BY DARIO NARDI
As we arrive at the one-hundred year anniversary of C.G. Jung’s book, Psychological Types, we might wonder what’s in it beyond the singly famous Chapter 10 that covers eight functional types. One key theme that pops out is the problem of one-sidedness, both in one’s self and in society. Each of the eight types is an example of being one-sided. Jung spares few words describing how each type can go terribly wrong. We can all relate to times when life—and maybe our own behavior—went sideways, being overly one-sided. Fortunately, Jung also suggested solutions that we can pick up and apply to our use of type. And since his time, we’ve learned more.
One-Sidedness is the Price of Type
What is one-sidedness? It is in the nature of the ego, the conscious “I”, to push out of awareness whatever is not like itself. This comes inevitably as part of specializing. As we grow up, we find ways to function effectively as we adapt to the world. Think of Isabel Myer’s well-known example of handedness. We all use both hands, and most of us come to clearly prefer one hand, typically early on. This is essential for many tasks, when the preferred hand takes a lead role and the other hand takes a support role. That’s all fine and good.
However, with his patients, Jung observed the full impact of one-sidedness. A person can easily move from useful preference, to unhelpful bias, to dangerous dysfunction. We can become unbalanced, both cognitively and in our practical daily affairs. Worse, we often don’t notice the imbalance unless it is pointed out, perhaps rudely. Common symptoms include being opinionated, defensive, neurotic, and projective onto others. In particular, Jung said one-sidedness inevitably plays out “in the political sphere” when we project the one-sidedness onto other people. Yet, while we may be aware of some of our biases, who wants to think they are unhelpful? Moreover, even when we may acknowledge them in theory, much one-sidedness is not merely in the shadows. Some lies in total darkness. And some floats all around us like an aura, invisible. Jung observed how one-sidedness can twist and even devastate people. Each type does that in its own way.
Alchemy is the Solution
Fortunately, Jung formulated an antidote. He spent much of his career after Psychological Types elucidating this antidote: alchemy. If type’s “superpower” is being about development, then its “magic” is being about alchemy. Alchemy here refers to a special process, a “transcendent function”. Think of it as an inner healer, therapist, storyteller or shaman. From the unconscious comes a push, perhaps in the form of a dream, strange fascination, or serendipitous moment. And if we heed that hint, if we give it space it to emerge, then it pushes up like a sprout from the ground for us to nurture and grow into something new and unique. Jung stated this process is a joint effort between the unconscious and the ego.
We might think of alchemy as very esoteric, unique to each person, and perhaps mystical. At times, it is. However, Jung himself provided advice. For example, he suggested a practice called active imagination to evoke unconscious material. Moreover, a wealth of observations and experiences in the type community over the past century has provided a map of sorts, or set of maps, for how to heed and work with in the chemistry lab of the psyche.
The Science of Rebalancing
In addition to people’s stories, we now have a better idea of how psychological issues express themselves in a measurable way through the nervous system. When we are stressed, even unconsciously, then the fight-or-flight response kicks in. Ironically, this response further narrows or distorts our awareness as we prepare to defend ourselves, do battle, or run away. In contrast, we also have a relaxation response, which we need to digest food and sleep well. Ideally, we stay flexible in our responses, able to enjoy life and also react vigorously when needed.
However, the mind easily adjusts to a “new normal”. Thus, even when we think we’re relaxed, we may still be on chronic, low-level alert. This can happen because of ambient stress, such as living in an unpleasant neighborhood. Or it can be a complex dance. For example, after a person suffers a traumatic event, he or she may push it out of awareness over the years, thinking “I got over that.” But the post-traumatic stress response remains wired into the nervous system. The person is more on edge in triggering situations, and is thus more easily drawn into the fight-or-flight spiral of one-sidedness.
Rebalancing Begins with Breath
Let me give an example. A few years ago, I went with some friends on a spiritual retreat. If you’ve ever gone for a weekend to do meditation, yoga, breath work or such, you might be able to imagine. It was pretty intense. The purpose of the exercises was to release the stranglehold of the fight-or-flight response on the brain. One friend said afterward, “This is the first time in two years that I haven’t felt anxiety. I’d forgotten what normal feels like.”
Rather than go on a retreat, you can do something simple everyday to measure your psychological stress level. To start sit in a quiet place and breathe deeply and peacefully for a minute through your mouth. Then, on a last big breath, empty your lungs and hold your breath for as long as you can. Most people can hold for about 25 seconds. Well, actually, most people can hold for 2 to 3 minutes, and some of that comes with practice and good health, but mostly we stop far short because the monkey mind panics. The limit is mostly psychological. When we let go and relax, can we hold much longer. You may be amazed at how long you can hold, or not, from day to day, simply based on stress level. There are other methods too.
Rebalancing Your Preferred Functions
At this point, we may wonder, “Okay, I’m stressed and apparently unbalanced, and thus biased, but what do I do?” Type gives us a compass. Typically, that compass points to our non-preferred functions. If you prefer Intuiting, then more Sensing is called for, and so on. This is great in theory. In practice, growing with one’s opposites can take a long time. What can you do now, today?
For fifteen years, I’ve been gathering brain imaging data from people of all types with diverse upbringings, career areas, and so on. When there are 15, 30 or even 60 subjects of a particular type, and I sort them by career, sex, culture, age and such, and then I compare their neural wiring and brain activity… patterns emerge. One pattern that pops out: Each of the eight Jungian functions can show up two different ways, which I call “Analytic” and “Holistic”. For decades, people have vaguely referred to flavors of the same type or different aspects of functions. Now at least we have some scientific definitions!
Recently, a reader contacted me. For years, he had identified with INTJ preferences. He worked in a technical area, acted as a driven leader, and did not identify with descriptions of adjacent types such as INTP or INFJ. Yet, he had felt that INTJ did not fully fit him either. Now, he said, he understand why. Type descriptions of INFJ tend to focus on the “Holistic” aspects of Introverted Intuiting (Ni) and Extraverted Feeling (Fe), which are INFJ’s preferred functions. However, he realized that he simply identified with the “Analytic” aspect of these functions instead. He was excited to now discover his true best fit, INFJ.
Similarly, an ENTP colleague recently realized that she relied so much on the “Holistic” flavor of her preferred functions (Ne and Ti), that she had ceded some of her personal power and potential. She also recognized unhelpful attitudes and beliefs she’d glommed on to as part of this bias. Now she is finding ways to reclaim the Analytic aspects of ENTP and let go of some self-imposed limitations.
In short, by accounting for flavors of type, we can more easily locate best-fit, and we can also start to rebalance ourselves in familiar terrain in definable ways.
Completing Your Magic Diamond
Ultimately, overcoming one-sidedness asks us to address our non-preferred functions. How can we do that? There are a few ways. Mostly, type materials sometimes go beyond portraits to suggest activities, such as hobbies, that we can add to our lives to bring some balance. Isabel Myers went further and suggested the zigzag model of problem-solving to help people build in balance in a semi-structured way. These are all great. However, what we tend to miss in talking about type development is Jung’s notion of alchemy. Yes, we can build a little closet or garden in the house of our lives for a non-preferred function. But can we integrate that function into everything we do?
Jung explained that the transcendent function brings together opposites to create a new, unique result. And he believe symbols greatly aid that. Personally, I’ve come to rely on a “magic diamond” symbol as a way to evoke this alchemy.
What is this magic diamond? Visualize a diamond shape with four facets. The bottom facet is “undifferentiated”. That’s where we start in life, with potential that needs development. Then in the middle two facets, left and right, are opposites like Sensing versus Intuiting, or Introverted Thinking versus Extraverted Feeling. We tend to develop one facet, then maybe a few aspects of the other. But what about the upper facet? What does it mean for Sensing and Intuiting to work in an blended way – in an “individuated” way – differentiated, yet integrated?
In the years to come, my hope is that type practitioners start moving away from presenting dichotomous opposites, as valid as those are, to more of a stimulating model. A geometric shape like the magic diamond does three things: 1) highlights development, 2) shows opposites, and also 3) invites people, from the moment they learn about type, to start wondering about and filling in that top facet, whatever that looks like for them.
Hope to See You Soon!
To hear more about this, please take a look at The Magic Diamond: Jung’s Paths for Self-Coaching available at Amazon.uk and elsewhere. In it, you will find many suggestions to fill that top facet as well as a chart of the flavors of each type.
Also, feel free to join me this April 15-18 at the British Association of Psychological Type (BAPT) virtual conference #100yearsoftype.
About the Author
Dario Nardi, PhD (INTJ) is an author, consultant, and researcher in the areas of neuroscience, personality, and body-mind practices. He was type-certified in 1994 and has authored many books including Neuroscience of Personality, The Magic Diamond, and 8 Keys to Self-Leadership.