Understanding the unique individual is an art form that must apply many different perspectives to capture the many aspects of a human being. The most important is the spiritual Self, the psychological age, the four psychological types based on the four vital centres.
By Roberto Assagioli, translated from Italian by Gordon Symons. Original Italian title: Psicologia Individuale E Differenziale. [Editors note (KS). This is an extract from an early manuscript (1932), Assagioli later developed his sevenfold typology called The Seven Types and presented in his book Psychosynthesis Typology]
The individual psychic functions, especially the elementary ones, were experimentally studied in various individuals, and particular results were obtained, not devoid of theoretical interest, and useful practically for pedagogy, psychotechnics, vocational psychology, etc.
Without going into a critical examination of this “differential psychology”, I will limit myself to mentioning that from the point of view of true individual psychology it presents the serious defect of being too analytical and fragmented. The isolated study of the individual functions, and also that, which is interesting in itself, of the quantitative correlation of the various elementary functions, does not lead us into the intimate nature of the human personality, does not reveal its secret, does not give us a synthetic, central and integral understanding.
Furthermore, those studies have been done mainly on children, and this too limits their scope.
Another way, undertaken in our field, is that of the detailed study of individual personalities by means of minute psychological schemes, the so-called “psychograms”. The most accurate example of these investigations is the study by Claudio Magris on the German writer Hoffmann. More well known, but less extensive and systematic, is the volume of Dr. Toulouse on Emile Zola. And the most precise and detailed scheme that can be taken as a basis is that contained in the volume of Lasurski, Über das Studium der Individualität (Leipzig, Nemnich, 1912).
This method, due to the wealth of concrete detail it provides, constitutes a remarkable progress on the previous one, and deserves to be further developed. But it also, as it currently stands, has the defect of being too analytical, descriptive and outward, of not starting from the living center of the personality, of lacking a unifying synthetic principle that helps one understand the intimate meaning, the profound relationships, the reasons and the functions of the individual characteristics listed.
Still another way has been opened to individual psychology through the work of the broad psychoanalytic movement and depth psychology, mainly by Freud, Jung, and Adler.
Freud discovered various laws of the dynamics of emotional life; he demonstrated the great influence that unconscious psychic activities have on the conscious part of the personality; he showed the part that symbolism plays, even in the apparently insignificant actions of daily life; he highlighted, without restraint, indeed with evident exaggerations, the complex evolution and the various manifestations of psychosexual tendencies.
Jung, who was at first a follower of Freud, but who then followed original paths, made a more direct contribution to individual psychology with his acute and extensive analysis of extroverted and introverted types, which will be discussed further on. (See xxx)
Adler, also a dissident disciple of Freud, has built a whole “individual psychology”, ingenious and in part acceptable, but very one-sided, based above all on the various applications of the instinct for personal affirmation, the Nietzschean “will to power”, and on the compensatory, and hyper-compensatory, reactions of individuals to their organic and psychic deficiencies or inferiorities.
These positive contributions to the knowledge of the human psyche deserve to be well known and valued. However, they are not sufficient, either alone or together with those mentioned above, to form the basis of a profound individual psychology. They also do not go beyond the boundaries of empirical psychology, which does not grasp the true center, ignores the remote origins and high ends of the human being and therefore does not discover its secret, does not reveal its mystery.
This limitation must be overcome, it must be recognized that man is not only a “psychological animal”, a superior mammal with an extraordinary development of the brain centers, a very intelligent and sometimes even reasonable beast – however many human beings do too often behave in ways which confirm that theory!
It needs to be said that man is also and above all, and essentially, a spiritual entity.
He is a Center of reality and spiritual life, an “I” or Self that can be immanent in all elements and psychic acts, but is not determined by them. This mysterious self-awareness and spiritual self-identity transcends every single psychological classification and manifestation, and no empirical theory has managed to explain it naturalistically.
Whoever does not acknowledge this Self, this Spiritual Center, not only does not know what is truly human in man, in the highest sense of the term, but also cannot understand the true nature of facts and psychic functions.
It is true that in many, indeed in most, this “I” has not yet reached clear self-awareness, it does not rule in its palace as a sovereign, but it is a prisoner of usurping ministers – however, he does exist, and not infrequently in crises that deeply upset a soul manages to make his powerful voice heard and to break out of prison.
To understand the human soul well, to understand all its manifestations, a “spiritual psychology” is therefore a necessity. A psychology that studies the whole man, not ignoring his body and the influences it exerts on the psyche, but much less neglecting its spiritual essence and the complex relationships it has with psychic life.
Spiritual psychology does not yet exist as an autonomous and well-defined discipline, as a “science” in the good and true sense of the term, but it is in the process of being formed, and its advent could be not far away, since the materials to constitute it already exist and it is only necessary to bring them together, coordinate them and make them into a constructive synthesis.
Even supernormal (metapsychic) psychology or – as it is called now – parapsychology, has given us, with the studies of Myers, Richet, Geley, Osty, our MacKenzie and many others, and is still providing useful contributions to spiritual psychology by exploring the superconscious levels of the psyche where they are located: the powers of knowing at a distance in time and space, of healing bodies, of transforming matter; and where the mysterious contacts between soul and spirit take place.
Finally, several of the best modern spiritualists, even without deliberately cultivating the field of psychology, have collaborated in its progress, far more than many privileged professionals: thus Emerson, the Carpenter, Maeterlinck, Lutoslawski, and, recently, Keyserling and Schmitz.
Only such a psychology, only this integral science of the human soul, framed in a spiritual perspective of the world and of life, can allow the establishment of an individual psychology worthy of this name, which captures and illuminates the superficial or profound differences existing between human beings, which reveals to each his own “individual note”, which shows each person his place, his task, his special function among others and for others, the particular path that must be followed – which in short, offers the modern man that orientation and that individual guide of himself and to self-realization which – as we have mentioned in the beginning – consciously or not, he seeks and asks for.
SCHEME OF AN INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY
In studying a single human being in what is peculiar, individual and different with respect to others, we will not adopt a single scheme of determination and classification.
The human soul is so complex and multifaceted that it does not lend itself, without being distorted, to being forced into a single rigid scheme. Only by considering it from various points of view, in various perspectives, and, I would say almost, at various distances, can it be understood in a less unilateral and imperfect way. Therefore, we will examine it in various aspects, independently of each other.
I. – A first distinction we find between human beings – a general but profound and essential distinction – is what can be called “psychological age”, that is, in relation to the degree of development and maturation of the personality.
Anyone who examines various human beings, even superficially, cannot fail to notice how they have not all progressed equally: how there are men in a wild state or almost, and men who are highly developed intellectually and spiritually. It is therefore necessary to carefully distinguish the various stages of development; then we will discover an interesting analogy between the psychological characteristics of individuals, and the characteristics of each of the phases of life: childhood, youth, maturity and old age.
This should not surprise us: in fact, we find in a wider cycle, that is in the psychic and spiritual sphere, the same biological law of the correlation between ontogenesis and phylogeny.
We will see how that analogy, if examined closely, turns out to be very illuminating, how it gives us the norm of a hierarchical order of Humanity, not based on extrinsic privileges, but on real and irrefutable differences in the evolutionary stage – a hierarchical order that, if understood and accepted, would solve many serious social issues and would firmly and fairly settle the arduous and debated problems of equality, authority, freedom, etc.
II. – A second important distinction between human beings is that based on the various prevalence of their four “vital centers” in the corresponding spheres of interest and activity. They are:
1) The physical Center, which has as its field of manifestation the external, material world.
2) The emotional center, whose peculiar character is sensing, feeling joy and pain, attraction and repulsion. His sphere of life is the world of passions and feelings.
3) The Mental Center, which carries out intellectual and rational activity in the world of ideas, concepts and abstract relationships.
In every normal man there are these 4 centers, but they are very variously developed; for example, it can be said that the 4th is still in a latent state, and is not awakened in the great majority of today’s humanity.
Thus various psychological types can be distinguished. The first 4 pure types:
1. The practical type, characterized by the prevalence of the physical center (for example manual workers, peasants, workers, mechanics, surgeons and warriors).
2. The emotional and imaginative type: poets – people with affective exuberance (De Musset).
3. The mental type: scientists – philosophers (Darwin – Kant).
4. The intuitive type: mystics – saints – spiritual artists (Ruysbroeck – Beato Angelico – etc.).
There are also well-characterized mixed types, for example:
1. The mental-practical type: frequent among doctors – traders – inventors (Marconi).
2. The emotional-intuitive type: devotional religious people – affective mystics – certain artists – (Saint Teresa).
3. The emotional-practical type: men of action with strong passions – ambitious politicians (Napoleon) – also certain passionate offenders.
4. The mental-intuitive type: for example certain speculative philosophers and mystics (Plotinus, Meister Eckhart).
Finally, there are more complex mixed types that would require a more minute analysis.
This distinction of human types according to the various prevalence of their vital Centers raises important theoretical problems, for example that of the upper and lower aspects of each sphere; the relative values of these Centers; their various functions; of the reciprocal actions and reactions that arouse one another; their relationship with the transcendent spirit; etc. – problems that have a great practical bearing on the attitude that we must take in facing these Centers in ourselves.
III- A third distinction is the one proposed and dealt with extensively by Jung. It is based on the movement and direction of vital interest. This vital motion of being can follow two opposite directions: one centrifugal and the other centripetal.
In the centrifugal direction, which he calls extroversion, interest turns towards the outside world, which constitutes for the personality as a field of attraction, a “magnet”. This is the external world in the broadest sense, including other people, the object that gathers attention, the affectivity of the subject, which modifies and determines its activity. Instead, in the centripetal motion, called introversion by Jung, the interest detaches itself from the external world and turns towards the subject itself, which with its modalities and qualities becomes the center of interest and attention, the inner field of observation and activity.
This double movement of the interest of “psychic energy” – or libido, as Jung calls it (eliminating any sexual connotation from the term) – this double movement usually alternates rhythmically in a normal man.
Both are fruitful and necessary moments of a complete life, and their alternating story constitutes a fundamental rhythm of psychic life, which, in my opinion, can find, if not its dark roots, certainly a real functional analogy in the biological rhythm, also fundamental, of catabolism and anabolism.
However, if in theoretical normal man these two moments alternate harmoniously balancing each other, in reality in real individual individuals it is almost always possible to notice a clear prevalence of one or the other of them.
Thus Jung distinguishes two large and opposite human types: that of extroverts, whose vital interest is directed more often and more intensely towards the outside; and that of introverts, in which instead the interest for the subject himself and for his inner activities prevails.
The real existence of these psychological types is easy to prove, only by examining some salient personalities of one or the other type.
For the introverted type, the mind immediately turns to Immanuel Kant, who is one of the purest and most extreme examples. As you know, his lack of interest in the outside world was such that he never deigned to move from his small native city, while his constant and inexhaustible interest in the internal world, his thought that he tried tirelessly to think himself, they gave us the monuments of the Three Criticisms.
Other extreme examples of introverts are given to us by those mystics who, with a complete devaluation of the world, combine an insatiable yearning for interiorization to reach the deepest depths of their spirit, such as Meister Eckhart.
For extroverts, our thoughts turn first of all to the great men of action who, projected outwards, stamped the broadest footsteps on their world; suffice it to name Julius Caesar and Napoleon.
But also in other fields there are typical extroverts, such as the numerous and even more passionate ones, who immerse all their vital interest in a loved being, and come to depend on to such an extent that they do not know how to or even want to survive it.
If, however, the existence of these two great types is clear and evident, even the rapid pointers and examples that we have given show that each of them contains very different characteristics, and that therefore a further differentiation of the types already defined is necessary.
This differentiation is obtained in a very appropriate and persuasive way by combining the distinction between introversion and extroversion with that previously mentioned between the various vital spheres. Then we observe the interesting fact that a person can be extroverted in one sphere and introverted in another, like someone who, while they are extroverted in the sphere of feeling, that is, in the grip of strong passions, are on the other hand introverted intellectually, and are deeply interested in observing and analyzing their moods; or certain figures of saints who combined with a very accentuated mystical introversion have combined it with a no less intense practical extroversion that has made them great men of action.
There are numerous possible combinations of this varied dynamism of vital interest, corresponding well to the great psychological varieties that are found among human individuals.
By delving into this theme, you can see other and more subtle distinctions, such as that of the active and passive character of interest, and that of the varying intensity of original vital interest.
We must then examine the question of the different moral value of each of those types, and the higher and lower manifestations of each of the two vital directions.
IV. – Another distinction between human beings is based on the various relationships between “personality” and “individuality”.
“Person” is a term that derives from the Latin word designating the mask through which the Roman actors made their voice resonate. It is a more or less coherent conglomerate of psychic elements of various origins: hereditary derivation – influence of the environment (to varying degrees) – assimilation of individual elements.
“Individuality”, on the other hand, is our spiritual Center, our most true and profound “I”, both unique and universal, due to a paradox that reason struggles to understand but that intuition is able to grasp and to justify.
Our individuality, being “spirit”, is universal, inasmuch as it is capable of infinite expansion into the Whole; it is unique in its essential and unsuppressible centrality, in its peculiar qualitative note.
The relationships between these two elements can be varied and complex.
They are harmonious when the individual note finds personal elements of a plastic nature in which it can easily express itself; then there are people with strong tendencies and clear vocations, the characters who are “all of a kind”, with certain clear qualities and vocations, but with deficiencies that are no less pronounced.
On the other hand, those relationships are disharmonious when personal elements are discordant with each other and with the individuality and they are rebelling against it. Then deep and upsetting internal crises arise which in the most serious cases can lead to real mental disorders; in others they are temporarily compromised or resolved with the decisive victory of one of the two sides.
When the personality wins, it can lead to the worst degradations and crimes; when instead individuality wins, there is the regeneration of personal elements which, when purified, become part of a superior synthesis.
Two typical examples of dramatic contrasts between an individuality and a personality in which both are strong and very discordant, a conflict that never had a definitive solution, are those of Leone Tolstoy and Michelangelo.
It can be said that many of the most beautiful works of art that we possess were the result of similar internal troubles.
When the individual psychology of which we have tried to grasp the cornerstones, is constituted, it will be able to powerfully promote individual and collective spiritual development, which is hindered and undermined not only by the difficulties and dangers intrinsic to it, but also by those – not few in number and not trivial – produced by the general psychological misunderstanding of ourselves and others.
In fact, we can observe how, not infrequently, the best spiritual teachings and psychagogical methods – when they are given and applied inappropriately and not suitable for the special single case, can be harmful and even dangerous. I will cite a typical example.
The first advice that is given as a rule to those who want to rise spiritually, is that of detachment from the material world, from earthly goods. Very good advice indeed, and much needed in this world full of greed and material attachment.
But there are two categories of people for whom that advice is unsuitable and for which it can do much harm. The first of these categories is made up of people who – so to speak – still need to “live a bit”, to “incarnate”, to have the necessary experiences of normal life. They are often passive, inept natures, who need the healthy discipline of struggle for life and in life.
The other category, in a sense opposite to the first, is made up of people who already have a significant spiritual development, and who have had such harsh experiences in the world so as to have produced disgust, antipathy, and sometimes even horror. They are ascetic, separative types, who do not know or do not want to understand the raison d’etre of ordinary life, and live in an internal world where they are at ease, and often, while considering themselves “spiritual”, instead prove to be “distant” and devoid of love and therefore in a sense, selfish. They are those who, as the Orientals say, are “attached to the formless worlds”.
In addition, individual psychology can effectively help eliminate two opposite types of mistakes that we frequently make in making vital decisions. They concern the two opposite types of psychagogic and spiritual tasks that we have to carry out in life:
1. That of manifesting, of expressing our individual note, of fulfilling the task and mission assigned to us with tenacity and fervor.
2. That of developing the elements lacking in us, of correcting our defects, of curbing excesses; in short, “building ourselves”, to harmonizing ourselves, drawing from the rough block, from the congeries of psychic elements, the beautiful statue of the complete human being (psychosynthesis).
When facing these vital tasks, two opposite kinds of error are usually committed. Not infrequently we do not know how to recognize what our individual “note” is in the array of our personal attitudes – or we passively undergo contrary circumstances without daring or wanting to affirm our true being. In other cases, we are blind and deluded in the face of our shortcomings, we do not recognize their extent and gravity, and therefore we do not try to correct them.
In all these cases, individual psychology can be of great help by giving us the opportunity to make a sincere and profound study of ourselves, revealing our true nature, clearly indicating the tasks to be carried out and the methods to be adopted.
No less important will be the applications of individual psychology to education. The foundational psychological types are already beginning to reveal themselves in the early years of life, and therefore education should take them into account from the beginning. The methods of education and instruction to be applied to each child should take into account the TYPE to which he belongs, in the sense of supporting him – following the line of least resistance – in the psychic development and learning of the various disciplines. Experience has shown that any attempt to violate the individual constitution of the student fails, and can provoke violent reactions or cause nervous disorders.
As individual pedagogy progresses, it will perhaps be possible to establish distinct classes, for example for extroverts and introverts, in which teachers of the same psychological type as students use methods particularly suited to their type of learning.
However, alongside this general task, individual pedagogy should also aim to curb excesses of the individual type, and to favor harmonizing compensations, while preventing them from acquiring the intensity of excessive overcompensations.
Discriminating between the psychological types and sub-types which we have indicated can be very useful to them in discovering vocations and the choice of the most suitable professional activities for individual types.
No less appropriate are the applications of individual psychology to psychotherapy. Psychoneuroses often present as enlarged and exaggerated, and therefore the characterological differences of which we have spoken are even more obvious.
Thus hysterics generally present – at least in certain spheres of interests, such as affective ones – excessive, extreme extroversion. Instead, psychasthenics and hypochondriacs often show pathological introversion. In both, violent and abnormal repressions and reactions are very often formed, and imbalances between the various spheres of interests.
It is therefore necessary to “taylor” the treatment method, adapting it to the psychological type of the patient and his abnormal manifestations.
In this way, the limitations of many psychotherapists who use only one method, and who therefore obtain excellent results on a given category of patients, but fail with others, will be eliminated.
The doctor then should not only use various methods according to the various types of patients, but he should know his own psychological type well and strive, with assiduous psychagogic work on himself, to transcend as far as possible the limitations of his constitution and acquire the necessary plasticity to behave in a different and appropriate way with each patient.
The applications of individual psychology can then be extended very usefully to other types of human relationships; first and most vital among which is love. In this regard, the important issue that has not yet been thoroughly investigated on affinities, complementarity and “polarity” must be studied. Other applications concern the relationships between parents and children, between masters and servants, and in general between managers and subordinates; and also the relationships between equals, in friendship and camaraderie.
The field is therefore vast, and the harvest is promising, and plowing and sowing it for those who are willing and animated by good will is not too difficult; therefore I close this quick examination with the hope that many want to embark on this important and vital work: the exploration of the mysterious and elusive human soul.
NOTE: Individual and differential psychology has made much progress since 1932 and has been the subject of numerous publications. Even a summary exposure of them would require at least one other essay. But I believe that this too can serve as a framework and orientation.