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Jung's Theory of Personality

Describe and evaluate Jung's theory concerning personality types and their relationship to different forms of psychological disturbance.


In addition to his contribution as a pioneering psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung's influence extended across an astonishing spectrum including medicine, psychology, art, literature, religion, science, and the humanities (Dunne, p.8). His wide ranging vision consistently pointed the way for a revolution in psychic and spiritual understanding, and his work provided an inclusive, universal view of life and its purpose. Grant et al. (2005, p.181) consider him to have been one of the most dominant figures in modern psychology, his influence being second only to that of Freud. Casement (2001, p.135) notes that the take up of his ideas has been widespread, and that every major intellectual in the twentieth century refers to him. Jung himself describes his contribution in more modest terms, considering it to be a subjective confession, revealing much of what he discovered about himself on his own individuation path. Much of what he wrote related to his self-analysis and in particular what he learnt from the unravelling of the influential factors in the disruptive early years of his life. His theory of personality types in particular, the subject of this paper, continues to have profound influence today (Sugg, 1992, p.315).

Jung's Theory of Personality

In order to understand Jung's theories concerning personality types it is useful to develop an understanding of some of the major concepts developed and applied by Jung in understanding the psyche, including his concepts of libido, functions, attitudes and individuation.

Jung's definition of libido differed significantly from Freud's. In contrast to Freud, who believed that libido was exclusively sexual in nature, Jung was convinced that libido derived from a broader series of factors (Craig, 1998, p.132). Jung proposed what he termed a genetic definition of libido (Nagy, 1991, p.127) and considered that every striving and every desire, should be included in the concept of libido. This was in marked contrast to Freud, who despite acknowledging instincts ranging from hunger to sex, what Jung termed Freud's descriptive definition of instincts, focused primarily on the sexual element, in its broadest context, as the main influencing component in libido. Jung considered psychic libido as a unified, progressive force leading from the core of an organism and dividing off into the tributary energies needed to maintain those complex functions of an organism (Nagy, 1991, p.127).

Stevens (1994, p.85) comments that it requires some ingenuity on behalf of a psychologist attempting to devise a topology of personality types. The questions that Stevens suggest must be answered be any model are firstly, what are the essential components of the psychic equipment generally available to each individual, and secondly, how do people differ in choosing to use these components to form their habitual mode of adaption to reality.

Stevens (1994, p.85) identifies Jung's answers to these questions as being, that the essential equipment consisted of four psychological functions, which Jung named sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition, all of which are available to everybody, and that people differ in regards to which of the four functions they prefer to use. According to Jung, there are four different ways that individuals can perceive and interpret reality. Jung termed these ego-functions and grouped people into thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition types. Thinking refers to the use by a person of faculties of rational analysis, of intellect, the connecting of ideas in order to arrive at an understanding and response to stimuli. Feeling refers to the use of a value system to interpret stimuli; evaluating, accepting or rejecting a stimulus based on whether it provides a pleasant or unpleasant sensation. Sensing refers to the conscious perception and evaluation of stimuli using the sense organs. Intuition refers to forming inexplicable hunches or conclusions without using any of the other functions; it derives from no specific physical cause. Sensation tells a person you that something exists, thinking tells you what it is, feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not, and intuition tells you whence it came and where it is going (Ewen, p.71, 2003).

There are therefore four psychological functions in which the libido is constantly expressed - sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition. Of these Jung terms two of them rational and two non-rational. Thinking and feeling are considered rational functions because they involve acts of cognition and judgement. Thinking uses rational processes and existing mental models to interpret stimuli, while feeling uses rational processes to assess the value of an experience. Both functions involve a deliberate attitude on the part of the individual towards an object. In thinking the individual interprets the object; in feeling he judges it. Jung therefore describes them as rational in the sense that they are purposeful functions from the individual's point of view. Sensing and intuition are referred to by Jung as irrational functions - irrational in the sense of non-rational rather than pathological. According to Jung, the irrational functions typify the predominance of mental and perceptual activity, operating with opportunities, or the assessment of possible outcomes from sensations or stimuli. In sensation the relationship to the object is more passive, the object is only experienced by the individual. In intuition the very nature of the process is that the individual does not purposively or rationally seek to understand the object. Sensation and intuition are therefore termed the two non rational functions in man (Progoff, 1999, p.89). Jung considers that both thinking and feeling functions are opposites, as are sensing and intuition functions. He further postulates it as a matter of his own experience and observation that there is in general a compensatory relation within each period of functions. In the rational set, thinking and feeling act as opposites and tend to balance each other, while sensation and intuition are in the same relationship in the non rational set. (Progoff, 1999, p.122)

Although everyone has the ability to use all four functions, there is an inborn tendency for one of them to become dominant over the others. Although one function may predominate in an individual, in real life they almost never occur in a pure form, with most individuals being mixed types (Jacobi, p.23, 1999). All four of the functions are experienced by every individual to some degree, and although one is more highly developed in each individual than the others, the other three remain. Each individual according to his nature tends to specialise in one of the functions. It may be any one of the four, but whichever one it is, whether rational or non-rational, the individual raises it to a conscious level in keeping with other aspects of psychological development. Most important is the fact that the individual uses his leading or dominant function not merely as a means of experiencing the world, but as a basis around which he organises his personality. The individual uses the dominant function as a focus for orientating and build his psychic life (Progoff, 1999, p.103). If for example, it is his nature to make thinking his dominant function, he does not merely use his thinking process as a means of interpreting experience; everyone uses thinking for this purpose, but as a thinking type, he makes of thinking more than a means, it is to the individual a goal in itself.

In addition to the four ego functions, Jung considers that the direction of libido plays a critical role in the nature of the personality. There are also two possible directions of libido movement, or in Jungian terms, attitudes. The outward turning of libido towards the external world is known as extraversion, whereas the inward flow of libido towards the depth of the psyche is referred to as introversion. Extraverts are typically outgoing, venture forth with careless confidence into the unknown, and are particularly interested in people and events in the external world (Ewen, 2003, p.71). Introversion is reflected by a keen interest in one's own psyche and often preferring to be alone (Ewen, 2003, p.71). As with functions, there is an innate tendency for one attitude to become dominant over the other, and the dominant attitude combines with the dominant function to form the conscious personality of an individual. The terms introvert and extravert which Jung developed have become part of everyday speech. However in the process of being popularised, they have come to be used in a loose and generalised way that deprives them of the specific analytical insights which belong with the conception of “psychological types (Progoff, 1999, p.98).

Another key Jungian concept is the process of individuation, which Jung describes as the synthesis of the many facets of the psyche. Jung considers that each individual seeks belonging, meaning, relatedness and connectedness, and believed his analytical approach promoted awareness and understanding which facilitated the process of individuation. He also believed that individuation cannot happen naturally but needs to be sought actively. Jung does not explicitly define the stages of the individuation process, however it has been proposed (Huskinson, 2004, p.55) as a linear process that that moves through stages that progressively reconciles opposites in an individuals psyche, culminating in complete unification of these opposites where both opposites are fully expressed. The process of individuation leads to the “whole” personality where consciousness is enriched in its coordination with the personal and collective unconscious. (Huskinson, 2004, p.55).

Jung's theories of personality types present a powerful, yet accessible guide to the study and understanding of personality types. The essence of Jung's theory of personality and the prime determinant of differences in personality are attributable to two processes at play in each individual - firstly, the typical way we perceive internal and external stimuli, and secondly the characteristic direction (inward or outward) of libido movement (Ewen, 2003, p.71). Jung's theory of types in not offered as a simple, convenient way to classify people into neat little pigeonholes, although Progoff (1999, p.98) comments that there are psychologists who look for a set of handy categories which they can use to explain people away and then file them in a tiny compartment of their minds. He comments further that it is not a basis for saying to each in their turn - you're an extrovert, you're an introvert, you're a thinking type, you're a feeling type and so on. Instead Jung likes to think of the four functions as a compass which can be used as a guide in interpreting a psychological condition (Progoff, 1999, p.102), and to give a sense of direction, and to serve as a means of orientating the study of personality. Despite his achievements, major protagonists and researchers who explore Jung's contributions share a view that Jung could have been an even more potent force in psychology had he abandoned his focus on the archaic predispositions underpinning personality, and consider that his greatest strength may also have been his weakness. It is a strange paradox and one which he recognised in his own individuation process (Ewen, 2003, p.73).

Relationship to Psychological Disturbance

Jung does not regard the source of psychic conflicts as originating from a single drive, but regards them as the consequences of a disturbance of the harmony between all factors in the total psyche (Jacobi, p.118). Numerous authors offer their interpretation of how the theories of Jung provide an explanation for disturbances of the psyche. Smith (1990, p.43) explains Jung's theory of neurosis as a damming up of the libido that is forced to regress to an earlier stage of development when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Ross (n.d.) comments that for Jung, psychological disturbance reflected psychic imbalance, with neurosis over-emphasizing the characteristic traits of a personality. He further offers specific examples of disturbances and provides an interpretation framed against Jungian theory. Ross (n.d.) suggests that extraverted psychopathologies are associated with defences against depression; on the other hand suggesting that introversion was characterised by defences against emotional isolation. Dryden (2002, p.93) considers that a central feature for Jung in perpetuating psychological disturbance is the inability to separate from the mother both personal and archetypal (Dryden, p.93). Nagy (1991, p.127) offers a similar but more complex interpretation however still grounded in the concept of disruption to the flow of libidinal energy. Nagy's explanation is however framed against a probable loss or reality of the ego in psychosis. Referring to Jung's concept of libido as a unified, progressive force leading from the core of an organism and dividing off from itself the tributary energies needed to maintain those complex functions, Nagy considers that an individual's sense of reality of their so called ego function lies somewhere along the line of a continuum in the advance stages of a progressing, evolutionary libido (Nagy, 1991, p.127). He suggests that the loss of reality in psychosis may then be understood as a regression on the path of that libido, a turning around or away from reality and a retreat into the unconscious realm of reality, and a retreat into the unconscious realm of fantasy, that is, into a more primitive level of psychic organisation.

The theme of balance is an ever present thread that runs through the theories and works of Jung. The interplay of opposites is crucial to Jungian psychology, the psyche like any other energetic system is dependent on the tension of opposites (Jung 1954, cited in Huskinson 1999, p.35). Intertwined with the theme of balance is Jung's Principle of Equivalence. In Jungian terms, this concept suggests that the amount of energy in a psychic system is essentially fixed, and if energy from one part of the system is removed it will show up in another. Energy can therefore only be displaced, not destroyed. Applying this concept to the psyche, Jung claimed that if one component of personality is overvalued, it will be at the expense of another component. If a continual overvaluing of one part of the psyche occurs at the expense of underdeveloped aspects, then an imbalance and consequent psychological disturbance will occur. This principle of balance threads its way through comments from other authors. Huskinson (2004, p.41) comments that the healthy personality seeks a balance of opposites, comprising the to attitudes and four functions of consciousness. The extreme promotion of only one opposite will result in enantiodromia, a complete reversal of the dominant opposite (Huskinson, 2004, p.41). Enantiodromia (Greek: “enantios” meaning opposite, and “dromos” meaning running a course) is a principle introduced by Jung and captures the notion that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. It is equivalent to the principle of equilibrium in the natural world, in that any extreme is opposed by the system in order to restore balance.

In order for the successful and balanced development of a personality, the function and attitude to which an individual is innately predisposed must be allowed to become dominant during their development. This may not always be optimal for success in the society in which an individual finds himself or herself. For example, in the United States, a society that strongly favours extraversion, parents and teachers in the society are likely to support the behaviours of an extroverted child, and correspondingly treat an introverted child with excessive concern and criticism (Ewen, 2003, p.73). Ewen also points out that both extraversion and introversion are equally normal and healthy, and misguided attempts to alter a person's inherent nature will lead to neurosis; he also warns of maladjustments if the inferior attitude and functions are repressed too strongly. So for example, a natural extrovert may ignore inner warnings, become a workaholic and develop an ulcer or heart attack. On the other hand a natural introvert may be blind to the demands of the external world, behave ineptly in social situations, and suffer painful rejections. Or a person who is inherently sensing or intuitive may be unable to deal with a problem that requires thinking, and make serious errors of judgement. Such behaviours are ineffective and self defeating because they are governed by functions and attitudes that have not been sufficiently developed.


Jung's topology is often misunderstood and oversimplified. There are no pure introverts or extroverts, the world being filled with individuals who demonstrate varying compositions of the dimensions offered by Jung. As with intelligence or mental health, the extent to which a person is introverted or extroverted, thinking or feeling, and sensing or intuition is a matter of degree. (Ewen, 2003, p.71). The intention of Jung was never to label people so they be simply classified into eight categories. Above all, Jung valued the creativity that is generated when opposites balance and compensate one another. The development of the personality, the resolution of imbalances of the psyche, and the process of individuation depends on a complimentary relationship between consciousness and unconsciousness, where both opposites are given equal expression. A dis-equilibrium or one sidedness will result in an unhealthy psychological disturbance. Every condition in life and every age requires a solution to itself alone, and therefore a conflict has a correspondingly different function and significance for the individual in question. The unconscious compensates for the dominant attitude and function by emphasising the opposite tendencies in a process of self-regulation by the psyche, whereas the remaining two functions waver between conscious and unconscious. The remedy for an overly one sided personality is a regression to the subconscious, possibly with the aid of appropriate psychotherapy. Ideally this will enable any undervalued function or attitude to emerge in its own right. Some people do develop a second or even third function, or strike a balance between introversion or extroversion. Jung considers that the path to individuation is a difficult process, and one that is never completely achieved. Very few people are able to integrate all of the attitudes and functions into a coherent whole and allow each one its due expression. Although Jung held the view that neurotic conditions were evidence of failure to integrate and harmonise aspects of the personality, he did not view neurosis as negative. In a curious paradox Jungian psychology considers that neurosis can be positive when framed in the context of a self regulating, self balancing psyche. As long as the individual recognises the message from the psyche as an indication of need and responds appropriately to the message, it can be considered as a signpost and direction towards enlightenment.


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