How Do You
Feel About This?
by Van Waddy.
I’ve always been fascinated with Robert Johnson’s musings
on the wounded feeling function of Western man. Like
Parsifal, we in the West so often lose the thread of what
really matters, what deserves our valuing, what choices and
passions we choose that would bring us into the presence of our
deepest selves. We too often settle for the shallow promises of
advertising, of wealth, of whatever brings quick comfort, forsaking
that which would truly fuel and feed the deeper passions
of our “higher angels.”
Lately, I’ve been reading James Hillman’s writings on the
feeling function in the book he co-authored with Marie-Louise
von Franz in 1971, Jung’s Typology. Hillman defines the feeling
function as “that instrument with which we sort out the
genuine and the spurious;” or, citing Jung, that process which
imparts to the content of a feeling, thought or psychic phenomenon,
a definite value in the sense of acceptance or rejection
(“like” or “dislike”), a type of judging that leans on some subjective
criterion rather than making an intellectual connection.
Hillman distinguishes here between feelings as contents
(hopes, longings, angers) and feeling as function which “likes,”
relates, makes judgments, connects, denies, evaluates. One can
have feelings, thoughts, sensations, without being able to do
much with them. We may feel (appreciate and relate to) our
thoughts, discover their value, or find no value in them at all.
The feeling function is that psychological process in us that
evaluates. Through the feeling function, we appreciate a situation,
a person, an object, a thought, in terms of value. What
happens to me, what I think, what I observe and sense about a
person become evaluated in terms of my subjective value
system. It’s more complex than a “yes” or “no,” acceptance or
The feeling answer to “Do you like him?” says Hillman, is
“It depends.” It depends on the situation, on what I mean by
“like,” on what aspects of him I am asking about, and so on.
(Sounds a bit like President Clinton’s play with “It depends on
what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”) The feeling function
sorts all this out; it is a process. Things must be evaluated and
related to in order to be integrated into our conscious life.
A superior feeling function can adequately handle both
negative and positive feelings. A poorly developed feeling
function would function in a distorted, inappropriate way. I may
have positive feelings of love for you, yet be so inferior in my
feeling function, I have no way to express that to you. A mark
of a superior feeling function is the adequate handling of negative
and inferior feelings. I may feel hurt and resentful about
something that happened between us and be able to handle
these feelings directly with you so adequately that they can be
brought into our relationship and make for positive change.
The whole discussion gets more interesting when Hillman
brings in the possibility of contamination of one’s natural and
authentic feeling function by one’s mother complex and family
of origin dynamics as well as the notion that one’s superior
function can override or flood one’s feeling function to such an
extent, we lose touch with this vital instrument of consciousness.
My personal superior function, as an INFP, is my introverted intuition.
What I surmise from Hillman is that if I allow
my initial intuitive grasp of a person, a situation, a relationship,
or some wrong done to me (my initial observation, perception --
my way of noting events and people’s behaviour, facial expression,
or body language and playing with their possibilities and
meanings) to override, dominate, or cause me to move away
from or to repress an adequate evaluation of it (to misread or
misjudge how to handle it), I, like Parsifal, will probably end up
with a wounded feeling function. I step away too soon from the
process of first feeling what happened to me, evaluating how I
feel about it, placing some subjective value on it. Eventually,
according to Hillman, I could end up not knowing how I feel
about it at all, as I have so eloquently sensed on an intuitive
level some reason why this person did this to me, or wasn’t
available for me, or didn’t have the capacity to do what I would
have hoped, and, probably forgiven them without any evaluation
of the appropriateness of it or its impact on me. I by-pass
my feeling function and miss the opportunity to sort out my
perceptions in a way that would be helpful to me.
I’m writing about this because it might interest those of us
not so learned in Jungian thought to be more conscious of how
our superior function can interfere with our feeling function. If
thinking is our superior function, we may tend to analyze what
we feel, too soon trying to figure it out: why, where it came
from, what it “means,” and instead of feeling, we call what we
feel a projection, says Hillman, and try to “take it back,” or
worse, delve into some long discussion about it rather
than have the courage to live into the feeling of it. I
always have to remind my clients that when they start
off with “I feel that . .”, they are expressing a thought,
not a feeling. “I feel” has to be followed by an adjective.
(“I feel sad/happy/anxious.”)
If feeling is our superior function, we may have the
tendency to enjoy our first experience and evaluation of
a situation so grandly, we avoid any further differentiation
of values, thereby missing the opportunity to grow a
more open and developed value system. Hillman says
feelers tend to adopt societal values and attitudes and not
stray too far. The feeling type may have to suspend their
superior function and its values in order to extend the
function, or develop a further differentiation of values.
Feelers can become inflexible in the way they assign
value to people, ideas, situations, and, once they “pass
judgment,” they may not feel the need to revisit or
reconsider their evaluation. They’re loyal to the values
they have established.
“The beginning of feeling education is turning a
deaf ear to one’s superior functions,” says Hillman,
“whose disapproval—even if tolerantly educative—of
whatever is less acts mainly repressively. . . Feeling
requires an education through faith; it begins to function
only when we can trust it to function and allow its errors.
” The feelings must “first be caught and held in
consciousness and recognized as feelings. We have to
feel what we actually do feel as it happens, admitting
and accepting, without the intervention of superior
This education begins, says Hillman, when I begin
to trust my own spontaneous first feeling—“I don’t like
his face,” “I feel mixed up,” “I feel angry”—regardless
of whether or not this first feeling is generally
admissible and acceptable in the collective system of values.
When I repress the simplest feeling reactions, I prevent
the feeling function from developing these contents into
Now, I don’t think Hillman is promoting our going
out and vocally announcing our immediate reaction or
feeling evaluation about what everyone does or says to
us—verbally spewing out our most unrepressed impressions
of people and situations—but he is advocating for
us to get in touch with our true feelings, our likes and
dislikes, before we rationalize, empathize, categorize or
romanticize them away.
So, it isn’t just the threat of modern advertising, the
easy life, the sweet smell of success that contaminates
the feeling function. It isn’t just the mother complex that
has us in her hold and punishes our straying too far from
her particular thoughts and values. No. It can be the very
thing within that we consider our strength, our natural
propensity to process a certain way—our superior function
—that interferes and even contaminates our ability
to keep growing and developing a more differentiated,
developed value system and openness to life.
I have probably gotten all this mixed up and not
represented Hillman’s thesis adequately. After all, this is
James Hillman I’m trying to tackle here. At least, he’s
gotten me thinking, and feeling. And, hopefully, growing.
Fall 2009 • 13
Don Huntley—Slightly North of Broad, Charleston
© 2009 C.G. Jung Society of Atlanta