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Getting Beyond ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’

I wonder if anyone describing Jung’s type theory for the first time has been able to avoid using the words inner and outer in trying to explain the difference between the introverted and extraverted functions.  As an introverted sensation (Si) type, I remember feeling that those weren’t the right words to illuminate the difference between someone with dominant extraverted sensation (Se) and myself.  I resolved to corral out those adjectives when I explained how I relate to real-world objects, but, in the desperation of my first actual teaching situations, inner and outer still came stampeding right into my sentences like a pair of out-of-control water buffaloes.

I’ve also heard the direction of a psyche’s energy—Jung’s first insight into type difference—described as internal versus external, or interior versus exterior, usually with a hint of panic and frustration in the teacher’s voice. But what, after all, is exterior thinking?

At a safe distance from any classroom, I can take ironic delight in the paradox of how regularly I use Jung’s type model to make sense of the world, and yet how challenging I find it to discriminate the two attitudes in simple words. I’ve heard people say that there aren’t that many words to describe smells because olfaction is processed by a relatively nonverbal part of the brain. Maybe Jung’s ‘attitudes’ are so fundamental and primitive that they operate at a nonverbal level as well.

After studying types for twenty-five or thirty years, I do, sometimes, know how it feels in my body to do extraverted thinking (Te) or introverted intuition (Ni) or extraverted feeling (Fe)—and how it feels to encounter these processes in others. Each comes with its own sensations. My facial expressions change as I move between functions. Different parts tense up or relax. But is that an interior experience, or is it part of the way I dialogue with things that are, at bottom, outside me?

Naturally, I do call on verbal formulas sometimes as I try to figure out a person’s type. If someone says, “Look! What are we trying to achieve here?” I recognize that as a use of extraverted thinking, because I know that extraverted thinking is focused on goals and plans. But I have to confess that my recognition of the function is aided by that place in my mid-chest that always tenses up when extraverted thinking seizes the reins. My mid-chest is also where my heart is, affected by what is happening in a world outside my body.

Many people in the type movement have said that Jung’s eight functions would be easier to teach if they were given eight separate names, rather than being identified as four functions with two attitudes each.  Extraverted feeling, empathic toward all the people who have struggled to understand the eight functions, sees the value in that idea, but introverted thinking (Ti), brandishing a sword, cries “No!”

I think Jung got it right. Four functions. Two attitudes.

So how did Jung explain the attitude difference? As the relation of subject to object. As the tendency to be subjective or objective. I’ve watched the dazed faces in the room when attitude type is taught using those terms. Trying to make people conscious of when they are being objective or subjective is not only semantically confusing, it insults the intelligence of the types of consciousness they typically use.

Recently, I’ve taught introverted and extraverted as personal versus public. Extraverted thinking is thinking that’s suited to the public. Its mantra is: Keep it simple and clear! Introverted thinking is more concerned with satisfying a subtle, personally perceived standard of truth—like Barack Obama in his first debate with Mitt Romney. People saw Obama hesitating and looking away from his opponent. I read that as him double-checking to make sure that whatever he was about to say would meet a benchmark of critical thinking that may well be invisible to other functions.

Extraverted sensation (Se) recognizes realities that others in the public could also, conceivably, identify. Romney did that in the first debate, and with an attention to the public moment that made him appear far more ‘present’ than Obama. Extraverted functions stay engaged with the stimulus in accord with shared standards. So Romney, much more than Obama, appeared to be with the public audience.

Introverted functions want to withdraw and interrogate their impression of the stimulus based on a personal interpretation of archetypal standards, but the introverted functions don’t operate exclusively in inner space. My guess is that Obama’s introverted thinking was remembering how the moderator, Jim Lehrer, had defined what the debate was supposed to do, and also was engaging with an imagined public of analytical thinkers who, scrutinizing his every word, would ask themselves: “Is that really true? Do things really work the way he is saying?” And of course, for both candidates, I’m sure other functions were in play as well.

In certain branches of psychology—and even philosophy—we are invited to call on a related dichotomy: Self and Other. When I see that word Other with its ominous, bloated capital O, I imagine myself alone on a city street encountering a big, oval blob from outer space that is taking up most of the sidewalk. The Other. It’s a looming thing you can’t control—a thing that has a mind of its own and will almost certainly cause you trouble. This species of fantastic perception is doubtless what prompted Jung to write that the introverted sensation type “lives in a mythological world” (Psychological Types, para. 653).

An extraverted function is one that can engage with the Other without retreating. Those who thought Romney won the first debate probably meant that he didn’t blink, didn’t turn away. He knew how to stay connected even as he challenged the President’s record.

Staying engaged with an object can be hard for me. When I first brought home the laptop I’m writing this on, my relation to it was through extraverted sensation. I had to study this weird, new entity, trying to keenly observe every part of it. Extraverted sensation exhausts me, so I could only stand to look at it for a minute or two at a time. My introverted sensation preferred to pull back and question my impression of the laptop in a space that is private even from things. “Is that thing really what it purports to be? How does it compare to things in the same category that I’ve seen before?” Now that I’ve had the laptop for six years, it has become part of my introverted space—an extension of my fingertips. My relation to it, nearly all the time now, remains in the realm of introverted sensation. Yet I am joining with the object. Except when it malfunctions in some inexplicable way, the laptop seems more me than not-me. 

Which brings us back to the big problem with inner and outer. The laptop is ostensibly an ‘outer’ thing, but it’s become part of my introversion. Conversely, like Jung in the Red Book, I’ve been forced to approach some ‘inner’ figures that have appeared in my dreams as if they were strangers, using extraverted functions to try to see their value and understand their unaccountable attitudes. (I approach these figures with auxiliary Fe and inferior Ne. The Red Book shows Jung using auxiliary Te and inferior Se to engage with his fantasy characters.) This is especially the case with figures that seem to embody the part of the psyche called demonic in the Beebe model, the part associated with the eighth function. If ‘outer’ things can psychologically be part of me, and ‘inner’ things can be so Other, then isn’t it ‘misdirecting’ to rely on those words to discriminate the extraverted and introverted work of the functions?

I welcome thoughts and ideas from readers about this.  How do you explain extraverted and introverted when you are describing the attitudes directing the different functions? Or, if that’s too public a question, what is your personal conviction as to where the difference lies?

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Header image: Henri Matisse, “Woman Before An Aquarium,” 1921

5 Comments

    Adam,

    Thank you for your excellent article; I find it refreshing that you have challenged us to look at how we explain type. I agree that it is a difficult task to portray the concepts in a way that people can really come to understand the theory. Extraversion and Introversion are particularly tricky and your example of your laptop and dream figures is very articulate! I love your explanation of using Jung’s terms of subjective and objective, which I do also; it moves us away from defining the actual physical space inside and outside of us. I share the same conviction.

    Explaning this is more difficult; I generally introduce the terms as the foundation of the theory and this energy directs the functions (I read this in an article by John years ago – he said that “the attidues carry the functions”). I also say that our enegry moves outside of us and back inside of us like a heartbeat (I must find the source, it was either Jung or Sharp – do you know?); we move between the attitudes all day long – just like our heart beats all day long (although the metaphor I believe breaks down when it comes to where I like to stay or my preference). I get to “objective” and “subjective” – toward or away from the object, after that, but make sure that I get there because I find it important. I also find it important, in my explanation, to include that Extraversion is propelled by the stimulus in the enviroment (the object(s)) and introversion is repelled or guards against the objects in order to move toward the subject(you).

    That having been said, I still have the stampeding buffalo issue; inner / outer / internal /external / inward facing / outward facing are still terms that are emblazoned into my brain as if with a hot branding iron (I have not used interior and exterior).

    Don’t you find the language we use to teach type has such an enourmous impact on how the world looks at it, that maybe we need some consensus (she says from dominant Extraverted Feeling)? Another blog altogether…

    Cindy (ENFJ)
    Twitter: @csparis

  • Great article Adam. I think you highlighted the complexity of the theory that we too often fail to acknowledge.

  • Adam,

    Is it possible that different Types need/use different vocabularies when they learn-about/teach Type? And that a lingua franca may be a pointless goal?

    Looking for excuses to rationalize my ultra-slow acquisition of all things Type,

    Ed

  • Thanks for these comments. Ed, I really like your idea about this.

  • I just give examples because that is the easiest way to understand stuff immediately. So extraverted sensing would be looking at your cat, her creamy orange fur, petting her, and at that moment not thinking so much as just feeling the softness. And then introverted sensing comes forward to where you are feeling this comfort, nostalgia merged with the present–because all that time you’ve spent with your cat has created this wealth of comfort and peacefulness that you feel when you pet her fur. Extraverted feeling is the kind of thing where you would be watching a movie, and you would get so into the characters that you are kind of living the experience, walking a mile in their shoes. Extraverted feeling is that same grasping-on: You say, that tragedy was a shame. The strength of your emotion moves me, and I say, yeah, it sure was. An introverted feeler could instead be reminded of their mother, how she always said “that’s a shame” like that, and feeling a little irritated, maybe. So then you get to extraverted intuition: this could be the way that you notice a lot of reality shows cropping up in the wake of that epic Hollywood writer’s strike a few years ago, and then wondering if maybe reality TV is all about making stuff more efficient, which is great, until jobs start to disappear, and happening across industries. Introverted intuition would be a kind of daydream, where you see what would have happened without that strike. You write a story about it: construct that reality, which seems amazing and creative and inventive to those around you. The way I have written this comment is an extraverted thinking style of communication because I am going for fast, accessible and engaging. Introverted thinking would be telling myself to check myself before I wreck myself, and look up the dates of that writer’s strike, rather than just saying “a few years ago.”

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