Jung's letter on Myers-Briggs typology

The misleading letter from Jung on Myers-Briggs typology

There is a popular misunderstanding that C.G. Jung approved of Isabel Briggs Myers’ work. However, he repeatedly objected to the popular interpretation of his book Psychological Types and research based on the MBTI® instrument. There was a rift between I.B. Myers and C.G. Jung which has been hidden for more than half a century from those who use Myers-Briggs typology (Myers, S. 2019).

The misunderstanding is largely due to a complimentary letter from Jung to Myers in 1950. However, Jung did not write it and it did not represent his opinion. It was written by his secretary who couched it in diplomatic language to conceal Jung’s disapproval.

The letter from Jung on Myers-Briggs typology

Myers had met Jung in 1937, along with her mother, Katharine Briggs. In 1950, Myers sent Jung details of the questionnaire she was developing and asked to visit him during her holiday in Switzerland. His secretary sent two replies. The first was a holding letter that said he was ill (Saunders 1991, p. 120). The second was typewritten soon after and signed by Jung:

Thank you very much for kindly sending me your interesting questionnaire and the equally interesting description of your results. As you have given the matter a great deal of thought I think you have done so much in this direction that I’m hardly capable of criticising it or even knowing it better. For quite a long time I haven’t done any work along that line at all, because other things have taken the foreground of my interests. However, I should say that for any future development of the Type-Theory your Type Indicator will prove to be of great help.

I should have liked very much to see you, but I’m only just recovering from a tedious illness and shall leave presently for a long and much-needed holiday from which I shall not return until the fall.

Hoping you have a nice time in Europe, I remain, yours sincerely, C.G. Jung.

(Saunders 1991, p. 121 & photo plate)

Jung appears to defer to Myers as having greater knowledge about typology, endorses her interpretation of his theory, and approves her research. However, this is because Marie-Jeanne Schmid wrote the letter and Jung signed it without looking at it. Several pieces of evidence support this view of events.

The evidence

Firstly, the letter contradicts the views that Jung expressed elsewhere. For example, when asked in an interview about the American interpretation of his typological theory, he said ‘God preserve me from my friends’ (Jung 1957, p. 304). Another example is Jung’s response to a PhD student, who contacted Jung to ask for comments on his MBTI research. Jung refused to help, saying this type of work did not align with the content of his book (Jung 1977, pp. 550-52). Jung made various objections to the popular interpretation of his typological theory from the early 1930s to the late 1950s.

The second piece of evidence is that Schmid had a great deal of autonomy in replying to his correspondence. At the time of receiving Myers’ letter, Schmid had been Jung’s secretary for 18 years (Jung 1973, p. 539n). Jung trusted her so much that he ‘signed every letter and approved every typescript without more than a glance’ (Bair 2003, p. 410). She wrote many of Jung’s letters so that he could concentrate on his writing and research interests.

Thirdly, the style and content of the letter are different from Jung’s. He was normally direct and forthright in the correspondence he wrote – agreeing, criticising, or engaging deeply in theory (e.g. see Jung 1973, pp. 542-69). Schmid was ‘nobly acting as Dr. Jung’s shock absorber’ (Jung/White 2007, p. 77) so used a more diplomatic style. The letter to Myers is diplomatic and avoids theoretical discussion, which is more in keeping with letters written by Schmid than by Jung.

Fourthly, to be diplomatic, Schmid bent the truth in the letter to Myers. Written on July 1, she said Jung was ‘only just recovering’ from an illness. However, he had already recovered. Jung had gastric flu during the week commencing 12 June 1950, and he says he feels better by 20 June (Pauli/Jung 2001, p. 45). He mentions his illness in the past tense on 26 June (p. 47) and, on the same day, sends a theoretical letter to another correspondent that makes no mention of his illness (Jung 1973, pp. 559-60). The letter to Myers, which claimed he was still recovering, was sent five days later.

Fifthly, Jung and Schmid often used his health as an excuse to avoid meeting people (Bair 2003, p. 528).

Sixthly, the letter to Myers claimed that Jung was going on a long holiday, but he was only going to Bollingen (20 miles away) which he often used as a working retreat. He wrote work-related letters while he was there (Jung 1973, pp. 561-62) and sometimes received new visitors (Oakes 1987, pp.11ff). Also, Victor White had no difficulty arranging to visit Jung at Bollingen during the period when Myers wanted to visit (Jung/White 2007, p. 156).

Finally, the suggestion that Myers knew more about type than Jung because he had lost interest does not ring true. For example, when Myers sent her materials, a professor of Chinese Classics sent him some material on Taoism. In the latter case, Jung did not let the other person’s superior knowledge inhibit him, and he replied to the latter with in-depth theoretical criticism. Also, Jung’s interest in type theory had not waned because it was a constant starting point in his writing (Bair 2003, p. 376) and he included it as one of the topics in his last work, his chapter in Man and His Symbols (Jung 1964, pp. 45-56).

Practical implications

The letter suggests that the views of Jung and Myers were closely aligned. However, there is much evidence to show that the popular interpretation of typology missed something important from Jung’s theory. Jung claimed that Psychological Types was about the problem of one-sidedness – or the problem of opposites – and not about categorising people. This misunderstanding means that we miss Jung’s solution to the problem. Buried within chapters II and V, he shows how to overcome otherwise-intractable conflicts, within ourselves, in our relationships, and between societies.

The divergence between Jung’s and the popular interpretation of typology began before Myers started to develop her instrument, so she was not responsible for it. However, Myers-Briggs typology has now come to represent the popular view. Therefore, most people miss Jung’s solution to the problem of conflicting opposites. This subject is explored in more depth in the forthcoming book Myers-Briggs Typology vs Jungian Individuation: Overcoming One-sidedness in Self and Society.

References

Bair, D. (2003). Jung: A Biography. New York: Back Bay Books.

Jung, C.G. (1957). ‘The Houston films’. In C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Princeton: Bollingen Paperbacks, 1977

______ (1964). Man and His Symbols. London: Picador, 1978.

______ (1973). C.G. Jung Letters, Volume 1, 1906-1950, edited by Gerhard Adler in collaboration with Aniela Jaffé. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

______ (1977). C.G. Jung Letters, Volume 2, 1951-1961, edited by Gerhard Adler in collaboration with Aniela Jaffé. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Jung, C.G., White, V. (2007). The Jung-White Letters, edited by A. C. Lammers and A. Cunningham. Hove: Routledge.

Myers, S. (2019). Myers-Briggs Typology vs Jungian Individuation: Overcoming One-sidedness in Self and Society. Abingdon: Routledge, forthcoming.

Oakes, M. (1987). The Stone Speaks: The Memoir of a Personal Transformation. Wilmette: Chiron Publications.

Pauli, W., Jung, C.G. (2001). Atom and Archetype: The Pauli-Jung Letters 1932-1958. London: Routledge.

Saunders, F.W. (1991). Katharine and Isabel. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.

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