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The 5 Levels of the Feeling Function:
A Brief Phenomenological Description

© John Fudjack & Patricia Dinkelaker - November, 1995

As previously mentioned, it was Von Franz and later Quenk who provided Jungian personality theory with a rudimentary two-stage description of the feeling function. As significant precursors to a developmental model, we have given their work serious consideration, and have integrated it into the five level theory that we present here.

Less obvious an influence, although perhaps more profound, is the work of Carl Rogers. A pioneer in the 'humanist' psychology and psychotherapy of the 1950s and 60s, Rogers - a highly sophisticated 'feeling type' - adopted an exemplary INFP/ENFP approach to these professions. The subtler ramifications of his work on feeling have not to date been fully appreciated, let alone exhaustively mined for the riches they possess. This is no doubt in part due to the fact that his perspective, however popular it may once have been, comprises a distinctly 'minority' view, typologically speaking. It is a view that continues to be marginalized and ignored by mainstream science - rendered in distorted ways when inspected under the lens of the prevailing paradigm's predominantly rational-empiricist assumptions.

In his model, Rogers eloquently describes seven stages that the individual passes through in acquiring a fully mature capacity to feel. We have included his seven stages in the first three of our five levels, understanding that it would be possible, using the distinctions that he supplies, to articulate sub-levels for each of the levels that we posit. Because we want, at this point, to avoid overwhelming the reader with additional detail, we have chosen to paint a somewhat broader picture. We also want to emphasize the discrete nature of each level - as a 'unit' that cuts across all four functions - and so we will draw bold lines between the levels, even if we do so at the risk of exaggerating the homogeneity of processes taking place 'within' the levels. For there are qualities that each function seems to share with each other function at the same 'level' of development - and close observation of these qualities begin to reveal clues to us about how conscious experience is itself structured.

Level One Feeling

At level one, feelings are characteristically neither recognized as feelings nor owned. When feelings do erupt, it is in unpredictable and uncontrollable outbursts of emotion, and they are experienced as intense and overwhelming. They threaten the ego with loss of control, and are (along with 'close and communicative relationships') considered dangerous and are typically avoided 1a (Rogers, p. 132). Feelings are experienced in forms that are comparatively exaggerated, feeling is conceived of as 'emotionality' and 'sentimentality' (Von Franz). 'Differentiation of feelings very limited and global' (Rogers, p. 134). And there is inhibition in the EXPRESSION of feeling.

Descriptions of this level of the feeling function can be found primarily in the psychotherapeutic literature, which seeks to provide remedies for underdeveloped, primitive, and/or repressed feeling. The dynamics of suppression of emotion are discussed, factors leading to such blockages are identified (Alice Walker, on the topic of abuse) and methods for addressing these conditions are offered (Rogers). Techniques are suggested (with lesser expectations in mind) for ensuring that inferior feeling does not get out of hand, resulting in damage to the individual which might otherwise be avoidable (Von Franz).

Level Two

At level two, feelings are experienced primarily as a wide range of 'emotions' (anger, lust, boredom, etc.) 'triggered' by outside objects. They are intermittent occurences, differing in intensity and nature. At this level, the existence of feeling is acknowledged and specific feelings are differentiated from one another. The individual learns to experience additional range and depth of emotion; there is increased exactness in the individual's capacity to differentiate feelings; and feeling may be expressed more fully as 'in the present'. (Rogers, p. 137) In psychology and philosophy a wide variety of emotion reflect a nascient recognition that emotion may play a positive function in our daily lives, and seek to distinguish and classify the variety of emotions.

At this level, according to Rogers,

feelings are very close to being fully experienced. They 'bubble up', 'seep through', in spite of the fear and distrust which the client feels at experiencing them with fullness and immediacy... There is a beginning tendency to realize that experiencing a feeling involves a direct referent... There is surprise and fright, rarely pleasure, at the feelings which 'bubble through'....[and] there is an increasing ownership of self feelings, and a desire to be these, to be the 'real me'. (p. 140-141)

At level two we begin to consult our feelings in order to establish the VALUE of objects, events, and persons to us. We permit our feelings to help guide us in avoiding objects (that are threats to us), locating 'anomaly' in our environment (felt as the presence of negative feeling) and identifying objects deemed as desirable (the acquisition of which may benefit us). To some degree, at this stage, we begin to recognize the WORTH of both positive and negative feeling.

Level Three

At level three, feeling - which we may previously have distanced ourselves from - are now experienced intimately in their immediacy. The 'process' quality of feeling is more fully appreciated. Individuals more typically permit a feeling to 'flow to its full result' and feeling 'is directly experienced with immediacy and richness'. Rogers describes this experience in the following way:

The immediacy of experiencing, and the feeling, which constitutes its content, are accepted. [The feeling] is something which is, not something which is denied, feared, struggled against'. 'There is a quality of living subjectively in the experience... Self as an object tends to disappear... the self, in this moment, IS this feeling... Experience takes on a real process quality' (p. 147)

Discussing a client who is not yet at this level, but approaching it, Rogers says, 'He has a feeling about the source of a lot of secret thoughts in himself'. (p. 147)Quoting the client directly, he continues:

'The butterflies are the thoughts closest to the surface. Underneath there's a deeper flow. I feel very removed from it all. The deeper flow is like a great school of fish moving under the surface. I see the ones that break through the surface of the water ...' (p. 147)

Roger's comments: 'Though this client is not yet fully experiencing in a process manner ... he foresees it so clearly that his description gives a real sense of its meaning.' At level three, as the 'processual' nature of feeling is more fully appreciated, the individual begins to become aware of an ever-present flow of subtle feeling within herself. She recognizes that her perceptions, without exception, are infused with feeling, and that the objects of her attention ALL have 'feeling tones' which orient her in respect to them. She may describe this as the presence of 'an underlying feeling state' (Evans/Fudjack).

Feeling begins to be perceived as an everpresent field, constantly shifting in character and tone, a backdrop against which objects of our attention are selectively relevated (Evans/Fudjack). For psychologist F. Kreuger, through feeling we experience the underlying whole against which 'objects' of our perception (gestalt 'figures') are relevated:

Everything distinguishable in experience is interconnected, embedded within a total-whole that penetrates and envelops it.


At this level, one begins to recognize a feedback and feedforward relationship between the feeling field - the 'underlying feeling state' everpresent in consciousness - and the objects of our attention. Our moods shift as our attention deflects from one object to another. Conversely, what we feel determines what we turn our attention to. The nuances in the quality of our underlying feeling states we experience as 'mood'.

At this stage, there is a dawning recognition of the fact that we are constantly receiving a kind of 'sub-liminal' or 'subsidiary' feedback from the environment through the mode of feeling, and orienting ourselves accordingly. Feeling plays an organizing and orienting role in consciousness (Evans/Fudjack) - we experience the tacit 'contextual' dimension of consciousness via our capacity to feel. There is, accordingly, a growing awareness that WHAT we perceive is, through the mechanisms of selective attention and active contexting, shaped by our feelings.

Increased awareness of the subtleties of this complex relationship between consciousness and feeling enhances our 'process' skills, our capacities to use feeling to create art, solve problems, etc. Also enhanced is our ability to use feeling to bring about 'shifts' in the frames that structure our experience. We artfully deploy feeling in our moment-to-moment deconstruction and reconstruction of the complex nested 'contexts' that comprise our personal paradigms. As Rogers describes it:

The relevant personal construct is dissolved in the [immediacy of] the moment, and the client feels cut loose from his previously stabilized framework. (Rogers, p. 148)

Ideally, at this stage of development of the feeling function...

....there are no longer 'problems', external or internal. The client is living, subjectively, a phase of his problem. It is not an object. (p. 150)


The self becomes increasingly simply the subjective and reflexive awareness of experiencing. The self is much more frequently something confidently felt in process. (153)

As a result, through the mastery of level three feeling, we also enhance our capacity for paradigm shifting - which is, after all, nothing other than a complex series of 'deconstructions' and 'reconstructions' of consciousness:

Personal constructs are tentatively reformulated, to be validated against further experience, but even then to be held loosely. (153)

Level Four

At level four, the essentially INTERPERSONAL nature of the individual's 'feeling field' is experienced. This interpersonal feeling field is what Buber calls 'the essential we' (a term that implies that the essence of our nature as human being is transpersonal and communal). Our capacity to feel gives us direct access to the experience of 'oneness' with others. We experience reality as shared or 'consensual' by 'feeling with' or 'feeling into' those others - that is, through sympathy, empathy, and compassion.

In other words, we learn to synchronize our underlying feeling states with those of other persons, and in so doing to 'identify' with them in a direct, experiential manner that obviates the need for intermediary 'cognitive' analysis. We experience our personal 'process' as a construct relevated from an INTERSUBJECTIVE reality. A 'confluence of individual processes' is experienced, which may be called 'interpersonal resonance' or 'interactive empathy'.

Empathy (according to Goleman) is grounded in the capacity of individuals, in relationship, to unconsciously entrain (or synchronize) feeling. It can also be conceived of as the experience of a shared feeling field which transcends personal boundaries - providing us as individuals with the direct experience of our common ground as human beings. This experience of common ground can alternately also be described as an experience of 'communitas' (Victor Turner), collective unconscious (Carl Jung), group spirit or the 'global dreambody' (Mindell).

At this level, the focus of the feeling function is on interpersonal RELATIONSHIP. One experiences and explores the capacity for ACTIVE inter-relationship through social (or interpersonal) improvisation, gaining access to what may be called GROUP (or collaborative) peak experiences, or synergy experiences. In such experiences one discovers precisely how the whole - comprised of the combination of individuals - IS more than the sum of its individual parts.

At this level we begin to recognize that certain feelings - of 'love', for instance (or 'unconditional regard') - MAY only be possible as shared or 'collaborative' experiences (and may not exist independently, as the 'act' or 'property' of single individuals). We may call these interpersonal feelings 'trans-personal'. In some highly-significant sense, they are experienced not as existing IN the individual(s) but BETWEEN individuals, or as an aspect of a shared ontological entity (the group) out of which persons are distinguished as individuals. We might, accordingly, speak of 'feelings' as belonging to the group or relationship, as opposed to the individual - not just in a metaphorical sense (eg, 'the group feels' = all individuals in the group feel), but as something that exists OUTSIDE of us, which we may tap into (with the cooperation of others) but which cannot be invoked APART from others.

One might describe what takes place at level-four as an active 'interplay' or 'exchange' of feeling between group members, if it weren't for the fact that such a description implies that such feelings are primarily the property of the individual. Since emotion, at this level of description, might more aptly be conceived of as the individual's felt-experience of 'shifts' or 'disturbances' in the intersubjective field, complex reciprocal relationships between the emotional states of individuals may pertain, and the group itself (as a 'creatively self-organizing and self-realizing relational or intersubjective field') may 'call on' individuals to play emotional roles necessary to its health and self-actualization. The 'resonance' occuring between members that are 'attuned' to each other in this way might be less a matter of the spread or 'contagion' of one emotion throughout members of the group and MORE a matter of complex complementary or compensatory emotional states, defining the felt MOVEMENT of the group as a whole THROUGH the shifts in state required by its progress toward 'self-actualization'.

The ACTIVE interpenetration of the individual feeling fields, which we experience at this level, is very different from what has been called 'participation mystique' (which occurs when an individual becomes entrained to a group and loses individual identity, thereby becoming vulnerable to the influence and indirect suggestions of the group). Through what might be called 'ACTIVE resonance' (which is more like the state in which a musician improvises with others) there is active collaborative participation (albeit at the unconscious, as well as the 'conscious' level) in the spontaneous 'educing' of the realities, patterns, structures, and products of the group.

As the psychologist, Anton Ehrensweig contends, the unconscious (also known alternately as the 'subconscious' or 'subsidiary awareness') is capable of decisions that are MORE complex than our deliberative thought processes. To the extent that individuals have developed the creative capacity of their own unconsciouses (through the 'education' of the feeling function), they become capable of actively collaborating with each other at the unconscious level. As a result there is a 'confluence' of individual (unconscious) process that comprises a much more sophisticated, subtle and artful collaboration than the kind that occurs as a result of deliberative planning (T-based collaboration, we might call it).

Here we touch on the possibility (that occurs at this level) of joint creation, through 'interactive empathy' [an idea that parallels the notion of 'active imagination' in Jung]. Interactive empathy (an F-based skill), IN COMBINATION with active imagination (an N-based skill), produces a capacity for 'active empathic imagination' - our capacity to fulfill our potential for individual self-actualization through the group's capacity for what we call 'collaborative actualization' - the quintessential aspiration of the 'NF'.

Ordinarily, our capacity to self-actualize is limited by our FAILURE to achieve 'active' empathy (which, as we have just pointed out, is enhanced through collaborative attunement of conscious and unconscious individual processes). The evolution of the individual, in other words, is contingent upon the evolution of GROUPS. The individual ALONE cannot achieve 'active empathy', only pairs or groups can do so. And just as groups (especially groups whose process is constricted by coercively IMPOSED structures) can INFECT individuals with counter-productive (anti-actualizing) emotions, so also can fluidly operating self-organizing groups INSPIRE individuals to undreamt of heights. The positive contagion of advanced (or 'transendental') emotion is what Maslow called 'rapsodic communication'. He discovered that in merely TALKING to people about peak experiences he frequently induced them, a discovery which ultimately led him to explore which conditions - in terms of group processes and organizational structures - were conducive to shared peak experience, and which were not.

Imagine the following: that two or more people are reciprocally engaged in active empathy. There is an unconscious (eg, 'non-deliberative') but active INTERCHANGE of feeling. The participants may not even PRODUCE anything at that moment (they may not educe any structure or product that is readily identifiable), but they may, nevertheless, walk away completely changed. It is in this manner that 'INFPs' exert 'unconscious influence' over others, through their (active) contributions to the intersubjective field of the group - and it is this capacity that accounts for their ability to create 'facilitative environments' conducive to the growth of those who enter therein.

At advanced level-four, then, we have the dawning capacity of individuals to create facilitative environments via the ACTIVE use of the feeling function. Here the capacity of the 'bodhisattva' to (seemingly spontaneously and magically) transform situations through 'exhange himself for others', gains explication. Rogers comments on this type of experience:

When I am at my best, as a group facilitator or as a therapist, I discover another characteristic. I find that when I am closest to my inner, intuitive, self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then, simply my PRESENCE is releasing and helpful to the other. There is nothing I can do to force this experience, but when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me, then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship, ways which I cannot justify rationally, which have nothing to do with my thought processes. But these strange behaviours turn out to be RIGHT, in some odd way: it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.

This kind of transcendent phenomenon has certainly been experienced at times in groups in which I have worked, changing the lives of some of those involved. One participant in a workshop put it eloquently: 'I found it to be a profound spiritual experience. I felt the oneness of spirit in the community. We breathed together, felt together, even spoke for one another...' 1b

This comes close to a 'level five' description of feeling.

Level Five

Level five feeling opens us up to an appreciation of the transpersonal/communal aspects of personal ontology. Human BEING is inter-being , as Thich Nhat Hahn says. The direct experience of this profound level of interconnectedness that is at the core of each of us, because it is not commonly experienced, is sometimes labeled 'mystical', but there is nothing unnatural about it. It is accessible through the advanced (or 'educated') feeling function. We will not say much about it here, except for the fact that hints of this ontological interconnectedness of everything (and everyone) can be detected in our lower level understandings of feeling and relationship. It is almost as if the move up the levels is progressively inspired by a dawning awareness of the fact of interconnectedness.

Johnson takes 'love' as the primary emotion, the one which reveals to us our transpersonal and intersubjective nature as individuals. It is the emotion through which we recognize our interconnectedness. Baldelli finds in the emotion of love the foundation of all ethics. And Weick sees it as the cornerstone of the just society.

For the 'mystics', says Johnson

The most intimate interpersonal relations were the outcome of their profound contemplative experience. That is why in dealing with their fellow-man they could see and hear and touch at a new level. That is why they could sometimes read hearts and know intuitively what others were thinking. I am not speaking here about extrasensory perception but about a certain mystical awareness, an intuitive knowledge, a deep feeling. No superficial emotion this, but an extraordinary empathy. When two mystics were friends (and often they were) there arose between them a remarkable indwelling which enabled them to say one to the other: 'As the Father loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love' (John 15:9) (149)

Hillman similarly speaks of using emotion, love in particular, as a tool for transcendence. He speaks of 'curing emotion through emotion' by 'choosing one emotion to transform and re-order the others':

Energetically expressed we tap the sources of all emotions if we live one fully. This is the way of PASSION. The emotion often recommended in the literature is love... (183)

Johnson takes this thought a step further, viewing love as a 'sacred' emotion in that it provides individuals with an opportunity not only for transpersonal transformation, but for establishing a 'meeting of the minds' that is at the same time an 'epiphany' of the infinite in wordly form. In his discussion of the twelfth century Cistercian, Aelred of Rievaulx, he speaks of love as 'the kiss of the spirit, exchanged between friends'. Aelred says, 'For in the two friends he creates such a sacred emotion that they feel as if they are two souls in one body, and they say with the prophet: 'Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together as one'. (151)


To this day the question, 'what are feelings and emotions FOR?' continues to be asked, generating competing theories and apparently contradictory evidence.

Can we distinguish a separate USE for the feeling function at each of the five levels? Using the notion of a developmental continuum, can we begin to see its use unfolding as the function continues to develop in the individual over time? We submit that the feeling function is used in the following ways, in accordance with the levels of development that we have described, making its various uses CONSISTENT with each other (against the background of a developmental framework).

1. TO ESTABLISH SAFETY: We repress feeling in order to avoid encounters with awarenesses that might be so disruptive as to destroy the individual or cause permanent damage or imbalance. Intermittent emergency expression of feelings provide a method for release of pent-up feelings.

2. TO ESTABLISH VALUES: We use the feeling function to evaluate (physical, mental) objects in our environment - eg, to establish values, and to orient ourselves with respect to objects in our world via their personal WORTH to us.

3. TO ORGANIZE EXPERIENCE: We use the feeling function to organize our experience. More properly stated, the feeling function is our innate capacity for the self-organization of experience.

4. TO ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIP: We use the feeling function, in an outwardly directed fashion, to relate to one another (in increasingly sophisticated ways). It plays the pivotal role in social self-organization.

5. TO DIRECTLY EXPERIENCE ONTOLOGICAL UNITY: We use the feeling function to directly and intimately experience not only intersubjectivity, but the interconnectedness of ALL things (at a profound ontological level), an experience that brings meaning and motivation with it.

At different times (or in different situations) we may experience different levels - that is, we may USE the feeling function as it is alternately described at one or another of the levels. We may protect ourselves (at level one) from the negative feelings associated with extreme pain, or from the negative feelings associated with the experience of anomaly intruding into our existing framework. On another occasion we open ourselves more fully to the process that is feeling. But even someone who has developed level- four empathy and characteristically uses feeling fully to establish subtle reciprocal intersubjective interchanges with others may, in an extreme situation, feel the need to shut down the system (reverting to level one). Or the converse may occur. Someone who has learned to 'process' their feelings, but has not yet become skilled at using feeling to build sophisticated (and mutually appreciative) inter-relationship, may, nonetheless, experience 'peak' moments of inter-relatedness at the social level (in moments of 'communitas'). Yet, for individuals characteristically experiencing feeling at the lower levels of functioning, these experiences will be temporary, 'flashes' of awareness of a higher level of functioning.

There may also be areas of our lives in which a lower level of the feeling function prevails while in some other area we (more or less simultaneously ) utilize a higher level of development of the feeling function. For instance, at work we may repress our feelings (especially insofar as we are employed in jobs that have been characterised as 'emotional labor' - a term coined to describe jobs that require supression and falsification of the individual's real feelings), while in our families we may have learned to use our feelings to obtain feedback from others and organize our experience, and in special relationships (say, a music ensemble that we participate in) we have learned sophisticated modes of improvisational inter-relationship. But it may also be true that it is more difficult to develop the feeling function in one area when we have trained ourselves to suppress it in another. Herein lies the danger that habituation to environments in which higher level feeling is typically suppressed 2 may lead to learned-apathy.

Proceed to 'Level One'


1a. Carl Rogers, 'Chapter 7: A Process Conception of Psychotherapy', in ON BECOMING A PERSON: A THERAPIST'S VIEW OF PSYCHOTHERAPY, 1961/1989/1995, [New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.], pages 125-159. Rogers, in this chapter, presents seven successive stages of the process whereby 'the individual changes from fixity to flowingness', the process 'by which personality change takes place'. Implicit in this presentation are descriptions of stages of development of the feeling function.
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1b. Carl Rogers, A WAY OF BEING, page 129.
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2. Television, for instance, inhibits active empathy, just as it inhibits active imagination. It encourages (and trains us in) PASSIVE imagination and PASSIVE empathy. We are led to believe, through habituation to such passive imaginal activities that empathy itself is primarily a passive, receptive state. But it can also be an active, participatory one - although this requires a level-four development of the feeling function.

What is missing when we watch TV (and we don't even KNOW that it is not there) is the unconscious synchronization with the other. In face-to-face interactions individuals invite each other (albeit unintentionally) to communicate via unconscious processes. Complex Interactive feeling transactions are possible. Nothing like this goes on in an individual's interaction with TV. Even if one IS receiving subliminal messages from the images presented, one is not reciprocally INTERACTING with them (via one's unconscious) in the same fashion that is possible when relating to another human being.

We lose our capacity for 'active empathy' as a result of our experience with television - it atrophies. With the deterioration of active imagination and active empathy comes the decline of the feeling and intuitive functions.
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3. C.O.Evans and John Fudjack, Consciousness, 1976.

4. Marie-Louise Von Franz, in Lectures on Jung's Typology, James Hillman and Marie-Louise Von Franz, 1971, Spring Publications Inc, Dallas, Texas, p. 136.

5. Naomi L. Quenk, Beside Ourselves: Our Hidden Personality in Everyday Life, 1993, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, California.

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