Ambiversion: Ideal or Myth?
Ambiverted or Ambivalent?
Carol Shumate, July 1, 2015
“Ambiversion”—the equal development of extraversion and introversion in an individual—has become a popular notion of late (Adam Grant, 2013; Daniel Pink, 2013) but it has led to some misinterpretations of Jung’s typology—specifically, to an idealization of this in-between state, and the concomitant implication that extraversion and introversion are undesirable attributes. It is of course true that we study typology in order to understand and work around the filters that our psychological type embeds in us. However, according to Jung, elimination of those filters is neither feasible nor desirable. A propensity for either extraversion or introversion is “hereditary and inborn in the subject” (1921/1971, para. 623), and becoming conscious of our natural typology will lead us toward self-realization. For Jung, psychological development occurs not by being equal in introversion and extraversion but by gaining awareness of one’s one-sidedness. This awareness increases psychic objectivity, but objectivity per se will always remain an unreachable ideal (Shamdasani, 2003, pp. 74-75). Jung put it this way: “We know that a man can never be everything at once, never quite complete. He always develops certain qualities at the expense of others, and wholeness is never attained” (para. 955).
An analyst who studied with Jung, Joseph Wheelwright (1982, pp. 14-15), mentioned the Aitutaki tribe in the Pacific as capable of flipping rapidly between introversion and extraversion. So apparently ambiversion can exist. But Wheelwright concurred with Jung, who called this “the mark of a primitive mentality” (1921/1971, para. 667). As Jungian analyst Daryl Sharp observed in his Jung Lexicon, “Ambivalence is associated in general with the influence of unconscious complexes, and in particular with the psychological functions when they have not been differentiated” (1991, p. 15).
Jung is often cited as saying that “there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert,” a misquote that is used to suggest that ambiversion is the natural, healthy state (see for example, Ankeny, 2015, p. 38). But the actual quotation, read in full, leads to a different understanding: “Strictly speaking, there are no introverts and extraverts pure and simple, but only introverted and extraverted function-types, such as thinking types, sensation types, etc.” (1921/1971, para. 913). In other words, the terms extraversion and introversion, are attitudes indicating the direction or orientation of the mental functions, not independent of the mental functions but inseparable from them. According to Jung, who introduced these terms into the psychological lexicon (Falzeder, 2013, pp. 10-12), we are always one-sided because we can only have one primary function: “Absolute sovereignty always belongs, empirically, to one function alone, and can belong only to one function, because the equally independent intervention of another function would necessarily … contradict the first” (para. 667).
Normal vs. Individuated
Another Jung quotation that is often elided and misinterpreted (Ankeny, 2015, p. 38) is the following, which follows a discussion of extraverts and introverts: “There is finally a third group, and here it is hard to say whether the motivation comes chiefly from within or without. This group is the most numerous and includes the less differentiated normal man” (1921/1971, para. 894). Because of its reference to the “normal man,” this quotation, when cited out of context, further exacerbates the misunderstanding that ambiversion is either an option or a desirable state, when in fact the key phrase in the quotation is “less differentiated.” Jung goes on to say about the extraverted and introverted attitudes, “This difference of attitude becomes plainly observable only when we are confronted with a comparatively well-differentiated personality [my emphasis]” (para. 971). Differentiation is the process we engage in to develop our personality type as we mature: “Differentiation consists in the separation of the function from other functions, and in the separation of its individual parts from each other” (para. 705). Jung defined individuation, his term for the process of psychological development, as “a process of differentiation (q.v.), having for its goal the development of the personality” (para. 767). He further described the lack of differentiation as “an archaic condition:”
So long as a function is still so fused with one or more other functions—thinking with feeling, feeling with sensation, etc.—that it is unable to operate on its own, it is in an archaic condition, i.e., not differentiated, not separated from the whole as a special part and existing by itself. Undifferentiated thinking is incapable of thinking apart from other functions. … The undifferentiated function is also characterized by ambivalence and ambitendency, i.e., every position entails its own negation, and this leads to characteristic inhibitions in the use of the undifferentiated function. (para. 705)
What is not well-understood in the popular media is that Jung’s references to “normal man” are rarely if ever complimentary. He once remarked that, “To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful” (1931, para. 161). When Jung referred to the “normal man” he often meant someone who had merged with the collective ideal of the moment, submerging his or her own individuality:
The man of today, who resembles more or less the collective ideal, has made his heart into a den of murderers. … And in so far as he is normally ‘adapted’ to his environment, it is true that the greatest infamy on the part of his group will not disturb him. (1928/1977, para. 240)
Jungian author John Conger explained Jung’s unique understanding of the inter-relatedness of the normal and the pathological as follows: “Normality tells us little about the integration and harmony of the psyche. … Ironically a normal person developing neurotic symptoms may in fact have taken a step toward his or her own psychic health” (pp. 78-79). In Jung’s understanding, the development of extraversion or introversion, out of a state of ambiversion, is actually a benchmark of the psyche’s growth, and the acceptance of one’s innate tendency toward one or the other is a step toward self-realization.
The Illusion of Balance
Of course it is the case that every type has both attitudes at its disposal. What is not well-understood is how difficult it is to discern which is primary. As Sharp noted, “The great difficulty in diagnosing types is … the fact that the dominant conscious attitude is unconsciously compensated or balanced by its opposite” (1987, p. 32). The problem with the concept of ambiversion is that it can deflect us from doing the self-analysis necessary for psychological growth. If we do not ascertain which attitude predominates, we can never know the extent of our subjective bias. Believing that we are ambiverts is a way of denying the inner conflict, denying that we have a subjective bias.
The temptation to believe that we are ambiverts, or that we are intrinsically balanced, has been around since Jung created his system of typology and in part seeded his motivation for writing Psychological Types. Jung’s acknowledged goal was to reconcile the “hostile” psychologies of Adler and Freud, each of which had demonstrable value. His realization that Adler’s system was introverted and Freud’s was extraverted was a major revelation, one that transformed both his theory and his practice of psychology. This understanding led him to consider an understanding of what he called “the personal equation” to be an imperative for psychoanalysts, or in fact for any scholar or scientist pursuing objective truth. Acknowledgement of intrinsic bias became the necessary starting position for his psychology: “Every theory of psychic processes has to submit to being evaluated in its turn as itself a psychic process, as the expression of a specific type of human psychology with its own justification” (1921/1971, para. 857).
The proposal that any system of psychology (including Jung’s own) was necessarily limited, being the expression of its author’s psychological type, did not find a warm welcome in the psychoanalytic community, as Sonu Shamdasani observed in his chapter titled “Psychology’s Relativity Problem” (2003, pp. 72-87). No psychiatrist wanted to acknowledge that his system was fallible, relativized by the limitations of his own mode of consciousness. To this day, the suggestion that we have from childhood developed a particular mode of consciousness with which to interact with the world is not always a welcome one. Hence, the concept of “ambiversion” finds many adherents. However, when Jung said, “One sees what one can best see oneself” (1921/1971, para. 9, italics extant), he demonstrated an understanding of the concept now known as confirmation bias, before behavioral science discovered it.
Ankeny, J. (2015, March). A winning personality. Entrepeneur, 36-41.
Conger, J. P. (1988/2005). Jung and Reich: The body as shadow, 2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Falzeder, E. (2013). The prehistory of Jung’s concept of psychological types. In J. Beebe & E. Falzeder (Eds.), The question of psychological types: The correspondence of C. G. Jung and Hans Schmid-Guisan, 1915-1916 (pp. 9-17). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Grant, A. (2013). Rethinking the extraverted sales ideal: The ambivert advantage. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1024-1030.
Jung, C. G. (1921/1971). Psychological types (H. Read et al., Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (Vol. 6). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
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Pink, D. (2013). Why extroverts fail, introverts flounder, and you probably succeed. Washington Post online, January 28.
Shamdasani, S. (2003). Jung and the making of modern psychology: The dream of a science. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Sharp, D. (1987). Personality types: Jung’s model of typology. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.
Sharp, D. (1991). C. G. Jung Lexicon. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books.
Wheelwright, J. B. (1982). St. George and the dandelion: Forty years of practice as a Jungian analyst. San Francisco, CA: C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, “Doppel-Selbstbildnis” (“Double Self-portrait”), 1914-1915.