C.G. Jung’s theory of complexes is a central cog in the workings of his psychology. He showed how our compulsions seem to have an “autonomous” will of their own, a power over us. In this way, our obsessive-compulsive disorder has us more than we have it. Also, anyone who studies addiction sees how it grips us. At the core of these neuroses are what Jung called “feeling-toned complexes.” This is to say that when we are caught in our shit, triggered and unable step out of the loop, there is a subjective feeling-tone associated with the specific image of our pathology.
Alongside his theory of complexes, Jung brought us the most widely used aspect of his psychology: his theory of psychological functions and types—which was augmented and applied as a means of general psychology, as early as 1925 by Katharine Briggs and Isabel Meyers, smart ladies who were not psychologists, but saw how helpful this theory can be for society at-large.
In Jung’s model, personality is comprised of four functions: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting; he suggests each individual comes into the world with unique preferences for these four functions. Rather than being bound by personality-type to certain weaknesses (a common misunderstanding of Jung’s typology), being acquainted with our preferences can lead to development of less dominant functions—the way to self-realization and psychological health.
One way of understanding Jung’s model of personality is that when these four functions are working together, we are making conscious parts of ourselves which have been pushed into the unconscious. But when one function dominates, we tend to repress the others, and this repression leads to neurosis: unwanted, “autonomous” outbursts and the repetitive patterns associated with complexes.
As a student of Jung, James Hillman mused: if complexes are “feeling-toned,” then a way into every complex is via our feeling function. Hillman’s work is aimed at recognizing the pitfalls of analysis, of our thinking-function biases, and learning to cultivate “thoughts of the heart,” our mythopoetic imagination, and capacity for what some have called “emotional intelligence.” It is easy to see how our culture today could benefit from a feeling-function education.
If we apply Jung’s ideas to the personality of Western culture, we find a thinking-dominant society which prefers sensing over intuition and feeling. The rational, scientific and sensational are prioritized in our technology, addiction to digital devices, and affinity for a “leader” who behaves like he’s in a drunken bar-fight; while aesthetic and poetic concerns, attention to creative solutions, our imagination, and heart-consciousness, seem to go unacknowledged.
If we come to our lives with different function-preferences, those who naturally match our culture’s thinking-dominant expectations may be more likely to survive and thrive. Many of us beat our heads into the system, and suffer a form of trauma at some point, especially if we are types who naturally follow our hearts, listen to intuition, or prioritize imagination. We believe there is something “wrong” with us for feeling out-of-step with the flow of the mainstream, and deny our strengths, striving to fulfill expectations of family, school, career, religion, community and culture.
While we may not succeed changing the system, we can nonetheless give ourselves, our children, and communities a feeling function education. In the words of Thomas Moore, we still have “…the capacity to create a social environment that is psychologically nourishing.” In the paper, “Depth Musicology,” I list a number of creative tools which depth psychologists enlist to engage psyche. Used in-conjunction with one another, they bring us into the present moment, and illicit creative interplay between inner and outer life.
Jung’s work with active imagination is central to Hillman’s ideas about “imaginal” ego, and the importance of feeling. Likewise, Jung’s application of active imagination, in fragmented artist-writer mode (The Red Book), is foundational for my research as a depth musicologist. Whether we use words, colors from a pallet, beats on a drum, or notes from the major scale to express an image and tend it, these activities engage feeling and call into play other functions as well: thinking (for its organization), sensing (writing, painting, beating, fretting, etc.), and intuition (listening to the muse & opening to creative potentials).
Creative cross-training (working in multiple mediums) serves psychological wellbeing because it shows us an image from many perspectives, suspending judgements, and keeping us in our hearts. I have mentioned that work with music is central to my approach. As Psyche is to the psychologist, the more I venture into relationship with Music, the more I appreciate her ability to express subtle variations of feeling-tone. This returns us to Jung’s choice of words in describing what grips us—to why music is important to depth psychology and feeling function education. Calling complexes “feeling-toned,” Jung speaks the language of music.
The quality of a chord refers to a specific feeling the chord invokes. Play the first and third note of the major scale and you have a major chord. Flat the third, just one half-step, and we enter a darker emotional realm, a minor quality in music. This is powerful magic when we consider the shift in perspective from uplifting to gloomy occurs instantaneously, and in the move of just one half-step. Amazingly, for those who wish to venture deeper, there is an infinite array of pitches within this one, half-step movement alone. Furthermore, every note added or taken away from a chord alters its feeling, as does the manner in which chords are juxtaposed against one another.
Depth musicology educates feeling-function because music is such a highly-differentiated form of expression. Musicians master musical language to convey whatever wants to come through—without limitations. From a psychological perspective, if we want to enter a complex using Hillman’s method, via our feeling function (to begin loosening whatever grips us), music holds a great number of multifaceted, feeling-toned keys. How do we get acquainted with our preferences, and get all our functions in-play with each other? Stay with the images psyche presents. Work with feeling-tones unique to our experience, cross-train creatively in multiple mediums, and play some music.