By Kartik Subbarao
Kartik Subbarao (ENTP) is an independent IT consultant with over 19 years of industry experience in a variety of engineering and technical leadership positions. Whether it’s with technology, psychology, philosophy or spirituality, he is keenly interested in the unifying concepts that connect the dots between diverse elements, expand our sense of what’s possible, and give us greater insight into ourselves and the world. Kartik has a BSEE from Princeton University and an MSEE from Stanford University. Visit his website: kartiksubbarao.com.
For me, the genius of MBTI is how it reminds us of the co-arising, interdependent nature of all polarities, through four simple examples. With each pair of opposites — extraversion and introversion, intuition and sensing, thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving — we see two sides of a single coin. Each pole cannot be defined except in relation to the other. And of course the same is true in combination. The instant that Ne is created, Ni, Se and Si also spring into existence. They’re like the positive-space objects in Escher’s famous “Symmetry” paintings which simultaneously serve as the background for the negative-space objects (and vice versa):
If you take a coin and balance it on its edge, all it takes is a light tap on the table to tip it over. If you do this a number of times, you’ll see that it tends to settle with one side facing up more often, based on its weight distribution. Our MBTI coins of polarity work in much the same way. We tend to prefer one side and limit the other, based on our inertial makeup.
When we start our journey of individuation, the weight distributions of our coins are often skewed by social conditioning. The side that we present for all to see is influenced by insecurity and fear of rejection. In doing this, we overuse our weakest functions and experience a lot of stress and anxiety. It takes the Champion to pull us out of this quagmire. Champions help us believe in ourselves. They help us shake off some of the layers of conditioning and rediscover the natural balance of our coins. Many of us have found the Champion while learning about MBTI and Jungian psychology. When I (as someone with ENTP preferences) see Champions in the world, they usually speak to my dominant/auxiliary function preferences (Ne and Ti) or at least to my dominant function (Ne).
This works great for a while — shaking off the not-me conditioning, and gaining a deeper insight into our innate capabilities, is fun and energizing. It’s like we’re birds who’ve only used our wings to stabilize our walk, and we now realize that we can actually use them to fly. But as we explore our talents, develop them and become used to them, we can become gradually possessive of them, and even fearful of losing them. Our ego now starts to add deadweight to the privileged sides of our polarity coins. As we do this, we push the opposite sides more and more into the unconscious, and we become susceptible to the Dementor.
In the richly symbolic world of Harry Potter, Dementors are creatures which suck out all of the hope and joy from life. In type development, I look at Dementors as those people who most strongly assert function-combinations that we reject, and with whom we experience depths of iciness and hopelessness. These people aren’t just mistaken in their actions; The very way that they think about things is horribly wrong. We can’t stand how they go about their work or their life. They insistently confront us with the other sides of the polarity coins. They give us advice that we can’t possibly follow, and nothing that we say or do seems to have any influence on them. Our interactions with Dementors are full of conflict, whether it’s active or passive.
We can sometimes recruit others in our cause to defeat Dementors. We’ll even succeed from time to time, and this success seems to be necessary at certain stages in our development. But usually the outcome is stalemate, with lots of ammunition being expended in the process. In my experience, Dementors are typically conjured when we encounter rejected aspects (attitude or type) in both our perceiving and judging functions. For me as ENTP, the three primary dementor complexes are NTJ (5/6 opposing/senex), SFP (7/8 trickster/daemon) and SFJ (3/4 tertiary/inferior). As an example, NTJ (Ni/Te) can reject Ne/Ti in a way that totally undermines it and leaves it in shambles. If I’m particularly attached to an idea (political views are a veritable minefield for this), and an NTJ demolishes it to pieces, that can feel humiliating like nothing else. I might then become defensive or retaliate in kind, which continues the dysfunctional dementor pattern.
In the long run, Champions can’t help us much with Dementors. They’re sympathetic to our plight, and might even help us win some battles. But they can’t stop us from projecting away our rejected content, which is the source of the Dementor’s power.
It takes the Mentor’s wisdom (which can come from any type preference) to overcome this hurdle. Mentors don’t get caught up in the Champion vs Dementor battles. Instead, they encourage us to pick up the polarity coin and give it a spin. When you spin a coin, it gains gyroscopic stability. Even if you bang on the table, the coin won’t fall down. In this dynamic stability, we see an emergent rotating sphere that simultaneously transcends and includes both sides of the flat coin. We’re granted a new perspective on both sides in relationship to the other. This is what ultimately allows us to shake off the extra deadweight that we’ve added to our preferred side. We willingly let go of it, not to submit to the Dementor, but to more fully experience the sphere as a whole. We transform the two-sided coin of Intuition and Sensing into the emergent sphere of Perceiving, just as we transform the coin of Thinking and Feeling into the sphere of Judging. By doing so, we reclaim the projection of the Dementor back into ourselves, and the war (that we were actually fighting with ourselves the whole time) is over.
This doesn’t mean that we lose all of our preferences. We’re just not compulsive about them like we used to be. We gain more freedom of choice in our actions, which are now informed by a broader scope of perception and judgment. When the spinning coin stops, it can still land more often with one side facing up, and that’s fine. We continue to accept our natural preferences without forcing any particular weight distribution. We become more present with ourselves and others, and more able to value the “gifts differing” in everyone.
Here are some some papers that have been very insightful to me on the general topic of polarities and ego development:
Type as a Tool to Promote Ego Development, by Linda Berens
Polarities and Ego Development: Polarity Thinking In Ego Development Theory And Developmental Coaching, by Beena Sharma and Susanne Cook-Greuter.
Here’s another take that I previously wrote on Mentors and Dementors in the workplace, which goes into some more examples and doesn’t use type terminology.