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 →
People like sorting themselves into groups with other people. We identify with those who share our political views, have similar religious traditions, look like us, went to the same schools, etc. This seems to be a normal human thing. But it’s an all-too-easy shift to go from thinking “I am like these people” to thinking “I am not like those other people.” Now we have an “us” group and a “them” group. And the slide into deciding that “we” are better than “them” is one that has lead to all sorts of trouble throughout human history.
Tackling all the “us” vs “them” issues in the world today is far too large a scope for a single post. But I do want to address how this mindset is affecting communities interested in personality types. If there was ever a group that should be able to avoid turning against people unlike themselves it should be those learning about personalities. Sadly, that’s not always the case.
One of the core ideas in personality type systems like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram is that no one type is better than any other type. Every type has strengths and weaknesses and every type is equally valuable. That’s a central part of these personality systems. They’re designed to help you understand your type and other people’s types so that you can better appreciate the variety inherent to humanity.
I’m an INFJ so I’m going to pick on my own type for a while. I’ve seen topics brought up in INFJ-only settings about how it’s completely unnatural (well-nigh impossible) for an INFJ to be racist or sexist or anything like that. We’re so much better than all those other types that so easily fall prey to attacking other groups of people. Oh, no. We’re so much better than those uncouth bumpkin personality types.
What precious little snowflake hypocrites we are.
I’m sure you can see the problem here. And using one’s own type as an excuse to turn against other groups of people isn’t confined to INFJs. People of any type can make sweeping generalizations about extroverts, or thinkers, or SP types, or any other combination of letters. And those generalizations are often both inaccurate and unkind.
So lets get back to using personality type systems the way they were intended. As a tool to better understand both ourselves and other people, and then to better appreciate them as well. Those of us within the type development community have the tools we need to move past thinking about groups of people with an “us versus them” mindset. We can use type to climb inside other people’s perspectives and learn to appreciate that just because someone processes information and makes decisions differently than us doesn’t mean they’re our enemies or our inferiors.
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 →
I talk with quite a few people who have Intuitive type personalities and grew up feeling misunderstood. They knew they were different from other people but didn’t know why and that led to feelings of loneliness and isolation. In some cases this feeling came from a lack of people they could truly connect with. But others encountered outright rejection or bullying.
As we grew up and started learning about our personality types, the feeling of being different started to make sense. Intuitive types do see the world differently from most other people — we only make up 30% of the world’s population. The other 70% of people are Sensing types. And becasue the Intuitive/Sensing side of our personalities describes how we perceive things and learn new information, it plays a huge role in how we frame our conceptions of the world. It’s no wonder that Intuitives feel different from the majority of the people they meet.
The Amazing Intuitive Connection
There’s something incredible about learning you’re not alone. That there really are other people out there who process the world in much the same way you do. People whose eyes won’t glaze over when you dive deep into theoretical discussions, who won’t panic when you suggest a new perspective on traditional ideas, and who think talking about the future framed in all of human history is a great way to spend their afternoons.
I think Intuitives need other Intuitives around. I grew up with Intuitive siblings, eventually made several Intuitive friends, and now have the Intuitive Awakening group on Facebook. For close relationships, matching on your Intuition/Sensing preference is going to make it much easier to identify with and understand the other person. And I’m pretty sure any Intuitive with Intuitive friends or family is nodding their heads while reading this. We crave the opportunity to connect with other people who will understand us and validate our way of processing the world. It’s part of being human.
Inaccurate Sensing Stereotypes
But we can take our need for Intuitive connection to an unfortunate extreme and decide that other Intuitives are the only people worth talking with. People with this mindset say that Sensing types are too superficial, too selfish, too close-minded, and too judgemental for them to really connect with (a claim that is, when you think about it, an example of the mindset they’re accusing Sensors of having). 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?
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Myers-Briggs. I’ll defend it against people who say it’s useless, write and re-write posts trying to come up with the simplest introduction to function stacks ever, and spend my time musing about how type influences both real people and fictional characters. But as much as I like the Myers-Briggs system of personality types, I also know there are things it’s not meant to do.
In fact, applying Myers-Briggs wrongly is one of the biggest reasons it has come under so much criticism. For example, you can find quite a few articles online that argue Myers-Briggs is basically useless in a work environment. They’ll tell you it’s not a good indicator of job performance nor is it all that useful for screening potential employees. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering those aren’t the test’s purpose. And it’s unfair to dismiss a test for not doing something it wasn’t meant to do in the first place.
So what is the Myers-Briggs test supposed to tell you? And just how much can we apply what we learn from finding our type to real life?
This Is Your Brain On Decision Making
The Myers-Briggs test is designed to measure how people’s minds work. It describes their preferred mental processes or “cognitive functions” (to use the technical term). Contrary to what so many critics of the test think, it doesn’t force people into dichotomies. Rather, each type has a “stack” of preferred functions. So an ENFJ type isn’t someone who’s 100% extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. They’re a type that prefers making decisions with Extroverted Feeling, learning new things with Introverted Intuition, and then also uses Extroverted Sensing and Introverted Thinking to a lesser extent (click here to learn how we get from the four letter type to the functions).
These characteristics of Myers-Briggs theory means that taking the test can help you: Read more →