Recently, I have written articles that look at pairs of preferences in Myers-Briggs® types (see The Four Attitude Pairs and The Four Function Pairs). In those articles, I described the idea that types are more than the sum of their parts. An individual’s type preferences are synergistic. They work together in a specific way to form a well-balanced personality, through what is called type dynamics
In thinking about a well-balanced Myers-Briggs® type, you may assume that this means a person has developed her own preferences (all four letters of type) equally. You could also conclude that a well-balanced type would be one that uses all four functions (S, N, T, and F) evenly in both Introverted and Extraverted ways. While these ideas are reasonable conclusions to come to, they do not describe a well-balanced type in Myers-Briggs®!
Imagine a small child learning language. While it is wonderful to raise a child to be bilingual, it is commonly known that children who are simultaneously raised to speak two languages often begin speaking later than children who are raised to speak one language. While I am in no way an expert on learning languages, I think this phenomena makes perfect sense due to the child having to split his or her attention between learning two different languages. They have to work out which language is which, and they have to learn to switch gears to prevent speaking half of a sentence in one language and the other half in the other language.
Now imagine what it would be like to teach a child four languages at once in both written and spoken forms. While I have never experienced this, it seems like chaos would likely ensue, and it also seems that it would take the child an incredible amount of time to master any of the languages. This metaphor represents what it would likely be like to develop all functions of MBTI® in both attitudes at once! It would be difficult to accomplish a task without constantly looking at it from other perspectives and becoming confused.
In Jungian theory and the theory of Myers-Briggs®, type balance and type dynamics involve a hierarchy. Each individual uses all four of the functions of type (Sensing, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling) in some capacity and in a particular order. Each person needs to have a proper balance of taking in information, through the perceiving function (S or N) and making decisions, through the judging function (T or F). In each type, one of these preferences is dominant, while the other is secondary, and the functions that do not appear in type play other roles. Below is a description of the hierarchy of functions in type.
- The Dominant Function:
- Likely to be most developed
- Will either be the person’s perception (S or N) or judgment (T or F) preference and be in charge and used most often
- Exists almost completely in conscious mind
- Used in the attitude of the individual (Introverted for Introverts and Extraverted for Extraverts)
- The Auxiliary (or Secondary) Function:
- Second most well-developed
- Will either be the person’s perception (S or N) or judgment (T or F) preference, whichever preference is not dominant, and be used in conjunction with dominant process
- Exists largely but not completely in the conscious mind
- Used in the opposite attitude of the individual (Extraverted for Introverts and Introverted for Extraverts)
- The Tertiary Function:
- Less developed preference, opposite of auxiliary function
- Will be used as needed, but less often than dominant and auxiliary
- Exists about half in conscious and half in unconscious mind
- Some say used in opposite attitude of dominant preference (Extraverted for Introverts and Introverted for Extraverts), while others believe used in same attitude as individual, and still others believe used in either attitude, depending on how it is needed in the moment
- The Inferior Function:
- Least developed preference, opposite of dominant function
- May be used for relaxation and will take over during times of extreme stress (see Stress and the 16 Types)
- Exists almost completely in unconscious mind
- Used in the opposite attitude of the dominant preference (and the individual)
Essentially, type dynamics allows individuals to learn mastery of their dominant process, by focusing most energy there. This allows the person to explore the complexities and nuances of the preference, and it provides ease when having to complete tasks in day-to-day life, due to the confidence level that accompanies one solid, well-developed preference. Of course, the auxiliary preference is incredibly important, as is the balance between dominant and auxiliary preferences, because perception needs judgement to pull the trigger and judgment needs perception to be well-informed.
I hope this article has helped you begin to understand the basics of type dynamics and the reasons for their importance. This topic can get deep and complicated, so I have decided to break it up into multiple articles. Future articles will discuss the formula for determining dominant through inferior preferences for the 16 types, and I will explain Jung’s theory of how type develops over the lifespan. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments below. If you would like to see the dominant through inferior preferences for your type, you can see them written at the top of each of the 16 type descriptions.