Empathy is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. It is a quality best understood through the lens of typology or, more specifically, the psychosynthesis model of the Seven Types. Author and psychotherapist Kenneth Sørensen explains.
I have been working with people for more than 25 years, first as a pedagogical consultant in social psychiatry, then as a psychotherapist with my own practice, while also teaching personal and spiritual development – all of this experience has given me a deep appreciation of human diversity. However, while diversity is an expression of richness and variety, we also know that it can present us with many challenges because people tend to dislike or fear what is not familiar to them. To help us to relate to each other we need empathy, and we can build our empathy by understanding why we are all so different – which is where typology, the study of personality differences, comes in.
We tend to see people through our own lenses, through our personal values, needs and preferred ways of doing things. Accordingly, when we meet someone who thinks and acts differently to us, we will often interpret their behaviour from the perspective of our own assumptions. In other words: we don’t see people as they are, but as we are. This is the psychological phenomenon known as projection – we all hold ideas in our minds through which we evaluate the world around us. It can be seen how this mechanism is the cause of many conflicts, misunderstandings and broken relationships: when the world does not fit neatly into our framework, we tend to react to it – perhaps attacking it or distancing ourselves from it – while holding onto polarised perceptions, which is not good for the heart.
The question arises: How we can develop a more nuanced perception of human diversity? How can we be more inclusive and understanding each other? In other words, how can we develop empathy? One approach I have used very effectively is to encourage an understanding of typology, which is the study of human differences based on the idea that there are distinct types of people. An understanding of typology can help us to appreciate the differences between us that might otherwise strike us as strange or even dangerous.
There are innumerable typological systems, many of them based on the four personality types proposed by the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung. Personally, I work with a typological system based on the work of the Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, who developed a system comprising of seven psychological types.
What follows is a lightning-quick introduction to the model of the Seven Types. As I describe these seven types below, see if you can recognise which of them are most evident in your own nature. It is important to note that, according to Seven Types theory, each person is not just one type but a combination of several types. This may seem complicated at first, but all will become clear!
The seven psychological functions and types
According to the psychology of Assagioli, a person is comprised of seven psychological functions, which are the seven intelligences or modalities through which we perceive and operate in the world (they are: will, feeling, thought, imagination, logic, passion and action). Each psychological function colours the way we see the world in a particular way. We each have access to all seven psychological functions, but we have not developed them all equally, and this creates the manifold differences between us.
So, let’s look at how these seven different functions affect how we perceive the world. As you read, notice whether you recognise the presence of these functions in yourself or in the people you know.
Will: Those who live primarily through the psychological function of the will tend to feel comfortable making decisions. This type is dominating, brave and strong, coming across as dynamic, challenging and competitive people who are concerned to have a personal impact. The dynamic leaders of our world are typically operating under the influence of the will.
Feeling: Those who are particularly attuned to the feeling function are sensitive and empathetic; they will be caring, receptive and considerate, being motivated to create warmth in relationships. The helpers among us, such as those in the caring professions, are typically operating under the influence of the feeling function.
Thought: People who tend to be dominated by the thought function are those who are keen to gain new knowledge and share it with others, usually verbally, which means this type will often be found working in sales, commerce or education. This type of person is motivated by new knowledge and opportunities to exchange useful information.
Imagination: Those most attuned to the function of imagination will be creative types who enjoy social interaction and who tend to relate in spontaneous and immediate ways. This type is motivated by humour, playfulness, beauty and a desire to create harmonious relationships.
Logic: When the function of logic is in the driver’s seat, a person will be an analytical person who enjoys study and who engages critically with life, being motivated to acquire factual knowledge that can be used to make clear and measurable differences in the world. This type of person has great knowhow and wants to master the tangible, physical world.
Passion: Those influenced by the psychological function of passion or desire exhibit devotion and dedication to causes and their chosen field of interest. This type is motivated by ideals and is deeply committed to their beliefs. Their engagement with life is rarely lukewarm, rather they are motivated by passionate feelings and are typically activists or romantics.
Action: Those who see life through the lens of action are focused on creating order through organisation and systemisation. This type loves to be in control and to be the one who makes things happen. They want people to cooperate around a clear purpose and love to take the lead in this process.
Having read through the above descriptions, you may have sensed which psychological functions are most dominant in you, but please note that you can always develop the qualities and talents associated with the functions that are less dominant. We are each a combination of functions and qualities: for example, you may have noticed that you operate under different functions in different situations, perhaps exhibiting one set of qualities at work and another set of qualities while with your family. The crux of the matter is to discover the nature of your unique typological composition.
There is often conflict between the different functions and their qualities. For example, from the sensitive perspective of the feeling-type those who are strongly influenced by the will can appear selfish and dominant, while the dynamic-type might perceive the feeling-type as weak and indecisive. Such conflicts can happen either between people or internally between different aspects of a person’s psychology.
Seen from the perspective of the seven types, life is a constant interplay between different types, functions and qualities – something that can be highly creative and constructive or an endless source of conflict. Clearly, gaining a greater understanding of the psychological functions, their natural qualities and their underlying motivations, would be a valuable key to understanding and harmonising human relationships. The more we understand our own and others’ typological compositions, the more our hearts will be open and receptive to the many nuances of human behaviour. “In order truly to understand, we must be willing to make the necessary preparation and develop in ourselves the specific faculty, namely, empathy. The preparation consists in acquiring an adequate knowledge of psychology, both general and specific; this includes: a. A knowledge of the psychological constitution of the human being; b. A comprehension of the differential psychology of ages, sexes, types, etc. c. An acquaintance with the unique combination of traits in different individuals.” Roberto Assagioli M.D., founder of Psychosynthesis.
How to strengthen your empathy and social understanding
To find out more about your own typological make-up, complete the personality profiles at www.jivayou.com
Read more about the Seven Types at https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/what-is-the-seven-types/
I also recommend my book, The Seven Types, which offers a complete introduction to the psychological world of the Seven Types.
Enjoy your journey into the social universe!