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26 November 2013
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Understanding personality type: life stages and stress reactions

What do type dynamics tell us about life stages and stress reactions
By Anita Houghton
Published by BMJ Careers

In the seventh article of her series, Anita Houghton explains how preferences interact and develop over time

In the first article of this series it was claimed that the beauty of psychological type is that it provides a simple framework to describe ways in which people differ, while allowing room for great depth and complexity within it. In this article we start to explore the complexity that is type dynamics. The dynamic nature of type means that for each type there is a hierarchy of preferences and these develop at different stages of our lives. Type dynamics are also important in understanding how different types respond to stress. 

A beginner's guide to type dynamics

The two central letters of a type denote the functions—for example, S and T are the functions of the type ESTJ. One of these functions is dominant (in bold), and operates in either the extravert or the introvert mode, depending on that type's preference (see previous article), and the other letter denotes the second, auxiliary function.

If the dominant function is extraverted, the auxiliary function will be introverted, and vice versa, thus providing balance and support for the dominant. In the type ESTJ, the dominant function is extraverted T, whereas the auxiliary is introverted S. There is then a tertiary function, which is the opposite of the auxiliary function (so if the auxiliary function is sensing, the tertiary function will be intuition), and finally, there is an inferior function, which is the opposite of the dominant function (see box 1 for example).

Development through life

One of the common questions posed about type is, “If these preferences are inborn, how come I've changed as I've got older?” and the answer is that our original preferences remain the same but we develop skills in using our less preferred preferences as we get older (see box 2 for life stages). In healthy type development, the preferences develop in order, with the dominant function developing during primary school, the auxiliary at secondary school, and the tertiary in mid-life. So, for example, an INTP (dominant thinking, auxiliary intuition, and tertiary sensing) will often become more comfortable at dealing with detail, and living in the here and now (S), as he or she moves through their thirties. Similarly, an ESTP (dominant sensing, auxiliary thinking, tertiary feeling) is likely to become more value driven and empathetic (F) as he or she gets older. Changes can also take place in the other preferences, with extraverts becoming more reserved, introverts becoming more outgoing, judging types learning flexibility, and perceivers getting scheduled.

The main stages in life according to Jung

  • Accommodation—teens and 20s, when you are responding to cultural expectations in terms of career and love. Dominant and auxiliary functions predominate

  • Midlife transition—when you are developing your tertiary function and may therefore want to make some changes in your life. Also, if the accommodation phase has involved substantial subjugation of your dominant or auxiliary preferences, this can be a time of adjustment

  • Integration and individuation—when you integrate your less preferred functions and, when it goes well, become a fully integrated and rounded individual, using all the functions in positive ways

Read the full article

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