ourselves of what our opposites have to offer. That would be self-defeating. Getting in our own way, sabotaging our own efforts to achieve harmony and be effective. It's not only self-defeating, it can be dangerous.
When we become firmly entrenched in our types, we benefit from their stability. It adds personal authority, a sense of strength. But it comes with a cost. While we’ve been applying our strengths and reaping their benefits, we’ve also neglected critical assets. Not only that, we can be so dismissive of our opposites that we reject them.
Getting ESFPs to Access their INTJ Internals So They Get Out of Their Own Way
Friction between two personality opposites illustrates the utility of Isabel's concept: Extravert - Sensing - Feeling - Perceptive (ESFP) vs. Introvert - Intuition - Thinking - Judging(INTJ). ESFP vs. INTJ here deals mainly not with conflicts between people but between opposing parts of our own personalities, because that's where conflicts begin.
Most relationships thrive on respect, tact, and harmony. Awareness and accommodation of personality differences are assets in social relationships as well as individual relationships. Personalities of any type can get by with blanket harmony and pleasantness in social relationships that don’t involve intimacy. For ESFPs, the camaraderie of belonging may be as much love as they’re aware or capable of.
But belonging isn’t intimacy. If blanket pleasantness is all that’s offered INTJs in individual relationships it’s a substitute for love that doesn’t feel like love. It feels like love withheld. For INTJs, substituting social belonging for personal intimacy is frustrating, invalidating and offensive. Being offered one-size-fits-all pleasantness, even in the spirit of innocent camaraderie and sincerity, feels insincere and disrespectful. For INTJs, it’s unpleasant.
In individual personal relationships with INTJs, avoidance of the truth and insincerity can’t be a solution. They only add to the problem. To avoid friction both personality types must be aware of their differences and respect them. There is no alternative.
Personality conflicts don’t call for walling ourselves off from critical assets. We should be doing the opposite. Facts faced in the cause of reality and truth are no “price to pay” for progress. They’re an unalloyed benefit, to be embraced rather than avoided. If circumstances are changing and we struggle to adapt it may not be because of externals. It may be because of internals: we’ve gotten in our own way. Avoidance of internals in difficult times may reward us with momentary comfort and convenience, but in the long run it could punish us with serious discomfort and inconvenience.
Getting in their own way is a particular hazard for ESFPs whose orientation is without rather than within, sensing and feeling reality that's objective and external rather than intuiting and thinking reality that's subjective and internal. Being more comfortable with externals rather than internals puts them at odds with INTJs, who relate through internals, but also with their own development.
The Spontaneity of Intuition: Where the Fun Is
Intuition, a gift of mind, operates by spontaneity. Isabel’s intuition, for example, works by extracting logical implications from patterns, values, and relationships through free association. We don’t grasp awareness; it comes to us when and where it chooses. Connections among ideas and insights reveal themselves spontaneously. It’s how mind works that lies beyond brain that’s controlled by sensory perception. Mind is moved and guided by the free spirits of logic, inquiry, and love: by memory and awakening; by the quest for consciousness, reality and truth; by the empowerment of ideas and ideals like parents and home.
Intuition extracts meaning from the implications of lines in hexagrams, values in our utility index, and personality type parts. Its process is reflection: focusing on a subject, bringing it to consciousness, inquiring into it, allowing mind to rest with it, to yield thoughts from spontaneous connections. Our minds are stimulated by great art and music as well as our senses. Reconnections with emotional peaks and troughs from long ago can yield transformational insights in the here and now. Our minds are treasure houses of reasoning but also of Intuition.
ESFP Feeling Perceptives who reject INTJs' Judging, its opposite, seek an ideal of untrammeled freedom. They seek joyfulness and spontaneity through the absence of logic, order, and discipline, through the absence of mind. But freedom based on feeling alone, without mind, without reasoned choice, is not an ideal. It’s an impossibility. The surrender of choice is captivity. Perception without Judging, in Isabel’s reckoning, poses the most serious risks of a life going off the rails.
Where Perceptives’ cherished spontaneity can actually be found is in their INTJ Intuition. Intuition taps into timelessness, the real here and now. It’s the real “being in the moment.” It’s presence of mind that combines the freedom of Perception with the order of Judging to experience true freedom. It’s where the action is. It’s the wellspring of creativity.
The Cost of ESFPs' Perception Without Their INTJs' Judgment
ESFPs’ absence of mind produces absence of discipline, self-motivation, inspiration, and creativity, all of which are attributes of INTJ and available through INTJ. Isabel remarks on ESFPs’ “wishful thinking” that prevents them from accounting for the costs of their preferences. Deprivation of inspiration, creativity, and self-motivation is a serious cost that outweighs any benefits of excluding INTJ’s critical assets.
Yet another cost is loss of freedom from spontaneity that surrenders control to a ball in a roulette wheel that chooses nothing, decides nothing, judges nothing. Surrendering control to any external influence is captivity. Realizing this should be motivation enough for an ESFP to access his INTJ assets, to end immobility of thought and captivity with freedom, inspiration, creativity, and self-motivation.
Wishful thinking that transposes ideals of paradise that belong in Intuition’s imagination to physical reality, where they clearly don’t belong, is yet another cost. An ESFP’s ideal of spontaneity without Judgment that attempts to overlay his or her environment with an artificial blanket of harmony and pleasantness, because what they see and believe is only what they want to see and believe, is delusional. This tendency in ESFPs is ingrained and it can become a major concern. Who else is delusional because of wishful thinking? An ESFP president who sees and believes only winning because he won’t accept losing.
An ESFP who sacrifices Judgment to detach logic and discipline from Perception’s spontaneity does so because he under-values his mind’s ability to think. He thereby sacrifices what mind does: it produces thoughts and connects them in logical sequence with reason. It produces conclusions that address questions pertinent to this situation. Mind’s ability to reason goes beyond its ability simply to retain facts. Along with Intuition it enables mind to combine observations with interpretations that cohere into stories – analyses with meaning capable of answering questions, resolving issues, and providing motivation and guidance for acting. For moving forward.
The Cost of ESFPs' Feeling Without Their INTJs' Thinking
Reasoning is the essence of competence that picks up where other talents leave off. A talent for thinking provides self-interest with its compass so that it can navigate through self-interests all competing for the values of worth: love, belonging, abundance, empowerment, and the rest. Feeling without reason that settles on values that we want leaves unexplained why we want them and how to put them to use. It leaves out the ability to bring their logical implications together into a composition with purpose.
ESFPs are good with the easy ones: what, when, and where. Purpose and reason are all about Why. That’s when it gets interesting.
Storming the U.S. Capitol to disrupt a meaningless ceremony was motivated by conspiracy theories defined by irrationality. It was a buffoonish failure of thought caused by an unwillingness or inability to reason. ESFPs’ basing their judgment on feeling that de-emphasizes reasoning, weaving as they do an uncertain path between dumb luck and sheer folly, is hardly any better. “Action” that advertises its disdain for reason is stupid.
Establishing a logical sequence of thought from an honest assessment of circumstances to doing something about them requires analysis. Analysis requires reasoning. ESFPs with unimpaired minds, who nevertheless prefer to feel their way toward spontaneity without interference from analysis, feel their way in the dark. Action can’t be an object that they want if it’s become an object, cloaked in darkness, that they fear. If it’s action that they want but can’t have, it’s because, without the light of reason to show the way, they're immobilized. It’s because they've rendered themselves unable to act.
Isabel remarks on the difficulty ESFPs have with deciding, with analysis, and with effectiveness. No wonder – they’re not thinking! They may have good minds that can reason if their ESFP personalities will let them. They can choose to access their INTJs and move forward in the light of reason, or they can remain stuck feeling their way in the darkness.
Looking Inward for Growth, Guidance, and Strength: A Worthy Cause
When the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) summoned strength to fight Darth Maul, he meditated. He sought strength from within. The common thread that unites all the attributes of INTJ assets that ESFPs reject is where he went for strength: Introversion to look within; Intuition for guidance; Reason for decision; and Judgment for direction and discipline. He went to mind. That we must look within for growth, guidance, and strength is the point of my website post, From Personality Type Theory to Peace and Personal Growth: A Prayer for the New Year. An ESFP prejudice that takes us away from mind is not training us well.
The exercise offered by Gifts Differing seems tailored to fit the moment. It could open minds made inaccessible by personality types, access critical assets, and give us the strength and guidance we need. In our personal lives and in the current political environment, doing our part to make this happen is a worthy cause. It's why I write, and it will motivate me for however long it takes.