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Personal Growth & Personality Type Development: An Overview

Considered broadly, personal growth and type development follows the ordering of the “function stack,” starting with the dominant function and proceeding sequentially down to the inferior. However, because the dominant and inferior function (as well as the auxiliary and tertiary) exist in a bipolar tension with one another, things are not quite so simple. In this analysis, we will divide and explore the process of type development according to three stages.

Phase I: Dividing the Self, Developing the Dominant Function

Extending from early childhood into adolescence, Phase I involves the development and strengthening of the dominant function. With development of and identification with the dominant function comes a concurrent rejection and repression of the other functions. Through this process, the dominant function becomes associated with “me,” with “who I am,” while the tertiary and inferior functions become denied aspects of the self (i.e., “not me”). Hence, what began as a whole self becomes divided into conscious and less conscious aspects. This division of the self should not be considered as bad or unnatural, but as nature’s way of endowing individuals with specialized skills and abilities that have contributed to the evolutionary success of humankind.

Phase II: Awakening of the Inferior Function, Developing the Auxiliary / Tertiary Functions

Once the dominant function reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, the inferior function enters the picture and begins to play a more influential role. This can be confusing because the inferior is not next in line for development in the function stack. The inferior’s unexpected influence derives from its bipolar relationship with the dominant function.

It can be helpful to think of the dominant and inferior as representing opposite ends of a rubber band. As the dominant moves toward greater consciousness and is pulled tighter, the inferior shows a commensurate increase in tension as it is pushed/stretched away from consciousness. Once the dominant has reached a certain threshold of strength and development, the tension becomes great enough for the inferior to start asserting itself.

Especially in Phase II, the inferior function seems to having its own agenda, exhibiting needs and desires that run contrary to the dominant function. What results is a sort of love-hate, either-or situation in which the individual alternates between indulging and avoiding the desires of his or her inferior function. Indulging the inferior is like experimenting with narcotics. It feels exciting and exhiliarating at first, but if one is not careful, he or she may “lose control” (i.e., lose contact with the dominant function), falling prey to obsessive or destructive behaviors.

Less obvious, but no less problematic, is the way in which the inferior can insidiously infiltrate decision-making. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the inferior function is the primary culprit in unwise career and relational decision-making. The inferior (and to a lesser extent, the tertiary) is largely responsible for what might otherwise be considered the inconsistent, paradoxical, or irrational attitudes and behaviors of any given personality type. Unfortunately, its influence peaks in Phase II of type development, which happens to be the same time most people are making life-altering decisions about their careers and relationships.

Yet another potential problem is the use of crutches to appease or placate the inferior. Crutches can serve to limit “grip experiences” with the inferior. They may also assuage some of the fear, anxiety, and potential pain the comes from directly confronting one’s inferior-related issues. The problem is that when crutches, which are supposed to function as short-term aids, are grafted on as long-term solutions, prohibiting further growth and development. So rather than learning to walk (or even run) unaided and experiencing the long-term rewards of doing so, people settle for mediocre solutions that feel more safe and certain.

An example of an inferior crutch for an INFJ might involve marrying a wealthy ESTP business tycoon. While there is little hope that the INFJ will ever find a deep metaphysical bond with an ESTP, she may persist in the relationship because she will never have to worry about money or have her physical needs go unsatisfied (Se).

Development of the auxiliary and tertiary functions can serve to reduce overdependence on the dominant function, which, in turn, can diminish the tension of and problems related to the inferior function. Because introverting seems less critical to survival in the modern world, Extraverts often lag behind Introverts in the development of their auxiliary function. Hence, Extraverts may enter Phase II with minimal development of their auxiliary. Introverts, by contrast, may show significant auxiliary development by the time they enter this phase.

Circumstances also play an important role in type development and may serve to augment or diminish the development of various functions. The degree to which individuals feel free or encouraged to utilize their functions will impact the speed and degree by which they are honed and strengthened. For instance, INPs encouraged to verbally explore new ideas (Ne) or INJs allowed to freely express their judgments (Fe or Te) will develop more rapidly than those who are discouraged from doing so.

Phase III: Befriending the Inferior, Integrating the function stack

As we’ve seen, in Phase II, a love-hate relationship emerges between the conscious and less conscious functions. In Phase III, a phase which some may never reach or complete, individuals work to understand and integrate their tertiary and inferior functions. Having fatigued of the emotional rollercoaster of Phase II, they strive to become more aware of and conversant with these long-rejected parts of themselves. No longer seeing these parts as evil or devilish, they realize that, in order to become whole, they must somehow befriend them. Awareness alone can significantly reduce their potential for successfully undermining the values and objectives of the higher functions. Phase III is characterized both the ability to utilize the entire function stack in a more seamless and integrated fashion. Instead of jumping back and forth between the dominant and inferior in an all-or-nothing fashion, we can learn to utilize each of their functions in their natural sequence: from dominant to auxiliary to tertiary to inferior. This represents the path to wisdom, one which leads to an enduring sense of wholeness and satisfaction.

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