Through a Jungian Lens

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Conflict and the Ideal Union – The Problem of Opposite Personalities in Relationships

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This is one of the scenes that presented itself to me this morning while having coffee on the front patio of our little villa in Playa Jaco.  It reminded me of any number of conflicts between types, psychological/personality types, that I see being played out each day.  Often when confronted with differences, we end up in conflict such as this Baltimore Oriole and Social Flycatcher.  Just for the record, I do have very decent shots of both types of birds that are more pleasing and recognizable.  But, this photo talks more to me in terms of active imagination.

At first look, it appears that the sixth chapter from Sharp’s book will provide me with material for a number of posts as it deals with psychological types.  As I mentioned previously, each chapter in the book deals with a volume from the Collected Works (CW) of Carl Gustav Jung.  Thus, the sixth chapter deals with volume six.  I have previously talked about introversion and extroversion, the two attitudes, so I will leave that to the side for the moment and look at the four functions of personality – thinking, sensation, feeling and intuition.  Before I go any further, I want to bring forth, Daryl Sharp’s quick compass pointing the the four functions that are present in everyone to some degree:

So, in any problematic situation, I ask myself four questions:

  1. What are the facts?  (sensation)
  2. How are they linked? (thinking)
  3. What is it worth to me to pursue this? (feeling)
  4. What are the possibilities? (intuition)  … (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, p. 63)

Just for the record, I am an introvert with my major functions being intuition (irrational function), followed by feeling (rational function).  That makes my sensation function the weakest irrational function and thinking the weakest rational function.  That said, I do have all four in place as does everyone else.  Yet in spite of having all four functions available, I invariably respond consciously with intuition and feeling to most situations.  Thinking and feeling become more unconscious responses thus causing me more work to bring them into play.  My wife is an extrovert with her major functions being sensation and thinking.  We are as about as opposite as one could hope to find.  No wonder it was love at first sight for both of us.

More from Daryl Sharp:

In general, the extraverted man has an introverted anima, while the introverted woman has an extraverted animus, and vice versa.  This picture can change through psychological work on oneself, but these inner images are commonly projected onto persons of the opposite sex, with the result that either attitude-type is prone to marry its opposite.  This is likely to happen because each type is unconsciously complimentary to the other. (Sharp, Jung Uncorked:  Book One, p. 69)

And here I thought that I was special somehow, unique.  I thought our relationship was unique.  It turns out that it was basically totally predictable.  I wonder if this was the key to many “arranged” marriages in the past?  Anyway, back on topic.  If you remember, I mentioned how opposites often find themselves in conflict; well, that is easier to understand in listening to what Jung had to say:

The two types therefore seem created for a symbiosis.  The one takes care of reflection and the other sees to the initiative and practical action.  When the two types marry they may effect an ideal union. (Jung CW 7, par 80; cited in Sharp, Jung Uncorked, p. 69)

There, I knew it – we came together to make the “ideal union.”  But before I get too carried away with self-congratulations, there is much left unsaid,  In spite of being in an ideal union, there is a lot that doesn’t feel so ideal about it.  And, in looking at other unions, so many potentially ideal unions end up in divorce – What’s going on?  Once the kids grew up and found their own life journeys, things seem to have become more complicated rather that simpler.

But when . . . external necessity no longer presses, then they have time to occupy themselves with one another.  Hitherto they stood back to back and defended themselves against necessity.  But now they turn to face and look for understanding – only to discover that they have never understood one another.  Each speaks a different language.  Then the conflict between the two types begins.  This struggle is envenomed, brutal, full of mutual depreciation, even when conducted quietly and in the greatest intimacy.  For the value of the one is the negation of the other. (ibid)

Disaster strikes if one has not become more aware of the “self” and has learned to respect personal shadow.  With both partners becoming more psychologically aware, there comes a shift from unconscious response to an aware response.  Remember the four questions above?   Well, this is where they can come to the rescue when the natural and first response is unconscious.  As soon as one recognizes that “heat” has entered the relationship, it becomes time to step back and pose these questions to the self.  Try it, the results may surprise you.


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