Meeting Our Marginal Selves

The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together:
our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not;
and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.”
– William Shakespeare




 It has taken me decades of reflection, study, research and immersion in personal growth experiences to understand and appreciate my way of being in the world. Knowing my MBTI® personality type has been a key piece in putting the puzzle together. When I received my first administration of the MBTI® instrument, I was thrilled to know, as an ENFP type, that there are several others like me and that it is a viable way of living in the world. I found answers to questions I have been asking myself for a long time: Why do I find some experiences engaging and others boring? Why do I feel more understood by some than by others?


 Carl Jung observed that we all have access to the same psychological apparatus with the help of which we perceive our inner and outer worlds and come to conclusions about them. The psychological apparatus we use, according to Jung, are our four mental functions – Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling. While we all have access to them, we do not use them with equal ease. There is an order we prefer to follow. Myers and Briggs represented each of the 16 MBTI® personality types as codes that can be used to determine a person’s preferences when it comes to using his or her mental functions. I like to think of these mental functions as the selves within the Self.


 My dominant mental function, Extraverted iNtuition, is engaged when I have an opportunity to work with patterns and possibilities. I am at my creative best when I can dream and cross-pollinate ideas, and come up with new and original ways of perceiving and doing things. My mind flashes back to my childhood when on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to surprise my mother and bake a cake for her by melting four 5-Star chocolate bars on her favourite dosa tava . Needless to say, my mother, an ESTJ Type, was not amused.


 Knowing my type has also helped me understand how fulfilled I feel when I follow my auxiliary function, Introverted Feeling, and champion for values and causes that I believe are important to pay heed to. My introverted feeling function helps me stay tethered when I am working at converting possibilities into realities. It regulates my energy by establishing priorities, motivates me when I am tired and helps me recognise and discard ideas that can set me adrift.


 iNtuition and Feeling are my preferred mental functions. My best selves. When I am working on projects that engage these two mental functions, life feels like a song. I am less aware of how I deploy the other two mental functions of Thinking and Sensing – my ‘lesser or marginal selves’. I am conscious of their presence mostly in situations where my ‘best’ selves are missing. They form part of my shadow. When asked for a description of the shadow, Jung would pose a counter question: “How do you find a lion that has swallowed you?”


 These lesser -preferred selves of mine appear when I am feeling over-extended and stressed. When I review my behaviour in such situations, I find that that I have been overly analytical, terse, technical and factual. Out goes the one who perceives possibilities and in comes the auditor-inspector. How did this happen? I have been swallowed by my Sensing and Thinking mental functions. In other words, these functions are being accessed by me in an unconscious way. It is unconscious behavior because I don’t identify with being an auditor-inspector –“what? I am being picky?” I feel disturbed and marginalise this part of myself.


 An even bigger question is – Why does this happen? Jung’s explanation of this mysterious transformation suggests that my Sensing and Thinking functions take over my normal outlook towards a situation in order to compensate for my excessive one-sidedness or bias towards my preferred mental functions of iNtuition and Feeling. Jung believed that everything that happens to us is meaningful and has a purpose. The hidden gift in being given a glimpse into my auditor-inspector self is an invitation to carry out a dispassionate reality check along with my dreaming.


 In fairy tales, this phenomenon is often represented as the hero meeting something or someone unacceptable that she has to take along with her in order to complete her quest. A critical moment in the story occurs when the hero has to make a choice – do I stay within the boundary of my identity defined by my likes and dislikes or do I step out of my comfort zone and seek the support of this unacceptable entity to complete my quest? Once the hero decides to step out of her known identity, the spell is broken and the unacceptable entity transforms into an ally. We can mistakenly take away a message from the tale that reassures us that we have the power to change the frog into a prince or the hag into a princess. The transformative moment in the tale occurs when the hero changes the way she relates to the unacceptable entity rather than attempt to change its nature.


 The medicine lies in including and engaging with the unacceptable parts in me and in others and not in avoiding or repressing it. As I have begun to develop a respectful relationship with my Sensing and Thinking functions, I have found counsel that has helped me add dimensions to myself that I had not believed would be possible. I am able to get up every morning and do my breathing practice without enquiring into its meaning, significance or usefulness every single day. I can relax into the knowing that “…it will add up… breath by breath”. No sweeping insight. No grand view of life. Just breathing in the moment.. here and now. This simple practice has helped me widen my world. I feel easy around friends and colleagues whose way of being in the world is built around the Sensing and Thinking mental functions.


 I have found it relieving to have access to a framework that does not push me to idealize my strengths and pathologise my imperfections. The structured access offered by Myers and Briggs into understanding and appreciating Jung’s theories has made it possible for me to develop a practice that embraces both inner and outer diversity.



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