What is a type?
A type is often thought of as a classification according to a group of similar characteristics. However, there is another meaning to type that is deeper down in the definitions on dictionary.com: “the general form, plan, or design distinguishing a particular group” When I look at personality type, I am referring to the pattern or form of a group, not a random cluster of characteristics. I would say that a type in this sense is an organizing system. There is an energy field that self-organizes around a core of some kind. I think of it as an unconscious operating system, with a core driver of the system and ‘talents’ that maintain the system.
What is a polarity?
One definition, again from dictionary.com, describes a polarity as “the state of having or expressing two directly opposite tendencies”. In other words, the two tendencies are there and energy flows between the two. There is a tendency to speak of one side of a polarity as a type. I disagree. One is not an Introvert or an Extravert. We have an introverted pole and an extraverted pole and our energy moves inward and outward at different times with different activities. A polarity is not a type.
How are types and polarities related?
Each type pattern can be characterized by polarities that describe dynamics that are designed to maintain the pattern of the type and ‘feed’ its core. The polarities I reference here are ones that are meant to maintain the self-organizing system that the specific typology describes. There are many other theories that claim to be typologies that may not in fact be typologies, but just polarities or clusters of traits. For example with the four Essential Motivator pattern (aka Temperament), each pattern has a core need, such as the need of the Theorist (aka NT or Rational) for deep knowledge, competency, and mastery that drives them and the value on theories and scientific inquiry that gets at ultimate truth. One Polarity that operates within this pattern is the polarity between Abstract and Concrete language. Those with a Theorist pattern tend to give preference to Abstract language because it is the language of concepts and ideas and the theoretical basis of whatever domain they have decided they must master. They can use Concrete language when they need to, but Abstract language serves the pattern better. Thus the pattern drives the preference for one side of the polarity and often we are blind to that preference until we discover the dynamics behind our type patterns, in this case the core need of the temperament and the language that serves that need and the opposite side that we tend to ignore.
The idea of a process for managing polarities is a very practical one that was brought to light by Barry Johnson in his book Polarity Management. There is a huge synergy between Polarity Management and Type theory. Polarity Management gives us something really practical to do with the type differences, and the typologies help us identify really strong, fundamental polarities. And by referencing the core of the typology organizing system, we can better manage the polarities as we keep in mind that the dichotomies are polarities and we have both sides within us. We just give preference to one side and tend to be blind to the other side.
Proceed with Caution. If we treat one side of a polarity as if it is a type, we can limit growth. Once it is declared a type, then it becomes a ‘thing’ that is static and instead of opening up communication and perspective taking capacity, we wind up inviting more rigid privileging of the preference rather than the transformational, vertical development that is possible when we recognize the value of integrating the opposites.