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:
- You received negative feedback when using your dominant process.
- A non-preferred function was necessary to survive family life (e.g., dealing with an alcoholic or abusive parent)
- You received positive feedback for using non-preferred functions.
- A job requires extensive use of non-preferred functions.
- Parenting requires extensive use of non-preferred functions.
And in adulthood:
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)