Carl Jung’s Personality Types, the MBTI, and the INFP Type

This is an essay I wrote for the Interpersonal Communication class I’m taking.



The wealth of material on the Myers-Briggs typology test is exhaustive and reading through it, though often stimulating and interesting, can be exhausting as well. But the test immediately intrigued me, especially after I read the description of my type, and was struck by a few sentences that told me things about myself I had never told anyone, and I knew I would end up writing the essay on the test. More than the test itself, and the actual questions that were on it, it was the differences in orientation that interested me. I asked friends and siblings to take the test, curious to see what type they would be. I took out every book from the library on the subject, though I knew I wouldn’t be able to get around to reading all of them in the week before the essay was due. Still, I was interested in the study of personality not because of extroverted reasons, because I had to write an essay and personality was as good a topic as any other, or because I needed to get a good grade on the essay. In typically introverted fashion, I took out the books because they interested me, stimulated me; in short, I checked them out for myself alone, for the internal enjoyment I would receive from them, with little regard for the observable, practical, external benefits that might be gained by reading them. I spent much of my time reading the book that inspired Myers-Briggs to create the test: Psychological Types, by Carl Jung. Although in the essay criteria it is mentioned that the first-person should be reserved for the conclusion, I will probably have to disregard that warning, as it is difficult to write on personality in a way other than a first person narrative. However, this essay will not consist solely of subjective feelings and thoughts, as I will quote and reference the books I read in my research on the topic, the authors of which have more authority than I do on the subject and more time spent in investigating it. As this essay is meant to be an exploration on the topic of personality, I will not limit it unnecessarily by starting with a thesis and going about proving that thesis. By the end of the essay I may have come to some sort of conclusion on the Myers-Briggs test and on personality differences and typology generally. But there is also the possibility that I will not come to any conclusion at all but instead explore to the end, exploring with no end in sight, wandering with no destination in mind.

Carl Jung came out with Psychological Types in 1921. In it, he laid out the descriptions for the extroverted and introverted types, and he broke up each type into intuitive, sensation, feeling, or thinking. Later, Myers-Briggs would go further and say that Intuition and Sensation were opposed, as were Feeling and Thinking. She also added the category of Judging vs. Perception. But originally Jung came up with eight types: extroverted or introverted intuitive, extraverted or introverted sensation, extroverted or introverted feeling, and extroverted or introverted thinking. Jung probably would not have thought Myers-Briggs’ test the ideal outlet for the expression of his ideas. In the foreword to the Argentine Edition of Psychological Types, he writes that the kind of classification of people, the dividing into types, was “nothing but a childish parlor game” (xiv). He hopes “to avoid possible misunderstandings” (3) about his descriptions of types, writing that his intention is not to “stick labels on people at first sight” (xiv), a “totally useless desire” (xv), but rather to at least partially organize the infinite extent of individual differences in psychological complexity into helpful if limited groups.

Most of the book focuses on the history of typing, in classical and medieval thought, in the Apollonian and Dionysian characters, in poetry, in psychopathology, in aesthetics, in philosophy and in biography. Only then does Jung go into his actual descriptions of the types. Although the main focus of the book is not on the descriptions, still it will be the descriptions that I focus on, as that is the connecting link with the Myers-Briggs test and thus the course itself. Although Jung writes that it would be “unjustifiable to maintain that one type is in any respect more valuable than the other,” he does seem to be a certain bias towards the introverted type. I almost certain he would identify himself with the introverted thinking type. As I identify more with the introverted feeling type, I will focus on his description of that type, comparing it to the INFP type from the MBTI.

In Please Understand Me II, David Keirsey calls the INFP The Healer, and groups it with the other three types who share Intuition and Feeling. This group he calls The Idealists, and writes that they “are very sensitive to how they are seen by others, and care a great deal about meeting others’ expectations” (Keirsey 139). This sensitivity, writing now specifically about the INFP’s, comes from an acute understanding of division, and an intense desire to heal “those divisions that plague one’s private life and one’s relationships.” (Keirsey 158). Both Keirsey and Jung remark on the imbalance between how this type appears on the outside, and what they feel on the inside. Jung, who mentions that he finds the type “principally in women,” (Jung 388) says they are “mostly silent, inaccessible, hard to understand…guided by their subjective feelings, their true motives generally remain hidden” (Jung 389). Marie-Louise von Franz, in Lectures on Jung’s Typology, writes, “Introverted feeling, even if it is the main function, is very difficult to understand…feeling is very strong, but it does not flow towards the object. It is rather like a state of being in love with one’s self. Naturally, this kind of feeling is very much misunderstood, and such people are considered very cold” (von Franz 39) But though the type might outwardly calm and stoic, even cold “on the inside they are anything but serene” (Keirsey 158), and anything but cold. Myers-Briggs, who was an INFP herself, said her type needed to find meaning in life. Loren E. Pederson, in his book Sixteen Men: Understanding Masculine Personality Types, writes that without meaning the INFP man feels “lost, depressed, and forlorn, as though he has been deserted by life.” (Pederson 169).  

To find meaning, to understand internal divisions, to find an outlet, a means to let out what they feel but cannot easily express, “to bring peace to the world,” (Keirsey 158). This is idealism in its purest form. Franz makes the point that introverted feeling is “rather like a state of being in love with oneself.” In trying to understand the type, she is doing a good job only of promoting more misunderstanding, more division between the extraverted type, who, in Jung’s words, “subordinates the subject to the object, so that the object has the higher value,” and the introverted type who “sets the ego and the subjective process above the object and the objective process, or at any rate seeks to hold its ground against the object” (Jung 5). It is true that, in types with an especial emphasis on either tendency, there seems to be a gap too wide to bridge. The introvert may always see the extravert as superficial, without depth, while the latter may always regard the former as egotistical, self-loving and other-hating. But perhaps the introverted man with a feeling emphasis, not wanting to limit the power and depth and breadth of his love by exclusive focus on one object, keeps it inside him, a midnight sun in the depths of darkest Arctic winter, a tender and delicate flower that can never be torn, an inner wild passion that is necessary for the soulful, sensitive man to live with the pain he feels at destruction of the outer wilderness and the construction of a material, soulless, technological civilization. To express the love to another is to dilute and domesticate it, to verbalize the love is to lose some of its power, its mystery. Better to stay silent than to speak. Better to wander alone and slowly cultivate the love in your heart until it cannot help but rush out from you in some form uniquely your own, perhaps in dancing or writing or music, likely not in verbal utterances.

The INFP type is rare. Pederson writes that the INFP type “is probably the most difficult type for a man to be” (Pederson 168). Extroversion accounts for 75% of the male population, he says, thinking for 65-70%, and sensation for 70% of the entire population. This can leave the introverted feeling male feeling very much in the minority. Lenore Thomson in her book Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual, writes that “types that are uncommon may have to work harder to be understood, but they are less likely to be seduced by a collective illusion” (Thomson 8). Because the strengths of the INFP type are often antithetical to the purposes of most social institutions, he can feel lost and isolated, misunderstood. But he also has the intuitive knowledge that his identity is not to be found in any social institution, in any profession; in short, in anything outside himself, in any role which he does not himself mold. His identity can only be found in the outward expression of an inner truth. It is because his potential is so great that he becomes disillusioned when unable to find meaning. When he is able to express that inner truth, he leaves behind disillusionment, he dismisses despair as an immature mindset towards life, he is released from a burden he had felt as intolerable. He becomes light, joyful, free.

To conclude, in taking the Myers-Briggs typology test, I learned to some extent why I had always felt strange growing up in the competitive, political, extroverted capital of the United States, where thinking and rationality and practicality were placed above feeling and irrationality and originality. I now know some of the reasons behind the strangeness, but the strangeness will likely remain. David Keirsey writes that it is typical of the Idealist temperament to “wander, sometimes intellectually, sometimes spiritually, sometimes physically, looking to actualize all their inborn possibilities, and so become completely themselves, even though the paths in search of identity are never clearly marked.” (Keirsey 143). So, born a stranger, I will wander the pathless lands of inner and outer in a rambling and unplanned way in order to understand the strangeness, to identify and express that strangeness in a way that makes me feel less strange, less apart, more a part of something greater than myself and in conformity with my true self.

One thought on “Carl Jung’s Personality Types, the MBTI, and the INFP Type

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