The Inferior Function


In marriage, as Jung points out, one ends to marry the opposite type, and then again he is, or so he thinks for the moment, freed from the disagreeable task of confronting his own inferior function.  That is one of the great blessings and sources of happiness in the early stages of marriage; suddenly the whole weight of the inferior function is gone, one lives in a blessed oneness with the other, and every problem is solved!  But if one of the partners dies, or the need comes up in one of them to develop the inferior function instead of just leaving those sections of life to the other, the trouble starts.   LoJT 7

… the inferior function, too, irrespective of which it may be, has a general type of behavior.

   The behavior of the inferior function is wonderfully mirrored in those fairy tales where there is the following structure.  A king has three sons.  He likes the two elder sons, but the youngest is regarded as a fool.  The king then sets a task in which the sons may have to find the water of life, or the most beautiful bride, (etc. etc., but) it is (the fool) who usually performs the great task. 

… In all these cases, one knows from the very beginning of the story that it concerns something more than the four functions, for the fool is an archetypal religious figure, embracing more than only the inferior function.  He implies a par of the human personality, or even of humanity, which remained behind and therefore still has the original wholeness of nature.  He symbolizes a specific, mainly religious, function.  But in mythology, as soon as the fool appears as the fourth in a group of four people, we have a certain right to assume that he mirrors the general behaviour of the inferior function.   LoJT 10

If one studies individual cases, one can see that the inferior function tends to behave after the manner of such a ‘fool’ hero, the divine fool or idiot hero.  He represents the despised part of the personality, the ridiculous and unadapted part, but also that part which builds up the connection with the unconscious and therefore holds the secret key to the unconscious totality of the person.  LoJT 10

One can say that the inferior function always makes the bridge to the unconscious.  It is always directed toward the unconscious and the symbolic world.  LoJT 10

An introvert who wants to assimilate his inferior function must relate to outer objects, bearing in mind that they are symbolic.  He must not, however, draw the conclusion that they are only symbolic and that, therefore, outer objects can be dispensed with.  That is a lousy, dishonest trick which many introverts play with their inferior function.  Naturally extraverts do the same thing, only the other way round.  Therefore it must not be said that the inferior function is always directed inward.  It is directed toward the unconscious, whether it appears on the inside or the outside, and it is always the carrier of symbolic experiences which may come from within or without.  LoJT 11

(What is so discouraging) about getting up the inferior function: one has not the time for it. 

  This cannot be helped.  It is a stage which cannot be skipped.  If people lose patience and say ‘to hell with it,’ it means they give up.  That is hopeless, for it simply means that the cut the fourth function out and replace it by some kind of artificial mechanism – by a crutch.  It cannot be speeded up, or only to a small extent; it can never achieve the speed of the superior function.  It is this way for very good reasons.  If you think of the turning point of life and the problems of again and of turning within, then this slowing down of the whole life process by bringing in the inferior function is just the thing which is needed.  So the slowness should not be treated with impatience and with trying to educate ‘the damned inferior function’; one should rather accept the fact that in the realm one has to waste time.  That is just the value of it, because that gives the unconscious a chance to come in.  LoJT 12

Another typical aspect of the inferior function, which is also connected with its unadaptedness and primitiveness, is its touchiness and tyranny.  Most people, when their inferior function is in any way touched upon, become terribly childish: they can’t stand the slightest criticism and always feel attacked.  Here they are uncertain of themselves; with that, naturally, they tyrannize everybody around them because everybody has to walk carefully.  If you want to say something about another person’s inferior function, it is like walking on eggs; people cannot stand any criticism there.  A (right of entry) is required.  One must wait for the right moment, for a peaceful atmosphere, and then carefully, with a long introductory speech, one might get across some slight criticism about the inferior function.  LoJT 12

In the realm of the inferior function there is a great concentration of life, so that as soon as the superior function is worn out – begins to rattle and lose oil like an old car – if people succeed in turning to their inferior function they will rediscover a new potential of life.  Everything in the realm of the inferior function becomes exciting, dramatic, full of positive and negative possibilities.  There is tremendous tension and the world is, as it were, rediscovered through the inferior function.  But the disadvantage of turning to the inferior function is that it has this unadapted aspect.  That is why in the fairy tales which I mentioned it is the fool, the third son of the group of four royal people, who can find the water of life or the great treasure.  The inferior function brings a renewal of life if one allows it to come up in its own realm.  LoJT 15

Man people discover relatively soon in life that the realm of their inferior function is where they are emotional, touchy and unadapted, and they therefore acquire the habit of covering up this part of their personality with a surrogate pseudo-reaction.  LoJT 15

Life has no mercy with the inferiority of the inferior function.  That is why people produce such ‘covering up’ reactions.  Because it is not their real reaction, they simply borrow from the collective.  LoJT 16

When the time comes for the development of the other functions, there are generally two associated phenomena: the superior function degenerates like an old car which begins to run down and get worn out.  Practically, it is most helpful when one wants to find out the type to ask, what is the greatest cross for the person?  Where is his greatest suffering?  Where does he feel that he always knocks his head against the obstacle and suffers hell?  That generally points to the inferior function.  LoJT 21

When the fourth function comes up, however, the whole upper structure collapses.  The more you pull up the fourth, the further the upper floor descends.  A mistake some people make is that they think they can pull up the inferior function to the level of the other conscious functions.  I can only say: “Well, if you wish to do so, try.  But you can try forever!”  It is absolutely impossible to pull up – like a fisherman with his rod – the inferior function, and all such attempts as, for instance, speeding it up or educating it to come up at the right moment prove failures.  … Trying to fish it up would be like trying to bring up the whole collective unconscious, which is something one just cannot do.  The fish will be too big for the rod.  So what does one do?  Cut it off again?  This is regression.  But if you don’t give in, there is only the other alternative: the fish will pull you into the water!

It is having the humility to go down with one’s other functions to that lower level.  This, then, produces a stage between the two layers at about the level where everything is neither thinking nor feeling nor sensation nor intuition.  Something new comes up, namely, a completely different and new attitude toward life in which one uses all and none of the functions all the time. 

   Very often someone will naively say that he is a thinking type and is now going to develop his feeling function – what an illusion!  If a person is a thinking type, he can first go either to sensation or to intuition.  That is his choice.  Then he moves to the opposite of the two secondary functions, and lastly to the inferior one.  But he cannot cross directly to the opposite function.  The reason is very simple: it is that they exclude each other completely; they are incompatibles.  LoJT 23

… that is something to keep in mind if one is an analyst, that one should never jump directly to the inferior function.  Of course life does it; life does not care!  But the analytical process should not go that way, and normally it does not do so if one follows the intimations given in the dreams.  The tendency of the process is that the development should follow a serpentine movement.  This is the normal way in which the unconscious tried to bring up the inferior function.  LoJT 24

You can never rule or educate (the Inferior Function) and make it act as you would like, but if you are very clever and are willing to give in a lot, then you may be able to arrange so that it does not throw you.  It will throw you sometimes, but not at the wrong moment.  LoJT 25


The inferior function is the door through which all the figures of the unconscious come into consciousness.  Our conscious realm is like a room with four doors, and it is the fourth door by which the shadow, the animus or the anima, and the personification of the Self come in.  They do not enter as often through the other doors, which is in a way self-evident: the inferior function is so close to the unconscious and remains so barbaric and inferior and undeveloped that it is naturally the weak spot in consciousness through which the figures of the unconscious can break in.  In consciousness it is experienced as a weak spot, as that disagreeable thing which will never leave one in peace and always causes trouble.  Every time one feels he has acquired a certain inner balance, a firm standpoint, something happens from within or without to throw it over again.  This force always comes through the fourth door, which cannot be shut.  The other three doors of the inner room can be closed.  But on the fourth door the lock does not work, and there, when one is least prepared for it, the unexpected will come in again.  Thank God, one might add, for otherwise the whole life process would petrify and stagnate in a wrong kind of consciousness.  The inferior function is the ever-bleeding wound of the conscious personality, but through it the unconscious can always come in and so enlarge consciousness and bring forth a new attitude.  LoJT 68

In dreams, the inferior function relates to the shadow, the animus or the anima, and the Self, and it gives them a certain characteristic quality.  For instance, the shadow in an intuitive type will often be personified by a sensation type.  The inferior function is contaminated by the shadow in each type: in a thinking type it will appear as a relatively inferior or primitive feeling person, and so on.  LoJT 68

Thus, if in interpreting a dream one asks for a description of this shadow figure, people will describe their own inferior function.  Then when one has become somewhat conscious of the shadow, the inferior function will give the animus or the anima figure a special quality.  LoJT 68

(The) inferior function tends to have, in its negative aspect, a barbaric character.  It can cause a state of possession: if, for example, introverts fall into extraversion, they do so in a possessed and barbaric way.  I mean barbaric in the sense of being unable to exert conscious control, being swept away, being unable to put a brake on, unable to stop.  … Such inferior extraversion may suddenly pop out in this way when an introvert is drunk.  LoJT 69

The introversion of the extravert is just as barbaric and possessed but not so visible to society.  An extravert, if possessed by barbaric introversion, disappears right out of life.  He goes mad in his own room.  Extraverts who fall into their primitive introversion walk about looking very important, assuring everybody that they are having deep mystical experiences about which they cannot talk.  In a self-important way they indicate they are now deeply steeped in active imagination and the process of individuation. 

Actually, they are constantly tempted to switch back to their extraversion, which explains their over-emphasis on lack of time for contact with anybody.  They would love to switch over to their extraversion and go to every party and dinner in town.  So, defensively the say: “No, this is absolutely forbidden; now I am in the depths of the psyche.”  Very often in this phase people are sure that they are the type they now have to live.  Extraverts who are in the phase where they should assimilate introversion will always swear that they are and always have been introverts and that it has always been an error to call them extraverts.  In this way they try to help themselves get into the other side.  If they try to express their inner experiences, they generally do so with over-excitement; they become terribly emotional and want to take the floor and have everybody listen.  To them kit is so tremendously unique and important. 

   This barbaric quality of the inferior function constitutes the great split of the human personality.  One can thank God if one’s opposite function is only personified in dreams by so-called primitives, for it is very often represented by stone-age figures or even by animals.  In such a case, one can say that the inferior function has not even reached a primitively human level.  LoJT 70


I would say that the main thing in getting to the playfulness of the inferior function is to scratch away the pseudo-adaptation with which we all cover the inferior function.  The feeling type, for instance, is usually full of school and university theories and imagines that those are his thoughts.  But they are not; they are pseudo-thinking adaptations to cover up the fact that his real thinking is awfully embryonic and naïve.  The same holds good for the thinking type who has very naïve feelings; for instance, “I love you, I hate you.”  If he went round the world saying that to everyone, or saying, “I can’t stand you,” you can imagine what a stumbling-block he would be!  It would not work for two minutes!  TPoPA 102

The really difficult thing is to turn directly to the inferior function and play there.  For this the ego has to give up its control.  If you touch your inferior function it decides on the kind of play, you cannot decide on it.  The inferior function, just like an obstinate child, will insist that it wants to play at something or other, though you may say that that is not suitable and would not work well.  For example, in an intuitive, the inferior function may want to play with clay and the person lives in a hotel room and would much prefer something clean because that makes a lot of dirt in a hotel room!  But you cannot dictate to the inferior function!  If you are an intuitive and your inferior function wants to play with stones or clay, they you have to make the effort to find a place where that would be possible.  That is exactly the difficulty; the ego always has thousands of objections to turning to the inferior side.  It is always something very difficult to arrange practically. 

The inferior function is a real nuisance, just as children are, for you cannot put it in a box and take it out when it suits you.  It is a living entity with its own demands, and it is a nuisance to the ego which wants to have its own way. 

… But if you accept the humiliating experience which makes the go submit to the demands of the inferior or childish part of the personality, then the divine child becomes a source of life.  Then life has a new face and one discovers new experiences.  Everything changes.  Also, naturally, the child is a uniting symbol and brings together the separated or dissociated parts of the personality, which again has to do with the quality of being naïve.  If I trust my naïve reaction, then I am whole; I am wholly in the situation and wholly in life.  But most people do not dare do this because one exposes oneself too much.  However, one just needs the courage, being somewhat shrewd at the same time, so that one does not expose oneself to those people who do not understand.  One should be clever and not just childish. 

  When you begin to play with the inferior function you touch uniqueness, which is at the bottom of all the tests!  In the tree test, or the Rorschach test, you tell people to do whatever comes into their minds, and they give themselves away at once, because play is genuine and therefore also unique.  That is why child therapists let children play, and in two minutes they reveal their whole problem.  TPoPA 101

You can’t organize the inferior function.  It is awfully expensive and needs a lot of time, and that is one reason why it is such a cross in our lives, because it makes us so inefficient if we try to act through it.  It has to be given whole Sundays and whole afternoons and nothing may come out – except that the inferior function comes to life.  But that is the whole point.  A feeling type will only bring up his thinking if he begins to think about something he can’t use in this world, neither for examinations nor study, but if he will think about something that interests him in itself, that is how to get going because it is not possible to yoke inferior playfulness to utilitarian motives. 

Play for the inferior function

The essence of play is that it has no meaning and is not useful.  I would tell a feeling type to learn by heart what he needs for exams, and not try to think, because he won’t be able to do so.  He should make pseudo-adaptations, and if a thinking type gets into a situation where he has to behave – say he has to attend a funeral – then he must on no account pull out his personal feelings.  He must just behave and do the conventional thing with flowers and condolences; that is the right pseudo-adaptation.  To get at his real feeling, the thinking type must find a situation where he can play, and then it will be quite different.  So the first thing to do is to take it out of the adaptation field and keep the pseudo-adaptation for those cases where it is necessary.  I think nobody can really develop the inferior function before having first created a temenos, namely, a sacred grove, a hidden place where he can play.  The first thing is to find a Robinson Crusoe playground, and then when you have got rid of all onlookers you can begin!  As a child, one needed a place and time and no interfering adult audiences.   TPoPA 103