Why are we so alike, yet so different? This question, although simple in appearance, has nonetheless sparked an endless cascade of discussions and arguments among scholars and philosophers alike. Since the dawn of mankind, it has captured the imaginations of our curious ancestors for eons, baffling those who ponder upon it, and leaving many with more questions than they started with.
True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand life, ourselves, and the world.
But how did this seemingly mundane question manage to occupy the minds of our forefathers for so long? The answer lies in the foundation that all societies are built on—relationships. As social creatures, humans depend on each other to survive, which is why we are often willing to set aside our differences to build a better tomorrow. Thus, it can be confusing or even frustrating when we fail to understand someone’s actions or intentions no matter how hard we try.
Questions will inevitably flood our minds from such encounters. Why are some individuals just impossible to relate with? How are people so inexplicably similar though they hail from vastly distinct backgrounds? What causes people of the same origin to turn out so differently? To grasp these mysteries, humanity has gone to great lengths in search of an answer, leading us up to this point. But before we can continue any further, we must first take a look at where it all began.
Ever since the times of the ancient Greeks, different cultures and civilizations have drawn up various systems and theories to explain the nuances of human behavior. The first written account of such an attempt comes from the Greek physician Hippocrates. Building upon the misguided ideas of his era, he theorized that personality traits and human behavior hung on the gentle balance of bodily fluids.
These bodily fluids were called "humors" and they were classified as blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Back then, it was believed that an imbalance of any humor would actually result in different patterns of personality known as the four temperaments.
As you can tell, the personality types described under the Four Temperaments are pretty limited. In fact, it is somewhat misleading to categorize the entire human race into just four kinds of personality. There are simply not enough variations to encompass the variety and complexity of human behavior. Despite its limitations, however, the discovery made by Hippocrates is in no sense a small feat as it introduced a new perspective towards typology.
Carl G. Jung
Centuries later, a Swiss psychiatrist discovered something much more concrete. It began with a simple desire to reconcile the theories of two renowned figures in the field of psychology, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. In a bid to do so, he uncovered groundbreaking theories that would largely shape our understanding of personality today. This man was none other than Carl Gustav Jung, better known as Jung.
Carl Jung is the founder of
modern analytical psychology.
Jung’s first key contribution was the introduction of Extraversion and Introversion. In a few years' time, he published "Psychological Types", a book that housed the ideas that would completely alter the landscape of personality typology for decades. Within it, he proposed four main functions of consciousness: Sensation, Intuition, Thinking, and Feeling. These functions were further differentiated by Extraversion and Introversion, leading to the emergence of the eight cognitive processes commonly used today, albeit with varying definitions.
Although relatively unknown, Jung's psychological theories began to spread across the world, influencing intellectuals from all corners of the earth. Its impact was gradual but undeniable. In time, other personality theories began to blossom in its wake, adapting Jung's work into new forms to serve different purposes. The most notable among them being Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Socionics.
Across the ocean, a woman named Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers began work on an instrument that would help people identify their psychological type preferences. Briggs happened to stumble upon the English translation of Psychological Types and realized the similarities between her ideas and Jung's. Seeing the potential in his work, Briggs and Myers decided to make his ideas accessible to a wider audience.
Their goal was to create a self-report questionnaire that would assign people to 16 personality types. Interestingly enough, they developed their indicator against the backdrop of World War II in the belief that it would help women find their preferred war-time jobs as they entered the workforce. Before long, the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator was born. Since then, it has grown to become the most popular and widely used personality test in the world.
On the other side of the globe, a Lithuanian researcher named Aušra Augustinavičiūtė was also inspired by Jung's work. Soon after, she began to work on a different type of personality model, now known as Socionics. A combination of both Jung's work and Antoni Kępiński's theory of information metabolism, Socionics was created with the belief that each personality type serves a distinct purpose in society.
Like MBTI, it too splits people into 16 types. However, unlike its Western counterpart, it places a heavy emphasis on intertype relationships to help people better understand their relationships between themselves and others. While Socionics may not be as well known as MBTI, it has undoubtedly left a sizable impact on Eastern European societies, where it is still commonly used to determine and understand personality types.
Meanwhile, a completely different personality theory began to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere. It evolved independently from Jung’s theories, and although it is relatively popular among the online personality community today, its origins are actually rather vague.
No one knows for sure where the Enneagram actually came from. Some claim that the symbol originated from Sufi traditions, while others point to connections with Christian mysticism. Beyond those claims, some even believe that the Enneagram has roots in antiquity, tracing back to the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras.
Regardless of its mysterious origins, the Enneagram of Personality has since been adopted by various psychiatrists and psychologists to develop their own variants of the Enneagram. That said, it has also been dismissed by many experts in the personality field as pseudoscience due to its lack of scientific research and evidence.
The introduction of all these models and more marked a new era of typology, paving the way for many other theories to flourish, such as the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Big Five Personality Trait variants, and many more. Despite that, after sifting through countless personality frameworks that spanned from past to present, we have yet to find one that is both truly accurate and meaningful.
So, although the quantum leaps in typology have brought us a long way since the times of Hippocrates, the personality models currently available to us are still far from perfect. In the next part, we will explore the common challenges faced by most personality systems today.
Read next part → Challenges In Typology [Overview]