Achilles Tendencies

Achilles Tendencies, the Essay

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Achilles Tendencies: Exploring

Human Frailty and Personality Type

Roger E. Bissell

Bissell Words & Music

Orange, CA


Like Achilles, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we can learn a lot about them by making a careful study of the Judging-Perceiving (J/P) dimension of the MBTI. Some weaknesses can lead to problems in communicating and relate to others -- in particular, defensive communication and codependency. Knowledge of the J/P dimension is a great help in understanding these unhealthy behaviors -- and for tapping into our strengths so that we can deal with each other in a healthier way.

Defensive communication and codependency often result when we lose our balance and misuse certain functions we are all capable of, the Judging functions: Thinking and Feeling. This becomes clear when we look at groups of types that combine the J/P dimension with Thinking or Feeling.

Combining T/F with J/P: Introducing the "Judging Attitudes"

The fourth letter of one's MBTI personality type, J or P, indicates preference on the Judging-Perceiving scale -- i.e., one's attitude, the kind of function one prefers to use in dealing with the world. J types prefer to deal with the world with whichever Judging function they prefer, either Thinking or Feeling. P types prefer a Perceiving function, either Sensing or iNtuition, for this purpose. Myers and McCaulley (1985) have characterized J as desiring order and closure, P as wanting to be more flexible and open. This applies especially to peoples' approaches to personal relationships.

The concepts that best capture this basic J/P difference are engaged vs. disengaged, "engage" being thought of in the sense of "to mesh together; to interlock with," like the gears in an automobile. J types, when intimate, become relatively more engaged, blurring the boundaries between themselves and the other person, getting "hooked into" the other. P types remain relatively more disengaged, keeping personal boundaries more distinct, "sidling up to" the other.

Now, given this basic engage-disengage or attach-detach idea for Js and Ps, the next thing to explore is how one's preference for Judging or Perceiving can combine with one's preference for Thinking and Feeling. There are four basic ways to combine the T/F and J/P dimensions, and each of the 16 MBTI types falls into one of those four groups: the TJs, FJs, TPs, and FPs.

TJs tend to use their Thinking function -- rather than Feeling or iNtuition or Sensing -- in dealing with the external world. In other words, TJs prefer to extravert their Thinking. Similarly, FJs tend to extravert their Feeling. Together, the TJs and FJs are the eight types who prefer to extravert their Judging function. The letter J, then, is a handy abbreviation for extraverted Judging -- and TJ stands for extraverted Thinking and FJ for extraverted Feeling.

The TPs and FPs, on the other hand, are the eight types who prefer to extravert their Perceiving function. That's what P stands for: extraverted Perceiving; P types prefer to use Sensing or iNtuition in dealing with the world. But as a result, their Judging function tends to be introverted. In particular, TPs tend to introvert their Thinking, and FPs to introvert their Feeling. Thus, P also stands for introverted Judging -- and TP for introverted Thinking and FP for introverted Feeling.

So here are the "Judging Attitudes" -- four personality groups based on the attitude people prefer to take when they use their Judging function. Next, let's compare and contrast the Judging Attitudes in regard to engaging and disengaging.

How People Use the Judging Attitudes to Engage or Dis-Engage

FJs, who extravert Feeling, are the most empathetic types. More than the other types, they tend to project inwardly, into themselves the values, standards, and concerns of other people. They experience those values, etc., as though they were their own, and they judge their own actions and character on the basis of those internalized values. TJs, who extravert Thinking, are the most directive types. More than the other types, they tend to project outwardly, into others their own values, standards, and concerns. They experience those values, etc., as though they belonged to other people, and they judge the actions and character of others on the basis of their own externalized values.

Despite these clear differences, there is an overall similarity between all eight J types. Whether empathetic or directive, they are all relatively more likely to be projecting values into someone than are the eight P types. P types, on the other hand, all extravert an impersonal Perceiving function, either iNtuition or Sensing. By thus using their Judging function in an introverted way, they disengage or detach it from their dealings with the world. As a result, P types tend to spend less time and energy imposing their values onto others, or taking the values of others into themselves, than do J types.

TPs, who introvert Thinking, will tell you their opinions and ideas. They tend to do so, however, in a less emotional way. Emotions, in fact, are normally the last thing TPs will share with you. When they do, it tends to be more explosive and after a period of stuffing or gunny-sacking their feelings. TPs are the type most unlike FJs in this respect. Myers and McCaulley recognize this basic difference when they refer to TPs as "impersonal" and FJs as "expressive." While TJs are most likely to be directive and control-minded and FPs least likely so, most FJs and TPs are likely to be somewhere in the middle.

Similarly, FPs, who introvert Feeling, will talk about values and concerns, but they tend to do so more indirectly and less logically or critically than others. They tend to stuff their criticisms and are the type most unlike TJs in this respect. Again, Myers and McCaulley allude to this basic difference in calling FPs "gentle" and TJs "tough minded." And while FJs are most likely to be empathetic and ethical-minded and TPs least likely so, most TJs and FPs are probably somewhere in between.

As the words "probably" and "tend" are meant to convey, these relationships are not absolutes. None of the patterns is a total certainty for a given type, but merely its strongest tendency or likelihood. If Marshall (1991) is correct, if all the functions measured by the MBTI are "present in every personality," then it stands to reason that the healthy and unhealthy possibilities of each function are there in each of us, too, at least to some extent. For instance, just because the FJs are typically the most emphatic, that does not mean that FJs are always empathetic. Nor does it mean that FJs cannot become directive or even disengaged in some way -- nor even that TPs cannot be empathetic, just that they are least likely of the types to do so. What are truly opposite are not the people whose types contain opposite letters, but the functions that those letters stand for -- and all of the functions are possible to all of the types, to varying degrees.

Normally, there's nothing wrong or unhealthy with being more or less empathetic or directive. These tendencies can be overdone, however. Indeed, the most typical forms of miscommunication and reactive behavior occur when we rely on Feeling or Thinking in an unbalanced manner -- whatever or type or our Thinking or Feeling preference happens to be. There are four main styles of defensive communication and codependency, and they seem to correspond closely to the four Judging Attitudes.

The Satir Modes and the Judging Attitudes

Satir (1972) says that when we become too insecure or threatened to remain honest and direct and open with the person we are talking to, we start to communicate defensively. Each of the four "Satir Modes" is a style of defensive communication that results from failing to maintain one of the characteristics of healthy communication. This failure is in turn the result of unhealthy use of one of the Judging Attitudes, and the flavor of that Judging Attitude can vary, based on whether you prefer Sensing or iNtuition.

(1) Blaming occurs when one is overly critical of another person, probably with aggressive posture and a harsh tone of voice. The "tough-minded" TJs can sometimes become Blamers, if they are feeling defensive. They prefer to extravert their Thinking -- to use their logical, critical faculty in dealing with the world -- which can easily turn into Blaming if taken too far. An STJ Sensing Blamer would tend to focus more on the concrete level. He would base his message that he disapproves of you on details and miss the overall trend of your goodness. An iNtuitive Blamer (NTJ), on the other hand, would use a more abstract way of proving that you have done something wrong. He would be so invested in his overall view of you that he would not be aware of details that contradict that overall view.

(2) Placating, in a certain respect the opposite to Blaming, occurs when one is being overly self-critical, with apologetic posture and tone of voice. The "expressive" FJs, when feeling defensive, are likely to become Placaters, based on their preference to use Feeling to deal with the world. This tendency to be empathetic with and accommodating to others can easily turn into Placating if taken too far. A Sensing Placater (SFJ) is more likely to be overly apologetic over specific actions and out of touch with his overall goodness. An iNtuitive Placater (NFJ) is more likely to be so invested in his overall negative view of himself that he overlooks details that contradict that view.

(3) Computing or Super-Reasonable is the hiding of one’s feelings behind dry, unemotional, and impersonal language, with rigid posture. The "impersonal" TPs are most likely to resort to being Computers when feeling threatened. They prefer to introvert their Judging, which suggests that they are damping down the awareness and expression of their weaker Judging function, Feeling. Were they confident or brave enough to allow their upset feelings to take shape and come out, this would convey to others that they cared personally about what they were saying, which is much more characteristic of their opposite, the "expressive" FJs. Instead, defensive TPs typically come across as unfeeling and aloof, as largely or even completely devoid of empathy. When the abstract Computers (NTPs) talk in a dry, emotionally disconnected way, they are more theoretical, using abstract, general language. When the concrete Computers (STPs) talk in a dry, emotionally disconnected way, they are more practical, referring to specific details and issues.

(4) Distracting or Irrelevant is the abrupt, illogical lurching from one unfinished statement, mood, and action to another. The "gentle" FPs are a good match with the Distracter mode. The FPs seem to be damping down the awareness and expression of their weaker Judging function, Thinking. Were they confident or brave enough to allow their critical judgments to take shape and come out, this would convey to others that they had a definite opinion to share, which is much more characteristic of their direct opposite, the "tough-minded" TJs. Instead, defensive FPs can often come across as illogical and hard to pin down. The abstract Distracters (NFPs) convey their erratic, logically unconnected messages primarily linguistically, through non-sequiturs in their speech. The concrete Distracters (SFPs) convey these messages in a relatively more kinesthetic manner, with relatively more observable erratic physical gestures and posture changes and relative less reliance on ideas.

A caveat: Satir never said that we are absolutely locked into using one and only one of these modes. Each of us tends to have more of a weakness for one of them, but we are all capable of "blowing it" in any of the four facets of healthy communication. More importantly for us, the Satir modes don't magically become rigid categories just because we've related them to type.

Reactive Behavior and the Judging Attitudes

Bradshaw (1988) has estimated that over 95% of Americans suffer from codependency or some other related form of emotional impairment. Cermak (1986) has proposed a set of diagnostic criteria for this problem, and it’s interesting to note how his list relates to the Judging Attitudes. Telltale signs of unhealthy J type relating are everywhere in Cermak's list. "Boundary distortions" are common to unhealthy TJs or FJs alike. So is becoming "enmeshed." Controlling others is stereotypically a TJ skill and tactic. Similarly, putting others' needs above one's own is an FJ pattern par excellence. Larsen (1985) and Cermak have listed various roles that codependent people can play in a relationship or family. Some of these are obviously TJ or FJ behavior. For instance, codependent FJs most typically play roles like martyr, caretaker, and people-pleaser, while TJ codependents are more likely to play persecutor, perfectionist, and (perhaps) workaholic. For the sake of brevity, I combine these all together into the Persecutor role for unhealthy TJs and the Doormat role for unhealthy FJs.

This J style of unhealthy relating is only half of the story. Larsen (1987) and Subby (1984) have offered definitions of codependency broad enough to include not only the garden-variety TJ and FJ forms, but also a broad spectrum of unhealthy reactive behavior that is perhaps more characteristic of P types. P type reactive behavior thus can helpfully be understood as the flip side of codependent behavior. Just as the J type forms of reactive behavior show an unhealthy kind of dependence on another person, so must the P type forms of reactive behavior reflect an unhealthy kind of independence -- a "pseudo-independence," as it were. Just as unhealthy engaging takes on two different forms, so does unhealthy disengaging.

For unhealthy FJs, to engage another has the connotation of "engage to be married" or attach. Unhealthy TPs, being the opposite of FJs, would withdraw from intimacy or detach. Unhealthy FJs might tend to Doormat themselves in order to try to enmesh their loved ones, further tightening the intimacy aspect of unhealthy dependence. In reaction to such enmeshing, unhealthy TPs might tend to go the opposite direction and Freeze Out their loved one, attempting to loosen those bonds of intimacy by building an emotional wall.

Not all detachment is bad. Removing one’s attention from another person who is upsetting you is a survival tactic and can be a very helpful way to recuperate and care for yourself when you are under stress, to regain your equilibrium and deciding what to do about a problem relationship. Like all survival tactics, however, it can be misused. In its unhealthy form, detachment is a form of retaliation, a passive-aggressive way to emotionally hide from and "Freeze Out" one's partner, a way to avoid authentic, open communication and the responsibility to help resolve problems, while still nominally staying in the relationship.

For unhealthy TJs, to engage another has the connotation of "engage the enemy" or attack. Unhealthy FPs, being the opposite of TJs, would withdraw from the invasion and retreat. Unhealthy TJs might tend to persecute another, abusing them in order to try to further tighten the control aspect of unhealthy dependence. In reaction to such abuse, unhealthy FPs might tend to Walk Out on their loved one, attempting to loosen those bonds of control by getting as much physical distance between themselves and the other person as possible.

Again, not all retreating or physically leaving a relationship is bad. First of all, if you are being battered or severely abused or threatened, you should leave immediately and seek shelter in a safe place. And secondly, if you have worked on a relationship for a long time and you are honestly convinced it cannot be salvaged, then leaving may be the best thing you can do for your sake and everyone else's. In other words, leaving, can be a healthy survival tactic. On the other hand, it can be another way to avoid the hard work that relationships sometimes require. The tactic of "Walk Out" represents a failure to balance the need for freedom with the obligations of a committed relationship.

An additional caveat: I am not saying that only the J types can become codependent Persecutors or Doormats -- or that the only Persecutors are unhealthy TJs, or that the only Doormats are unhealthy FJs. Nor am I saying that P types engage only in Freeze Out or Walk Out, when they are being defensive -- nor that only P types engage in Freeze Out or Walk Out. We would expect TJs and FJs to be more at risk for engaged kinds of reactive behavior, and TPs and FPs for disengaged reactive behavior. We must acknowledge, however, that P types can and do play the Persecutor or Doormat roles, and J types can and do play Freeze Out and Walk Out.

Whether we are more prone to take on the overly parental roles of unhealthy TJs and FJs, or the overly childish roles of unhealthy TPs and FPs, reactive behavior can rob us of much of the joy and fulfillment that comes from living life according to our own best interests. One of the most important tasks of maturity is the challenge facing children of how to properly separate from their parents. How can we build firm boundaries and clarify and define our own sense of self as an individual being, without unnecessarily overreacting by callously withdrawing from or abandoning those who have cared for and nurtured us since birth? And one of the other most important tasks of maturity is the challenge facing parents of how to properly connect with their children. How can we allow flexibility in our boundaries and clarify and expand our own sense of self as a social being, without unnecessarily overreacting by abusing or enmeshing with those who trust us for their care and nurture? Both tasks -- freedom with limits and intimacy with autonomy -- are challenges to our Judging Attitudes. If we do not take care of these tasks in a satisfactory way, our Judging Attitudes will cause us relationship problems for the rest of our lives.

Rx: Balancing the Judging Attitudes

Like Achilles, we all have our weak spots. Our weaknesses, however, are based not on magic but on biology. As conscious living beings, we need our awareness in order to survive. And it is when we are under stress or are being attacked -- particularly when trying to work out relationships with a balance between freedom and responsibility and between intimacy and autonomy -- that we are most in need of all of our faculties, including our less preferred functions. Yet, severe stress or attack is precisely when we are most likely to become emotionally preoccupied or overwhelmed and unable to keep a grip on our less-well-developed functions. Even worse, if our most preferred functions break down, we may abandon them and resort to the lesser ones without the benefit of input from the strongest ones. We come to be in the grip of our "shadow side," when we can least afford to be.

Unlike Achilles, we all also have hope. We can keep our weaknesses from getting us into serious trouble, without having to withdraw from all that makes life worthwhile. We can develop and strengthen our lesser functions when we are not under stress. And we can take time out from stressful situations to allow those weaker parts to work for us in a more balanced way. But this requires willingness on our parts. We must be willing to be aware of all the relevant facts in a situation and to revise our biases if necessary before we communicate -- and willing to express all of our relevant judgments in a situation, to communicate our thoughts and feelings, instead of hiding them. In other words, we must have honesty and integrity.

Whether one’s problems with defensive communication and reactive behavior amount to sporadic, momentary imbalances or a pervasively unbalanced lifestyle, the solution must involve regaining one’s balance. And since imbalance is caused specifically by unhealthy over-reliance on some mental function or other -- to the detriment of the others -- the remedy involves bringing one’s mental functions back into balance.

So my prescription for the J tendency to be too engaged is to seek balance. Try to learn to be more accepting, of others and of yourself. Summon up the courage to "let go with love," to recognize the need for freedom and autonomy that others have. Learn how to set healthy limits on the relationship without abusing the other person -- and how to have healthy interdependence without smothering the other. And my prescription for the P tendency to be too disengaged is, again, balance. Try to learn how to communicate your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly. Summon up the courage to risk openness and intimacy, to recognize that being able to bond and to accept limits are a vital part of healthy human relationships. Learn how to have healthy independence in a relationship without neglecting the other person -- and how to have healthy freedom without abandoning the other.

Beyond this general prescription of acceptance and openness, there is no simple, cut-and-dried way to solve the problems of type and human frailty. The true cause of our unhealthy behaviors is not our type, but the functions we use -- even more precisely, the kind of Judging function, the Judging Attitude, we use. Type is not an absolute preference of one function, to the exclusion of all others -- but a relative preference of one function among several, all of which a person might use to some extent. That's why the results of type theory are statistical and only true "for-the-most-part." And that's also why these prescriptions are so valuable. Even if I am wrong about which personality type most often is unhealthy in using a particular Judging Attitude, the prescriptions will work for anyone who is having a problem with that particular Judging Attitude.

We aren't all alike, either in our preferences or our behavior, so the attempt to describe one aspect of human life with the Judging Attitudes is at best an approximation. But we aren't all different either. That is why the Judging Attitudes are yet another window we can open to shed some light of understanding on the human condition, another tool we can use to help overcome our Achilles tendencies and grow to become happier, healthier people.


1. Bissell, Roger E. (1999), "Achilles Tendencies: Exploring Human Frailty and Personality Type," full text available online at:

2. Bradshaw, John (1988), Bradshaw on: The Family, Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

3. Cermak, Timmen L. (1986), Diagnosing and Treating Co-Dependence, Minneapolis, MN: Johnson Institute Books.

4. Kritsberg, Wayne (1990), Healing Together, Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

5. Larsen, Earnie (1985), Stage II Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction, San Francisco: Harper&Row.

6. ______ (1987), Stage II Relationships: Love Beyond Addiction, San Francisco: Harper&Row.

7. Marshall, Allen (1991), "Gaining New Insights into Human Diversity: the Four Functions Revisited and Redefined," APT IX International Conference

8. Myers, Isabel Briggs and Mary H. McCaulley (1985), Manual: a Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

9. Satir, Virginia (1972), Peoplemaking, Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.

10. Subby, Robert (1984), "Inside the Chemically Dependent Marriage," in Co-Dependency, Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.