Father’s Day this year had me thinking of personality types. One of Carl Jung’s many contributions to the field of psychology was his theory of psychological types. After Jung published his work on psychological types, psychologist Katharine Cooks Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, developed a psychological type test, or indicator, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a most handy tool. It can help you understand yourself better, as well as help you understand others. I always urge those who haven’t taken the MBTI or (or some facsimile thereof) to take it and learn more about themselves and others.
We had the whole family, and then some, over at the house for most of the day on Father’s Day. Four generations of people who have been connected for as long as half a century provides much room for observation and discussion later to two intuitive types like my husband and me. Intuitive types want to analyze, dissect, and understand everything. We find connections and patterns, or make them when we don’t find them, preferring fancy to fact, the gut feeling about a situation or person to the evidence staring us in the face. He’s an ENXJ, and I’m an INXJ, meaning that we are more-or-less evenly balanced between our Thinking and Feeling functions. Although my husband and I are a matched pair, it’s statistically unlikely for like psychological types to marry one another, except when one or both parties are intuitive-thinking types, as we are. NTs tend to be principled in everything they do; they somehow instinctively know that marrying one’s opposite doesn’t effectively support the principle of marital harmony, so tend to marry someone similar to achieve that end.
Intuitive-Thinking types are the exceptions, for research indicates that over 75% of people marry an opposite psychological type. Some theorize that opposites attract because if you marry your opposite, you can externalize your need for a balanced personality. Your spouse, in effect, exemplifies and carries everything you’re not. The organized person marries the slovenly type; the person who’s always late chooses a partner who’s punctual to a fault, and so on. Then, once the rosy hues of idealization wear off, the harsh light of day reveals that we married someone we were bound to rub the wrong way, and vice-versa. As it says in Proverbs, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” It should come as no surprise that the first five to seven years of marriage are the most difficult; it takes that long for people to either “get” one another, or give up. By year eight many couples divorce.
An interesting side effect of the law of opposites is that, when opposites attract and marry one another, they tend to have children with temperament types similar to one spouse or the other, but not both. Thus, an introverted child may have a quite extraverted mother; the intuitive, dreamy mother may have a child who’s more practically grounded than she. My husband and I were both raised by mothers who were our exact opposites temperamentally and who were mysteries to us. Our siblings who were similar to our mothers naturally understood them, while we were like fish on bicycles when it came to insight about what would please our mothers. I think that our mothers found us equally incomprehensible, and used our differences as excuses for the emotional distance they maintained. Rather than working at understanding us, they tried to change us. These efforts only resulted in our feeling unacceptable. We grew up alienated in many ways from our own parents; from this, we had to heal.
I don’t think that being different from one’s child is an excuse for emotional estrangement. With such a wealth of information about children’s psychological and emotional needs available, it seems inexcusable that parents would fail to help their own child feel comfortable in her own skin. Being told you’re somehow misshapen psychologically or temperamentally can be a terrible injustice and heartache to a child.
It’s also hurtful when we give the adults in our lives this message of unacceptability. The Christian ideal of loving your neighbor as yourself is, in the context of temperamental dissimilarities, particularly compelling. Jesus taught that it’s easy to love your friends–those with whom you choose to associate, those you tend to like–but divine to love your enemies. Our enemies are those who wrong us, misuse us, who are dissimilar to us in belief, custom, race, temperament. An enemy is odious, hateful, an adversary. The Greek word used in the Gospels, in fact, has as its root the words adversary, adverse. One who is adverse is one who is opposed, opposite, or acting in a contrary direction. This certainly must apply when we’re dealing with temperament types; we’re admonished to love those who act in ways contrary to our ways, too.
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor,” it says in Romans 13:10; one can find this same teaching about love’s behaviors in all true religions, even among humanists. In the sciences, physicians adhere to a “do no harm” ethic. We all know what love is when we think about it; we just don’t think about it often enough. Many times we wait for our feelings of fondness to surface before we’ll act in loving ways. We may fail to act lovingly absent any positive feelings. We confuse sentiment for principle, phileo for agape.
In his book, True Love, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh writes that the four elements of true love are:
- Lovingkindness or benevolence, the desire and ability to bring joy to another person.
- Compassion; the desire and ability to ease the pain of another person.
- Joy; if there is no joy in your love, it is not true love.
- Freedom; love in such a way that the person you love feels free outside and inside.
True love is a moral choice, a philosophically ethical stance. We choose to love. It’s not an easy or natural choice; if it were, we wouldn’t need to learn how to do it. What comes naturally to us is easy, and it’s easy to assume that others see and experience life as we do. It takes a great deal more maturity and wisdom to care about and understand others as they are, to love them as they are. To love ourselves as we are. All this applies to psychological types.