Can Psychological Type be a Barrier to Individuation?

This article was first published in ‘TypeFace’, the quarterly magazine of the British Association for Psychological Type (BAPT), Vol. 25(4), 14-18, and is reproduced here with the permission of BAPT


It is a widely held belief that Isabel Briggs Myers’ type theory is very similar to C.G. Jung’s, and that he endorsed her development of the MBTI® instrument. However, Jung had serious concerns about the popular presentation of his theory (Myers 2012a) and the letter apparently supporting Isabel Briggs Myers was not written by him and did not reflect his opinion (Myers 2012b). Jung expressed his attitude elsewhere by saying “God preserve me from my friends” (Jung 1957, p. 304) and felt the main point of his theory was being missed:

Typology [is] only one side of my book… Most readers have not noticed [the gravamen] of the book because they are first of all led into the temptation of classifying everything typologically, which in itself is a pretty sterile undertaking. (Jung 1935)

What are we all missing?

The ‘gravamen’ of Psychological Types is the “problem of opposites” (ibid.) but for the sake of clarity I am going to call it the problem of one-sidedness (a term that Jung often used). In his correspondence about type with Hans Schmid-Guisan, he defines the problem as:

the acceptance of a viewpoint that is diametrically opposed to our own, and which essentially forces the problem of the existence of two kinds of truth upon us. (Jung 1915)

By the time he wrote Psychological Types, the problem had become one of how the individual develops out of having a one-sided perspective into being a more whole and balanced individual. He spends nine out of the ten chapters examining previous attempts by philosophers and others to resolve the problem of one-sidedness – clarifying his own view and detailing his solution in chapters II and V. He tells the reader in a foreword (Jung 1934) not to pay too much attention to the type descriptions in chapter X, the chapter that most type theorists focus on.

Whereas for Isabel Briggs Myers being a type is a good thing, Jung’s assumption is that having a type is a bad thing. He illustrated why typological one-sidedness is a bad thing with the analogy of a civil war, which typically ends when one side wins and there is a change in the ruling power (Jung 1921, pp. 77-8). When someone becomes a type through developing a dominant function, this is at the expense of its opposite which is repressed (Jung 1921, p. 37). This creates a split in the personality, puts the person into a “collective state” (Jung 1921, p. 100) and suppresses the true individuality:

The… superior function is as detrimental to the individual as it is valuable to society… His function is developed at the expense of his individuality… The time will come when the division in the inner man must be abolished (Jung 1921, pp. 72-74)

This assertion – that someone who has a type (i.e. a dominant function) is collective and not individual – may seem strange. However, by declaring a type you are identifying yourself to be the same as a few hundred million other people in the world. The types are therefore stereotypes (“Galtonesque family portraits”, Jung 1921, p. 405) and “points for orientation” (Jung 1957, p. 304) rather than descriptions of an individual. They serve a similar purpose to landmarks on a map by helping someone determine their unique location, which is often between two or more types.

What we are missing, therefore, is twofold. Firstly, we fail to recognise the true nature of the types – i.e. they are collective stereotypes. Secondly, and more importantly, we fail to see the problem of being a type, and in fact perpetuate that problem through a model of development that contains only four functions.

The Transcendent Function

Jung’s solution to the problem of one-sidedness involves a fifth function, one that replaces S, N, T or F as the dominant function. Jung called it the transcendent function (Jung 1921, p. 115), because it transcends and unites the opposites.

This function can be illustrated with an example. Sensing pays attention to facts, e.g. an individual can be given a written or practical test that measures their level of competence at a particular skill. The function of intuition pays attention to hidden possibilities, e.g. seeing new and creative ways in which that skill can be applied. A transcendent function would unite these opposites to create the perception of something that is both factual and a possibility, such as latent ability (or potential talent). This concept is a combination of both fact and possibility, and perception or management of latent talent is a transcendent function. That is, talent management is not a basic function but a transcendent one, because measures of hidden potential are both a fact and hidden possibilities at the same time.

The fifth function can unite not only opposite typological functions, but also many other opposites that occur between self and ‘other’ – e.g. democratic/autocratic, happiness/suffering, strength/vulnerability, love/hate, good/evil, etc. However, there is one pair of opposites that is of over-riding importance to a transcendent function: consciousness and the unconscious. The uniting of any of the aforementioned opposites always involves integrating a part of the unconscious with consciousness.

The two movements of individuation

The goal of individuation is to develop a new transcendent function and make it the dominant function of consciousness, replacing a basic typological function (or, as we shall see later, a previously-dominant transcendent function). However, it is not possible for someone to go straight to a transcendent function – they first have to develop some form of one-sidedness.

The Jungian analyst Murray Stein summarised Jung’s model of development as consisting of two movements (Stein 2006). The first movement involves the differentiation of consciousness, and it is this stage that can involve becoming a type (or becoming one-sided). The second movement involves rapprochement between consciousness and the unconscious, and in this stage one develops the fifth function. This terminology of ‘two movements’ is useful because there is a clear implication that the first movement is to be followed by a second one.

In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers’ discussion of type development is limited to the first movement. Although she discusses the development of the auxiliary, tertiary and fourth functions, this is always in the service of the dominant function. She does not mention Jung’s fifth function, nor the process involved in the second movement of individuation. She does acknowledge very briefly the existence of the second movement by accepting that people can “transcend their type” (Myers 1980, p. 168). However, contemporary type theory holds to the view that the dominant function remains the same throughout life, e.g.:

MBTI theory says that each of us remains one type throughout our lives but that we gradually develop both our preferences and our non-preferences. (Bayne 2004, p. 40)

By contrast, in Jung’s model of development having a psychological type is a stage that a person goes through on the way towards wholeness and individuality. Jung lays the emphasis on the second movement of individuation, i.e. the emergence and ongoing development of the fifth function. This second movement is an ongoing, iterative process that is centred on symbols and involves learning to desist from exercising preference or from discriminating between opposites. It is like climbing a ladder: type is the first rung on the ladder; the transcendent function represents all the other rungs on the ladder. Climbing this developmental ladder is achieved “through a differentiation of the self from the opposites [which] amounts to a detachment of libido from both sides” (Jung 1921, p. 114).

The Axiom of Maria

Jung explained this process – of differentiation of the self from the opposites – using the Axiom of Maria, a principle that is central to alchemy (Jung 1944, p. 23). He made substantial use of alchemy in his theories because it “endeavours to fill in the gaps left open by the… tension of opposites” (Ibid.). That is, the theory of psychological types describes the problem of opposites, alchemy provides the solution to it. The Axiom of Maria has several different forms and interpretations. The form Jung used when relating the axiom to the process of individuation was:

One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth. (Hill 2001)

The description and diagrams below illustrate a version of the axiom that relates it to the model of type development described in Psychological Types.

In the Axiom of Maria, 1 represents an initial, undifferentiated state – i.e. unconsciousness.

In the first movement of individuation, a conscious standpoint is differentiated, and the opposite is repressed and projected. For example, in type terms, the intuition function might be differentiated and seen in a positive light (e.g. ‘I am creative’) and the sensation function then repressed, projected onto others, and seen in a negative light (e.g. ‘he is pedantic’). This differentiated conscious standpoint is “2” in the axiom of Maria.

The next stage is number 3 in the Axiom of Maria and the beginning of Stein’s second movement of individuation. Although Jung does not articulate this explicitly in Psychological Types, he states elsewhere that “the development of consciousness requires the withdrawal of all the projections we can lay our hands on” (Jung 1938/1940, p. 85). Using the example above, taking ownership of those projections might involve recognising that ‘I am the pedantic person’.

These opposites are then held in tension – you recognise the contradictory principles in yourself, refrain from exercising your preferences, and value both sides equally. Using the example, you recognise the need for possibilities (N) and facts (S) but you don’t know how to do both at the same time. As you are then stymied, this creates the space in which the unconscious can begin its work – i.e. the transcendent function starts to form in the unconscious, in an attempt to resolve the tension.

What emerges into consciousness at first is a symbol – something you experience as having a numinous quality and holding a meaning that is initially difficult to understand. Symbols can form in any medium, but most often appear in dreams, artwork, sandplay, active imagination, etc., or as striking characters or images from books, films, news reports, etc. To develop the example, you might watch the film Superman and be ‘gripped’ by the image of the small child holding up the weight of a truck.

As you pay attention to the symbol, its meaning starts to unfold. This meaning will transcend two sets of opposites: the original preference and its opposite (i.e. “2” and “3”); and consciousness and the unconscious. In the example, the extraordinary strength of the child Superman is both a fact and a possibility – it represents the child’s latent abilities. Also, the image points both to something conscious (e.g. we know the child is young) and to something unconscious (the child’s mysterious powers are beyond our comprehension).

Through paying attention to the unfolding meaning of the symbol, the new transcendent function emerges into consciousness to take its place as the dominant function. You might begin to see that everyone has latent abilities, which are neither pure facts nor possibilities but an admixture of the two. That is, in terms of the Axiom of Maria, the one (which formed in the unconscious) has become the fourth (the new dominant function of consciousness).

In reading this, the image of the child Superman probably hasn’t gripped you, because every person, symbol, and transcendent function is different. Your transcendent function will develop by paying attention to the symbols that grip you personally (whether with awe or horror). You will need to desist from exercising preference (or desist from adulation or condemnation) to allow the transcendent function to develop out of your unconscious. This is like rescuing someone from a broken lift – you prise the doors apart, and hold them open so the person can escape. In the process of individuation, what ‘escapes’ from the unconscious is a uniting symbol, which grips your attention and morphs into a unique transcendent function – i.e. a new conscious standpoint that governs consciousness.

The Caduceus

The transcendent function only unites some opposites, and integrates a small part of the unconscious. Therefore, there are still many projections to be withdrawn and further integration is needed, so the process repeats itself. Jung illustrated this iterative process of development with the image of the Caduceus from Greek mythology:

[T]he right way to wholeness is… snakelike, a path that unites the opposites in the manner of the guiding caduceus… (Jung 1938/1940, p.6)

I have superimposed numbers on the image to show how the caduceus relates to the Axiom of Maria and Jung’s process of individuation. The first iteration of the axiom begins at the bottom, i.e. the original state of undifferentiated unconsciousness (1). A typological function is differentiated (2) and the opposite is projected onto other people. When those projections are withdrawn and owned (3), and the person refrains from exercising preference, it allows a symbol and then a new dominant function to emerge from the unconscious (4).

Although this new function is transcendent, it is still one-sided in many other respects and it goes through another iteration of the Axiom of Maria. This new function is differentiated further (5), more projections are withdrawn and owned (6) and, by paying attention to symbols that emerge, and by holding the tension of opposites, a new transcendent function forms to become dominant (7). The process keeps repeating to produce further iterations of the transcendent function (10, 13, 16, etc).


In Isabel Briggs Myers’ type development, the “dominant and auxiliary… reach a kind of ceiling and then more attention is paid to the third and fourth functions” (Bayne 2004, p. 34). In terms of the caduceus, this ceiling occurs at point (2). Although Isabel Briggs Myers acknowledged that individuals could transcend their type (Op. Cit.) she saw no reason for it:

I never advise anything more than getting [the 3rd and 4th functions] into the service of the functions that you care about most… Maybe you can switch [the dominant function] in later years but… I don’t see any reason why you should. (Myers 1977, p. 21)

Jung, however, did see a reason – he thought it was “absolutely essential” (Jung 1928, p. 198) in order to heal the split between consciousness and the unconscious, and to make progress towards world peace (Jung 1948, pp. 606-13). He used psychological type theory to show people their one-sidedness (Jung 1935). In his view, development occurs by refraining from exercising preference (Jung 1921, pp. 479-80) not by encouraging the development of preference.

Isabel Briggs Myers and C.G. Jung therefore offer two different development paths. The goal set by Isabel Briggs Myers is to develop within your type. For C.G. Jung, development of your type is a stage to go through in pursuit of the goal of individuation through the transcendent function. Psychological type can therefore become a barrier to individuation if people are encouraged to remain in their type preferences throughout the whole of life.

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Bayne, R. (2004), Psychological Types at Work: An MBTI Perspective, (London: Thomson Learning)

Hill, J. (2001), C.G. Jung at Bollingen Tower Retreat, unfinished documentary on the DVD: Matter of Heart (New York: Kino International Corp)

Jung, C.G. (1915), Letter to Hans Schmid-Guisan, 4 June 1915, in The Question of Psychological Types, Correspondence edited by John Beebe / Ernst Falzeder, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), emphasis as per the Beebe/Falzeder book.

Jung, C.G. (1921), Psychological Types, (London: Routledge, 1971)

Jung, C.G. (1928), The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious, in Collected Works 7, (Princeton: Bollingen Paperbacks, 1972)

Jung, C.G. (1934), Foreword to the Argentine Edition in Jung, 1921, pp. xiv-xv

Jung, C.G. (1935), C.G. Jung Letters, Volume 1, 1906-1950, edited by Gerhard Adler, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976), p. 186

Jung, C.G. (1938/1940), Psychology and Religion in Collected Works 11, (Hove: Routledge, 1969)

Jung, C.G. (1944), Introduction to the Religious and Psychological Problems of Alchemy in Collected Works 12 (Hove: Routledge, 2004)

Jung, C.G. (1948), Techniques of Attitude Change Conducive to World Peace (Memorandum to UNESCO), in Collected Works 18 (Hove: Routledge, 1977)

Jung, C.G. (1957), The Houston Films, in C.G. Jung Speaking, (Princeton: Bollingen Paperbacks, pp. 276-352)

Myers, I.B. (1977), Conversations with Isabel (transcript by Marcia Miller), (Gainesville: CAPT)

Myers, I.B. (1980), Gifts Differing, (Palo Alto: Davis Black Publishing, 1995)

Myers, S.P. (2012a), Jung’s Reaction to the Reaction, in Bulletin of Psychological Type, vol 35:2, pp. 4-6, (Richmond: Association for Psychological Type International)

Myers, S.P. (2012b), The Misleading Letter from Jung to Isabel Briggs Myers, in Bulletin of Psychological Type, vol 35:3, pp. 27-30, (Richmond: Association for Psychological Type International)

Stanley, E. (2001), Evaluating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol, 39, no. 3

Stein, M. (2006), Principle of Individuation: Toward the Development of Human Consciousness (Polarities of the Psyche), (Illinois: Chiron Publications)


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