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Six Functions of the Psyche

illustration of 6 functions of the psyche

Life is a class
in the schoolroom
of the world, they say,
where lessons may
be learned if we
pay attention.

Archetypal psychologists have taken as their slogan John Keats’ statement: “Call the world, if you please, the vale of soul-making. Then you will find out the use of the world.” Finding a personal value in what happens to us here promises sufficient compensation for the inconvenient pain of being here.

The individual psyche matures within the human environment as it meets the challenges of events in the external world and develops personally relevant responses to them. The word psyche (ancient Greek for soul) refers here to the interior arena in which a constant evolution of consciousness is driven by the continual process of self-exploration; I would say the world is as much a vale of soul-discovery as it is of soul-making.

The map given here represents particular steps taken within the psyche, as it relates to and interacts with external events. Jungians will quickly recognize the four functions of perception and process given here as descriptions of the four types of personality; I have included with them the two ways of expressing oneself in objective and subjective ways— that is, in ways that are articulate and emotional.

These six functions of the psyche are demonstrations of a particular attitude, in the aeronautic meaning of the word. To the pilot and the navigator the word attitude names the way in which an airplane sits in the sky: nose up or down, banking left or right.

How one sits in any given situation has a great deal of impact upon the way in which that situation is perceived, experienced, and responded to— in the vernacular, the “copping of an attitude”. These attitudes are expressed in responses and opinions— which always tell more about who holds the opinion than what the opinion is about.

We do three things: we perceive the world about us, we process our perceptions of that world, and we perform some sort of expression of our reaction to that world: input, throughout, output. Furthermore, we do these three things in two different ways: objectively, with an explicit attention to detail, and subjectively, with an implicit and direct personal involvement.

Jung named the objective and subjective ways in which we perceive the world “sensation” and “intuition”. To perceive the world objectively (that is, as a “sensation”) is to employ the five explicit senses: seeing, hearing, feeling (through the sense of touch), tasting, and smelling. With these sensory perceptions we note the details of each event as it presents itself to us. This way of experiencing the event is an eteological one that looks to the derivation of each component, organizing their particulars into an accumulated sensory impact.

To perceive the world subjectively, on the other hand, is to recognize the overall teleological pattern (that is, as an “intuition”) rather than its details, through what has been called the “sixth sense”. This capacity to see the big picture, the forest into which the trees are gathered, involves an accumulation of subliminal cues towards a general impression that, taken in balance with an equal amount of sensation (recognizing the trees that make up the forest) rounds out the perception of details in the context of a sense of the overall situation. Clearly, a balance of these two ways of perceiving the world is important, but— just as a person usually favors the right or left hand— each of us will tend to emphasize sensation or intuition.

Identity as an ego is developed by means of the dynamic interplay of thinking and feeling, the objective and subjective processes that take place within the psyche during which idiosyncratic responses to the perceived world are generated. Maturation of the ego depends upon the extent to which a healthy collaboration of efforts is achieved between thought and feeling, bringing insight and empathy. Problems occur when these become muddied in a mutually disabling enmeshment, when the feelings are rationalized by a patronizing thinking function while the thoughts are made prejudicial by an defensive feeling function.

There is popular confusion around the word “feeling”.  Indeed, the popularity of the word contributes to much of the confusion; therapists are correctly satirized for frequently asking “and how does that make you feel?”.  In the interest of spontaneity we do not usually explain precisely what we mean by talking about our feelings, and perhaps we should.

There are three different possible meanings of the word in its popular usage. Commonly, feeling is known as an objective sensation received through touch (a fabric feels rough). More appropriately, feeling is recognized as a subjective process (feeling happy or sad). More inappropriately, feeling is the term given all too often to the subjective expression that is more properly termed "emotion" (we dislike being influenced by the feelings of others).

The word “feeling” comes from the Old English term felan, which means to touch or stroke, while “emotion” comes from the Latin term emovere, which means to stir up or move out. The former suggests being aware of an internal receptivity that is gathering information, while the latter suggests instead doing something to influence or cause an external activity. The distinction here is between being and doing, the internal and external locus of attention which Jung spoke of as introversion and extraversion: internal feelings are the introverted forms of external emotions, which are the extraverted forms of internal feelings.

Emotional expression must be congruent with a fully felt through feeling process. It should neither exaggerate nor minimize the subjective value of the original perception. When this happens, it seems the perception has not been responded to but rather reacted to, according to a traumatized load of stored feelings that look upon the perceived event unfavorably, due to prior wounds associated to it by the injured psyche.

To fully feel through a perceived existential event rather than to indulge in the personal memory of damage is to heal and to grow beyond trauma— which is, arguably the purpose of human experience through such complicated human processes as grief and forgiveness. But how do we work with our feelings, how can we be sure we are exercising them rather than indulging them? These questions are addressed elsewhere.

This article previously appeared in The Listener: volume five, issue three (Fall 2000).

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