One of the hardest personality dynamics to navigate is Sensing/Intuition. Part of this is due to the fact that Intuitive only make up about 25-30% of the population. That can lead to Intuitives feeling misunderstood and marginalized. On top of that, because our Sensing/Intuitive preference influences so much of how we conceptualize reality, 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 preferences.
An unfortunate side-effect of the challenges involved in navigating Sensing/Intuitive relationships is that there’s now a bias against Sensing types in many parts of the personality type community. The myth that Intuitives are intellectually superior to Sensors and that Sensors will never understand them is now widespread among both Sensors and Intuitives.
However, it’s simply not the case that Intuition is better than Sensing. Both preferences grant advantages in certain areas and disadvantages in others. Myers-Briggs® theory is designed to explain how our minds work. It doesn’t say one way of processing is better than another or invite us to make that judgement. So with that being the case, lets take a closer look at the advantages of using Sensing or Intuition. Read more →
One of the most influential names in personality theories surrounding Myers-Briggs® types is David Keirsey. His book Please Understand Me II was one of the first I read when I decided to study personality theory because it was so widely recommended.
The more I studied Myers-Briggs types, though, the less comfortable I felt with Keirsey’s version and the more questions I had. Was his insistence on grouping the 16 types into 4 categories really all that useful? Is the practice of giving each type nicknames doing more harm than good? Why did he seem to ignore Jungian psychological functions? I started to think maybe he’s not the best resource for studying Myers-Briggs, though he does offer an interesting perspective on how the 16 types might relate to historic 4 type systems.
I’ve debated quite a bit whether or not to actually write this post. But I’ve been reading Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual by Lenore Thomson, who is a former managing editor of the Junginan journal Quadrant and who has taught courses on psychological types at the C.G. Jung Foundation in New York City. In her discussion of the ITP and IFP types, she voiced some of the same frustrations with Keirsey that I’ve felt, particularly in regard to how he talks about the SP types.
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Keirsey’s Focus on SP Types
I do want to start out by saying that I know Keirsey’s intentions were good in how he described SP types. He saw himself as “championing” the SPs (who he called “Artisans”) more than any other type because his parents, brothers, and many of his friends were Artisans. In addition, much of his work for 30 years as a family therapist was spent working with Artisan children who gave their parents and schools a hard time when they were noisy and restless or didn’t finish assignments.
My long association with and understanding of Artisans of all ages has enabled me to be more useful to them than to others of different temperament. I think Artisans ought to be enjoyed for what they are instead of condemned for what they are not, something that can also be said of the other three temperaments. (Keirsey, Please Understand Me II, p. 33)
While I agree with the sentiment, I think that some of Kersey’s theories did a disservice to SP types by constraining them into an art-making, hedonistic stereotype. There’s so much more to them than that, and I think by simply focusing on their shared SP traits we lose a lot of the nuances of these four types. I doubt this was his intention, but that’s how people seem to have used/misapplied his theories. Read more →
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 →
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.
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 that he’s either a TJ or FP type. We’re going to need a little more to go on than just those two functions if we’re going to narrow-down a type for him. After Captain America: Civil War came out, most people typed T’Challa as an ISFP. However, a couple of the discussions I found online pointed out that he’s an ENTJ in the comics. I haven’t read the comics, though, so this typing is only going to focus on his film portrayal. From that, I ended up going with ISFP.
A Personal Code
Everyone has and uses both a Thinking and a Feeling mental process as part of their personality type. They’re both a “Judging” function, which means you use them to make decisions and answer “should” questions. The one you’re most comfortable with is either your driver process or co-pilot, and then its opposite is either your inferior or tertiary process. Personality Hacker uses nicknames for the Jungian cognitive functions, and I think they make it easier to talk about exactly what I mean when saying T’Challa uses Fi/Te when making decisions.
Introverted Feeling is nicknamed “Authenticity” and it’s an ISFP’s primary function. It’s an internally focused, subjective process that mostly boils down to making decisions based on what “feels right” to you. Unlike the Extroverted Feeling process, it’s not primarily worried about what other people think. Authenticity is concerned with making a decisions that lines up with one’s own personal beliefs. And that’s what we see in T’Challa.
Though T’Challa certainly cares for other people, when he makes decisions they’re in line with what he believes is right rather than what will make the majority of the people around him happy. Fi is the mental process that drives his decision at the end of the film to share Wakanda’s resources with the world (see — I told you we were going to talk spoilers). And this personal code is also why he let his father’s killer live at the end of Civil War. He discovered that killing an unarmed man for revenge wasn’t in line with his moral compass (though making sure he faces justice is). Similarly in this new film, he offered to save his cousin’s life even after the man tried to kill him and steal Wakanda.
Extroverted Thinking, or “Effectiveness,” is a much more impersonal function than Introverted Feeling, though it’s still used for making decisions. It’s an ISFP’s fourth function — the one they’re least comfortable using.
Effectiveness users look for the most efficient answer to a question. In other words, this process makes decisions based on what’s going to work. This is why in Civil War T’Challa tells Natasha that he doesn’t approve of all the politics. It’s because a hundred people arguing in a room doesn’t seem like an effective or efficient way to actually get things done.
I also don’t think his decision to go after Bucky himself was just fueled by an emotional type of revenge. It was also a coldly logical assessment of the most efficient way to handle the problem since he knows that, as Black Panther, he can take down a super assassin. Since Te is where an ISFP goes when stressed, it makes sense that one of the times we most clearly see T’Challa using it is after his father’s murder.
Interacting With The Real World
SP types have a certain advantage in physically-demanding tasks since this mental process is so focused on real-time interaction with the outer world. While being the Black Panther certainly enhances T’Challa’s abilities as a warrior, this new film shows us that he’s quite capable without them. He displays the sort of “real-time kinetic” intelligence that Personality Hacker says characterizes types that use the Extroverted Sensing, or “Sensation,” process. On a side-note, the ritualistic combat you see in Black Panther is inspired by real-world African martial arts, which is pretty cool.
SP types thrive on being in the middle of the action. And since Sensation is their Learning/Perceiving function, this is also how they prefer to learn new information. The things they can experience and verify with their five senses are the things that seem most reliable. And they often use their skill for interacting with the real world in creative, productive ways, earning ISFPs nicknames like Artist, Composer, and Producer.
As an SP type, T’Challa isn’t content with delegating tasks and that he can do himself. He goes after his enemies personally, even when not required by tradition and ritual. And he doesn’t just want to read reports or have people come to him to say what’s going on in Wakanda. We see him visiting his people and interacting with their worlds first-hand. He’s also interactive when planing missions. For example, there’s an early scene in Black Panther where he’s watching a projection of a convoy he’s about to attack as part of a rescue mission and he picks up one of the projected trucks to move it around and get a closer look.
Possibilities and Patterns
As far as we know, T’Challa is the first Black Panther to reveal his powers to the world at large. And he’s certainly the first king of Wakanda to share their country’s secrets with the world. While there is a struggle between the part of him that believes in a vision for Wakanda’s future where they help the world and his duty as king to protect his own people above the others, the idealistic visionary side wins out.
An ISFP has Introverted Intuition as their tertiary or “10-year-old” mental process. It’s also called “Perspectives” and it functions as a pattern-recognition system. ISFPs typically have conscious access to their Perspectives function, but it’s not always reliable. T’Challa is mature enough to recognize this and does not rely on his Ni too much or make a rash decision based on it.
However, he’s also comfortable enough with Intuition to not shy away from what his friend Nakia and sister Shuri have to say about considering a future where Wakanda and its technology play a larger role in the world. And as an Ni-user myself, I find it very satisfying that Wakanda’s first outreach center will be built in the location where T’Challa’s father killed his own brother and abandoned the brother’s son to protect Wakanda’s secret. It brings the pattern together in a way that feels right.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my other MCU typings:
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.”
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 →
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).
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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.
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?