Marriage Through Peace and War
How Crisis Can Trigger Type Development
Van Bui, July 11, 2018
When I look at my old family photos, I have mixed feelings. I feel grateful to have been born into this world with a mother, father, and older sister. I think about how blessed I am for the opportunities I have been given because of the sacrifices my parents made. However, underneath these positive feelings and thoughts lurks a daunting negativity. The way I see it, our family photos are a lie. They depict an ideal happy family, led by a happily married couple who are strong and successful. But that is far from the truth. My mother and father are in constant argument and conflict. Witnessing their ongoing pain and suffering has generated surges of anger in me. I often question why my parents are still together after 39 years of marriage. They have no interests in common. They rarely agree on decisions to be made. In my mind, they are complete opposites.
Wrestling with the choices my parents have made, I have pondered whether something beyond consciousness keeps people together even when they clash. Why do people marry or stay married if they have very different personalities? How is conflict valuable in a marriage if it can consequently bring emotional pain? I have long been interested in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment as a way of classifying an individual’s attitude and behavior pattern. John Beebe’s eight-function/eight-archetype model provided even more insight by addressing the unconscious aspects of typology as well. In exploring the dynamics between my parents, an ENTJ and an ISFJ, I have discovered that their extensive experiences of hardship as well as my own ISFJ type have shaped my views of conflict in relationships. Moreover, the way I define love has evolved and changed from viewing their marriage through a typological perspective.
My ENTJ father currently runs the clothing importing business that he and my mother created in 1989. My mother, demonstrating the characteristics of an ISFJ, partakes minimally in the business and spends the majority of her time taking care of my older sister’s two young children. Neither of them fantasized this life. When my father was younger, he wanted to be a physician. My mother wanted to be a teacher. In the calling of their predetermined course of life, also known as destinies, they experienced the blessed and cursed limitations of life—their fate (Meade, 2010).
My father was an orphan at a very young age. He was the youngest of five children born in Huế, the central city of Vietnam. My paternal grandfather left home and enlisted in the military to support communism prior to the Vietnam War. My paternal grandmother was too ill to care for her children. Thus, my father resided in several different orphanages. His main focus as a child was to be accepted into college. Back then, students in Vietnam were required to pass a rigorous high school exit exam before moving on to college. If men were to fail this exam, they were forced to enlist in the military. My father did everything he could to avoid this fate. It seemed as if he faced many barriers to achieving a degree in higher education. For instance, after the rise of communism in Vietnam, my father’s birth and school records were all destroyed. With the help of former professors, mentors, and owners of orphanages, my father was able to create new documents to pursue his academic career. Fortunately, he passed his high school exit examination. He enrolled in college and double majored in general medicine and economics. His dream was to become a heart surgeon (Bui, H., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
My mother’s family was originally from the capitol of Vietnam, Hanoi; however, Mother was born in Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon. My mother lost her father when she was 16 years old. After my maternal grandfather passed, my mother, the youngest of nine children, made a sacrifice and took it upon herself to help my maternal grandmother make ends meet. In conjunction with her studies in high school, she spent all of her spare time helping in my grandmother’s small coffee shop by preparing food, cooking, serving, and cleaning. My mother hoped to become a teacher as she was already working part-time for a school caring for preschool-aged children. However, fate led her in a different direction when she failed her high school exit examination and was denied her application into college (Pham, D., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
My parents met at my maternal grandmother’s coffee shop and began dating in the year 1976, shortly after their homeland fell into the hands of communism. At that time, my father was finishing up medical school. Because my mother was unable to pursue an academic career, she chose to sacrifice her opportunity to find other studies and instead worked in my grandmother’s coffee shop to support my father’s academic success. My parents married in 1979 and gave birth to their first child in 1980. As they began to settle down into their roles and move towards their goals, fate once again stepped in (Bui, H., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
It was a time of mourning for many of the people of Vietnam after the rise of communism in 1975. They no longer had the freedom to live a life they dreamed of, nor would their children have a chance at a bright future. My mother and father, ages 24 and 28 respectively, were trying to settle into their new roles and lives. Strangely enough, one day in 1981, my father was approached by one of his former mentors who had previously accepted him into an orphanage. This man stated that he was planning to help Vietnamese people escape to another country by boat. He had planned for a total of 10 boats, each holding a capacity of 75 people. My parents, sister, and the majority of my mother’s side of the family were signed up for the sixth boat (Bui, H., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
My family took the extreme risk of escaping a country by boat into the unknown and uncertainty. As anxiety-ridden as my parents were by nature, they chose to face 13 days in the harsh ocean with minimal to no food and water, sickness, death, and sea pirates who raped and raided the passengers. Courageously, my parents continued to tolerate ambiguity. They landed in Thailand and spent almost three years in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before being accepted by the United States. The day they were accepted to be sponsored as immigrants to America, I was conceived. (Bui, H. & Pham, D., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
The First Crisis: The Vietnam War
Once they arrived in America in 1984, my father set out to realize his dream of being a medical doctor, which he had started in Vietnam. For six months my father sought acknowledgement of his Vietnamese credentials. Unfortunately, he was refused a license by the American Board of Physician Specialties because his degree was earned after the Vietnam War. With this fate, my father then went to work for an assembly company making baseball bats during the week, and he mowed lawns on weekends (Bui, H. & Pham, D., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
My mother had just given birth to me and felt that the practical decision was to be a homemaker raising two children, but she also had a desire to contribute financially. She decided to rent a sewing machine and requested work from sewing companies. They gave her piecework, meaning she would earn money with each piece she completed. During this time, my mother learned a lot about herself through the work she did: she was detail-oriented, meticulous, and quick. She worked between the hours of 4:00 am and 9:30 pm, all while taking caring of her children, cleaning, and cooking. Within a few months, she was contributing a significant amount of money on a weekly basis. My mother went from earning $50 each week to $3,000 a month (Pham, D., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
In order to gain experience in management or operations of production, my mother sought employment at a sewing factory. She used the ISFJ’s dominant function, introverted sensing (Si), to learn how to be a successful manager. Hired as a seamstress, she carefully observed how the supervisors assigned tasks, used strategic layouts for material, and managed the workflow to produce the garments in an efficient manner. My mother stayed at the position for exactly two weeks, and in those two weeks she became an expert seamstress. She left with an abundance of knowledge to use in what became a new family business.
Awestruck, my father decided to help my mother complete her assigned piecework during his spare time from his assembly job. Through this process, my parents weighed out their options for work. My father came up with two options. Their first option was to have 12 children and let the government take care of them. Or secondly, they could start their own sewing business. The two of them played with the idea of owning their own business. It was a huge risk to take. As my parents went on about their lives to make a living, a family friend from Texas learned of their recent immigration to America. With no prompting or request, she sent my parents $10,000 cash via postal mail as a way to jumpstart their new lives. With the money my parents saved from working and the generous loan, they signed a lease to a warehouse. A businessman whose lawn my father mowed on the weekends gave them their first order of garments. Thus, their domestic sewing contractor business, focusing on producing garments upon order from local fashion enterprises, was born in 1989 (Bui, H. & Pham, D., personal communication, November 26, 2016).
My mother’s introverted sensing dominant function was crucial in building and organizing a solid daily routine; she provided her employees practical and realistic steps for achievement in the production process. Meanwhile my father’s ability to prioritize, give directions, and ensure that tasks are executed in an efficient way provided direction. Obtaining purchase orders, managing employees, or communicating with vendors necessitated my father’s use of his dominant function, extraverted thinking (Te), with the support of his auxiliary process, introverted intuition (Ni). My parents laboriously worked 60- to 80-hour weeks to maintain their business. They started with a couple of employees and later had up to 30 workers to produce women’s fashion clothing. Both of them not only managed their employees but also partook in the garment production. While it was a very stressful time, my parents’ personalities meshed very well together to divide the different responsibilities (Bui, H., personal communication, November 26, 2016). Working together in a new country, my parents created a thriving business producing clothing such as blouses, dresses, and skirts for local brands.
In addition to her role as a manager, my mother was committed to her family’s well-being. Accessing her auxiliary function, extraverted feeling (Fe), my mother often came home after working 12 hours to cook us a warm, three-course dinner. One of the key features of extraverted feeling is the desire to maintain external harmony (Haas & Hunziker, 2001). She loved the idea of having family dinners together at night, despite the challenges of arduous work days. Those were often opportunities for family members to share how they were doing. I think my mother needed this balance—her dominant introverted perceiving function often kept her from socializing. The dominant function is typically the one we naturally use often because it is more developed and brings rewards (Sharp, 1987), whereas the auxiliary process seeks balance between one’s inner and outer world, i.e., between extraversion and introversion (Myers & Myers, 1995). My mother barely had any friends. In fact, she was so committed to familial obligations that she felt guilt in having a separate social life outside of her husband and children. Therefore, the overdevelopment of her auxiliary function, Fe, was necessary to keep her connected with the external world. At home, I often observed my father using his third function, extraverted sensation (Se). He rarely told my sister and me what to do at home. Most of the disciplining came from my mother. Instead, my father enjoyed buying us gifts and taking us out to Chuck E. Cheese, arcades, or different family fun centers with miniature golf courses. I suspect that since he was always using extraverted thinking (Te) at work, delegating and directing his business, he wanted to enjoy living in the moment in his leisure time.
The Second Crisis: A Geographic Economic Shift
Unfortunately, by the early 2000s, the sewing industry in California started to change. Rather than obtaining orders from domestic contractors, American fashion retailers were outsourcing goods. It was significantly more cost effective for them to have their clothes made in other countries such as Asia or Mexico. As a result, my parents’ business was getting fewer and fewer orders. This posed a threat to the general household income and the whole family’s survival. Changes with the business would also mean an ignition of sparks and transformation between the opposing personalities of my mother and father.
Using introverted intuition (Ni) to gather information and extraverted thinking (Te) to make decisions, my workaholic father initiated a new business idea. He would transform their business from that of a sewing contractor to a garment importer. After one year of meetings and trips to Vietnam, he established the company as the intermediary between American retail companies and Vietnamese sewing contractors. His vision was about more than generating money for himself: He always told me that he wanted to give back to his homeland by creating jobs for members of the Vietnamese community and helping them out of poverty.
Through these transformations, I witnessed many challenging moments between my parents. Unsurprisingly for a dominant introverted sensing type, my mother always had difficulties with change. After all, she was highly devoted as a manager to the company. She knew what to do and how to do things to ensure optimal workflow. The new business model meant that her role would eventually change because there was no longer a need to manage employees for the production of clothes. This loss of purpose led to the eruption of her inferior function, extraverted intuition (Ne).
In Jung’s typology model, the inferior function often behaves like an autonomous complex—a person having an emotional reaction. Despite its barbaric tendencies, this function cannot be ignored or dismissed as unimportant (Sharp, 1987). The inferior function is required because it “always makes the bridge to the unconscious” (von Franz, 1971/1998, p. 10). Our natural preference for the dominant function leads to situations where the inferior function becomes troublesome, and we are gripped by the disruptive emotions of the underdeveloped attitude (Sharp, 1987).
In the wake of the changes to my family’s business, my mother’s inferior extraverted intuition was activated. I remember overhearing her crying to my father during the nights, perseverating on the potential failures of the business as it moved into the importing realm. She would press the questions, “How are you so certain that this will work? What do you mean you will have to take more business trips to Vietnam? How do we know we can trust that the orders will be produced and shipped in a timely manner? What will happen to my role in the business? What will happen to our family?” As I reflect now, it was clear that my mother felt as if things were out of her control, an unpleasant feeling for an introverted sensation type whose life purpose is providing stability and security. There was no longer a need for her to be a manager to oversee the workflow of production. The company was reduced to only10 employees to handle sales, accounting, and shipping and delivery. In addition, the new business heavily relied on the internet, email exchange, and virtual networking meetings. Limited in her English language and technology skills, my mother was losing her identity as a manager. She fell into a deep depression, exhibiting symptoms of insomnia, decreased appetite, and anhedonia.
On the other hand, my father was seemingly enthralled with the new business. He was able to acquire lucrative contracts with several garment factories in Vietnam to produce goods that were routinely ordered by popular domestic clothing companies such as Tillys, Forever 21, and Mossimo. He developed a reputation for being an excellent problem solver. One time, I observed a meeting between my father and one of his buyers. The busy season of summer floral dresses was approaching, and his buyer from a popular clothing company asked to consult because they needed to have 75,000 units produced in a short time frame. He was intently focused on his buyer’s expression of stress with the presenting problem. It is difficult to describe what might have been going on in my father’s thought process, but his response to his buyer was inspiring: He strategically formulated several ideas and plans on how to avert his buyer’s perceived crisis. It was as if he knew that any one of these plans would work. My father’s words eased his buyer’s mind. Together, they were able to reach out to their available resources to ensure that the order would be completed by the deadline. My father’s ability to completely transform a situation by creating a new plan is an asset that many ENTJs exhibit, due to their extraverted thinking combined with visionary introverted intuition.
Thus, my father was able to fully use the assets of his personality type, and his presence around the house diminished because he was extremely busy building the new empire. This made my mother even more angry because her ideals of family time were being threatened. During those nights where my mother cried, I would often hear him say hurtful things to her as his inferior function, introverted feeling (Fi), was triggered: “Stop being so scared of everything. This is the right path for the business, and if you do not fit into it, you can find something else to do. Why do you have to cry about everything?” There was seldom any empathy or compassion. He would ignore her values, commitments, and family obligations. Instead, he would use hurtful words as a way to avoid engaging in feeling conversations.
Igniting the Sparks of Opposites
Many of my childhood memories revolve around my mother crying and my father furiously working on the business. It was as if they were possessed by something beyond their control. I will never forget one evening when I witnessed such a phenomenon. At that time, my father was going full force growing the business. He was traveling about every three months for two weeks at a time to ensure the quality of garments being produced by the factories in Vietnam. My mother’s role as production manager in the business had converted to managing the accounting department; her responsibilities included the recording and reporting of the cash flow transactions and maintaining financial controls, presumably in the sweet spot of her dominant Si function. But at that time, I could tell that my mother was tired of being involved in the business. She had spent so much of her time working that she spent little time with me and my sister. By then, my sister was a rebellious teenager getting into all kinds of trouble. I was still young, and my father was emotionally unavailable to us. My mother decreased her time at the office and attempted to salvage what she perceived as a broken family.
One evening while my mother was cleaning the house before the Lunar New Year, she initiated an argument with my father. Rather than being able to articulate her needs and ask my father to help her clean the house in preparation for the celebration, she fell into a passive aggressive style of communication, as the extraverted sensing activity of cleaning the floor put her into the opposing personality archetype because, according to Beebe’s model, Se is the fifth function for ISFJs. From there she descended into her sixth and seventh functions, the archetypes of the senex and trickster, and she accused my father of being a negligent husband and parent. She made comments like, “All you do is care about your work! You never think about me or your children!” The activation of an ISFJ’s sixth function, introverted feeling (Fi), can cause this normally peaceful type to “scream at those who violate one’s values” (Shumate, 2017, p. 23). And then she was overcome by the trickster seventh function, extraverted thinking (Te), where she tried to manipulate my father into helping her.
The accusations provoked feelings of anger, resentment, and alienation in my father, and the extraverted sensing activity led to his quick deliberate access of the third function, extraverted sensing (Se). There, he engaged in an uncontrolled, impulsive behavior, which can be how undeveloped Se tertiary can manifest (Shumate, 2017). In the middle of her barrage of nagging, my father took a kitchen stool and threw it across the floor. Then, without saying a word, he picked up the broom from the cleaning closet and started sweeping the house. There are several ways one can analyze this moment. As I see it, one of the functions that my father was gripped by was his eighth function, extraverted feeling (Fe). The eighth function has the archetypal energy of the demon/daimon, which “operates in a manner that is undermining to others and to oneself” (Haas & Hunziker, 2001, p. 179). The eighth function is so unconscious that it is for the most part beyond our control, and so my highly verbal, problem-solving father for once became wordless, only able to express himself physically.
Regardless of the pain and suffering my parents have endured, they are still together. After reflecting on the relationship between my mother and father through the lens of psychological types, I have learned that we need conflict for the initiation and maturation of the individuation process or personality development (Haas & Hunziker, 2011). Jung’s model of typology was not solely used as to label individuals in a definitive way or simplify the psychological understanding of individuals and personality types. Instead, the purpose was to demonstrate the complexity of human typology and enable us to recognize the ways in which a person functions and interacts with his or her environment (Sharp, 2001). The process of individuation, as the central process of Jungian psychology, can be described as “a kind of circular odyssey, a spiral journey, where the aim is to get back to where you started, but knowing where you’ve been” (Sharp, 2001, p. 63). This psychic transformation requires a person to differentiate, experience, and gain an understanding of the thematic patterns from the unconscious realms of the psyche.
As an ISFJ myself, I used to think of conflict as something dreadful. This was especially true after witnessing the one and only incident of my father having a physically aggressive reaction during a fight with my mother. Moreover, I have many recollections of my mother and father exchanging differing and opposing opinions. Having a better understanding of psychological types, I recognize that my auxiliary function influenced my way of perceiving their arguments: extraverted feeling (Fe) naturally focuses on creating “an atmosphere where everyone feels accepted and affirmed” (Shumate, 2017, p. 25), so I felt helpless when overhearing their conflicts.
Nevertheless, conflicts are inevitable and are necessary for personality development. Broadly speaking, the individuation process is the integration of ego consciousness and the unconscious, which typologically translates as integrating the opposites. Jung (1917/1966) stated that “the repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible” (¶ 78). There must be an ongoing conversation between the conscious and unconscious which is constellated by a conflict situation. In my parent’s hostile exchanges, both sides had to give expression to the other sides of themselves. An underdeveloped function has an autonomous essence—“it is independent, it attacks, it fascinates and so spins us about that we are no longer masters of ourselves and can no longer rightly distinguish between ourselves and others” (Jung, 1917/1966, ¶ 85). I cannot be quite sure if my parents could sense that my father’s behavior was completely out of the ordinary, but it was certainly a surprise to me and a moment that I will never forget.
Igniting the spark of opposites produced during conflict can provide an opportunity for holding the tensions between the one-sided attitudes. The process requires confronting and embracing the forces of unconscious qualities, along with holding the tension and uniting of opposing forces, in order for the full expression of an individual’s potential to be revealed (Whitmont, 1969). Holding space for the energized tension may constellate the reward of a third outcome that could lead one to a meaningful and greater discovery of self (Jung, 1929/1969). As surprising and frightening as the experience must have been for my parents in that moment, I find comfort in the possibility that it motivated them to reflect on their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.
I can only imagine how difficult it is for my father to genuinely express his feelings being that those functions are further down below the ladder of Beebe’s model. Von Franz (1971/1998) stated that the extraverted thinking (Te) type has “a kind of mystical feeling attachment for ideals and often also for people. But this deep, strong, warm feeling hardly ever comes out” (p. 48). Through my observation, he has been so focused on the business and occupied with the outer world that he rarely verbally communicates his feelings. After all, it is possible that he never had the opportunity to practice developing his inferior function of introverted feeling since he did not have a stable childhood. These reflections have given me a better understanding of why my father rarely showed affection through verbal affirmations. Perhaps verbal communication was something that my mother needed from my father.
I can also see how my mother might become annoyed or distressed when my father openly welcomes change into their lives. Whether it was a change in the business, change by moving residences, or even abrupt changes in schedule when he had to leave unexpectedly for a business trip, my mother would become passive-aggressive, a typical reaction of her opposing personality function, extraverted sensation. Becoming overly one-sided in introverted sensation causes people to become stuck in concrete reality (von Franz, 1971/1998). My mother thrives on routine and consistency. Therefore, any time she had to transition or adjust to something new, her inferior function Ne would get activated, leading her to fall into her shadow functions, descending eventually into her eighth function, introverted intuition (Ni), “feel[ing] desperately alone and hopeless when trying to find the significance or meaning” (Shumate, 2017, p 11). I used to watch her cry for long periods of time while she tried to gain an understanding of her environment.
Recently, I gained a completely different perspective on my parents. My mother fell very ill with unexplained symptoms of fatigue and piercing pain throughout her body. The pain was so severe that it incapacitated her from her usual daily activities such as cooking and cleaning. I came by to visit my mother with an intent to bring a few meals for the family to eat. When I arrived, though, my father had already bought dinner and set the table. I was astonished by his setting the table because it was not a typical task he would do, especially knowing that I would be coming to visit. My father surprised my mother and me even more when he took all the dishes to the sink after dinner. I distinctively remember my mother turning to me and whispering conspiratorially, “Is there going to be an earthquake?” I chuckled and could not think of a response.
A few weeks later, my mother told me that she appreciates my father despite the fact that he makes her feel crazy. Perhaps in her thoughtful contemplations, she was accessing her daimonic introverted intuition (Ni). She admitted that he is not the husband she envisioned having. My mother’s ideal partner would have been someone who verbally tells her that she is loved or spends more time in family activities than in business. However, she stated that she began to recognize the language in which my father shows her love and affection. He often accesses his eternal child archetype, extraverted sensing (Se), to spontaneously buy items that he considers my mother would like, such as new gadgets, books on meditation, or different kinds of holistic medicine for healing. Through their 39 years of marriage, I believe this behavior has demonstrated my father’s development of his daimonic function, extraverted feeling. He was able to access the daimonic energy in a way that expressed an appreciation or care of someone else without the use of words.
As I reflect on the personalities of my parents, I recognize that I am accessing my dominant function as an ISFJ—introverted sensing (Si). By stepping back, reengaging with the personal past, and applying the theoretical perspective of psychological types to my mother’s and father’s distinctive personalities, I have learned to respect and cope with their differences in a useful way. I have learned that marriage is not just about being with someone whose personality fits perfectly with ours. I agree with Myers and Myers (1995) that marriage should be recognized as unconditionally accepting one’s partner no matter how different he or she may be and that each has the right to remain different. Marriage is about embracing the differences in the other person’s type preferences rather than remaining fixated on the defects (Myers & Myers, 1995). In considering the differences of my parents, I realize that they do love one another despite the ongoing conflicts.
While my mother has shared with me her explanations for why she continues to be by my father’s side, I hope to find the courage someday to ask my father for his reasons for staying in the marriage. But for now, it is possible that I am accessing my own eighth function as an ISFJ, the introverted intuition (Ni). As I look at the family photos now, I no longer look at them with contempt. I have a greater appreciation for my parents. The photos no longer seek to portray the impression of a perfect family. They are not just the ideas that my parents are happily married. Instead, I recognize that my mother and father are simply human beings, with their own struggles and challenges. They possess their own unique personality gifts that they bring to one another. Through these deeper contemplations, I am beyond grateful to be their daughter. Having witnessed the dynamics of their relationship has truly contributed to my personal development and growth.
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