Marrying Ego Development Theory to Carl Gustav Jung’s writings and the teachings of the Buddha

This blog has been started with the original aim to make German readers aware of the existence of personality type theory.

In the past, I wrote every post in German to make the content of type theory accessible to German readers. There is enough content on type theory in English, still, in Germany it is virtually unheard of. After a long break due to family life and job demands, I am back with new insights that I would like to share. Since most sources that I intend to refer to have been absorbed by my mind in English, I will express my new understanding of Carl Gustav Jung’s typology in English. 

I intend to shed some light onto Ego Development Theory as presented by researchers like Susanne Cook Greuter and how it might relate to the development of our cognitive functions and the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung concerning the working and construction of our psyche and the process of individuation. The historical figure of the Buddha, his teachings and the arahants that have successfully applied his teaching on how to reach enlightenment will serve as an inspiring example of the last stage of ego development that Ego Development Theory (EDT) hints at.

The thoughts presented here are written with a reader in mind who is familiar with the 16 types of the MBTI, be it in the in the disguise of socionics or the rather popular version of the 16personalities (whose creators have managed to use MBTI terms in a rather ambiguous attempt to make the cumbersome Big Five appear more acceptable to a general audience).

It is part of my bread winning job to help people to grow and solve their personal conflicts in times when they don’t know how to get unstuck, when they feel like circling forward and backward and can’t find a way out of the sometimes dark and messy chambers of our life’s labyrinth. This provides me with a fair number of opportunities to study the nature of personal crisis; how it starts and how it ends.

Most members of the type community tend to have a good grasp of the concept of their individual traits.

If you have been as excited about the 16 types as I was when I discovered my type, you will probably also have tried to use the typology of the MBTI to explain your quirks and foibles to other people or simply enjoyed the fact that it gave you valuable insight into individual differences.

Most people who have figured out their type will stop there.

However, some see more merit in the 16-type model and have come up with new ideas and insights regarding the ways the cognitive functions interact and how you develop your functions over time. The American psychiatrist and Jungian analyst John Beebe, for example, will integrate the 16 types with the ideas of CGJ and explain the development of the eight cognitive functions by looking at archetypes.

In the early years of my discovery, I benefited greatly from Lenore Thomson’s book “Personality Type – An Owner’s Manual”.  She made me aware of the dynamics between the eight functions and how they were showing up in each type. I enjoyed her style of representing the types very much and I returned to her descriptions many times to improve my understanding of type theory.

Angelina Bennet’s book “The Shadows of Type” made me aware of the connections between the vertical ego development model contributed by the academic Jane Loevinger and individual stages of consciousness, which can be related to variations that we see occurring amongst the same MBTI-type.

Angelina Bennet’s approach did hit home with me. Twisting the model of the 16 types in my mind I was always slightly dissatisfied with its rather two-dimensional outlook. The theory of ego development adds a vertical dimension to the 16 types, that could account for many variations amongst them.

The stage model of ego development proves the truth of the Buddhist teaching in a more scientific style.1

People are born with a limited view of the world. As they travel along those stages their perspective will shift many times, which basically refers to the Jungian idea of broadening the scope of our consciousness. This will lead us to become aware of the content that is hidden in the unconscious realms of our mind.

The vast majority of people will never cross the borders of their ego identification and therefore will live their life on the basis of what the Buddha referred to as a wrong view. The Buddha taught his followers how to turn this limited and problematic world view around, thereby transcending the borders of our egos.

While transcending your ego may sound like a hippie idea it, is actually a natural process that starts very slowly with an increasing awareness of your own individuality. Carl Gustav Jung (CGJ) called this process individuation. Most people don’t choose to walk the path of individuation.

Moving along the stage of ego development is usually not a process that we voluntarily engage in.

It tends to be something that we are pushed into by problems and crisis that we encounter in our lives.

There are good grounds to claim that a better grasp of all our cognitive functions will aid this path of ego development.

Things do and will happen to us that are unpleasant, even if we try everything in our power to avoid the problems that come with it.

While constant happiness might be a promising marketing formula to sell us a product, our daily life will prove this concept wrong again and again and again.

No matter how well we manage our circumstances now, life will present us over and over again with new challenges, and often, the best solution to those problems is a shift of our perspective. The shifts that we experience in our mind are well described in the stages of EDT as researched and formulated by the academic Susanne Cook Greuter, who received her doctorate in 1999 from Harvard University with her thesis about post-autonomous ego development.

My future posts will be my modest attempt to shed light on those stages of enlightenment by taking a closer look at the dynamics between those cognitive functions in line with the teachings of the Buddha and the formidable thoughts that CGJ shared with the world, even though his ideas are rarely discussed openly even amongst scientists that deal with matters of mind.

1 Disclaimer to the Buddhist practitioner: As a Buddhist myself I know that the proof is in the pudding. Still the conventional view is more invested in scientific evidence and I am addressing ideas to people not familiar with Buddhist teachings.