Why Is It So Hard For Sensing And Intuitive Types To Understand One Another?

I’ve been informally studying the Myers-Briggs® typology system for about 10 years now, but for most of that time I still felt confused about the difference between Sensing and Intuition. Though I’m usually pretty good at seeing things from other people’s perspectives as an INFJ, I’d have a hard time understanding Sensors. I had good friendships with Sensing types, and I’d protest when people in the Intuitive community spread hurtful myths about Sensors, but I got stuck explaining the exact difference between the two.

I think this is a problem that quite a few of us face. For myself and many others who I’ve talked with online, the Sensing/Intuitive dynamic is even harder to figure out than Introvert/Extrovert, Thinking/Feeling, or Judging/Perceiving. Someone who doesn’t share our S/N preference seems even less “like us” than those who don’t match on the E/I, T/F, or J/P. Our preference for Sensing or Intuition influences us, and how we relate to others, so much that most typologists say you should only date or marry someone who matches your S/N preference.

Of course, type isn’t really a good predictor of romantic happiness and many couples (including INFP Isabel Myers and her ISTJ husband) are quite happy without matching on S/N. So maybe it’s not a good idea to just assume Sensors and Intuitive can’t understand each other. Perhaps what we really need is a better grasp of the real difference between Sensing and Intuition and a commitment to using that understanding to appreciate the strengths and differences of each type. Read more

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Fictional MBTI – T’Challa (ISFP)

I saw Black Panther yesterday. So naturally today’s post is a new installment in the superhero Myers-Briggs types series. I know I get pretty excited about most of the MCU films, but this one is seriously good. I love the hero characters and the principles they stand for like loyalty and peace. The acting is great, the plot’s tight, I love the music (I’m listening to the score as I type), and while it still has a superhero-movie feel it doesn’t shy away from digging into some really deep and difficult subjects.

Basically, you should go see the movie. And if spoilers bother you, see it before reading any further in this post. We are going to talk about key plot points and character moments. You’ve been warned.Fictional MBTI - T'Challa (ISFP) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Okay, let’s start typing. T’Challa’s judging functions are pretty easy to pin-point: Fi/Te. But the fact that he uses Introverted Feeling and Extroverted Thinking when making decisions only tells us he’s either a TJ or FP type. We’re going to need a little more to go on than that.

After Captain America: Civil War came out, most people typed T’Challa as an ISFP. A couple of the discussions I found online also pointed out that he’s an ENTJ in the comics (which I haven’t read, so this typing is only going to focus on his film portrayal). I ended up going with ISFP. And here’s why: Read more

Challenging Myths About Sensing Types and Inviting A More Balanced Dialogue In The Myers-Briggs Community

One of the most disturbing trends I’ve noticed in the community of Myers-Briggs enthusiasts is a bias against Sensing types. You’ll see it in comments from Intuitives about how they don’t want any Sensing friends because they couldn’t possibly understand us. It’s someone saying a fictional character is too dumb and shallow to be an INFJ so they have to be ISFJ (or insisting another character has to be INFJ because they’re relatable and imaginative). It’s assuming all SP types are dumb jocks who’d run off a cliff just for a thrill and all SJ types are conservative traditionalists who’d rather die than see the status quo change.

There was a similar issue when introverts finally started realizing they weren’t broken extroverts. In some cases, the introvert hype turned into an idea that introverts are better than extroverts, which is simply not true. It resulted in stereotypes being used to tear-down extroverts and build-up introverts. We’re still undoing that damage, but I think we’ve finally started to balance out and realize that introverts and extroverts are equally valuable.

Unfortunately, I’m not seeing a similar shift toward balance in how Intuitives view Sensing types, at least no everywhere. There are some wonderful groups out there (like Personality Hacker’s “Intuitive Awakening”) that insist on no Sensor-bashing while exploring what it means to be an Intuitive. But outside those groups it still happens. And even if we’re not staying Intuitives are better than Sensors, I wonder if the fact that there’s so much more material out there for Intuitives than for Sensors is still sending the message “you don’t matter as much as us.”Challenging Myths About Sensing Types and Inviting A More Balanced Dialogue In The Myers-Briggs Community | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Sensing/Intuition Numbers

70% of the population are Sensing types, but when you Google individual personality types only 19% of the search results relate to Sensors (that’s if my math’s right — numbers aren’t one of my strengths). I searched each type and compared the number of results that came back. Here’s the full list:

  • INFJ – 16,100,000
  • INFP – 15,300,000
  • INTJ – 13,700,000
  • INTP – 8,090,000
  • ENFP – 5,680,000
  • ENTP – 3,510,000
  • ISTP – 3,100,000
  • ENFJ – 2,270,000
  • ISFJ – 2,230,000
  • ISTJ – 2,080,000
  • ESTP – 2,040,000
  • ENTJ – 2,020,000
  • ISFP – 1,900,000
  • ESTJ – 1,890,000
  • ESFP –  1,280,000
  • ESFJ – 1,210,000

No wonder so many people mistype themselves as an INxx — we’re the types flooding the internet with articles about what we’re like and inviting people to identify with us. That’s great for people with those types, but it’s actually one of the things contributing to the anti-sensor bias.

One of the reasons that so many people online identify as INFJs is because there is just so much more, and so much better, and more in-depth content on INFJs. If every second article you read is about INFJs, it’s only natural to come to identify more with INFJs, simply because we relate more to things that we understand more.” — Erik Thor, “Have You Ever Thought That You’re Actually Just A Smart Sensor?

If you Google “INFJ” you get back about 16,100,000 results. Search “ISTJ” and you get about 2,080,000 results. That’s almost 8 times as many results for the world’s rarest type as for the one that’s most common. We can argue that it’s because INFJs need more support online since they don’t get as much validation in-person from meeting people like them. But don’t Sensing types deserve the resources to learn about how their minds work as well? and the connection of seeing their types positively portrayed and defended by people writing about personality types? Read more

My Abiding Love For Fluffy Blankets, And Other Quirky Ways The Less-Developed Sides Of Our Personalities Show Up

There are very few things I enjoy more than bringing home a new blanket and burrowing deep into its soft, fluffy folds. The Big One throws from Kohls are my particular weakness — oversized, incredibly soft, and occasionally on sale for $10. I can’t get enough of them. They’re scattered around the house. I rarely sit down even in the summer without draping one over my legs. I sleep with one inside my sheets so I can feel the soft plushness against my skin.

If you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs personality types and what I just shared about fluffy blankets was all you had to go from in typing me, you’d probably say I was a Sensing type. After all, S-types are the ones that pay attention to and enjoy sensory details. Intuitive are too head-in-the-clouds to care about things like this (if you want to be hard on them) or they have “better things to think about” (if you’re more of an intuition snob).

But I’m an INFJ, which means Extroverted Sensing is the mental function I’m least comfortable with. So why am I obsessed with texture? Because it’s not just fluffy blankets. If you walk through a store with me you’ll see I touch clothing, purses, blankets, etc. as I walk by. I once bought a purse just because the leather felt soft as butter (that description doesn’t make much sense, but it’s what popped into my head at the time).

My Abiding Love For Fluffy Blankets, And Other Quirky Ways The Less-Developed Sides Of Our Personalities Show Up | marissabaker.wordpress.com
real photo of my fluffy blanket collection

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The thing is, our inferior functions aren’t just hiding somewhere waiting to show up and wreck your life when you get stressed. That’s why I like Personality Hacker’s car model,* which describes your fourth-favorite mental process as a 3-year-old. When things are going wrong the screaming 3-year-old is going to consume all your time. This is more scientifically called being “in the grip” of your inferior process. But when you’re pretty well balanced it’ll be napping or happily cooing in the backseat (perhaps while stroking a plush throw).

You’ll probably never be really comfortable or effective at using your inferior function for day-to-day living. But you can befriend that side of your psyche instead of trying to ignore it or seeing it as an enemy. You can also focus on developing your inferior function, as I suggested in my post “Getting In Touch With Your Sensing Side” for INFJs and INTJ. And you can also enjoy and accept the quirky little ways it’s already showing up in your life.

Maybe you’re a dominant intuitive who loves sensory details like fabric texture or subtle spices in food.

Maybe you’re a dominant sensor and you enjoy escaping into theoretical worlds through fantasy and sci-fi.

Maybe you’re a dominant feeler who’s fascinated by computer programing or logic puzzles.

Maybe you’re a dominant thinker and spend your down-time reading touching stories about people’s lives.

My Abiding Love For Fluffy Blankets, And Other Quirky Ways The Less-Developed Sides Of Our Personalities Show Up | marissabaker.wordpress.com
fluffy blankets + pillows = heaven

As helpful as it is to learn about the better developed sides of our personalities, it’s not all that useful to identify with them completely. If an INFJ thinks of themselves only as an introverted intuitive who makes decisions based on their feelings, they’ll be ignoring key aspects of their personalities. And when we do that, we not only cheat ourselves of growth potential but also start drawing more rigid “us versus them” lines in our minds. I mean that in the sense of ideas like, “I’m an intuitive, so I can’t communicated with sensors.” But if we can recognize that our personalities are deeply nuanced, we’ll also realize we have more in common with “other people” than we might have thought at first.

Personality types aren’t meant to make you think of yourself as better than everyone else. They’re meant to help you recognize your unique gifts and also appreciate the gifts of other people (hence the title of Isabel Myers’ book, Gifts Differing). And once they help you discover the ways you’re different the typology framework can also help you discover ways you’re similar to other people. Even a type that you share no letters with and seems your complete opposite (INFJ and ESTP, for example) shares the same mental processes as you, just in a different order.

Do any of you see your inferior function showing up in your habits, quirks, and preferences? What sort of things do you do and enjoy that aren’t “typical” for your personality type?

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Befriending Your Inferior Function

Befriending Your Inferior Function | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “i was just thinking…” by Scarleth Marie

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Ah, the infamous inferior function — the way Myers-Briggs theory explains why you don’t always act like “yourself.” If we’re using Personality Hacker’s car model* to illustrate Myers-Briggs types, the inferior function is like a 3-year-old sitting behind the driver. It’s the least-developed function in a person’s stack, but it plays a significant role, especially when we’re stressed. Since we don’t use this mental process effectively, we often try to ignore it or bury it deep and dismiss times when it shows up as being “out of character.”

That side of our personality is not, however, easy to ignore. Continuing with the car analogy, if you’ve ever driven with a 3-year-old you know they’re only quiet when they fall asleep for a little while. Even when they’re happy and chatting they can be distracting. When they’re upset, it’s almost impossible to focus on anything else.

When the 3-year-old mental process in the backseat of your mind is throwing a temper tantrum, it’s hard to see the inferior function as anything useful. Often, I feel more like I’m “dealing with” my inferior Extroverted Sensing than learning from it or profiting by it. But as annoying at it can seem at times, it’s still one of the four mental processes that you have most access too. Even if it’s only 3-years-old, it’s still better developed then one of the four mental processes that’s completely outside your function stack. Instead of treating it as the enemy, maybe it’s time to embrace it as an immature, but lovable, friend.

Meeting Your 3-year-old

First, introductions. You’ve been ignoring this side of yourself most of your life, so if you’re going to make friends with it you have to first learn more about how your mind works. If you don’t know your personality type yet, I recommend Personality Hackers’ test as the most reliable I’ve found online. If you already know your type, you can learn more about your inferior function here:

You can also look up your inferior function by Googling “Extroverted Thinking” or “Introverted Sensing” or whichever function is lowest on your type’s function stack. Most articles you find that way will be talking about a healthy, mature form of that function as seen in types that use it as their primary or secondary mental process. Remember when reading these articles that it will show up differently for your type, since it’s not well developed.

For example, ENTPs and ENFPs use Extroverted Intuition as their primary, or driver, process. It’s an innovative, idea-generating mental function that’s constantly looking for new possibilities and patterns. They’re not only comfortable with exploring new ideas — they crave and thrive on it. When this function is sitting in the inferior position, it’s still exploring possibilities, but in a less-mature way. For ISFJs and ISTJs, their Extroverted Intuition shows up in generating worst-case-scenarios when stressed, and a near-constant worry about “what if?”

Making Friends

You might be frustrated that your inferior function can’t work as effectively in your mind as it does for people who use that mental process more readily. I’m an INFJ, which means Extroverted Sensing is my inferior function. People who use Extroverted Sensing effectively have “real-time kinetic” skills and respond quickly to things happening in the outer world. I’m so oblivious to the outer world that I run into doors on an almost daily basis. Even keeping track of my own hands and feet can be hard — once I wondered why my ankle hurt, and looked down to discover blood dripping from a cut I couldn’t remember happening.

Things like that can be really frustrating. But if we’re trying to befriend and cultivate our less-developed mental process, it’s better to start out accepting it how it is than hating how our minds naturally work. In fact, many of us could already be using our inferior function and not realizing it. An ENFJ who works with computers is using their inferior Thinking side at work. An ISTP with who cultivates close friendships in their local church is tapping into their inferior Feeling side.

You might start out exploring your inferior function through hobbies. When you’re reading about your inferior function, take note of what sort of skills and hobbies are usually enjoyed by types who use that function effectively . In my case, I’ve always enjoyed gardening and cooking, which are two endeavors that use Sensing skills. I’ve also started consciously cultivating awareness of the world around me through my yoga practice.

Growing and Learning

I’ve found that just knowing about your inferior function is a personal growth step. You finally have an explanation for why you react to stress the way you do, and why sometimes you have a “Was That Really Me?“* moment (which is the title of an excellent book by Naomi Quenk on inferior functions). Once you start understanding why your mind works the way it does, you can start learning how to use your natural stills more effectively.

Naomi Quenk’s book includes a section on how each of the types changes as they learn to use their inferior function.  I also touch on this at the end of each post in my “Learning From Your Stress Function” series. Here are those links again:

Type theorists often call becoming comfortable with your 3-year-old mental process ‘incorporating your inferior function.” This should make you a more well-rounded, balanced individual who’s comfortable in their own skin and it better able to exercise forgiveness/acceptance toward self (and others) in areas where we’re naturally not as strong. As an added bonus, you’ll also start to strengthen that under-used part of your mind, making it less likely to trip-you up (at least in theory).

Your turn: What sort of hobbies do you enjoy, or skills do you have, that are not typical of your personality type? do you consciously use your inferior function?

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Learning from Our Stress Function – Inferior Sensing

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When we’re talking about someone’s personality type in the Myers-Briggs system, we usually discuss their primary and secondary functions (also called mental processes). An INFJ, for example, leads with a process called Introverted Intuition (a perceiving/learning function), which is supported with Extroverted Feeling (a judging/decision making function). An ENTP, on the other hand, leads with Extroverted Intuition, supported by Introverted Thinking. Using Personality Hacker’s car model,* we can compare our primary function to an adult driving a car, and the secondary function to a second adult navigating in the passenger seat.

Each type also has a tertiary function (the opposite of their secondary function), and an inferior function (the opposite of their primary function). These are less well developed. In the car model, our tertiary function is like a 10-year-old sitting behind the co-pilot, and the inferior function is like a 3-year-old sitting behind the driver. The two processes you use most are more visible, and they define your personality as others typically see it, but our less developed functions play a significant role as well. Today, we’ll be looking at types which use Sensing as an inferior function.

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Sensing | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Everyday Life

ENTPs, ENFPs, INFJs, and INTJs usually rely on their dominant Intuition and then, to a lesser extent, their Thinking and Feeling functions. Inferior Sensing can, however, still show up in their everyday lives, often through hobbies and interests that don’t seem to quite fit with the more visible aspects of their personalities.

Often, dominant Intuitive types will excel in one or more particular area that requires using Sensing to notice details and interact with physical things in the world around you. This could be something like doing your own accounting, specializing in a certain kind of cooking, or maintaining a nice garden. It could also be a more active hobby like horseback riding, hiking, or team sports for the extroverts. Listening to music, attending concerts, and reading escapist literature is also popular.

Characteristics of Inferior Sensing

ENTPs and ENFPs use dominant Extroverted Intuition, which makes Introverted Sensing their inferior function. In her book Was That Really Me?* Naomi Quenk says inferior Introverted Sensing displays the following traits (I’ve put the traits of Si-dominant ISFJs and ISTJs in parenthesis):

  • Withdrawal and depression (Solitude and refection)
  • Obsessiveness (Attention to facts and details)
  • Focus on the body (Awareness of internal experience)

INFJs and INTJs also lead with an intuitive function. They primarily use Introverted Intuition, so that makes Extroverted Sensing their stress function. Here are the traits Quenk associates with inferior Extroverted Sensing (and their counterparts in Se-dominant types like ESTPs and ESFPs).

  • Obsessive focus on external data (Focus on external data)
  • Overindulgence in sensory pleasures (Seeking sensual/aesthetic pleasure)
  • Adversarial attitude toward the outer world (Delight in the outer world)

As you can see, there are similarities in how a dominant Sensing type and an inferior Sensing type use their sensing functions. In the case of ENFPs, ENTPs, INFJs, and INTJs however, sensing is poorly developed and rarely used effectively.

Stress Reactions

Though Sensing plays a role in the everyday lives of ENFPs, ENTPS, INTJs, and INFJs, it shows up most often when these types are stressed. The sort of stressors we usually think about (running out of time, feeling overwhelmed, grief, etc.) can all trigger an inferior function episode. Some extra things that intuitive types are sensitive to include someone pointing out a sensing/factual mistake, physical exhaustion, and having to keep track of lots of details at once.

Both introverted and extroverted intuitive types have have trouble with focusing on their bodies too much when stressed. Dominant Sensing types are usually comfortable in their own skins and enjoy sensory experiences like eating nice food or drinking a good wine. But stressed intuitives might develop hypochondria and blow any sort of medical concern out of proportion, or over-indulge by eating and drinking too much. They can also binge on other sensory pleasures, like obsessively gaming or watching too much TV to escape the outer world (Quenk p.197-201, 245-521).

Stressed intuitives often retreat from the world. It seems particularly hostile when we’re stressed, and all the incoming sensory data is simply too much to handle. The extroverted types will isolate themselves and fall into depression, while introverts tend to get angry, suspicious and hostile (I also know ENFPs who get angry when stressed, and INTJs who get depressed. It’s not just an Introvert/Extrovert thing).

Getting Out of Stress

Not everyone gets out of  their stress reaction using the same techniques. For INFJs and INTJs, as for many introverts, “space and a low-pressure environment” are key to returning to equilibrium. Quenk also notes that “INTJs and INFJs agree that the worst thing others can do when they are in this state is to give them advice or try to fix the problem” (p. 207). When stressed, we’re not processing things logically and if you try to convince us that how we feel isn’t valid, we don’t take it well. Eventually some Introverted Intuitives want someone to talk with, especially INFJs, but not at first.

Extroverted Intuitives also need significant amounts of alone time. They really need people to “back off and avoid patronizing them.” They’re more likely than introverts to talk it out with other people, but, like the INFJs and INTJs, ENTPs and ENFPs just need someone to listen, not try to fix things. ENFPS in particular eventually want someone to validate their feelings and reassure them (Quenk p. 258).

Getting out and taking a walk or exercising is often helpful for all the types using inferior Sensing. Introverted types prefer to do this alone, while extroverts might want more company. Quenk says that extroverted types are also more likely use getting adequate sleep, eating good food, and doing something relaxing to climb out of a grip experience (p. 258), but I can say from experience that some INFJs also find that useful.

Learning From the Inferior

Integration of the inferior function into everyday life generally happens in mid-life. However, Intuitive types can start learning to use their Sensing function any time. Isabel Meyer suggested that every type exercise all four of their functions when making a decision. Your dominant Intuition is able to gather and generate possibilities, which is great for creative problem solving. When we add Sensing, instead of ignoring it, we can start to use more of an impartial, realistic approach to problem solving. It’s useful for finding out exactly what the problem is so we can use our intuition to solve it (Meyers, Gifts Differing*, 197).

Introverted Intuitives who integrate their Sensing function often find enjoyable ways of indulging their sensing side through hobbies, and become more comfortable with their outer environment and with other people (p. 209). Extroverted Intuitives who integrate their inferior Sensing give themselves permission to slow down and enjoy life. They also start to tap into their introverted side and enjoy times of quite reflection (p. 260). Both types experience less guilt as they mature. They also start to take better care of themselves, and often become self-aware enough to avoid many grip experiences (p. 210, 261)

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Sensing | marissabaker.wordpress.com

credits for pictures used in blog images:

  • My Shadow” by Scarleth Marie, CC BY via Flickr
  • Shadow” by Nicola, CC BY via Flickr

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