Feelings and emotions play a major role in assessing and evaluating whatever happens in our lives. The very ability to feel normally arises as a response to the environment and our own actions. It helps us to judge whether something is safe, pleasant, fair, or desirable.
Some people might view feelings as unnecessary – they keep changing, often very quickly. You will only feel happy until something saddening arises. And you will stay angry until something comforting and soothing comes to your life.
However, feelings shouldn't be dismissed – they exist for a very important reason. Although completely relying on them might be a rather irresponsible idea because doing so could make us impulsive and blind to the consequences of our actions, a total dismissal of them can make us bitter, insecure, and less authentic. If one didn't possess feelings or always chose to ignore them, they could find themselves in a position of struggling to make decisions, knowing what they want and what their preferences are, or simply responding to each and every moment with a totality of their capacity.
Most of us are aware of an ever-present debate regarding whether we should listen to our reason or to our feelings. It is true that sometimes the conclusions drawn from our feelings are totally different that the conclusions drawn from our reason which could place us in a rather uncomfortable position of conflict and decision-paralysis (being unable to choose and make a decision). This lack of congruence between feelings and reason is what Carl Rogers referred to as an obstacle to self-actualization. When we are being placed in such position of conflict, choosing one side over the other will not resolve anything, only separate at least a half of our personality. What I believe we should be striving for is the congruence between reason and feelings; a common ground where feelings complement our reason, and our reason supports our feelings.
The main function of feelings is to evaluate the value of whatever we come in contact with – whether it's another person, an activity, or our own behaviour. This evaluation occurs by comparing and contrasting such 'object' against our values and preferences. Can you see how important our feelings are? They are not just there to provide us with an essence of whatever we experience, but aid us in making decisions. We could technically come to the same conclusions by using just our reason and logic, but to analyse something might take much longer in comparison to this automatic mechanism of feeling.
Carl Jung and the feeling function
According to the Jungian theory of cognitive functions, each of us expresses preference towards either extraverted feeling (Fe) or introverted feeling (Fi). Both functions refer precisely to this ability to evaluate that I've just described. The main difference between Fe and Fi lies in how we construct and use our value system (the baseline of our evaluation).
Extraverted feeling is based on the value system primarily oriented outwards, towards the world and other people. We might place value on experiences, actions, and events which we perceive as being fair, just, or right not just to ourselves but most importantly - to other people. For example, we might be very conscious about hurting other people, what would be the right thing to do in order to make a group of people comfortable, or we might have an unusual insight into other people's motivations and effects such people have on other people.
In contrast, introverted feeling relies on the value system that is oriented inwards, towards ourselves. A common misunderstanding here would be that using such a function could make us selfish or self-centred, which I suppose would be true in very negative cases. However, in a general sense, Fi helps us to define ourselves accordingly to how we feel, what we believe in, and how the environment influences us – in contrast to Fe which focuses on how one influences the environment.
So, in short – Fe is about a value system that is oriented towards human kind as a whole, whereas Fi is about personal values and meaning. Which one do you identify with more?
Cognitive functions, however, are not solely based on raw feelings and emotions. Feeling function, despite its name suggesting a connection with feelings, primarily serves as a vehicle enabling us to define our values and act upon them in everyday life. Following our values can of course make us emotional, especially if we perceive an offence to our value system, but if we know how to use this evaluation process to our advantage – in a mature and patient way, we will be able to gain an important ally on our journey of self-actualization.
What makes us emotional?
Since our feelings and emotions serve as a representative of our value system, often guarding it as if everything depended on it, it might be very easy to let this cognitive system dominate our lives so that every challenge to what we believe is right would overwhelm us with a stream of emotions.
If you take a closer look at when your feelings arise, you will notice it happening precisely in a situation where you are feeling either offended or appraised. In other words, when our values are challenged or dismissed, our feelings and emotions (which guard and are a part of our value system) will arise. The same will happen if our values are appraised, validated, or approved. By understanding this process, it is much easier to distance ourselves from our feeling and emotions – they are not everything that we have and they do not control our lives. They are important, but not all-important.
The same could be said about feelings which we find uncomfortable or even overwhelming. Because they play a very important part in how we function and make decisions, they shouldn't be entirely dismissed or ignored as it usually only creates more problems – such as inability to know what one wants, struggling to relate and empathise with others, feeling stuck or blocked, and lacking genuine and authentic self-expression. Rather, they should be questioned and evaluated in order to find out which one of our values has been ignored, offended, or totally forgotten. When we can't live up to our values, perhaps it's time to either change them or change our actions in order to achieve that congruence that Carl Rogers has been talking about?
If we also take a look at this process from another perspective, the more attached you are to your values, the bigger emotional responses you will experience when your values are being triggered or placed in a spotlight. The attachment to our values can be valuable when we are being certain about the correctness of them. Taken to an extreme, however, could make us blind to new opportunities or even, manifest itself as an obstacle to our adaptation to novel circumstances – which is a necessary skill to possess if we take our growth seriously. Such individuals who are overly-attached and quite obsessive about their values are usually perceived as inflexible, rigid, and lacking creativity. Self-actualization in such cases is rarely possible due to the limiting forces of our blind attachment to values which no longer work.