Approaching the Middle Realm
An ENTP’s Search for the Inferior Function
The Eagle and the Mouse
Ellen MacGran, March 19, 2020
When I first learned about typology in the mid 1990s, I set out to conquer the inferior function. After all, I wanted to develop in every way possible, and surely that meant quashing anything inferior! More recently, however, I have learned to recognize the gifts of those for whom introverted sensing is a preferred function, and with life experiences of my own, I have also come to appreciate the power of this gremlin to draw me closer to the middle realm of dreams and imagination, where wisdom rises from the depths.
Because of my preferences for extraverted intuition (Ne) and introverted thinking (Ti), I have a tendency to see life as a puzzle that I can figure out through learning and experimentation. As an extraverted intuitive, I live in a world of possibilities and am often future-oriented. In grade school, I loved to stare out the window and daydream about various situations I might be involved in, and my report cards often noted this tendency. I was successful in technical subjects in high school like science and math because of my interest and skill in problem-solving and logic, which comes from my auxiliary introverted thinking. I received a degree in chemistry from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and started my career as a lab technician with a large food manufacturer at age 23.
I loved going out onto the production lines to solve various quality problems, and I did well in the world of food manufacturing, moving from lab positions to leadership positions over the next decade. After age 30, I stayed with the same company for 29 years, which may be odd for my extraverted intuitive type, because the Ne type “is always seeking out new possibilities [and finds that] stable conditions suffocate him” (Jung, 1921/1971, ¶ 613), but because the company was so large, I was able to work in four different locations and in seven very different capacities, continuing to expand my range and leadership. Still, I was always aware of new possibilities and often on the verge of leaving for some greener field. I did leave the company for two years, but later returned for a promotion and a new location. I worked well in positions that had a global span: I was able to network very broadly to get innovative work done, which satisfied both my dominant Ne function and my extraverted feeling (Fe) eternal child.
At times, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop because there were so many interesting problems to solve, and that satisfied my auxiliary introverted thinking preference. However, for the first decade of my career, perhaps longer, I could be a relentless driver of myself and others. Jung (1921/1971) said, “The extraverted intuitive is continually scenting out new possibilities, which he pursues with equal unconcern for his own welfare and for that of others, pressing on quite heedless of human considerations” (¶ 658). I eventually learned to modulate this tendency, as my extraverted feeling came into development. In the early years of my career, solving various technical problems was thrilling. However, the problems were often more related to people; I learned that people did not always do what was rational, which was both interesting and frustrating. I learned that not everyone was motivated the same way I was. I have always believed in the power of information and knowledge. For me, relying on my introverted thinking—knowing that something was a problem, finding the solution, and implementing it—was the obvious plan. I did not understand how to deal with what seemed to me to be irrational emotionalism in the manufacturing staff when things weren’t going well, but knowing that I had a problem to solve motivated me to develop some feeling qualities.
Typical of my type, I went to books to learn about people. I actually went to the library to study “conflict.” Upon discovering that conflict was a normal part of management, I pursued a master’s degree in psychology in order to gain insight into other people. I was fortunate in that program to learn something about psychological type. I realized that some of the problems I had in working with others came from my blind spot, the feeling function, and sometimes my disdain toward feeling. For example, if the production line had to be shut down for a quality problem, my younger self would gather everyone together and start directing the activities to get to the root cause of the problem so that we could correct it. But I never received the level of cooperation that I needed. After I was introduced to psychological type, I learned to take time to acknowledge the feelings and values that people had before ramping up the problem-solving, and that made a huge difference. Whereas previously I wanted to solve the problem in order to eliminate the feelings, now I could achieve a result by affirming their feelings—just by saying, “I know we are all upset that we are not going to make our production quota, and I care about that, too.” It was so easy. I was able to be simpatico with them, and they related much better to me. My words were not manipulative because I really did want to meet our production goals; I just never had realized the importance of taking the time to talk about that. True to my typology, most of my time was spent applying intuition and logic to make things happen in the world, but I learned how to slow down and acknowledge different perspectives. I now look back with dismay at my earlier tendencies to ignore the feeling function.
Although accommodating the feeling function is an area of ongoing development for me, I became well-regarded for my ability to develop people, to see the potential in them, and to connect to them through their values. I have learned how to be more aware of the overall feeling tone in a situation and am known for creating a harmonious and enjoyable environment. However, I often find myself at a loss when introverted feeling (Fi) is strongly present because my own introverted feeling is bound to the trickster archetype and misleads me. For example, I can underestimate how strongly a person values something, which causes me to come across as insensitive. What is harder for me to see is how I distrust and dismiss my own introverted feeling. In 1997, I had the strong sense that I needed to leave my job. It didn’t make rational sense to leave without having another job, but I left anyway, thanks to the support of a women’s group that helped me to see that I was burned out and needed a change. But about a month after leaving, the company convinced me to stay by offering a new job in a new city (regressive restoration of the persona, anyone?). I arrived at the new workplace—and quit half way through the first day because of a roaring feeling of “I don’t want to do this.” I first felt it in my stomach, which shows that introverted sensing (Si) was involved as well as introverted feeling. Perhaps this is how all ENTPs begin to recognize their introverted feeling. While I am not proud of breaking the commitment I had made to the company, I know that this was a pivotal moment in learning to value my own introverted feeling. It still feels “too” subjective, but I listen anyway. I don’t always have to have a clear reason. How refreshing!
Learning how to work with introverted sensation is critically important for me. Not only is it the unadapted part of my personality but, in von Franz’s words, it is “also the part that builds up the connection with the unconscious and therefore holds the secret key to the unconscious totality of the person” (1971/2013, “The Four Irrational Types”). To access it, I will need to let my extraverted intuition subside, because “the superior function, like an eagle seizing a mouse, tries to get hold of the inferior function and bring it over into its own realm” (von Franz, 1971/2013, “A General Characterization”), in which case the eagle (dominant function) will simply eat the mouse (inferior function). My inferior function of introverted sensing makes it difficult for me to sense how I am doing internally. I don’t always take good care of myself physically. I have a hard time modulating sleep and food intake. My physical environment suffers from neglect. This lack of care for myself and my surroundings embarrasses me: “Many people discover relatively soon in life that the realm of their inferior function is where they are emotional, touchy and unadapted” (von Franz, 1971/2013, “A General Characterization”). Of course, I know I need to take care of my health, but knowledge does not always translate into the actions that are needed.
It seems that my eagle is always eating my mouse. To allow the mouse to survive requires caging or otherwise containing the eagle. Working with the inferior function is not a matter of bringing the inferior function up to the level of the other functions because it “insists on remaining below. It is contaminated with the unconscious and remains in that condition” (von Franz, 1971/2013, “A General Characterization”). We cannot address the inferior in a fully inner or outer way; instead, we need a new kind of conscious attitude in which we bring things to a middle realm between consciousness and the unconscious. In this middle realm, we are neither resting in our developed functions nor fully immersed in the unconscious. We meet ourselves in a new way and are changed. We are turning away from the developed ego capacities and coming closer to the Self, turned inward in a state of dimmed consciousness: “The ego and its conscious activity are no longer identical with any of the functions. …There is a complete standstill in a kind of inner center, and the functions do not act automatically any more” (von Franz, 1971/2013, “The Role of the Inferior Function”). In this arena, Jung found engaging in active imagination to be the best approach (von Franz, 1971/2013, “The Role of the Inferior Function”).
Motoring through the Borderlands
I was already familiar with active imagination, and it occurred to me to use it to address my issues around health and environment, all of which seemed summed up by my inferior introverted sensing function. I had a dream shortly after deciding to do this that seemed to support this idea. I dreamed that I was in a meeting with many people and I asked everyone where they were from. One by one, they described mysterious border towns. One was between the United States and Mexico, another on the Canadian border, but none had a clear country designation. This dream of the borderlands seemed to be calling me to the middle realm!
Dipping my toes in the waters of active imagination always takes an effort. I decided to do an active imagination dialogue with an auto mechanic who shows up often in my dreams and seems to represent my introverted sensation animus. I tried several times but found him quiet. Then I had a session in which the auto mechanic told me that I needed to spend an hour every day doing chores that I usually ignore. I believed this at first but then realized that my highly self-critical witch extraverted thinking function (Te) was sneaking in. The witch has a familiar biting voice and usually comes up with punishing advice. As I wondered how to approach the auto mechanic, my extraverted intuition felt frustrated. Generating many ideas was not going to work. I had to call on my introverted sensing animus to help me find a way to the middle zone of active imagination. I realized that I had some products of earlier dreamwork and active imagination that I could revisit and apply my new insights into my psychological type to the previous insight.
Dream #1, March 10, 2018
I am visiting a man who is quite different from me. He is someone at home with mechanical things or in a garage. Perhaps we have known each other for a while, but we have not always gotten along. Now we are able to be together, although it does not feel as if we are particularly close. It is nice that we can be together. When it is time to leave, we hug. I need to find my car. He points in the general direction of where it is, but I can’t find it in the sea of cars. I go to my hotel room where my things are thrown around. What a mess! So many clothes and things all over the place. I find the car keys. There are two sets. I have two cars. One is more modern; the other is the old maroon Falcon.
Active Imagination on Dream #1, December 2018
I am viscerally experiencing Car #2, the Falcon, and I begin to draw it, see figure above. There is a feeling of it arising from the past, a car my father would have loved and he would draw them often. Yet there is a sense of danger. These old cars had no seat belts, no safety bags. I can smell the gas, sweet and tangy. The faint smell of tobacco from my cigarettes. There is no safety belt, no air bag. Under the hood, it is greasy; the car mechanic says this is what holds it together. The front seat rocks a little, and the radio crackles. The chrome shines from care, and the white vinyl seats are plush. I am drawn back to the times when my cars often broke down but I still loved them. I see the horizon steaming up from heat vapors off the pavement. I want to be on the road. I don’t know where we will end up, but I know we will feel the road and see many things. I want my old Falcon way of life. Comfort has a price I don’t like. Little cafés in nowhere towns call me. I am tired of being cultivated! Why am I afraid of the old way of being? A story about mental illness in the family arises. That feels like an old story and not very helpful. Then I begin to notice that the old car is the feeling of something lost–and that it has to do with the ability to be in my imagination.
The importance of the two cars became clear to me in this session. One car was newer and more functional, my current life. The older car was a 1960s-era Falcon with all kinds of problems. I realized that I missed the old Falcon way of life, in spite of its uncertainties. I later wrote: “The past and all that has gone by me as I have moved through my life are now beckoning. But not nostalgia, rather a closeness to the ground of lived experience … all the undigested experience that still surrounds me.” Only in later reflections was I able to see this as introverted sensation showing up in a tendency to feel back in time.
Dream #2, August 11, 2019
My car is at the shop. The auto mechanic puts his hands on my back for a long time. I ask him why. He says that I am out of balance. It feels good to have his hands on my back. It is not sexual. Other businesses have moved locations. I ask if he will move. He does not want to and seems surprised or off-put by the question.
In the earlier dream, the mechanic was someone I had not always gotten along with. Here, the auto mechanic and I are becoming more familiar, and he knows that I am out of balance and seems to be helping me. I see him as a figure of my introverted sensing animus because he is someone who knows how to fix things and has a sense of how things work, even a sense about me being out of balance. There is nothing flamboyant about him or the shop. The shop is always dim and does seem to represent an undeveloped area. The theme of having two cars has shown up three times in connection with him. One car is old and does not work well, like my inferior function. The dreams of the auto mechanic are always accompanied by the smell of an auto shop. There is a visceral quality to the old car, suggestive of the body, which is the territory of introverted sensation. My initial dream notes were all about smells and sounds, the crackling sound of the radio and the smell of tobacco. I am never that attentive to sensory details in my waking life. This dream shows how my inferior introverted sensing function is operating as that bridge between the conscious and the unconscious for me, taking me down into my least conscious function, extraverted sensation (Se).
Fishing in the Unconscious
While the previous dreams were predominantly positive, as is often the case when the egosyntonic functions are involved, I also began working with a profoundly negative image, suggesting that it came out of the unconscious. I had been troubled by a voice that had—over multiple times and several years—been saying to me, “I hate you,” in early morning hypnogogic states. I could not tell if I was hearing my own imaginal voice directed outward, or some kind of dream figure voice. I had no idea of the significance, and the experience was quite disturbing, so I explored it through active imagination in several sessions in 2018 and 2019. With my new knowledge of typology, I revisited one of the images that I had painted in early 2019, to see if I could understand my functions further. I sat in front of a blank canvas and painted that “I hate you” feeling. Here is the description I wrote describing the experience of painting:
Active Imagination on a Painting, January 2019
A backwash of red feels right and I make it happen. Clenched fists make their way to the middle of the paper, quite unformed. For some reason, a large eye comes next, above the fists. But why does the eye have a thick dash for a pupil instead of a round one? I don’t know, but let it be. There is now a woman, head and shoulders, dark hair, very crudely painted in the bottom right corner. I have no idea who she is. Then, I know that the image is complete, see figure 2, below
I sit in front of this painting for perhaps 30 minutes, mostly bewildered, until I realize that this is graffiti on the sea wall of an old fishing village. I know this because I can smell the rotting wood of a pier and taste the saltiness in the air. Have I been here before? Words come to me: an eye to see the fish, hands to catch them, and the good luck sea goddess. Perhaps the eye is a cat’s eye, hence the dashed pupil. The sea goddess is also a fishwife, aged beyond her years by the sun and hard work. Then I know that the fish have dried up here and the goddess/mother is sending her son away across the sea. He does not know if she is punishing him or protecting him. He is afraid to go “beyond the high waves.”
Over all of the active imagination sessions, while I anchored myself in the initiating experience of the voice, my imagination kept going to the sea and fish. Turbulence, darkness, and chaos were present. There was woundedness that I had not allowed into my conscious experience. My journal records of this active imagination: “Dropping into this imaginal territory, I found sadness, grief and fear. I had to stay with them, and that was difficult … . In resting with all of this, I felt how my own woundedness was both an entry and a barrier into the imaginal realm. But I believe I learned how to swim even with that woundedness.”
Here, as with the auto mechanic, I had never noticed how much sensory data I was registering in these active imagination and dream processes. In the middle realm, there is no difficulty with either introverted or extraverted sensation. And I remember now that as I was painting, my self-consciousness about my lack of skill fell away. Each image came to me as something that I was, in a very real yet odd way, remembering. I was literally fishing into the unconscious, re-membering what was there.
While doing this active imagination, I felt the difficulty of dropping into the imaginal realm. Normally, my witch extraverted thinking would trample on those feelings before I even registered them. But here in the middle realm, as von Franz has told us, “The functions do not act automatically anymore,” (von Franz, 1971/2013, “The Role of the Inferior Function”). The dreamworld and active imagination give expression to the less easily accessed processes within my personality. The sadness that was found deep within that hypnagogic “I hate you” state was a calling to me for help, perhaps a calling from the world of introverted feeling asking for acknowledgement of what has been lost, what has been sacrificed. I had lost my mother just before the voice began to appear. I had regretted not spending more time with her in her last months, believing that I should have known she was frail. We had been so close, but that did not help her. Had I failed her? I had lost my father. I had been diagnosed with cancer that led to a hysterectomy. I had been able to go through those losses while creating a narrative that was rational and calm on the surface, but the deep sea of feeling filled up so much that it finally burst through and reached consciousness.
To feel these losses consciously is what the dream images and active imagination gave to me, especially after working through them again with my understanding of typology. I can be more at home with the losses I feel, the changes in my life that are perhaps not working well for me, the regrets of what is no longer there for me. I can honor those feelings in myself and in others more consciously. I don’t want to convey that this is easy. I have to be alert. Feelings can swim very darkly in me and are thus difficult to catch. I have to stay alert to those feelings and also to sensations. The sensations seem to lead me to the feeling world. The remembered smell of gasoline in the dream mechanic’s garage even now brings a deep longing for what has been lost. The remembered smell of saltwater from the active imagination of the Sea Wall brings the fear of going “beyond the high waves.” There is fear in diving down to the unconscious. It shows up in me only with some work, so easily I repress it. That is the introverted feeling, which seems to be accessible along with introverted sensing. They swim together at the border between the conscious and the unconscious. In that realm, I am developing “an eye to see the fish, hands to catch them, and the good luck sea goddess.”
Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 6). Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1921)
von Franz, M.-L. (2013). The inferior function. In M.-L. von Franz & J. Hillman, Lectures on Jung’s typology. Spring Publications. (Original work published 1971)
Burliuk, D. (1911). Futuristic woman. Retrieved from wikiart.org
Chagall, M. (1915). Window in the country. Retrieved from wikiart.org
Wain, L. (n.d.). Untitled. Retrieved from wikiart.org