Type as a Tool to Promote Ego Development

Development happens. It happens along many lines or in many aspects of who we are at many times over a lifetime. It can be horizontal—growth within and enrichment of a pattern that we embody. It can also be vertical, which involves transformation with increased richness and complexity. Transformation is a change that is not a complete change. It transcends and includes what came before. The pattern stays the same, but is qualitatively different.

In the beginning, we experience and are fused with that experience. The experience has us. Then we develop a language for discussing the experience. Once we have that language we can separate from the experience and it enters into our awareness or consciousness. We tend to privilege the meaning we made of our experience. We can become aware of other views, but ours is better, right, or of more value. This is the ‘either-or’ stage of development. We can stop early in this stage and become rigid in our interpretations and our behavior. Or we can move towards the next level of development and see that all perspectives have value—the ‘both-and’ stage. And then we integrate the differing perspectives and the distinctions are not as important as they seemed. And the process starts over in many domains of our lives. This is the basic process of development—from differentiation to integration. In a broad sense, this process takes us through recognizable stages that have been described variously by many developmental theorists. These stages are sequential with increasing capacity for perspective taking and dealing with complexity.

Ego development is about the different kinds of meaning people make at different stages of development. Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter described this as follows:

The depth, complexity and scope of our perspectives, of what we know and are aware of can evolve throughout life. As one matures, the ego tells a new story about who ‘I am’ and how ‘reality works’. Ego development theory charts this path of changing self-representations or self-stories. [i] (page 5)

Models of psychological type give us a language to describe who we are. These models can become the story we tell ourselves about who we. It can help us discover our heretofore-unconscious meaning-making stories. Having this language provides a door to both horizontal and vertical development. Horizontal development is fostered when we are able to become more of what and who we already are. Then we can set aside over adaptations and falsifications of our type and truly own our nature. The tools for vertical development are perspective shifting and polarity management.

Becoming More of Who You Are

For me, learning about my type and temperament was an incredibly validating experience. As an INTP female growing up in small town Kansas in the ‘50s, I always felt defective somehow. Even after college, marriage, and children I didn’t fit in. Once I realized that I had been spending all those years trying to be who I was not, I finally had a role model of how to be me in the world. This catapulted me into some major career shifts and a lot of growth. As I owned my own type, I felt more empowered and skillful in many areas of my life. And in those areas that did not use my talents, I felt less stress because I could do what had to be done consciously rather than fighting it unconsciously. I took on more and more of the positive qualities of my type rather than the stilted adaptations I had tried.

I often tell my clients, “When you know who you are, you are freer to be who you’re not.”[ii] (p. 38). One of the most powerful uses of type is to help individuals recognize and name their strengths, their values, their core needs, their natural preferences for information and evaluation, their drives and so on. For those of us who falsified our type in order to survive, this is the first developmental task—to reclaim ourselves. For others who were lucky enough to grow up in an environment that encouraged expression of their natural selves, the type information is valuable in that it frees them up to move to the next phase of being able to name ways they are different from others. In both cases, individuals can now move to the either-or phase of development. They can separate from their unconscious habits and make conscious choices that get them better positioned to be who they are. They get to take responsibility for their own growth and development. And they may then be ready for more vertical development as part of their own evolution.

Perspective Shifting

Introducing four Temperament patterns or four Interaction Styles and then showing how each responds to the same situation can lay the groundwork for perspective shifting. The same could be done for whole type, but it is more complex. For years in every Temperament workshop I included an activity called Perspective Shifting. (Berens 2010 p. 36) The purpose was to improve communication and reduce conflict. Participants were put into temperament-alike groups and asked to present a win-win argument to an assumed partner of the other three temperaments for why they as a couple should buy an economical red sports car. Now after exposure to Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and the developmental model of Susanne Cook-Greuter, I see that this activity can actively foster the perspective taking that is necessary for later stage development. At first when participants do this activity, it is approached from an either-or perspective. They still privilege their own temperaments as they apply their beginning knowledge in stereotypic and even condescending ways to sway the others to their point of view. The facilitator, needs to be alert to the biases and stereotypes in order to reframe them or debunk them. If this activity is taken to the application level and perspective shifting is applied to a problem that needs solving, participants can start to move into true perspective taking of the both-and variety. For some who are already at a level of development where perspective taking is ingrained, this will be familiar. For others, it can be an opening for vertical development.

Another way to spark perspective shifting is through coaching questions or a worksheet. After introducing temperament, ask participants or clients about a current conflict or communication that is not going as well as they would like. Then ask them to reflect how this situation is threatening their own core needs and values. Then ask how it threatens the core needs and values of the other person. Similar activities can be done with the Interaction Style model as well. And there is more—the dynamics or polarities.

Polarity Management

There are many ways to promote development and polarity management is a powerful one that works well with typologies.The core need of each temperament pattern is served by different kinds of language, roles, and attention focus. The drive of each Interaction Style is best supported by different kinds of communication, different roles, and a different focus. While there is an innate preference for one pole of each polarity, we can choose to shift our behavior from polarity to the other. We tend do this from and ‘either-or’ position at first until we begin to see the true value of both sides of the pole.

Sharma and Cook-Greuter describe polarities as follows:

That much of human suffering is caused by the mental mechanism that splits experience into discernable opposites such as good and bad, light and dark, pleasure and pain has been known since ancient times. Inherent in our meaning making is the ascribing of value to desirable and undesirable aspects of experience, as we become socialized members of a human community. Our tendency to have preferences along with moral judgments creates the situation where we prefer one aspect of experience over its opposite. This privileging is a deeply rooted aspect of human meaning making. (p.2)


Once someone has found resonance with a Temperament or Interaction Style pattern, it is time to explore the dynamics or polarities. While this can be done to help clarify which pattern truly fits them, the main purpose is to show the polarities and to see how they might be privileging one side of the polarity. Once the polarities are understood, we usually do a polarity exercise of some kind. My favorite is to put participants into preference-alike groups and have each group describe the following:

* What I like about being someone who prefers….

* What I dislike about being someone who prefers….

* What I like about being those who prefer (the opposite)….

* What I dislike about those who prefer (the opposite) .…

The debrief of this activity has to continually focus on how the upside overdone becomes the downside in order for people to move people to appreciation of both sides.[iii] When taken to application in a work group or team, working agreements can be reached.

Psychological type is full of polarities—way more than just E-I, S-N, T-F, J-P, which are frequently introduced as the dichotomous preferences. However, a dichotomy is a division into two mutually exclusive and opposed groups. This is not a polarity. Polarities are not mutually exclusive. They are opposite ends of the same pole. When we present type characteristics as a forced choice and as opposed groups, we keep people in the ‘either-or’ mind set. Sharma and Cook-Greuter go on to say

As we mature, we learn that our framing of experience in ‘either-or’ terms is limiting of our understanding of life, that sometimes joy and sorrow reside in our hearts simultaneously. We begin to notice that what we hitherto separated as mutually exclusive choices are interdependent dimensions of one reality in which one concept can only be known through the other. (p. 2)


Presenting type as dichotomous opposites will seem to work with earlier stages of development because at these stages either-or thinking is predominant. However, it is not as likely to foster development. For example, Sensation and Intuition are presented as two opposing kinds of perception—a dichotomy, not a polarity.  Changing the language from nouns to gerunds (sensing and intuiting) we get at processes that we can more easily see as a polarity and we move from one process to another. I, and others, have found it more effective to introduce type preferences with the polarities of extraverted Sensing, introverted Sensing, extraverted iNtuiting and so on, especially for clients or participants with later stage development. This mirror their real experiences of using both ends of the pole and makes it easier to open the door for a ‘both-and’ perspective.

Growth Promoting Methods for Introducing Type Models

When we introduce a typology of any kind we can do it in a way that promotes growth and development or we can do it in a way that thwarts it. It is important to present all aspects as equally valuable with examples and stories that will be seen as having value in the culture. The focus at first is on portraying the temperament patterns or other aspects of type in fairly positive terms so they are attractive to individuals of that type or preference. Keep the downsides for later. When introducing the four Temperaments, talk about how we all have these needs, but one of them is home base. When introducing Interaction Styles describe them as energy patterns that we have all been in at one time or another. And do not stop with just the four patterns. Be sure to cover the dynamic polarities where we can have movement. In other words, don’t present the type-code dichotomies, the Temperaments or the Interaction Styles as static. No one wants to be put in a box!

And lastly we must remember that using typologies is just one tool for promoting development. It may be the best one at the time or something else might be needed. No matter what your reason for using a typology, I hope you are motivated to use it to promote growth rather than reinforcing growth-limiting practices.

[i] Sharma, Beena and Cook-Greuter, Susanne. 2010 “Polarities and Ego Development” as presented at the Integral Theory Conference 2010.

[ii] Berens, Linda V. Understanding Yourself and Others, an Introduction to the 4 Temperaments. 2010. Huntington Beach, CA. Telos Publications.

[iii] Johnson, B. 1992. Polarity Management: identifying and managing unsolvable problems. Amherst, MA. Harvard University Press.

You'll automatically receive our blog posts and we'll inform you periodically about new workshops. Unsubscribe anytime.

SafeSubscribe with Constant Contact
For Email Newsletters you can trust