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 Thinking

Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase on that website.

When we’re talking about someone’s personality type in the Myers-Briggs system, we usually talk about their primary and secondary functions (also called mental processes). An ISFP, for example, leads with a process called Introverted Feeling (a judging/decision making function), which is supported with Extroverted Sensing (a perceiving/learning function). An ENFJ, on the other hand, leads with Extroverted Feeling, supported by Introverted Intuition. 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 processes you use most readily are the ones typically visible, and they define your personality as others usually see it. Our less developed functions play a significant role as well, though. Today, we’ll be looking at types which use Thinking as an inferior function.

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

Everyday Life

Inferior functions often show up in the type of hobbies people choose. INFPs and ISFPs, for example, may enjoy strategy games or something like crossword puzzles to engage their Thinking side. More than other types, though, dominant Feeling types often choose careers that tap-into less dominant functions (Was That Really Me?* Quenk 149). An ENFJ might use their thinking and intuitive sides to work with computers, or an ISFP could work in engine repair using their sensing and thinking sides. In this case, they’d be using their dominant function in hobbies and play, and their less-developed functions at work. ENFJs, ESFJs, ISFPs, and INFPs in this type of situation often retreat into nature or opt for a more social activity to relax.

Characteristics of Inferior Thinking

ESFJs and ENFJs use dominant Extroverted Feeling, which makes Introverted Thinking their inferior function. It’s their least developed function, and has different characteristics than the Introverted Thinking used by types like ISTPs and INTPs. Naomi Quenk says inferior Introverted Thinking displays the following traits (I’ve put the traits of dominant Ti in parenthesis):

  • Excessive criticism (Impersonal criticism)
  • Convoluted logic (Logical analysis)
  • Compulsive search for truth (Search for accuracy and truth)

ISFPs and INFPs also lead with a feeling function, in this case Introverted Feeling. This makes Extroverted Thinking their stress function, and it looks different than the Thinking used by ENTJ and ESTJ types. Here are the traits Quenk associates with inferior Extroverted Thinking (and their counterparts in Te-dominant types).

  • Judgements of incompetence (Competence)
  • Aggressive criticism (Truth and accuracy)
  • Precipitous action (Decisive action)

Stress Reactions

Inferior Thinking types are sensitive about how other people perceive their intellect. They’re very careful when handling facts and can become irritated or defensive if people question their competence (or if they feel someone might question them). When stressed, they’re quick to point out other peoples’ errors and judge them as incompetent, often aloud. Normally, dominant Feeling types value peace and harmony, but when stressed they are much quicker to voice their criticisms.

They can also turn this “excessive” or “aggressive” criticism inward. I have several good friends who are ExFJ types, and they are very hard on themselves whenever something goes wrong or pulls them into depression. It’s very frustrating to outside observers because it’s almost impossible to talk them out of self-criticism. When working out of their stressed function, Feeling types, especially ESFJs and ENFJs, often insist on solving problems alone and fall into a pattern of “convoluted logic” (Quenk 154). One ENFJ that Naomi Quenk interviewed talked about coming up with a plan to break her leg in an accident so she wouldn’t have to participate in a sporting event that had her stressed out (she didn’t actually go through with it).

Stressed Feeling types often feel compelled to take some kind of action to correct a problem and regain control. The introverts, whose stress function is extroverted, usually try for outward action without thinking it through (Quenk 108). Extroverts, with their inferior introverted function, are more likely to take internal action and seek out books or lectures they think might help (Quenk 155).

Getting Out of Stress

All Feeling types benefit from alone time away from everyday routine to process stressful situations. Introverted types especially say that their “grip experience” needs “to expire on its own” (Quenk 115). They need time to process what’s going on without other people trying to interfere too soon. Some INFPs and ISFPs, especially women, want to talk eventually but not right away.

ESFJs and ENFJs do need alone time, but they also need someone to bounce ideas off of much more than the introverted types. They need a friend who is willing to listen without criticism, take them seriously, remind them of their good qualities, and reassure them that they’re a good person (Quenk 163). Many Extroverted Feelers also appreciate someone taking the time to involve them in a low-pressure social activity.

Learning From the Inferior

For many people, the side of their personality that’s related to the inferior function stays a mystery throughout their lives. Type theorists say that most people who successfully incorporate their inferior function do so around middle age, but you can start working on it sooner. Isabel Meyer suggested that every type can, and should, exercise all their functions on a regular basis when making decisions. Dominant Feeling excels in weighing how much you care about different options, takes into account others’ well-being, and seeks the most authentic and harmonious solution. Making a conscious effort to incorporate Thinking adds a level of impersonal analysis that helps when working with facts and making long-term plans (Meyers, Gifts Differing*, 197).

Naomi Quenk says that ENFJs and ESFJs who successfully incorporate their inferior functions learn to take better care of themselves rather than always putting others first. They’ll often dig into their inner lives more fully and give themselves permission to explore interests they’d pushed aside when younger — like one ENFJ who left a successful law practice to become a minister (Quenk 165). The introverted types also become more comfortable with themselves, and more confident when making decisions. Incorporating their inferior Thinking helps INFPs and ISFPs cope with their own shortcomings and relax (Quenk 117, 118). It also helps both types learn to deal with outside criticism effectively.

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

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Learning from Our Stress Function – Inferior Feeling

Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase on that website.

If we’re describing someone’s personality type in the Myers-Briggs system, we usually talk about their primary and secondary “functions” (also called mental processes). An ISTP, for example, leads with a process called Introverted Thinking (a judging/decision making function), which is supported with Extroverted Sensing (a perceiving/learning function). An ENTJ, on the other hand, leads with Extroverted Thinking, supported by Introverted Intuition. 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 processes you use most readily are the ones typically visible, and they define your personality as others usually see it. Our less developed functions play a significant role as well, though. Today, we’ll be looking at types which use Feeling as an inferior function.

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

Everyday Life

As with other types, ISTPs, INTPs, ESTJs, and ENTJs do use their inferior function in everyday life.  They use Thinking for most decision-making, but Feeling still shows up in several ways. For Extroverted types, it often influences the causes they champion and/or is connected with their religion. Their Feeling function helps them connect with the human community and drives them to contribute in a way that meshes with their sense of authentic self.

Introverted Thinking types are often (unfairly, I might add) stereotyped as areligious, coldly analytical and unconcerned with other people’s feelings. They can come across that way, but they really do have a feeling side. ISTPs and INTPs can be deeply spiritual and they value their friendships just as much as dominant Feelers do (though they often have fewer close friends and aren’t as comfortable expressing emotion).

Characteristics of Inferior Feeling

ESTJs and ENTJs use dominant Extroverted Thinking, which makes Introverted Feeling their inferior function. It’s their least developed function, and has different characteristics than the Introverted Feeling used by types like ISFPs and INFPs. In her book Was That Really Me?* Naomi Quenk says inferior Introverted Feeling displays the following traits (I’ve put the traits of dominant Fi in parenthesis):

  • Hypersensitivity to inner states (Inner harmony)
  • Outbursts of emotion (Economy of emotional expression)
  • Fear of feeling (Acceptance of feeling as nonlogical)

ISTPs and INTPs also lead with a thinking function, in this case Introverted Thinking. This makes Extroverted Feeling their stress function, and it looks different than the Feeling used by ENFJ and ESFJ types. Here are the traits Quenk associates with inferior Extroverted Feeling (and their counterparts in Fe-dominant types).

  • Logic emphasized to an extreme (Comfortable inattention to logic)
  • Hypersensitivity to relationships (Sensitivity to other’s wellfare)
  • Emotionalism (Sharing of emotions)

Stress Reactions

When stressed out, both introverted and extroverted types which use inferior Feeling are hypersensitive to anything having to do with understanding their own or other people’s emotions. They often misinterpret other people’s intentions, seeing them as overly critical and judgmental. They might become distressed, anxious and annoyed, but this won’t be readily apparent from the outside (Quenk p. 130).

Because Thinking types are often uncomfortable expressing their feelings, they still struggle to maintain an appearance of control when stressed-out. To make up for being unsure how to express what they’re struggling with, stressed Thinkers may excessively focus on logic to counteract feelings of uncertainty and being overwhelmed. From the outside, they start to look short tempered and unreasonable.

When pushed far enough (either by an external stressor or something going on inside their minds), Thinkers may blurt out their own feelings in a way that seems totally out of character. ESTJs and ENTJs, especially women, often say that losing control and crying in public or lashing out in anger is typical of their “grip experiences” (Quenk p. 84). For some INTPs and ISTPs, an “intense expression of emotion” can actually help them deal with stress and be the push they need to back to normal (p. 140).

Getting Out of Stress

Both the introverted and extroverted thinkers need plenty of alone time to process their feelings when dealing with stress. This is particularly important for ISTPs, INTPs and ENTJs (one of the most “introverted extroverts”). Whether or not they want to talk about it with a friend varies from person to person. One thing that’s consistent, though, is that they don’t want someone trying to fix things for them or pressure them to open up. Other people are most helpful if they can act as a low-pressure sounding board.

Naomi Quent reports that ESTJs and ENTJs experience “very few or quite minor eruptions of their inferior function” compared to other types (p.92). Often, finding a distraction through entertainment or a change of scenery is enough to bring them out of their stress function. Physical activity, a change of scenery, and “light problem solving … such as reading a mystery novel” can also help INTPs and ISTPs (p.140).

Learning From the Inferior

For many people, the side of their personality that’s related to their inferior function stays a mystery throughout their lives. Type theorists say that most people who successfully incorporate their inferior function typically do so around middle age. However, Isabel Meyer suggested that every type exercise all their functions on a regular basis when making decisions. Dominant Thinking excels at impersonal analysis, predicting cause and effect, and considering the cost involved in any decision. Incorporating Feeling adds a people-oriented level that checks decisions against your personal values and take into consideration the good other people (Meyers, Gifts Differing*, 197).

According to Naomi Quenk, ESTJs and ENTJs who successfully use their Introverted Feeling learn to value relationships highly. They (occasionally) loosen their high standards and cut themselves and others a little slack (p. 94-95). Much the same thing can happen for INTPs and ISTPs, who become increasingly sensitive “to the nuances of important relationships” and learn to express and accept their emotions more readily (p. 141-142).

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Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Decision-Making Processes

Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Decision-Making Processes | marissabaker.wordpress.com
image credits: Bailey Weaver, CC BY
Roberto Faccenda, CC BY-SA

If you’ve been hanging around Myers-Briggs enthusiasts for a while, you’ve probably heard about the Jungian cognitive functions. They are key to understanding Myers-Briggs theory, but they can also be very confusing. Basically, the four letters in a Myers-Briggs type tells you what type of mental processes you use most effectively in making judgements and decisions (Thinking or Feeling) and perceiving the world (Intuition or Sensing). It also tells you whether you are more oriented to the outer world or inner world (Extrovert or Introvert).

Everyone has and uses four functions (out of a possible eight). Your primary function is the one you’re most comfortable with and use most effectively. It’s supported by your secondary function, which acts as a sort of co-pilot. The third and fourth functions are less well developed, and while we have access to them they are not used as effectively. You can look up your type’s cognitive functions on several websites, including PersonalityJunkie.

Last week’s post focused on the four perceiving/learning functions, so this week we’ll cover the judging or decision-making functions. Everyone has an introverted or extroverted form of Thinking or Feeling in their function stack. We use one or the other most effectively when making decisions and thinking about what the world “should” be like. Most Myers-Briggs enthusiasts still refer to these functions by their full names or abbreviations, but I think the Personality Hacker labels are easier to use when first learning about cognitive functions so I’ll include those as well.

Thinking

Thinking types prefer to make decisions using an impersonal, logical approach. They value truth more than tact, prize accuracy, and want to make fair decisions.

Accuracy/Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Accuracy is mostly concerned with whether or not data, ideas, and observations make sense to the individual. Types with this function are less concerned with drawing conclusions from data, and more concerned with creating theories, questions, and insights that line up with their internal fact-checking system. Types who use Accuracy rely more on their own power of observation and thoughts on a given subject than on outside sources when making decisions.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ISTPs, INTPs, ESTPs, and ENTPs. The introverts use it as their primary function, the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant learning function.

Effectiveness/Extroverted Thinking (Te)

As an outward-focused Thinking function, Effectiveness relies on facts and data gathered from outside sources when making decisions. These types want to experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t, and how they can be most efficient. It’s a practical function focused on finding solutions, discovering and classifying facts, and setting goals.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ESTJs, ENTJs, ISTJs, and INTJs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions, the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant function.

Feeling

Feeling types prefer to make decisions based on their personal values and how the decisions will affect other people. They want to maintain interpersonal harmony, and may soften truth in an effort to be tactful.

Authenticity/Introverted Feeling (Fi)

As an Introverted Feeling function, Authenticity wants to understand the self. These types make decisions based on what feels right, as influenced by abstract ideals. It is a focused, deep sort of way to experience emotion that many Authenticity types find hard to express to other people.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ISFPs, INFPs, ESFPs, and ENFPs. The introverts use it as their primary function, the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant function.

Harmony/Extroverted Feeling (Fe)

When feeling is turned outward, Harmony focuses on getting everyone else’s needs met when making decisions. These types adapt themselves to given situations trying to fit in, and value the ideals and customs of their community. Harmony seeks true peace and understanding between people, and is adept at sharing feelings to create sympathy.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ESFJs, ENFJs, ISFJs, and INFJs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions, the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant function.