It is striking how differently individuals can react to precisely the same thing. Some love Marmite and others loathe it. And more seriously, many arguments self-perpetuate aside from whether there is evidence or sound reason to decide the issue, because opposing sides embody different temperaments. Depending upon your outlook, Wimbledon is two weeks of poetry in motion, or two weeks of channel-hogging TV tedium. The internet will save civilisation according to the geek, and scramble your brains according to the Luddite. The heavens tell of the glory of God in the eyes of the saint, and of the troubling meaninglessness of empty space for at least some scientists.
Such oppositions struck Jung after his split with Freud. How was it, he asked, that they could interpret psychological problems so differently? The conclusion he reached was that he and Freud exhibited different personality types. The thought led him to a systematic reflection on temperament that is still widely deployed.
Two types seem especially clear: the introvert and the extravert [sic]. An introvert, as Jung was, is more persuaded by the voice of their inner self. An extravert, as he took Freud to be, finds their interest inexorably drawn to external things. “Since we all swerve rather more towards one side or the other, we naturally tend to understand everything in terms of our own type,” he explained in Psychological Types, published in 1921.
There is fun to be had describing types, especially those not your own – though, as a parlour game, be warned: it is hard accurately to ascertain the type of others because your view will be clouded by your own. That said, consider the extravert.
They tend to need to join in, be with it and make a show of themselves. They have a deep capacity not just to endure noise and bustle but actually to enjoy it. They will have wide circles of friends and acquaintances, “none too carefully selected”, Jung (the introvert) remarks. Their character is more likely to be optimistic and positive, and they will regard introspection as unsound, best combated by the clarity of verifiable evidence: “all self-communings give him the creeps”, Jung explains. When it comes to personal ethics, they will be inclined to voice a concern for others and be content with decisions by vote.
The introvert is not forthcoming and needs regular retreats from the world. When many people are present, too many people are present: crowds are lonely places. The introvert’s character may well appear defensive, brusque, pessimistic or glum – to the extravert. He keeps his good qualities hidden and friends might reflect, “it takes time to get to know her”. At work, the introvert thrives under their own steam. When it comes to personal ethics, they value safety, trust and intimacy; and popular opinion is more dangerous than persuasive.
The extravert and introvert types describe the individual’s default attitude towards the world. To them, Jung added four functional types:sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition. They describe how an individual can gain and process information about the world. “Sensation is to establish that something exists, thinking tells us what it means, feeling what its value is, and intuition surmises whence it comes and whither it goes.”
Again, people will tend to rely more on one function than another. A sensing type will be a strong empiricist, a thinking type will want to understand, a feeling person will naturally assess rights and wrongs, and someone with a powerful intuitive function will seek the wider story or bigger picture.
The basic categories have withstood investigation, not least following their incorporation into personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Several million people sit these questionnaires each year. “The evidence for the validity of MBTI theory is substantial,” explainsprofessor Rowan Bayne. “The questionnaire has been widely researched too, and shows good links between, say, type and shaping a career.” What is important is that the results are taken as points of departure, not as readings of a fixed character.
More elaborate, post-Jungian developments of the basic theory are harder to test, though they clearly also speak to many. For example, in the realm of spirituality, it is said that there are, broadly, four spiritual temperaments: Ignatian, Augustinian, Franciscan and Thomistic. Very roughly, an Ignatian spirituality will appeal to someone with a sense of duty; an Augustinian prioritises meaning; the Franciscan type needs to feel free; and a Thomistic spirituality values rational order and subtlety.
Jung himself was also keen to stress that he was not referring to types of people, but types of consciousness. And the same person can be conscious in different ways in different situations, in extremis like a Jekyll and Hyde. To put it another way, all people possess every function within themselves, it’s just that some are not exercised but are buried as the shadow.
This can be troubling, though it allows for personality development, to becoming more whole or individuated, as Jung called it. For example, the extravert who goes on a retreat and manages to last the course is likely to find the experience revelatory. A new source of energy arises insofar as they succeed in activating their shadow inferior functions. Conversely, an extravert who neglects the inner life is likely, sooner or later, to suffer a crisis of meaning – often called the mid-life crisis. Different opportunities and risks arise across the psychological types.
Jung hoped that his presentation of temperaments would not only prove useful for analytical psychology but for human relations in general. Many misunderstandings and much discord might be mitigated if those involved understood that others live in different worlds. The geek may yet learn from the Luddite, the introvert from the extravert, even the scientist from the saint. And vice versa, of course.
This is an extract from Mark Vernon’s book Jung: How to Believe (Guardian Shorts)