Personality Type and Boundaries

Boundaries are part of human living, whether outside our control – hours of employment or legal constraints, or within in our own remit – relationships, lifestyle and our own internal ordering.

Boundaries do not get a good press these days. They smack of excluding or forbidding, and seem to militate against our ideals of an inclusive society where individuals are free to do as they choose. Yet healthy boundaries are necessary and positive. They bring clarity and identity; they protect and enable as well as prevent and limit. Set wisely, they balance maximum freedom with maximum security, bringing focus to life’s flow.

Like many other formal interactions, a counselling session is a boundaried experience: a separate, private space, governed by ethics of confidentiality; excluding discussion of the counsellor’s personal issues, and confined to a set time. Such an artificial framework can offer an opportunity to reveal and explore one’s inner world at more depth than one might risk in a less-contained environment.

Boundaries themselves may be an issue underlying stress or distress. On the one hand, they may be fragile or non-existent: work intruding into home life; low self-worth engendered by over-permissive parenting; confusion between others’ problems and one’s own responsibilities.  But boundaries can also be overly-rigid: fullness of life curbed by self-limiting beliefs or assumptions; punitive rules imposed by self or others; personal space and expression buried beneath a forest of ‘oughteries.’

Seeking growth may mean attending to boundaries: Dismantling, re-building or re-positioning. Support is often needed in the process: Setting greater limits on one’s over-availability to meet others’ demands, for example, may mean living through those others’ disappointed reactions. And choosing to start dismantling barriers of isolation and secrecy may need discernment about whom to trust and courage to take the first steps towards greater openness.

Boundary-work may also be internal: Some of us need to bring order to an inner life overwhelmed by multiple pressures, concerns and agitated emotions. Separating issues out into some sort of coherent shape can reduce confusion and help us tackle what we face one step at a time. At a deeper level, some of us may need to soften the boundary between our conscious and unconscious minds, and re-connect with painful material pushed down and out, yet still driving our behaviour from the other side of the divide.

The Myers-Briggs® model is no stranger to the concept of boundaries. The boundary line between the preferences distinguishes alternative possibilities between our inner or outer worlds, information-gathering or decision-making. Being aware of where we stand in relation to these divisions indicates our clarity of preference and locates us within the personality type grid. It helps ground our identity. We see more clearly who we are; we become more conscious of how we choose to be and have a language to name the distinction.

The formation of internal boundaries is crucial to psychological well-being. Whilst we may exercise any Myers-Briggs preference we choose, unhindered development will entail the gradual definition of our particular preferences within each pairing. We underline a preference through repeated expression, gradually bringing shape to our personality’s landscape.

Bruce Duncan comments on how one’s dominant process generally emerges during childhood – as we might recognise when we recall the preferred activities of our earliest years. The supporting auxiliary function comes into focus during adolescence, with the third function emerging during early adulthood.

The potentially fruitful yet often problematic fourth function begins to cross the boundary from unconscious to conscious in our personality at mid-life. The timing is vital: clear definition of our key functions provides a strong framework within which an undeveloped fourth function can find its feet and become integrated.

I noted earlier that boundaries need to be strong enough to provide containment, but flexible enough to be re-adjusted. In Myers-Briggs terms, the boundary line is a given distinction: one is either exercising one preference or another. What needs clarity is one’s relationship to the line: Having a firm position, but being able to move out of it when and if appropriate – a willingness to cross the line on occasion.

Self-awareness is a vital starting-point: we need to understand the alternative ways of operating delineated by each preference, and discern their relationship to the dividing line in each case. Some of us may be so ingrained in our own preference that we are scarcely attuned to the existence of an alternative modus operandi; Others may be standing uncertainly on the line, seemingly unable to commit to a position on one side or the other, and perhaps needing to be convinced that this is a place of paralysed indecision rather than perfect equilibrium.

Distorted perceptions aside, our position in relation to a boundary line can be distorted. External conditions may impact the inner ordering of the personality. In Myers-Briggs terms, nurture may push us to perform on our less-preferred side.

We do not just bring self-awareness and response to circumstances to the boundary issue. We also bring our particular personality type’s perspective. Judging and Perceiving evince the clearest ‘take’ on the boundaries issue, highlighting a response to the outer world and thus visible boundary management. It would be stereotyping to claim that Ps dislike boundaries, whereas Js cannot get enough of them, though I have noticed that at a Basic Workshop, it is more often Js who want to leave having sorted their personality type, whilst Ps seem happier to leave the matter unresolved.

The Type Table itself can elicit different responses: squares that seem safe as houses to Js look like a boxing in to Ps. Perhaps addressing boundary perceptions involves enabling Js to see the lines round the 16 squares as borders between different countries – crossable even if you hold on tight to your type passport, and to reassure Ps that the middle section of the Type Table is not a prison block.

We all contend with external boundary issues, though may do so differently. A time deadline can be reached in a P process of spurts and siestas or an orderly J progression from planning to completion. Several Ps have told me that they like clear parameters when setting out on a task – a boundaried launch-pad, as opposed to Js’ emphasis on the task’s goals – a boundaried end-point. But whether Ps want to swim out to sea from a solid shore-line as Js’ set off with eyes fixed on the distant coast, both types can enjoy the freedom of the water.

Given the importance of inner boundaries, a valuable MBTI® insight to bear in mind is that whatever our outer-world preference, the opposite applies within. P’s inner focus emerging in clarity of values and precise thinking should not surprise us any more than J’s inner flow of vivid sense impressions and wild possibilities, alive and kicking inside, however organised the exterior.

The outer world can be a pressing concern – especially as modern technology increasingly limits opportunities for private, unintruded space. Otto Kroeger urges the importance for Is of setting a clear boundary between the outer world’s demands and the inner world’s call, if they are to provide sufficient contained space to nurture their dominant function. Interestingly, Kroeger advises IPs to use this time to ‘stay focused and complete what you start,’ whereas IJs need to ‘stay unfocused, relax and enjoy the process.’ Js and Ps both need boundaries – we all do – but they prefer to use them in different places.

Bruce Duncan ‘Pray your Way’ (DLT  1993)
Otto Kroeger Introverted Complexity # 47 (MBTI News Spring, 1985 Vol 7 No 8 )

Adapted from article originally appearing in ‘Typeface,’Vol. 21,No 4 (magazine of the British Association for Psychological Type)

This entry was posted in Myers-Briggs® and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


one × 1 =

Subscribe without commenting

  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

    Read more about Julia
  • Follow me on Twitter