Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Individuation (Personality Talk, part 6)

(image courtesy of teamtechnology.co.uk)

I think I just stumbled upon the best part of personality theory! It explains so much in my life (remember, I'm an idealist: always searching for meaning!)

The theorists postulate that we prefer our dominant cognitive process by the time we're 12 years old. Then, through a process they call individuation (which you and I would probably call growth), we develop our second function by age 20, the third by 25, and the fourth by 50. And lastly, the four "shadow processes" may emerge after age 50 for some people (which can result in more balance and confidence). This developmental timeline is just a guideline. It is similar to physical development-- not all babies sit unassisted at 6 months or walk at 12 months, those are just norms or guidelines. Each individual grows at their own pace.

When we start gaining skill in each process, we become drawn to activities that will provide practice and lead to growth. For example, people who are beginning to develop Se (extraverted sensing--a perceiving process that involves taking in data through the five senses and attending to the here and now) may start doing activities that increase sensory stimulation. Perhaps they'll try new foods or suddenly take up a new hobby or sport such as surfing or hiking. Likewise, people who are developing their Fe (extraverted feeling) may start becoming interested in situations where they can interact with others, perhaps they'll seek new friendships or host a party.

So as I was reading this theory, I began to ponder my own type development. As an INFJ, my dominant process is Ni (introverted intuiting). That's the process that finds meanings in relationships and connections. It's a way of structuring one's understanding of the world. And it often is expressed as a feeling of just "knowing" something is a certain way or that something will happen, without being able to explain it in words. I remember at age eight "knowing" that I was different than other kids. I could "see" in my mind's eye how all the people in my life were connected to me and to each other. I "knew" how a schoolmate would react to another child when the other was behaving in a way that was typical of them. I was reserved and shy (introverted) so my teachers didn't notice me, except for the fact that I was an excellent student. When our school district started a gifted program, none of the teachers identified me for testing. I observed who was chosen, and who tested into the program. I "knew" I belonged there too, so I went home one day and told my parents simply that I should be in the gifted program. Thankfully, they were supportive and they hired a psychologist to come to my home to administer the testing. Sure enough, I made it! I now see how all of these moments in my childhood are related to my Ni function.

My second function is Fe (extroverted feeling). Well, that fits perfectly with my personal history. During my teen years I was working hard to overcome my shyness. I developed a close circle of friends, became a cheerleader (not what you'd expect from an introvert!), joined various school clubs, and loved family gatherings.

My third function is Ti (introverted thinking). Hmmm… again, as I look back at the years between 20 and 25, I see how my developing Ti shaped my activities. I became a healthcare professional which required a bit of diagnostic skill (definitely a Ti task!) I spent hours doing crossword puzzles, and fell in love with logic problems. And, last but not least, I married a man whose dominant function is Ti! (Is this weird or what?!)

Now at 40, according to the theory, I should be developing my 4th function: Se (extraverted sensing). Interestingly, the 4th function is very important for balancing the dominant function in all types. Types who have a dominant T function (either Ti or Te) need to balance that with the F function that is their 4th process. Dominant F types have a T as their 4th. Types that have a dominant N, have an S function as their 4th, etc.

The 4th function, therefore, presents a way of thinking that is almost opposite from a person's dominant process for most of their life. So, people will start to be interested in activities that may seem entirely "out of character". And look at when this happens-- sometime before age 50! Doesn't that sound eerily similar to what we call midlife crisis?! Wow! So, what has been happening in my life? I've started living in the present. I developed a fascination (Jason calls it an obsession) with Harry Potter. I started dressing up for Halloween for the first time in 15 years (I blamed it on the age of my girls and the obligations of parenthood, but truthfully, that was just an excuse-- I wanted to have fun!) I don't think my actions present as the radical change that looks like a midlife crisis, but that may be because my Se process started developing in childhood. I grew up with a twin brother who (I believe) has a secondary Se function. His influence led me to embrace the way of thinking that is Se when I was younger.
Which brings me to the last point about Individuation. Life circumstances can affect your development pattern. During childhood, the following situations can alter the development of processes:

  1. You received negative feedback when using your dominant process.

  2. A non-preferred function was necessary to survive family life (e.g., dealing with an alcoholic or abusive parent)

  3. You received positive feedback for using non-preferred functions.

  4. And in adulthood:

  5. A job requires extensive use of non-preferred functions.

  6. Parenting requires extensive use of non-preferred functions.

If you know your personality type (you are quite certain based on resonance with the type descriptions), can you see a pattern to your growth in the cognitive processes preferred by your type? And how about that midlife crisis theory-- does emergence of cognitive processes explain it? Perhaps we can better understand our spouses, friends, and family members when they suddenly start acting out of character. (Jason-- I'm on to you, dear!)

(back to part 5)
(on to part 7)


Jaye Wells said...

Individuation--I like that word. What a cool idea that we develop our functions throughout life. Makes sense. I'd like to take a test that measures these functions by percentage. I've been working on developing my shadow functions for a while. For example, I knew that I needed to marry a man who was logical and good with numbers. After ten years, I'm much more balanced where my emotions and logic are concerned--and so is he. ;) I've also noticed that in my 30s my Fi function is getting stronger.

Precie said...

Wow! I think at the very least personality theory has a LOCK on INFJs! ;)

My personality over time sounds rather similar to yours, Aine, with perhaps the significant difference of your sustained optimism. Introverted and studious in elementary school. Participated in a variety of activities in high school to push beyond the introversion (mine still tended toward the mental--speech & debate club, world affairs council, etc.). And in my 30s, my third function Ti has gotten much stronger...very much in line with a "What have I accomplished? What am I doing with my life?" kind of thinking. (Perhaps the precursor to a mid-life crisis...at the very least, an assessment of "where I've been" and "where I'm going" and whether those fit into "who I want to be.")

My fourth function hasn't kicked in yet. But I'm sure it will. :)

Sarah Hina said...

I loved this post, Aine, because you so clearly mapped this personal, evolutionary process through the filter of your own life. :) Amazing to look back in hindsight and recognize some kind of method that just felt like natural growth at the time!

When I was young, I was an emotional basket case. Everything set off the tears. My Fi was too dominant and raw. I really can trace that ripening of my Ne--curiously, it probably coincided with my interest in writing. And my Si--and the important perspective it has to teach me--has recently become more active. It's all very fascinating!

As for my Thinking skills...well, there's always room for more growth. ;) But I definitely can see how I've compensated for my lacking there by surrounding myself with people who have that natural capacity. Maybe there's hope for me yet! :)

Charles Gramlich said...

I suspect with any kind of developmental process like this the variability increases dramatically as you age.

Aine said...

Jaye~ Individuation is a great word, isn't it?! I don't think a test could measure these functions, because our preference for a function doesn't equate with our skill in using it. You can become quite skilled at using a function that isn't your natural preference. And, likewise, if there has been negative feedback for using a preferred function, you may not be able to use that function with great skill (though it would still be your first/gut reaction when processing new data.) A person has to determine for themself which functions are our first reaction and feel most comfortable.

Precie~ You ought to check out infj.com. I think you'll feel right at home there... ;)

Sarah~ Thanks! I'm trying to get away from blogging that looks more like an academic lecture...

And as for surrounding yourself with T types, well, you know how I look for meanings and connections.... ;) I think you'll enjoy the balance that will result as you develop your Te. Fi balanced with Te is a gift (hence your label "the healer").

Charles~ I agree. That's why I'm generally skeptical at first when looking at developmental charts (and why I'm fascinated that this one "fits" me). The fact that most personality "scholars" don't claim a timeline for the shadow processes gives them more credibility (to me). And so much is dependent on life experiences. After all, we can only process that which enters our brain in the first place. I'd love to see the cognitive function profile (Jungian functions, that is) of a person raised in extreme sensory absence.

Geraldine said...

In an nutshell, we are always evolving and hopefully maturing, right Aine? This was so interesting to read. I know one thing to be true,slowly but surely my confidence has grown as I get older. I use to be incredibly shy to the point of not being able to even converse at times. There is so much to be said for getting older (wiser???) Too bad so much negativity continues to be attached to passing 40 and 50 and beyond.


Anonymous said...

Acting out of character? Yeah, I guess you got me. :)

Great post! I think I track my processes fairly well, except my first three seemed to have all increased around the same time. Around age 15. I was probably aware of my auxillary function first, extroverted intuiting. But maybe that makes sense, because it was new, rather than an already-comfortable dominant function. Also, my family situation may have discouraged introverted thinking.

Introverted sensing (my tertiary) has also been a strength since that time. I do think I fit the emergence of my inferior function well, extroverted feeling. That has been hatching since my late 20's, but it really picked up in my early to mid thirties. I feel like I have a firm grip on it now.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

Well, Aine - I am more balanced and more confident...so those shadow processes must be kicking in. Thank goodness! There has to be some compensation for getting older!

Aine said...

Geraldine~ Yes-- hopefully maturing! The confidence that comes with age is so refreshing. :)

Jason~ Your type has developed quite well. Not that I'm biased or anything...

I'm embracing the emergence of our inferior functions as the spice that restimulates our marriage. Maybe our shadow functions will present with energizing possibilities in future years, too!

Kaye~ Yes-- mother nature owes us that much, doesn't she? Emotional and mental stability/strength is compensation for the loss of our physical health/strength. (Evolutionary scholars say that wise grandmothers increase the survivability of their descendants....)

Chris Eldin said...

THis is absolutely fascinating!! I love the part about mid-life crisis. A rational explanation....
I'll be back, but just wanted to drop a quick note.

SzélsőFa said...

A very interesting post, Aine - it made me think about my own path...

I can not explain it right now, but as I've been always interested in phychological development, its patterns and useful side-effects, I will munch on this for a long time.

And as I'm always looking for reasons, for I believe in no coincidence, this post is very useful for me, too.

See, I'm confused, but it only means my brains have started working...

Aine said...

Chris~ Thanks for stopping by! I know how busy you are....

Szelsofa~ :) I'm glad to give you ideas to think about! I'm really enjoying learning all about this theory too.

Vesper said...

These "Personality" posts are so interesting and I'm so far behind... I'll come back for them. This is something you have to consider deeply.

Aniket Thakkar said...

"A job requires extensive use of non-preferred functions." well this answers my earlier question. :)

And probably thats why am feeling a "quarterly life crisis now" which direction I should drive my life on???

Mind vs Heart... lets see who wins? :)

PS: i always wanted to know a cheer-leader in person. But you don't seem like the 'Woo-Hoo' girl types! :P

'Save the cheer-leader, save the world'! lolz