“I’m an extravert. I can’t just sit here and write in a journal for an hour. I have to be meeting people. It’s what I am made for.”
“I’m an introvert. I can’t go to parties without feeling completely demolished. All that sensory input is overwhelming. It’s what I am.”
“I can’t do yoga; I’m an extravert.”
“I can’t talk to people about my faith. My faith is internal and private. That’s the same with all of us introverts”.
People said these things to me in counseling or after I taught them in the classroom. Each of them is a heartfelt struggle and each reflects a basic misunderstanding about this essential element of personality. Many people have wrongly assumed that they are either an introvert or an extravert. A smaller group has come to realize that, for them, it is not that easy to put themselves into either condition. They call themselves “ambiverts” which is a way of saying “I’m a little of both”.
I have news for all the people who identify as introverts, extraverts (yes, that’s how Carl Jung spelled it) and ambiverts: YOU’RE ALL OF THE ABOVE.
Everyone is an introvert and everyone is an extravert. Therefore, we’re all ambiverts.
Let me explain by delving into the curious details of human personality.
Most of what we call modern Personality Theory owes a lot to the work of Carl Gustav Jung and his associates. Later students of Jung such as Isabel Briggs-Myers and her family have refined many of Jung’s concepts and brought them to the wider public outside of stodgy psychiatrist conventions. Modern Personality theorists like David Keirsey and Lenore Thomson have truly expanded our ideas about how to classify and appreciate all the nuances of personality differences.
Yet, with all the advances we have made in this field of study, the essential elements remain the same. It might be helpful if everyone understood the basics of personality type. Here is your primer.
Personality Theory teaches that there are four primary cognitive functions. This is important. A cognitive function is simply a way of thinking about things. It’s just how your brain works and gets along with the average day. Or an exceptional day…it doesn’t matter. These four cognitive functions fall into two sets, making it really easy to sort through.
The first set of functions relates to how we collect information from the world around us. All of us use both these methods, but not equally. There are two primary ways we do this:
- Using our Senses (Sensory Cognitive function)
- Using our Intuition (Patterned Cognitive function)
Sensory observations use the five senses to observe the world around and to store the sensory information and use it to draw conclusions later. A person who primarily uses their senses to collection information is identified by using the big letter “S”. An “S” person becomes quite good at observing with the eyes, ears and touch.
Intuitive observations look for patterns, meanings and relationships between things to make observations. Though this person uses their physical senses, they are not looking to store the data as sensory observations. Rather, they use that data to spot patterns which have been previously seen. All children start as sensory until around age 4 when some will develop intuitive reliance. We refer to those who use their intuitive data gathering skills with the big letter “N” (not “I” because that would be confused with Introverts).
So, the two information collection functions are called “S” and “N”.
The second set of functions relates to what we will do with the information we gather. This can be applied with decision-making, relationships, actions, beliefs, and conflict. As with the first set, there are two opposite ways we apply the information we gather.
- Using Logic to use the information (Thinking cognitive Function)
- Using Human Relationships to utilize the information (Feeling cognitive Function)
The people who use the thinking cognitive function more readily are not necessarily more logical than those who use the feeling function. The thinking function relates all information into a framework of ideas. Rather than relating those ideas to other people and to how the information will affect those people, the thinking function makes decisions based on the fact and details. To identify this function we use the big letter “T”
People who rely on the Feeling function to make decisions take the data gathered by their information collection and relate that information to their significant relationships. They want to see how the information affects themselves and other people. This is called the Feeling function, but that is confusing. It doesn’t necessarily have any emotion tied to it. Simply put, the ones who use this function immediately relate all data to its connections with others. We use the big letter “F” to identify this function.
So these four letters—S, N, T, F—identify the four cognitive functions. Every person has a data collection function and everyone has a decision-making function. That’s because we all collect data and we all make decisions.
There are four combinations of these letters we can have: ST, SF, NT, and NF. Every person on the planet has a preference for one of these four combinations. These are the four options you have.
But here is the point I want everyone to understand. This is a preference. You still use the other functions, just not as frequently. For instance, a person who collects data using sensory functions can still utilize the pattern spotting function if needed. They just won’t be as good at it.
Let me show you another way to look at this. Write your name down on a piece of paper. I’ll wait while you do it.
Think about this for a second. Without any more instructions, you automatically used the hand you usually write with. Why did you do that? You did it because that is your preferred hand for writing. You have done this for years that way.
Now, take the writing instrument and write your name with the other hand. What do you notice about this? Of course, it is not as easy to do and not as comfortable. Therefore, after this exercise, you will go back to using the hand you have always preferred. However, if something happened to injure your preferred hand, you could use the other hand to write with. But it would take a lot of time and be uncomfortable for awhile.
The same thing is true of cognitive functions. Our brains tend to go with our lifelong preferences; we do what comes most easily and natural for us. We were born with these preferences and can only change them if we have to.
Let’s return to the four combinations of cognitive functions:
ST: Gathers data with senses and uses logic to come to conclusions
SF: Gathers data with senses and uses relationships to people to come to conclusions
NT: Gathers data with intuition and uses logic to come to conclusions.
NF: Gathers data with intuition and uses relationships to people to come to conclusions.
Now, let’s add introversion and extraversion to this mix. This is what makes us more complete in how we live out our lives.
An Introvert (I) lives most of their lives on the inside of their mind. They take the world around them and bring it in to work with it. They live in an internal world and only connect to the world outside of them when they need to.
An Extravert (E) lives most of their lives on the outside of their mind. They take the thoughts of their inner world and they bring it out to interact with others. An extravert doesn’t keep things to themselves unless they have no other choice.
Now, here is where it gets really interesting. Since every person has a preference for one of the four letter combination of cognitive functions mentioned above, those two letters relate to the introversion and extraversion. Let’s say a person is an NF (as I am). Their two cognitive functions are Intuition and Feeling. One of those two functions will be introverted and the other one will be extraverted. If they are an extravert, they might bring out their Intuition for all to see. Or they may bring their Feeling decisions for all to see. If they’re an introvert, they may keep their Intuition inside to ponder. Or they may keep their Feeling decisions inside to meditate upon.
Here is the key: Whichever function you tend to introvert, the other function will be the one you use to relate to the world around you. Whichever function you bring out to relate to the world around you, you use the other one to ponder your inner world.
Every person has both an introverted and extraverted function, even though you have a preference for one over the other.
The key to healthy living is learning to use the non-preferred (secondary) function more often in life.