Ambiversion and Individuation
Steve Myers, January 4, 2016
In the July 2015 issue of Personality Type in Depth, Carol Shumate provided a perspective on “ambiversion” (Ambiversion: Ideal or Myth?). I say “a” perspective because—whether we discuss depth psychology or psychological type—there are always multiple, often differing perspectives. Some of the disparate views within psychoanalysis and analytical psychology were documented in the books Freud and the Post-Freudians (Brown, 1961/1969) and Jung and the Post-Jungians (Samuels, 1983). Although there is no equivalent book for post-Myers-Briggs typology, there are nevertheless a variety of contemporary views in the field. These can depend on the various uses and interpretations of concepts such as the four preferences, eight function-attitudes, whole types, temperament, neuroscience, integration with other theories, etc. Also, views on type are often influenced (sometimes unconsciously) by different versions of Freudian or Jungian ideas. In this article, I’ll identify some of the influences I see on the concept of ambiversion, and outline an alternative perspective based on my understanding of a classical Jungian interpretation.
Jung’s Public Relations
One of the major influences on the interpretation, and sometimes misinterpretation, of Psychological Types was Jung’s poor management of his public relations. When he laid down the foundations of analytical psychology, shortly after the First World War, he described the core of analytical psychology in four works—two essays on analytical psychology, another essay on The Transcendent Function, and the book Psychological Types (Bair, 2003, p. 283). Unfortunately, he didn’t publish all of those straight away. In particular, The Transcendent Function, which is central to most of his theories (Miller, 2004), wasn’t published until 1957 after students at the C.G. Jung Institute found it languishing in Jung’s files (Jung, 1916/1957, p. 67).
Also, Psychological Types is a difficult book to read, as Jung himself acknowledged (1973, p. 89). One of the reasons for this is that he describes (a) the influences of previous writers on his thinking in developing (b) his multifaceted view of the “type problem” and (c) his solution. Most of the book is spent in discussing (a) and (b)—for example, eight out of ten chapter headings contain the phrase type problem or the problem of types. This discussion is, in one sense, very important because the problem of types is a recurrent theme for the philosophical, artistic, and psychological writers that went before him. Also, the type problem has an impact in many domains, including different theories, interpersonal relations, intrapersonal conflicts, personal development, philosophical views of truth, differentiation of a unique individual from mass-mindedness, the relationship between the individual and society, and many more. However, Jung spends so much time discussing these issues—about the origin and nature of the various expressions of the type problem—that his solution can get lost in all the detail.
As a result, from the early 1930s onwards, Jung started complaining that most readers were missing the “gravamen of the book” (Jung, 1973, p. 186). He added a foreword telling readers not to focus on Chapter X, which contains the type descriptions, but on chapters II and V (1934, p. xv). These chapters contain a relatively succinct summary of the problem and his solution. I must stress the word relatively because, even in those two chapters, many readers may still find it difficult to identify the kernel of his solution from behind what seems like the chaff of historical context and argument. It might also be difficult to grasp his solution without having first read the other foundational works—Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (CW 7) and “The Transcendent Function” (which can now be found in CW 8).
Another factor in the contemporary interpretation of typology is the ubiquitous influence of Freud on modern psychology. After their break-up, Jung differentiated himself from Freud by saying that, whereas Freud was causal/reductive, he was teleological/constructive (Jung, 1914, p. 183). A reductive approach seeks to identify the causes of something and explain them in terms of basic principles. A constructive approach is concerned with “becoming” and seeks to develop something new based on an underlying purpose. To use an artistic analogy, a reductive approach is akin to losing some painting materials. Once you find them, you can put them back on your shelf so you can use them again. A constructive approach is concerned with realizing the underlying purpose and full potential of the painting materials—e.g., creating a new and unique work of art. The two approaches are not contradictory, but they put the emphasis in different places.
In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers said the aim of type is to “portray and explain people as they are” (1980/1995, p. 18). That is, she took primarily a reductive approach. Although she acknowledged that people can transcend their type and become something new (1980, p. 168) she didn’t see any need to (1977, p. 21). When using Myers Briggs typology we tend to look backwards—discovering who we were at the time of birth and becoming a better version of that type. Jung, however, looked forwards, to the unique person one can become at the end of life. Although there may be an initial disposition towards an orientation (Jung, 1921, p. 332), “type is nothing static. It changes” (1959, p. 435) and “the function type is subject to all manner of changes in the course of life” (1973, p. 230). To extend Jung’s metaphor of type being a compass, a reductive use of a compass would be to identify where you come from, to go back and make that your permanent home. A constructive use of a compass would be to navigate through and out of the territory.
Before turning to the topic of ambiversion, I need to provide a brief summary of Jung’s concept of individuation, to which the concept of ambiversion relates. An individual’s potential does not reside within his or her psychological type, it resides within the archetype of the Self which is unrelated to typology. Although having type preferences is a stage of development, in the long run the process of individuation is not achieved through identification with a type but “through a differentiation of the self from the opposites” (Jung, 1921, p. 114). Jung summed up this process with the image of the caduceus (1944, p. 6), a staff entwined with two snakes that represents never-ending cycles of development. Also, each individual cycle is represented by the four stages in the alchemists’ “Axiom of Maria” (Jung, 1951, p. 153).
Stage (1) is a (primitive) state of unconsciousness. In stage (2) we differentiate a one-sided consciousness and its opposite is projected into other people. In stage (3) we withdraw projections, differentiate the self from both sides (i.e. desist from exercising preference), and then hold the tension of opposites. In stage (4) the transcendent function forms in the unconscious, emerges initially in the form of a reconciling symbol, and then more fully as the new dominant function of consciousness. This function is then differentiated further (5) and the cycle repeats, as shown by the numbers in the diagram. As we continue to individuate, the transcendent function keeps reinventing itself and we become more unique and more whole.
Although Jung did not use the term ‘ambiversion,’ he did discuss an associated concept, ambivalence, which is the experience of having contradictory feelings simultaneously. Ambiversion—as the equality of opposing thoughts that result in ambivalence—is a feature of archaic, primitive, or undifferentiated functions. That is, it is associated with stage (1) of the Axiom of Maria.
However, stage (1) is not the only in-between state in Jung’s model of individuation, for there is also stage (4). This is a more advanced state in which the opposites have been transcended and, more importantly for the current discussion, reconciled. This means that “ambivalence” is no longer relevant because the contradictions have been resolved in the new perspective. To examine this process further, given that Psychological Types is such a difficult book, we can use a work by Erich Neumann, who was Jung’s friend from the 1930s on (Bair, 2003, p. 599).
In 1949, Neumann wrote a book that integrated typology, myth, and the Axiom of Maria (though he didn’t name the axiom in the book). He both explained and expanded on some of Jung’s most important ideas. Jung wrote a foreword in which he described Neumann as gathering up the “disjecta membra” (1949/1970, p. xiii) of Jung’s own writings and as having arrived at “conclusions and insights which are among the most important ever to be reached in this field” (p. xiv).
The first part of the book outlines three important myths: the creation myth, the hero myth, and the transformation myth. The second part discusses the four stages of the Axiom of Maria (using different terminology) and has a final chapter called “Self-Realization of Centroversion in the Second Half of Life” (Neumann, 1949/1970, p. 409). In the discussion of the transformation myth, Neumann describes the impact that this form of transformation has on the use of typology:
The development of personality proceeds in three different dimensions. The first is outward adaptation, to the world and things, otherwise known as extraversion; the second is inward adaptation, to the objective psyche and the archetypes, otherwise known as introversion. The third is centroversion, the self-formative or individuating tendency which proceeds within the psyche itself, independent of the other two attitudes and their development. (p. 219)
The aim of the extraverted type of hero is action. …The introverted type is the culture-bringer. …The third type of hero does not seek to change the world through his struggle with inside or outside, but to transform the personality. Self-transformation is his true aim. …In this development a constant increase of centroversion can be detected. (p. 220)
Introversion and extraversion are now governed by a broadened reality principle, which, in the interests of centroversion, has to be applied to the world and to the unconscious equally. (p. 341)
Although Jung did not then start to use the term “centroversion” himself, it expresses an aspect of individuation that Jung had articulated using other terms—e.g., the opposites “are united in a third and higher principle” (1921, para. 85). Isabel Briggs Myers thought that this higher state was unattainable during a normal lifetime (1977, p.21) but Jung regarded it as a “practical goal” (para. 85). Marie-Louise von Franz has also provided us with a practical description of how one can transcend one’s type.
In her Lectures on Typology, Marie-Louise von Franz made an important contribution in showing how typology is related to the transcendent function (Beebe, 2006, p. 141). She described what happens when we try to bring the fourth function into consciousness:
When the fourth function comes up … the whole [conscious] structure collapses. … This, then, produces a stage … where everything is neither thinking nor feeling nor sensation nor intuition. Something new comes up, namely a completely different and new attitude towards life in which one uses all and none of the functions at the same time. (1971/1986, pp. 27-28)
This new attitude that von Franz mentions is the transcendent function, and it becomes the dominant function of consciousness, replacing the typological functions. The one-sidedness of being a psychological type has been replaced by something that is not merely balanced between two opposites but integrates and reconciles those opposites.
Not everyone will want or need to transcend their type. Typology is a collective psychology and “identification with the one differentiated function means that one is in a collective state” (Jung, 1921, p. 100). While this may seem a strange statement, that being a type is collective, it may help to consider that if you declare yourself to be a type then you are declaring yourself to be the same as a few hundred million other people in the world. This is not in itself a bad thing because “there are countless people who are not only collective [but whose] ambition [is] to be nothing but collective” (Jung, 1935, p. 7). Jung saw individuation and collectivity as two divergent destinies. “The individual is obliged by the collective demands to pursue his individuation. … Anyone who cannot do this must submit directly to the collective demands, to the demands of society” (1916, p. 452). However, this is not only counter to the goal of individuation but ultimately can be damaging to the individual:
The … superior function is as detrimental to the individual as it is valuable to society … . His function is developed at the expense of his individuality. … The time will come when the division in the inner man must be abolished. (Jung 1921, pp. 72, 74)
For the sake of clarity, individuation is not becoming a better type, nor is it becoming a more balanced version of one’s type. It is about transcending type and transforming the personality.
In the context of the above, there are some other points from Shumate’s article to which I’d like to respond. The first is that Jung took the view that the “elimination of filters is neither feasible nor desirable.” This is the case—for example Jung wrote: “The only form of existence of which we have immediate knowledge is psychic … . Not only does the psyche exist, it is existence itself” (1938/1940, p. 12). However, although we can’t step out of psychology to see the world in a truly objective way, we can change our filters and make them more balanced. Jung’s task of individuation is not the removal of filters, it is the transformation of them.
Also, the article refers to Jung’s definition of individuation as being a process of “differentiation.” Jung liked to play with words, and often used the same word in different contexts to show how an underlying principle is expressed differently. In Jung’s definition of differentiation, he describes it as the separation of parts from a whole and says that, in Psychological Types, he uses it “chiefly with respect to the psychological functions” (1921, para. 705). However, “chiefly” does not mean always. In his definition of individuation, he adds a clarification to show that he is not using ‘differentiation’ in respect of the psychological functions, but as “the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology” (1921, para. 757). Individuation is the differentiation of the self from the collective, which leads to a more unique and balanced individual.
Also, Shumate suggests that “Jung’s references to ‘normal man’ are rarely if ever complimentary.” This is one of those topics where Jung’s interests and views waxed and waned, and he expressed both positive and negative views (Myers, 2013). Jung defined normality in contrast to neuroticism—being normal is having one’s inner and outer needs met in daily life (1917/1943, p. 55). Although normality can include people at stage (1) of the Axiom of Maria, it can also include people at any of the other stages, including those who are individuating. Many of his apparent disparaging references to normality are directed at collectivity. That is, when adapting externally, normal people can sometimes just go along with mass-mindedness.
Jung is sometimes very uncomplimentary about people who are differentiated, though the English translation can give a different impression. For example, there is a quote in Shumate’s article in which Jung, referring to extraversion and introversion, uses the phrase “a well-differentiated personality” (para. 971). This phrase is not a value statement. It is not saying that it is good to be differentiated as an extravert or introvert. The adjective that is translated as “well” is “verhältnismäßig” (Jung 1921a, p. 583) which means relatively. I.e., it is a statement about the relative quantity of differentiation. There is a clause immediately after (in both German and English) that clarifies this: “In other words, it becomes of practical importance only after a certain degree of differentiation has been reached” (para. 971). In the next couple of sentences, he refers to these “well-differentiated people” as being “pathological” and having “weak instinct.” This is not to say that everyone with a preferred orientation is pathological, rather this statement is in the context of a discussion of pathology. It is an example where being “a well-differentiated personality” is not a good thing because the extreme one-sidedness makes adaptation difficult.
I agree that ambiversion is an archaic state. It occurs when the functions are undifferentiated and it produces ambivalent feelings towards other people or situations. However, it is associated with stage 1 in the Axiom of Maria. There is also another in-between state—which Jung called individuation and Neumann called centroversion—that is associated with stage (4) of the Axiom of Maria and the second half of life. It is an advanced state in which the opposites are transcended and reconciled, through development of the transcendent function. This is not something that is metaphysical or mysterious (Jung, 1916/1957, p. 69). Nor is it something that is beyond the “normal” population. On the contrary it is “a purely natural process, which may in some cases pursue its course without the knowledge or assistance of the individual” (Jung, 1917/1943, p. 110). But if we can learn to differentiate the self from the typological and other forms of opposites, then we can help it along.
In Psychological Types, Jung discussed various aspects of the type problem and, today, the aspect of type as a problem needs to be rediscovered. Although from Jung’s point of view moderate one-sidedness does not usually cause major difficulties and is a stage of development to go through, ultimately being a type is a problem whereas contemporary type theory generally views it as a virtue. This has resulted in Jung’s solution, the transcendent function, being overlooked. It has also resulted in there only being one in-between state in contemporary theory—that of ambiversion. But there is another in-between state, which is the goal of individuation. The task of individuation in the second half of life is not to escape ambiversion to become one-sided, it is to escape one-sidedness to embrace centroversion. As Joseph Wheelwright once said, “the most important thing about types is detyping” (1982, p. 54). We can only do that if we rediscover the transcendent function again, which is the forgotten fifth function of psychological type.
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