Table of content
In this article I will describe how the seven psychological functions relate to each other and to the seven energies and types. It is perhaps the most important topic in psychosynthesis typology because it explains how the “underlying functions”, according to Assagioli, create the seven types.
The Seven Types and the underlying functions
By Kenneth Sørensen, chapter three from The Seven Types, Psychosynthesis Typology. Download the chapter as a pdf including references.
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From a psychological, not cosmological, perspective, the seven energies and types emerge from seven psychological functions that are inherent in every person. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung proposed a model of four psychological functions that is still widely used today, especially in the field of differential psychology. These four functions are thought, feeling, intuition and sensation, and Jung suggested we process how we understand ourselves and the world through these four functions. Accordingly, the functions can be seen as intelligences or tools of awareness.
Carl. G. Jung (1875-1961)
In contrast to Jung, the model I use for the Seven Types is based on the work of Assagioli and, more specifically, his Star Diagram (Diagram1).
Assagioli suggested there are seven psychological functions that provide the intelligence and processing skills that the conscious self needs to navigate life. (By “self” I am referring to the conscious “I”, which is the self-aware consciousness in all humans.)
Assagioli writes the following about the functions as they relate to the self or “I”: “In reality, all functions are functions of a living, self-conscious being and thus of an ‘I’. It is the ‘I’ that feels and thinks, that imagines, desires and wills above all that wills.” (1967b)
One could write an entire book about the seven functions, because they have such a complex nature and interplay, so I will only cover the most important aspects of the functions as they relate to the seven types.
(For more on this topic, see my MA dissertation Integral Psychosynthesis (Sørensen, 2008) and Assagioli’s The Act of Will, particularly his descriptions of the Star Diagram and the ten psychological laws.)
Assagioli (1967b) seems not to have described the exact nature of the psychological functions, but he quoted Jung in the following way:
”We admit that we do not know what these functions really are. We should like very much to know into what primitive elements feeling, for instance, could be resolved. But despite our ignorance of ultimate principles, we deal with these functions as if they were clearly definable organs of the mind.”
Diagram 1. Roberto Assagioli’s Star Diagram
The functions are, according to Jung, “organs of mind”, and we might also call them seven types of intelligence. Indeed, neuropsychology, which has evolved tremendously since Assagioli, offers further insight, suggesting that the functions could be best described as seven brain centres or neural networks. Indeed, fresh insights are emerging all the time, with a great deal of ongoing scientific research into the nature of the imagination and the will. (See results for Imagination and Will power)
A quick online search on the nature of imagination and the brain, or on any of the other psychological functions, will generate a wealth of information. In particular, the award-winning UCLA professor Dario Nardi, in his book Neuroscience of Personality (2011), offers some very interesting material on how the Jungian types and functions are related to the different centres of the brain.
The key idea to grasp is that the psychological functions are receivers and transmitters of the seven energies (Table 1).
Table 1. The Seven Psychological functions and the transmitting energies
Will transmits dynamic energy, feeling transmits sensitive energy, and so on. So we can state that the seven energies are received by the seven psychological functions, which then distribute the energies and their qualities in various ways to create an individual’s unique personality.
This is the basic theoretical foundation of the Seven Types from a psychological point of view. Put more simply, rather than offering metaphysical explanations, we can take as our starting point the self-evident fact that we all possess will, feelings, thoughts, imagination, logic, passion and the ability to act. You will have noticed that the names I am using for the functions are not exactly the same as those used by Assagioli in his Star Diagram (See Table 2).
I have good reasons for proposing these alternative names, all of which is in keeping with Assagioli’s original concepts. Let me clarify this point.
Table 2. Different names for the psychological functions
Higher and normal psychological functions
One point at which I differ from Assagioli is that I use the term “logic” in place of “intuition”. This might seem strange, so let me start by acknowledging that intuition can be described validly as a psychological function, however it can also be noted that intuition is a transpersonal function that exists beyond the range of the normal personality.
Also, in his book Psychosynthesis Typology, it can be seen that Assagioli doesn’t include an intuitive type in his list of seven types (See Table 2), which might seem strange because he surely acknowledges that there is an intuitive type. I suggest there are several reasons for this apparent discrepancy, and let me offer my take on it.
Assagioli was clear in discriminating between the normal psychological functions and the higher spiritual functions, which is a distinction he discusses many times. For example, he states:
“This personal self is the human core at the ordinary level, the level of personality. It is the centre of our ordinary psychological functions: mind, emotions, sensation, imagination, etc. Likewise, at our higher human level there is an entity that is at the centre of the higher functions – artistic inspiration, ethical insight, scientific intuition. This is our real core: it is there in all of us, but the personality is generally not aware of it at the ordinary level.” (Miller, 1973)
According to Assagioli (1965: 17-18), artistic inspiration, ethical insight and scientific intuition are higher superconscious functions – something he defined in his first book Psychosynthesis:
Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974)
”From this (superconscious) region we receive our higher intuitions and inspirations – artistic, philosophical or scientific, ethical “imperatives” and urges to humanitarian and heroic action. It is the source of the higher feelings, such as altruistic love; of genius and of the states of contemplation, illumination, and ecstasy. In this realm are latent the higher psychic functions and spiritual energies.”
These higher functions are higher aspects of the normal functions, so they are not something completely different, they are just natural developments, or higher potentials, which emerge when we awaken to the level of the soul. In Assagioli’s words (Rosenthal, 1973):
“…each function has a lower and a higher aspect. The mind has a lower aspect—purely analytical, critical, while its higher aspect is reason and the higher mental activities. The same with emotion: there are primitive, coarse emotions and there are refined feelings. And the will: there is a strong imperative, selfish will and the good will, the Will-to-good. Thus each function should be developed to the highest level of possible expression.”
When I discuss the lower, or normal, psychological functions below, I will suggest for each of them what I consider the associated higher function to be.
Now back to intuition. Assagioli clearly discriminates between “day-by-day intuition and real spiritual intuition” (1965: 217, 220; 1983: 41), and he places real intuition in the transpersonal arena as a higher function. (For a full discussion of this see my compilation of quotes about intuition by Assagioli)
Furthermore, in a highly illuminating dialogue with the Canadian psychosynthesist Martha Crampton (Crampton, 1966), Assagioli states that intuition is a stage of consciousness rather than a particular type, and this makes sense because, when writing about the types, Assagioli (1983) explains that there is an intuitive expression of each of the types:
“There is mathematical intuition scientific intuition; the intuition of the inventor or the technician; the aesthetic intuition; the philosophical intuition; the mystical intuition. Intuition as a function is beyond or above — any typological difference, but it operates differently according to the psychological types.”
Having explained why I have not included intuition in my list of psychological functions, why is it that I have included logic? In my view, logic can be considered a different function to thought, which is in keeping with Assagioli’s idea that there are two types of mind: abstract mind, which I term thought, and concrete mind, which I refer to as logic. Logic creates the analytical or rational-scientific type, as we shall see.
I have also replaced Assagioli’s term “impulse-desire” with “passion” for the semantic reason that the word “desire” often has negative connotations. And I have replaced Assagioli’s term “sensation” with the word “action”, which I feel better captures the role of the body in everyday life. I will return to and expand on these points as we now look in detail at each of the psychological functions.
The seven psychological functions
We are now ready to explore each of the seven psychological functions. In doing so, I will be referring to the circle diagram (diagram 2), which numbers the functions and shows how they relate to each other. The first three functions in the list are will, feeling and thought. These three basic, or primary, functions – of which will is foundational – combine in different ways to create the other four functions, as we will see.
But before we proceed, here is a quote from Assagioli (undated 17) that will remind us of the important purpose behind this work:
“Men still do not know – or do not want to – understand and appreciate individuals and groups different from them by nature, quality and function, and this prevents collaboration and mutual integration necessary for the good of all. A great help in implementing that understanding and appreciation is given by the knowledge of the various psychological types and their respective functions.”
Diagram 2. The circle diagram showing how the psychological functions are related and their respective types
The psychological function of will
The first function is will. The will channels the dynamic energy and its qualities, which manifest as the dynamic type (See diagram 3). The will has received little attention in psychological literature. William James, who wrote The Will to Believe, is one exception. Another exception is existential psychology, which emphasises the importance of responsibility and choice – choice being an aspect of will.
However, the great psychological pioneer of will is Assagioli, whose book The Act of Will is a recognised classic. Accordingly, I have placed will at the top of the circle diagram to emphasise its prominence in the psyche as the directing agent of all the other functions. Assagioli confirms that the will is foundational. He writes (Miller, 1972): “The will serves, quite simply, as the directing energy for all other psychological functions. We find that the discovery of the self is frequently connected with the discovery that the self has a will – is even, in a certain sense, a will.”
Diagram 3. Will
The will is often the last function to fully develop, representing as it does the completion of our personality: the will-to-be-yourself. It is through the will that we become independent and able to freely choose how to live our lives. The will is the function that enables us to recognise and choose what is authentic for us.
Will directs our energies through purpose, choice and decision. To give an example, when we choose to study a particular subject we are using our will to help us decide how we want to invest our mental, emotional and financial energies in order to achieve a goal.
As our will develops we begin to radiate the qualities of the dynamic energy, such as courage, strength, freedom, focus and discipline. Will is the dominant function that underpins the dynamic or will-power type.
The superconscious aspect of the will is the transpersonal will, which is what Assagioli termed the “Will-to-good”, which is a heroic call to action motivated by altruistic values. When connecting with the transpersonal will of the soul, we develop courage as our primary quality and can be said to be following the Heroic Way to the Soul (Assagioli, Undated: 19-20).
Do you find it easy to make choices, to stand up for yourself and face conflict? Looking back on your life, did you chose and implement your wishes quickly or did you deliberate at length before acting? Your answers to these questions indicate the extent to which your will function has developed. You can, of course, develop the will further. We will explore how we can develop the functions in a later chapter.
The psychological function of feeling
Our feelings are manifestations of our sensitivity to psychological atmospheres. Our feelings register whether we find something pleasant or otherwise, and they help us to discern changes in the psychological atmosphere. We are each able to register and discern some feelings more easily than others. Indeed, we each experience and express feelings and emotions in different ways in line with whichever of the seven energies is most dominant in us – in this way we could each be said to be a different ‘feeling type’, i.e. a dynamic feeling type, a sensitive feeling type, and so on. Consider your own emotional atmosphere: are you mostly calm, intense, hypersensitive, moody, joyful or controlled? Your answer will suggest which of the seven energies you are most attuned to through the feeling function.
Feeling (Diagram 4) is where we find the depth and grounding required to be at peace with ourselves so we can enjoy our own company and the company of others. Feeling connects us to our emotional needs, helping us to be open and receptive, connecting us to the outside world so we can empathise with what is happening around us.
Through feeling we access the inner worlds of others, and even with nature itself. The feeling function enables us to understand others’ needs and to empathise. Feeling provides a kind of instinctive ability to know what’s happening with those we are close to.
Diagram 4. Feeling
Feeling/emotion is the dominant function underpinning what I have termed the sensitive type and what Assagioli terms the “love type”. According to Assagioli (1983: 30): “The emotions, as we might expect, become the centre of attention and of vital energy for the majority of those who belong to the love type.”
The feeling function provides access to the sensitive energies of love. There are normal and higher aspects to this function. In this regard, Assagioli differentiated between normal love and a higher altruistic love, or ethical insight, which is the superconscious aspect of the feeling function. It is also important to note that all seven functions manifest love in their own way; this is because – as can be seen in the circle diagram – all of the functions are linked to the feeling function, which is the function most directly linked to the energy of love
When you develop the feeling function, you radiate empathy, care, warmth and social understanding, all of which are qualities associated with the sensitive energy. Can you detect others’ feelings and empathise with them? Are you easily able to discern which atmospheres and social settings you prefer to be in? Your responses to these questions will indicate the extent to which you have developed the feeling function
The psychological function of thought
Through the function of thought we register information about ourselves and the world (Diagram 5). Thought organises knowledge into concepts and categories and helps us to orientate ourselves to reality. (Sadly, the education system is often only focused on developing the functions of thought and logic, while neglecting the other functions.) With thought we can reflect on our experiences, weigh up pros and cons, and develop opinions about the world. Thought helps us to assess the information we receive from our other primary functions so we can gain perspective. Thinking enables us to interpret reality based on the knowledge we acquire through learning.
Thought provides an overview and an inner map so we can act intelligently in the world. Thought makes it possible to communicate and share our experiences through language. Using thought, we are able to hear other people’s ideas and experiences, reflect on them and compare them to our own.
According to Assagioli (Undated 21), thought is an energy: “Creative thinking is a definite stage in objectifying ideas and higher concepts; and because thought is an energy we can use its power to develop the qualities, the attitudes, and the conditions that we think should prevail. If we use thought consciously and creatively, we can bring about changes in ourselves and our lives, as well as in our environment and in the world.”
Diagram 5. Thought
The thought function differs from the logic function: thought works with broad categorisations and networks of ideas, whereas logic has a single focus on detail.
Thought is the dominant function that underpins the mental (activepractical) type. According to Assagioli (1983: 39) “the fundamental quality characterising this type is intelligent activity”, which means the function of thought operates by receiving and expressing the mental energy.
The superconscious aspect of the thought function is genius or philosophical inspiration.
We each think in unique ways and it is possible to discern our own particular thinking style, for example our style might be quick, detailed, direct, associative or methodical. When we develop this function, our mind will emanate intelligence, clarity, insight and flexibility, all of which are qualities of the mental energy.
Does new knowledge come easily to you? Do you enjoy studying? Are you a skilled communicator? Your responses to these questions will indicate the extent to which you have developed the thinking function.
The psychological function of imagination
The three primary functions – will, feeling and thought – combine in different ways to create the four secondary functions (imagination, logic, passion, action). In the case of imagination, this function arises from a combination of the feeling and thought functions (Diagram 6.). Assagioli (1965: 144) maintained that: “Imagination is a function which in itself is to some extent synthetic, since imagination can operate at several levels concurrently: those of sensation, feeling, thinking and intuition. In one sense it is a cross-section of these four functions, or rather a combination in various proportions of them.” However, while Assagioli refers to four functions combining to create imagination, I believe imagination arises primarily out of thought and feeling, a conclusion also reached by the prominent psychosynthesist Jim Vargiu (1977: 24), who stated: “The imagination is the bridge between our mind and our feelings. Images are formed in the mind and are energised by feelings.”
Jung didn’t consider imagination to be a distinct function, which was strange to Assagioli because Jung’s work had such a focus on imaginative symbols. Assagioli (Keen, 1974) stated: “We hold that imagination or fantasy is a distinct function.”
Imagination enables us to create meaningful images and stories that have emotional atmospheres. Through imagination we can visualise and picture the world as it could be. The most important images we create are our self-images. Our memory stores images from the past that influence our present self-image, and through our imagination we can explore and gain insight into these images. We can also create new self-images that express who we are today more accurately. Psychology refers to this as mental training.
Diagram 6. Imagination
Imagination opens us up to the world of magic. We can imagine alternative realities and use our other functions to make them real. We can imagine our future into being. All that we imagine will have a powerful effect on our feelings and thoughts and, in this way, all images are real in that they have consequences. According to Assagioli (1974: 52), the central function of the will can “mobilise the energies of imagination and of thought, and utilise these energies within the individual to carry out its plan”.
When we develop our imagination we will increasingly emanate the qualities of the creative energy: harmony, poetry, playfulness, beauty and flexibility. Indeed, imagination is the dominant function underpinning the creative type, who is noteworthy for having a particularly vivid imagination (Assagioli, 1983: 53). Assagioli (1983: 79) adds: “The creative type is generally a channel or voice for his superconscious, a receiver of inspiration from the realms of the intuition or the imagination.”
Assagioli (2007: 64) seems to be implying that the superconscious aspect of the function of imagination is intuition when he writes: “Imagination is closely linked with intuition because when intuition enters the conscious mind it is often not in an abstract, simple, ‘pure’ form; rather it manifests as images.”
The creative type who draws upon their aesthetic sense can be said to be following the Aesthetic Way to the Soul (Assagioli, Undated 20, 22).
Is it easy for you to use your imagination and let go and be spontaneous? Do you prefer to be in the here and now and go with the flow? Your responses to these questions will indicate the extent to which you have developed the function of imagination.
The psychological function of logic
The logic function arises from the combination of the will and thought functions (Diagram 7.). Logic is a purposeful style of thinking that moves methodically from one point to the next, always adhering to the laws of reason. While the thinking function generalises, logic focuses on detail, so we can say that logic is an analytical way of thinking. Logic works with facts to reach objective conclusions.
Logic allows for accurate thinking and communication. Logic discriminates fact from wishful thinking so that reliable assessments can be made concerning what is real.
Logic enables us to manage the details of our lives and practical tasks, such as financial management. When we develop the logic function we emanate and radiate the analytical qualities: precision, reliability, order, objectivity and clear communication.
Diagram 7. Logic
The analytical mind, or logic, is the underlying function for the analytical or scientific type. Assagioli (1983: 61-62) explained:
“The mental realm is obviously the natural environment of the scientific type. His tireless mind is always on the alert, investigating, posing questions, solving problems, searching, probing, experimenting, proving and discovering. He has a great capacity for prolonged attention and mental concentration, tireless perseverance in his research, meticulous accuracy, and an admirable ability to sift data, discover laws and conceive theories for classifying facts into coherent systems.”
We can deduce from Assagioli’s observations that the superconscious aspect of the logic function is scientific intuition, which occurs when intuitive inspiration is clothed in scientific facts that can be validated.
The person who uses their analytical skills to reveal the hidden mysteries of nature for the good of all can be said to be following the Scientific Way to the Soul (Assagioli, 1968c; Undated 20).
Are you someone who is adept at dealing with practical tasks? Do you love to study science and do you have a tendency to think logically? Your responses to these questions will indicate the extent to which you have developed the function of logic.
The psychological function of passion
The function of passion arises from a combination of the will and feeling functions (Diagram 8.). Passion is feeling with a goal. The passion function is active and provides information whenever we find something attractive or repellent.
As stated above, with my model, I decided to change Assagioli’s term “impulsedesire” to passion. This is because, according to Assagioli (Keen, 1974), there is a “group of functions that impels us toward action in the outside world. This group includes passion, instincts, tendencies, impulses, desires and aspirations.”
Passion is linked to our basic survival instincts as well as our devotion to the highest good. Through the passion function we can devote ourselves wholeheartedly to a goal or an ideal, such as our children, a lover, or a hero who symbolises our values and beliefs. Passion nurtures loyalty and makes us faithful to what we love.
Diagram 8. Passion
Passion is exclusive: it selects one goal and rejects all others. This focus can offer an extraordinary strength, enabling us to enter into the world of ideals. In this way we can inspire ourselves and others simply through our enthusiasm.
When we access our passion, we emanate the energy of dedication: excitement, joy, focus, intensity, conviction and faith. Through passion we connect with the dedicated energy, which is full of will and emotion, as Assagioli (1967b) states: “Desire is or has a dynamic energy that impels to action.”
Passion is the function that underpins the dedicated or devotionalidealistic type because, according to Assagioli (1983: 70): “The devotional type is intensely emotional. His feelings are often passionate and extravagant.”
The superconscious aspect of the function of passion-desire could be termed spiritual aspiration, or mystical vision, because when passion has a spiritual focus it inspires a mystical approach, which many mystics have pursued on their journey to union with the divine (Assagioli, Undated 24).
Are you passionate about values and ideals? Are you dedicated to them? Your responses to these questions will indicate the extent to which you have developed the function of passion.
The psychological function of action
The functions of will, feeling and thought in combination with the sensations of the body produce the function of action (Diagram 9). It can be seen that any action involves choice (will), reflection (thought) and an emotional response (feeling), and this action is then carried out by the body, which utilises the five senses and its ability to act. In every action, one of the primary functions will usually dominate in its execution, in accordance with the purpose that lies behind that action. (I should make it clear that with the action function we are referring to concrete physical action. To a certain extent, our thoughts and feelings are also actions, but we don’t necessarily act on them in a physical sense.)
Diagram 9. Action
Jung and Assagioli both termed this function “sensation”, but I think action is a better word because it better describes the transmission of practical energy; the action function is essentially thewill in physical action. According to Assagioli (1930c), the presence of sensation “indicates the sensation function or the physical consciousness and action on the physical plane”. In another article, Assagioli (1934b) clearly discriminates between sensation and the action of the body, explaining: “The Orientals distinguish the organs of sensation, jnanendriyas, of which we have just spoken, and the organs of action, Karmendriyas. They are: Mouth – speaking, Hands – grasping, Legs – walking, Anus – excretion, Genitals – procreation”.
If you are a practical person you will enjoy attaining concrete results for your efforts. The outcome is important to you, but you will also enjoy the process of planning, organising and executing your ideas. Efficient action requires holding awareness of all aspects of an operation. A good host, for example, must consider the requirements of her dinner guests, select the right ingredients, prepare the food and serve the meal in a pleasant way; a developed acting function enables you to do this.
A person of action moves with grace and economy towards a chosen goal. When this function is developed you will emanate the qualities of practical energy: earthiness, groundedness, co-cooperativeness, effectiveness and practicality.
Action is the function underpinning the practical organisational type. According to Assagioli (1983, 78): “The organisational type expresses himself above all in action and he is a thoroughly objective type.” The superconscious aspect of the action function is the spiritual will to manifest, which will be executed using organisational skills for the betterment of society.
Do you often take charge and organise events and situations? Do you enjoy seeing the fruits of your efforts? Your responses to these questions will indicate the extent to which you have developed the function of action.
Summary of functions and types
In summary, Tables 3 and 4 bring together some of the key aspects of our discussion regarding the functions. Table 3 lists the superconscious aspects of the seven normal functions, according to my hypothesis. Table 4 lists how the primary energies and their respective psychological functions combine to create all seven energies and functions.
Table 3: Normal and higher psychological functions
Table 4. The seven energies and the seven functions
Colour and the psychological functions
Something we haven’t yet touched on is how we can use colour to help us understand and work with the different energies and functions. We have chosen colours that are close to the classic Colour Wheel. These colours can be used as a coding system to help us to work with the different functions, energies or types and to show us how they are linked.
Diagram 10. The color circle and the seven psychological functions
(It is interesting to note that each colour has an opposite or complementary colour: red-green, blue-orange, violet-yellow. This reflects how each energy has an opposite that contains what the other lacks. This important topic will be tackled in chapter four.)
From a psychological perspective, the colours embody some of the same qualities as the different energies and their corresponding functions. According to our colour circle coding system (Diagram 10), the three primary colours of red, blue and yellow are irreducible and represent the three primary functions of will (red), feeling (blue) and thought (yellow). The colours of the four other functions are derived from combinations of the three primary colours.
The Dynamic energy (Will function) resonates with the dominant energy of red.
The Sensitive energy (Feeling function) resonates with soft and calming blue.
The Mental energy (Thought function) resonates with the lightness of yellow.
The Creative energy (Imagination function) resonates with playful and harmonious green.
The Analytical energy (Logic function) resonates with energetic orange.
The Dedicated energy (Passion function) resonates with violet, which tends to lift our energies.
The Practical energy (Action function) is represented by a dark reddish brown because it contains a practical energy that comes from the will (red) and because it is the colour of the earth, which reminds us that the journey through the seven energies takes us from the inner to the outer, eventually manifesting in concrete action.
1. For more on the history and derivation of the Colour Wheel see link.