Many of us are familiar with personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, often given in the workplace to create ideal teams and foster collaboration. There’s the manager known for quick thinking, the sensation type who designs inspiring presentations, the intuitive in charge of R&D, and the feeling type who keeps everyone engaged.
Typology describes how we approach and understand our environment. How do we solve problems and relate to others? In a new situation, what is our “gut instinct”?
The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung identified four basic personality types, or ways of being in the world. Those who rely primarily upon thinking and rationality to interpret events. Those with a sensate grasp of objects and facts. Those who trust their feelings about what is valuable and important. And those who depend on intuition, their sense of possibility or what might happen in the future.
Jung also noticed that some people prefer solitude (introversion), while others thrive on company (extraversion).
I began by my study of typology in my job in corporate marketing, where I drew on my intuition to make sense of the information I was gathering, and on my feeling function to navigate the department’s emotional dynamics. As a result, there was always someone sitting in my office wanting counsel for some painful issue — work or personal — they were struggling with.
Over the years, however, I got my best and most lasting insights by observing the personalities of my family members where they were most themselves — at home. This experience so enriched my life that I was inspired to write a book, To Live in the World as Ourselves.
I began by noticing how the people I was closest to naturally did things — and how their orientation was different from mine. Couples are often drawn to one another because each has a different strength. At the beginning, they naturally complement each other. Then they have the task of learning to appreciate one another’s way of being in the world.
My husband Sean, an extravert, can’t wait to leave the house in the morning, and as an introvert, I prefer the quiet solitude of my home office. At first, I thought, “How could he possibly want to charge forth like that, first thing?” But knowing that he’s wired, psychologically, to thrive when “out and about,” I smile as he goes off on his adventures and appreciate his need to share what he’s discovered at the end of every day.
Typology also helped me in the years I was getting to know my three step-children—and it made it easy to spot and nurture their particular gifts. I took my sensation-gifted daughter Sara with me to an art class, and to a gallery show, and these shared experiences nourished our relationship.
My other stepdaughter Megan is an intuitive like myself, so we engaged in those sparky conversations full of “what-ifs” and “that-reminds-me” that range from one topic to another, without following a logical progression.
My stepson, Sean, who is sensation-endowed, noticed the least little change I made in the house, and it became a game for him to identify them. Both introverts, he and I often met in the kitchen after everyone else had gone to bed and talked quietly over beers. As I came to appreciate the natural inclinations of my stepchildren, genuine relationships were built.
Typology also helped me understand my family of origin. My father’s extreme introversion explained why conversations with him were few, and why he disappeared after dinner to the focused calm of his workbench in the basement.
My two sisters were also different from me typologically. One is an extraverted feeling type whose powerful feelings distressed me, until I realized that she was processing events this way and venting helped her come to a resolution. My other sister, a thinking type and a teacher, had a very smart, practical way of dealing with fourth graders, and I gratefully drew on on this in the course of creating a stepfamily.
“Typology in close quarters” might well be the true subject of most psychotherapy! Nothing spoils the feeling of home like conflict and misunderstanding. Yet knowing everyone’s natural typology can do wonders and pave the way for domestic harmony. It is simply a case of recognizing what other people need to be most fully and completely themselves.
As my understanding of typology grew, I left my corporate job and became a psychological counselor freelance writer. An introvert, I discovered that I was happier working at home than I was managing the often Machiavellian subtleties of office politics. While I learned a lot from my colleagues, I made the most beneficial changes after observing myself and recognizing my own patterns. Accepting my affinity for solitude and my reliance on my intuition has helped me to live more authentically. It has also brought a greater sense of confidence and self–esteem, allowing me to feel more at home within myself.
Accepting Family Members as They Are
Everyone knows psychological awareness is desirable, but how do we go about attaining it? Knowing if you are introverted or extraverted, and if you naturally process information through thinking, feeling, sensation or intuition, is a good start. One that will allow you to begin living as yourself. And once you understand how the people around you are perceiving and processing the world, your relationships will make more sense. There’s much to be said for meeting people where they are!
A harmonious home life for a super-busy family is a challenge. Creating the feeling of home involves knowing what you—and your loved ones—need your home to be.
If you are extraverted, a friendly open common space where everyone can gather is essential. If you are introverted, you need to have a space where you can relax, regroup, write, read or do projects. My stepdaughter Megan, an extravert, lives with two introverts, her husband and daughter. After dinner, they happily retreat to work or read, while Megan starts her evening with phone calls, texting and planning weekend activities. Later the family gathers in the living room for a tv show or movie, ending the day together.
Jung’s insights are a boon to conscious parenting. A child thrives when his or her typology is honored. My stepson Sean, the introvert, comes from a lively Irish tribe but I noticed he would stand at the periphery of family parties or duck out from time to time. His family worried that there was something wrong with him, but I suggested to him that he might be an introvert. He wasn’t made to be the boisterous center of attention and he might prefer relating to people one-on-one. A light-bulb went off. From then on, when he’d had enough intense socializing, he would announce, “I’m an introvert!” as he left the room. Everyone would laugh, but they also acknowledged his preferences with real love and respect.
In typology, a little bit of our opposite mode goes a long way, because it is so powerful for us. When Sean grew up, he became an amazingly effective sales rep, but he knew to turn off his phone on Sundays and to ground himself by spending that day quietly at home.
Protect Your Natural Habitat
For an introvert, home is exceptionally important. I have always needed home to be a quiet place where I can find solitude and where I can breathe, move, and think at my own pace. I currently live in a house big enough for a family of 11 plus the dog, but I relish times I get the house to myself. Alone time is vital for introverts to segue into to a busy family life. Others mustn’t take it as a rejection; it is a psychological necessity. But to make that clear in a gentle way requires some effort. When I’m working in my office, my family knows to knock. They are always welcome, but there is no barging in. Virginia Woolf, a famous introvert, used to put a sign up on her door, “Writer at work” and another when she was in the mood for visitors and said in effect, “Come on in.” An introvert is wise to provide these kinds of cues for silence is a daily need.
Create Some Common Ground
Home is our best medium for understanding human behavior. There we are most likely to let down our guard and reveal ourselves. It’s also one place where we hope to be natural. When we share our space with others, we also want it to reflect our personality—to embody who we really are.
How do we accomplish that when we move in with others? I think back to the early days of my relationship with Sean. When we got engaged, I moved into his apartment and we began to combine our lives and our possessions. Sean, who has a high-ranking sensation function, had already created an attractive and comfortable place to live. I loved his sensibility and didn’t want to change it, but I did want to make my contribution, so I came up an enhancement that was not too radical. I hired a friend who was a feng shui master to evaluate the space. She suggested adding mirrors as splash boards behind the kitchen cooktop to add accentuate the hearth, and also along the sides of the windows to bring in more light. These changes were beautiful and in keeping with the natural spirit of the home. She also placed some crystals in the hallway to disperse intergenerational conflict and suggested a plant in a certain portion of the living room. With those changes, the apartment was subtly transformed and it felt like my space, too.
Sensation — the function that relies upon our physical perception — is key when it comes to creating a comfortable home. When you rely upon your sensation function, you are attuned to color, sound and taste, especially aware of softness and roughness, warmth and coldness. The sensation function knows how to select the most sensuous sheets and how to appreciate a summer breeze wafting through an open window. We “exercise” our sensation when we shop for a cozy chair, select fabrics, arrange furniture, pick out vegetables at the market. And we call upon it to perform a myriad of housekeeping tasks—as we do the laundry, wipe our counter tops, wash dishes, make our beds, and care for our clothes.
Two sensation types I know live in a 750-square-foot apartment with their two children. This is a compact space for a family of four, but these two sensation-gifted parents have designed a perfectly functional and beautiful family home. Every piece of furniture is the perfect size. Colors are serene, patterns harmonious, textures varied. Closets are packed but well-organized. And every cubic inch from floor to ceiling is well managed, so there is no sense of clutter. And this sense of “rightness” remains, when a new thing is added, or the drapes are changed. This is what the sensation function does as a matter of course. In this world, small or big is beautiful.
But what if sensation activities don’t interest you or tire you? How much of these activities can you do, and how much will you enjoy doing them? If sensation is a talent you rely upon, it will come easily. But if you’re an intuitive like me, it may be a challenge. Many intuitives choose to keep their homes stable and unchanging. I need to know that everything is in its place, or my environment feels overwhelming. One intuitive type I know hasn’t moved so much as a chair in 15 years. She has created a set environment that works for her, allowing her to concentrate on her writing and her inner world.
Home: A Laboratory for Relationships
Jung developed his system of typology from his own experience — from observing himself, his family members, his colleagues and his patients, and learning how they behaved at home. Typology is built into human nature and is the ultimate inner journey. It’s both a form of hard-wiring and a form of revelation. The more aware we are of the typological aspects of any situation, the more at ease we feel.
Home is the source of intimacy and relationships, the place where we learn how to develop empathy, self-awareness and respect for one another’s uniqueness. It’s where pay attention to our needs and learn to navigate the needs of others. And it’s the laboratory where we grow in understanding and begin to live as our true selves.
Sally Keil is a psychological counselor who writes about mythology, dreams, the work of C.G. Jung and women’s lives. Her latest book is To Live in the World as Ourselves: Self-Discovery and Better Relationships through Jung’s Typology.