Hannah Strachan is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. As always with guest writers on the site, Strachan’s piece represents her own insights and assessments and not necessarily those of the site (in fact, she details some direct disagreements with our approach below). In this piece, Strachan attempts to correct what she sees as some widespread misconceptions concerning Fe.
By Hannah Strachan
As far as I know, most of the great typology theorists have been Fi, Ni, Ne, and Ti types. It seems to me that there must be a reason why no Fe type has made a bid for the mastery of a field where their dominant function could easily give them an edge. Why is that?
One reason could be that Fe types don’t recognize themselves in the Fe function descriptions or the EFJ type portraits and tend to lose interest early on. And if that were the case, then who could blame them? From my perspective, many of the Fe descriptions that I have read don’t actually describe the Fe psyche, but rather some bundled-up list of traits that EFJs tend to share while entirely missing the reality of how Fe actually functions and why those traits appear from a function-based perspective.
In this article, I am going to map out a few of the differences as I see them. As my starting point, I will compare my own conception of Fe with Briggs’ definition, as it appears in Gifts Differing (Davies Black Publishing 1995) p. 79. Candidly speaking, I have never read a description of Fe that did not diverge from my own view the way Briggs’ does, so my intention is by no means to single out Briggs here – I am simply using her work as a foundation for my own. For each of Briggs’ seven points on Fe, I shall reproduce her point in full and then add my commentary below.
Briggs: [Fe] is determined chiefly by the objective factor and serves to make the individual feel correctly, that is, conventionally, under all circumstances.
Briggs is right, almost by definition, when she says that Fe is chiefly oriented towards the “objective” (i.e. external) factor. There isn’t much room for subjectivity in Fe judgments (in fact, of all the functions, only Te is likely to leave less room for the subjective element in its operations). However, it is doubtful whether Fe really leads the individual to feel “conventionally” under all circumstances: When Fe is made to be synonymous with blind adherence to social norms (as is often done), we lose sight of the inner workings of the Fe type, which may be far less conventional than they first appear. Indeed, Briggs’ daughter Myers always took care to warn us that when we see an introvert, we are not necessarily laying eyes on the most significant parts of their personality, since they are merely meeting us with their extroverted adaptation. Something similar might be said to be the case with Fe types: It is easy to see the surface adherence to social norms, but harder to see what goes on underneath.
Then there is Briggs’ assertion that Fe serves to make the individual feel “correctly and conventionally” at all times. If, by this description, Briggs means that Fe seeks to induce others to feel certain values or emotions, then I would say that the proclivity to push for one specific outcome or emotion is much too close to the subjective (i.e. internal) factor to be associated with Fe, or indeed with any extroverted function. The push for equivalence between inner and outer psychic contents is much more often seen with the subjectively-laced introverted functions, with Ni and Si being perhaps the clearest examples here.
If, on the other hand, Briggs means that “feeling correctly” is the same as feeling included and validated, then she is much closer to what I contend to be Fe: Rather than imposing itself on others, Fe tends to “spread its warmth” so as to “do the groundwork” for the whole room to feel comfortable and willing to contribute. Since others are granted a space in which to share their perspectives and open up to others, it follows that Fe does not impose any one way of feeling upon others, but rather includes their way of feeling in the overall nexus of the feeling situation. On this point, I therefore disagree with the site admins that the individual’s aims or desires are not at least partially determined by the functions themselves: On my view, Fe has the intrinsic goal of bringing as many voices as possible into the discussion and to help others see the points of disagreement between their views, so that eventually, a conclusion may be reached that everyone can agree on. Of course, that isn’t always possible, but that is what Fe is driven towards.
Briggs: [Fe] adapts the individual to the objective situation.
Given what I said above, it should come as no surprise that I agree with Briggs on this point. As I said, Fe can often act as a catalyst, focusing people and aiding them towards bringing out the best of what they have to offer. Likewise, Fe has a natural inclination towards adapting itself to others with the aim of respectfully coordinating their perspectives and views so as to attempt to find agreement (where practically possible). So it makes a lot of sense, as Briggs says, that Fe adapts itself to the objective (that is, external) situation.
Briggs: [Fe] depends wholly upon the ideals, conventions, and customs of the environment, and is extensive rather than deep.
Given the manner of Briggs’ definition here, I think she misses an important point: Fe is not interested in social conventions, customs, or traditions a priori: Fe is first and foremost interested in people – what they believe, what they care about, and how different people and groups see things; what they have in common, where they diverge (and how they might be reconciled). So while Fe might in practice look as if it’s interested in conventions, it is my contention that this is only the case because social conventions and traditions have very real effects upon people, which, as I mentioned, is what Fe truly finds important.
As to Briggs’ point that Fe is extensive, rather than deep, our response should hinge upon the exact definition of this deep/broad dichotomy. On the one hand, if Briggs means that Fe is broad where Fi is deep, much in the same way as Ne is broad while Ni is deep, then what she says is true because Fe covers a much broader spectrum of perspectives and views than Fi does, and does so without going into each of the perspectives in as consummate a level of detail as Fi does (again much like the difference between Ne and Ni).
However, there is also another manner in which we may conceive of the broad/deep dichotomy: Since Fe generally has a greater understanding of alternating viewpoints than Fi (again akin to Ne and Ni), and since Fe is more naturally predisposed to strive for sympathy with the lot of others in general (as opposed to the more personalized focus of the Fi type’s affection), these dispositions do in themselves constitute a form of depth: The depth of investment in, and receptivity to, the other. If we apply the deep/broad dichotomy in this manner, then Fe would, all other things being equal, have just as much or more depth than Fi.
Finally, while many Fi types can often just put forth their values in a “take it or leave it” fashion, there is in many Fe types a moral urge to push for a collaborative and respectful process of social change and the facilitation of discussions on various topics, undertaken with the aim of slowly moving people towards a shared perspective that everyone can agree on (even if such total agreement will not always be practically possible). In this way, too, Fe has more depth than Fi, and is even a bit like Ni.
Briggs: [Fe] finds soundness and value outside of the individual in the collective ideals of the community, which are usually accepted without question.
As we already covered, it is true that Fe finds soundness and value outside of the individual and by orientating itself towards viewpoints that are widely agreed upon. However, when Briggs says that Fe accepts such viewpoints (such as the “ideals of their community”) “without question,” then that’s exactly the kind of description that in my experience is likely to turn EFJs away from the study of Jungian typology.
Even from the rather modest corrections that I have made to Briggs’ definitions so far, it follows that Fe does not – in fact, cannot – accept the standards of its community without question. So long as there is at least one person who disagrees with the dominant mores and thinks they are immoral or wrong, it will be natural for Fe to attempt to talk to that person and figure out what reasons that person has for dissenting. Since Fe is a rational function in the Jungian parlance, those reasons can then be reified and brought before others to serve as points in a discussion that has the aim of reaching reconciliation. And should that not be possible, the Fe type can at least ensure that the dissenting person’s viewpoint is treated with respect.
To put it another way, since Fe is so attuned to other people, Fe types must – almost by definition – keep an open mind about a great many values and viewpoints. The idea of Fe types accepting a ready-made assemblage of beliefs “without question” goes against that.
As an extroverted judging function, Fe shares a certain structural affinity with Te (although their functional operations are different). From this premise, it is my contention that Fe is not merely interested in the default consensus viewpoint (as is otherwise so often claimed): Rather, Fe is interested in achieving the best consensus viewpoint that is possible, given the confines of the current situation. Where it differs from Te, however, is that it goes about those aims by trying to foster respectful and constructive exchanges between people who might otherwise disagree amongst themselves.
Briggs: [Fe] has as its goal the formation and maintenance of easy and harmonious emotional relationships with other people.
Briggs is right that Fe aims for the formation of harmonious and meaningful relationships among people. However, as I said in the beginning of this article, I think the operations of Fe go deeper than that: Fe isn’t just about wanting to make nice with individual people. Rather, its most natural ideal is for the complete (but utopian) eradication of conflict so that everyone may live in harmony with one another, each of them partaking in the one Good (as akin to the Platonic, Socratic, and Pythagorean conceptions, as covered elsewhere on this site). As detailed in some of articles on Determining Function Axes on this site, this ideal might well be a “root representation in consciousness” to many Fe types, even if they do not consciously hold such beliefs.
Briggs: [Fe] expresses itself easily and so shares itself with others, creating and arousing similar feeling and establishing warm sympathy and understanding.
Fe types are often quite eloquent; however, I don’t think there’s any function-based reason why this aptitude for expression should be a facet of Fe. On the whole, one could perhaps make the argument that Fe steers the individual in the direction of wanting to share their thoughts with others and thus to develop those warm and sympathetic overtures that are most likely to have an effect. But as many type theorists have said before me, and indeed as even the official MBTI training material makes clear, a person’s type is about preference and does not necessarily pertain to ability. Hence it does not follow that EFJs are necessarily good at expressing themselves in the way suggested by Briggs. For their part, the CelebrityTypes admins suggest that EFJs can sometimes have Avoidant traits, and for my part, I have personally known several EFJs who seemed to fit this bill. But even underneath their avoidance, the wish to connect was still there, and so was their interest in building consensus.
Briggs: [Fe] has a tendency to suppress the personal standpoint entirely, and presents the danger of becoming a feeling personality, giving the effect of insincerity and pose.
To say that Fe has a tendency to suppress the personal viewpoint entirely is perhaps an overstatement – it would be an odd person indeed who habitually held no personal opinions! On the other hand, it is of course true that Fe does repress the subjective factor a bit – as all extroverted functions do.
As for her second point, Briggs is right that Fe types are in danger of giving the effect of insincerity, but it is just that; an effect and not the cause. As the American typologist James Graham Johnston has argued, it is true that Fe types may lose themselves in the process of “feeling into” the various viewpoints of others, thus giving the impression of holding conflicting sympathies over time (and therefore of insincerity). But if what is meant by “insincerity” is that the Fe types do not really care about the people they interact with, then this depiction entirely misses the affective reality of the Feeling function. In short, nothing could be further from the truth.
This is the extent of my commentary to Briggs’ definition of Fe. As I said above, my aim was not to single out Briggs (or indeed, any other theorist) for being “wrong,” although I do feel that almost every Fe description that I’ve read so far has short-changed the Fe function (and EFJ types) in similar ways. As noted, I also disagree with some of the things which the CelebrityTypes admins have said in their work on the functions, so my view should not be taken to be synonymous with theirs (or vice versa). Perhaps what I have tried to do above all is to facilitate one of those respectful and cooperative exchanges that might in the future lead to a slightly more nuanced (and perhaps slightly better) consensus viewpoint.
Update: A previous version of this article stated that the bullets on Fe found above were the work of Myers. They were in fact taken from the notes of her mother, Katherine Briggs, and reproduced in Myers’ book, Gifts Differing.
Image in the article commissioned for this publication from artist Francesca Elettra.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and MBTI are trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc.
CelebrityTypes.com is an independent research venture, which has no affiliation with the MBTI Trust, Inc.