Learning from Our Stress Function – Inferior Intuition

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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 ISFJ, for example, leads with a process called Introverted Sensing (a perceiving/learning function), which is supported with Extroverted Feeling (a judging/decision making function). An ESTP, on the other hand, leads with Extroverted Sensing, 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 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 Intuition as an inferior function.

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

Characteristics of Inferior Intuition

ESTPs and ESFPs use dominant Extroverted Sensing, which makes Introverted Intuition their inferior function (this is also sometimes mistakenly called the “shadow”). Types like mine (INFJ) use Introverted Intuition comfortably, but for ESTPs and ESFPs it’s their least developed function. In her book Was That Really Me?* Naomi Quenk says inferior Introverted Intuition displays the following traits (I’ve put the traits of dominant Ni in parenthesis):

  • Internal confusion (instead of intellectual clarity)
  • Inappropriate attribution of meaning (accurate interpretation of perceptions)
  • Grandiose Vision (visionary insight)

ISFJs and ISTJs also lead with a sensing function. They primarily use Introverted Sensing, so that makes Extroverted Intuition their stress function. Here are the traits Quenk associates with inferior Extroverted Intuition (and their counterparts in Ne-dominant types like ENTPs and ENFPs).

  • Loss of control over facts and details (instead of comfortable inattention to sense data)
  • Impulsiveness (flexibility, adaptability, and risk taking)
  • Catastrophizing (optimism about future possibilities)

There are similarities in how a dominant Intuitive type and an inferior Intuitive type use their intuitive functions, but intuition in ESFPs, ESTPs, ISFJs, and ISTJs is poorly developed.

Everyday Life

For most types, the inferior function isn’t always visible. In ISFJs and ISTJs, though, it “seems to color the everyday personality” and they are typically seen as worriers (Quenk, Was That Really Me?, 215). It’s not all bad, though. When an Introverted Sensing type enjoys creative pursuits like writing poetry or music and creating a work of art (especially arts in an abstract form), they are tapping into their intuitive side. They might also daydream or enjoy escaping reality via fantasy and sci-fi. An interest in spirituality — especially aspects of God that cannot be understood with the five senses — might also be tied to the intuitive side.

Worries related to inferior Intuition frequently show up in ESFPs and ESTPs, who are often challenged by society for their apparent lack of seriousness. They rarely stay worried for long, though. Like the introverts, Extroverted Sensing types might also be avid readers, enjoy the arts, and can be attracted the spiritual or metaphysical as a way of explaining their intuition.

Stress Reactions

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Intuition | marissabaker.wordpress.comMost of us don’t use our inferior processes on a regular basis. We’re so used to using the better-developed processes that we don’t spend much time worrying about the ones we don’t use. But under certain stressful conditions, we lose touch with our primary and secondary mental processes and fall-back on the undeveloped inferior function. Think back to the car model we mentioned, and imagine that something unexpected happened (like you swerve to avoid hitting a construction cone or small animal). It shakes up the passengers, the 3-year-old starts crying and suddenly the only thing anyone in the car can focus on is calming the baby.

Unknowns and future plans can trigger stress in all types that use dominant Sensing. ESTPs and ESFPs are most sensitive to situations and people that want them to make a commitment or think about what the future holds. They don’t like feeling trapped by planning, or being judged by people who are more serious and goal-oriented (Quenk 174). ISFJs and ISTJs experience anxiety about “the prospect of unknown, previously unexperienced activities” (Quenk, 218) They also hate it when someone contradicts evidence they can see with their eyes (e.g. they’re having a particularly bad day and someone tells them everything will be fine).

When Sensing types are “in the grip” of inferior Intuition (to borrow a term from Naomi Quenk), they display the characteristics associated with inferior Introverted Intuition or Extroverted Intuition. They are more likely to feel panicked, confused, and as if they’ve lost control over their lives. Intuition is great at coming up with future possibilities, but for dominant Sensing types the possibilities coming out of inferior Intuition often look terrifying. They’ll be distracted by worst-case-scenarios, and may seem paranoid. Instead of processing sensory information with their typical speed and accuracy before acting, they’ll second-guess everything and without careful thought.

Getting Out of Stress

Once we know what our inferior function is an how it affects us, we can start to learn from this hidden side of our personalities. Just knowing it’s there is reassuring, since now we have an idea of why we react to stress the way we do. It also opens up tools for understanding how our minds work, getting back to “normal” after we’ve gone through a stressful situation, and learning to use our inferior function effectively.

ESFPs and ESTPs frequently experience “inferior function episodes,” but they rarely last long. Their brains work quickly, and they don’t tend to dwell on things. If you are an ESFP or ESTP trying to get out of a stress-reaction, it often helps to have a contingency plan that you can fall-back on but still feel free to change. Talking it over with someone works for many ESFPs and ESTPs (both men and women), especially if they encourage you to reconnect with reality and find logical explanations for what’s troubling you. Others Extroverted Sensing types find that working through the experience and doing some hands-on activities also grounds them in their Sensing function (Quenk, 184-185).

As introverts, ISFJs and ISTJs need more alone-time to process the eruption of their inferior function. They might use this alone time to analyze and re-frame the situation to solve the original problem or plan how they can react better next time. Most people with these two types say physical exercise is one of the best ways for them to return to normal. The exception is female ISFJs, who rarely list exercise as useful. Female ISFJs are also more likely to want to talk about their stress reaction with someone else after they’ve had a chance to think (Quenk, 231-232).

Learning From the Inferior

Most type theorists will say people rarely start to incorporate their inferior function until mid-life, but you can start learning to use your Intuition any time. Isabel Meyer suggested that every type exercise all four of their functions when making a decision. Your dominant Sensing helps with analyzing facts, facing reality, and understanding exactly what sort of situation you’re facing. Tapping into Intuition (instead of being scared of it) allows for discovering possibilities you might not have otherwise considered, like how you might change the approach and attitudes that you and others bring to this particular situation (Meyers, Gifts Differing*, 197).

As they learn to incorporate Intuition more fully, ISFJs and ISTJs seem to “mellow” and become more relaxed toward shortcomings in themselves and other people. They’re also less stressed by unexpected events (Quenk, 233-234). ESTPs and ESFPs who use their intuition more fully start to seem (a little) more mature. They also feel more comfortable and secure in themselves (Quenk, 186-187).

Learning from Our Stress Function - Inferior Intuition | marissabaker.wordpress.comcredits for pictures used in blog images:

  • The Shadow” by WhatiMom, CC BY-SA via Flickr
  • Shadow” by Nicola, CC BY via Flickr

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Fictional MBTI – Loki (INFJ)

My first Fictional MBTI post was about Loki, and though it wasn’t the most complete or polished post it quickly became the most active in terms of comments. Even now, over a year and a half later, people are still posting new insights and observations on Loki’s character. And when the latest comments are more in-depth than the original post, it’s time for an update.

Quick note: my typing for Loki is wholly based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not on the comics or on Norse mythology. Loki is a controversial figure to type (as those 40 commends on the last post can attest), and his instability further complicates things. Also, I suspect Tom Hiddleston is an NF type, which would color his depiction of Loki.Fictional MBTI - Loki (INFJ) | marissabaker.wordpress.com

INFJ Overview

The letters “INFJ” stand for Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling and Judging. This means INFJs lead with a function called Introverted Intuition (called “Perspectives” in the Personality Hacker system). Introverted Intuition is a perceiving function that takes in and processes information, and is particularly interested in things that can’t be directly experienced. Intuition is great at pattern recognition and extrapolating future possibilities, and I’ve never seen anyone argue Loki is not an Intuitive. Read more

Some INFJ Thoughts on ENTPs

Some INFJ Thoughts on ENTPs | marissabaker.wordpress.comI suspect that, much like you’re not supposed to have favorite relatives, you’re not supposed to have favorite personality types. One of the core tenets of type-theory is that no type is better than another. And yet … I do have some favorites. ENFJ, ENTJ, INFJ, INTJ, INTP, ISTP, ESTP, ENTP …

Strangely enough, it’s not necessarily related to my interactions with a type in real life. In person, I can find common ground with most personality types depending on the individual person and the circumstances of our meeting. So when I talk about my favorite personality types, it requires an addendum that I am friends with and like people of all types (for example, my best-friend-who’s-not-a-relative doesn’t fit any of the types I listed above).

Still, there’s something about certain personality types that is irresistibly intriguing. I know several ENFJs, and the friendship and genuine communication that can exist between them and INFJs is truly amazing. I love talking with INTPs and INTJs because their minds are so incredibly keen and they challenge me to really think deeply about things. And then there’s the ENTPs ❤

ENTP Type

David Keirsey, and many other type psychologists, describe the ENTP personality type as the “soulmate” for INFJs. Of course, type compatibility in relationships is much more complicated than that, but I can definitely see why. At least, I think I can. I haven’t actually met a self-confirmed ENTP in real life. I know a guy who is either ENTP or ENFP, and knew someone I think was ENTP. Other than that, my interactions with them have all been online. Although, if fictional character’s count, we all know some that are (probably) ENTP:

(note: there are female ENTPs, just as there are male INFJs. They’re just more rare, and hence harder to find.)

ENTPs are characterized by high energy, “compelling enthusiasm,” independence, their pursuit of possibility, a constant string of projects that command their attention, and being “startlingly clever” (Isabel Myers, Gifts Differing p.106-108). There’s individual variation within all types, and Isabel Myer specifically says that

“Extroverted intuitives are hard to describe because of their infinite variety. Their interest, enthusiasm, and energy pour suddenly into unforeseeable channels like a flash flood, sweeping everything along, overwhelming all obstacles, carving out a path which others will follow long after the force that made it has flowed on into other things ” (Gifts Differing, p.106).

INFJs and ENTPs

Maybe what Myers talks about in the above quote is one reason INFJ’s like ENTPs so much. We have plenty of ideas, but struggle with moving them into the real world. We want to make big contributions, but we have trouble putting ourselves out there. We want to pour ourselves into people, but have limited energy for social interactions. So the idea of partnering with someone who specializes in active idea exploration in a big way is very attractive. Please tell me I’m not the only INFJ who has thought it would be wonderful to be the Pepper Pots to someone’s Tony Stark? (note: I’m not typing Pepper as an INFJ, just using it as an example.)

Some INFJ Thoughts on ENTPs | marissabaker.wordpress.comLooking closer at the two types, we see similarities in their function stacks that also helps explain the compatibility:

  • INFJ: Introverted Intuition, Extroverted Feeling, Introverted Thinking, Extroverted Sensing
  • ENTP: Extroverted Intuition, Introverted Thinking, Extroverted Feeling, Introverted Sensing

Both types lead with Intuition, but use that function in different ways. Intuition is a perceiving process, which has to do with how we take in and process new information. It’s close enough for the two types to understand each other, but different enough to compliment instead of overlap.

The two middle functions for both types are the same, just in a different order. Thinking and Feeling are both judging processes, which means they affect how we make decisions and what we believe the world “should” look like. INFJs and ENTPs approach this in a way that is easy for the other type to understand, but they are strong in different areas.

Their inferior functions are both sensing, but one is extroverted and one introverted. Our inferior functions typically show up when we’re stressed, so having different inferior functions means that different things stress these two types out. That can be really useful if you want someone who can help you out of stress instead of getting pulled in with you. It’s also important that they’re not exact opposites, since types who use intuition as their inferior function can get stressed-out by dominant intuitives (e.g. an ISFJ who is stressed by change might find it uncomfortable to spend much time with an ENTP).

What about you? anyone else want to confess they have favorite personality types? 🙂

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What Is A “Shadow” In Myers-Briggs Theory?

When you’re browsing the internet reading about Myers-Briggs types, you’ll probably see people talking about “shadow functions.” This is a confusing concept, because people use the term “shadow” to refer to several different things related to personality types.

What Is A
background photo credit: Georgie Pauwels, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Inferior Function

Every type in the Myers-Briggs system has what we call a “function stack,” which describes how they interact with the outer world, process information, and make judgements. There are 8 possible functions (extroverted and introverted versions of Sensing, Intuition, Feeling, and Thinking), and each types uses four functions:

  1. Primary Function
  2. Auxiliary Function
  3. Tertiary Function
  4. Inferior Function

The primary and auxiliary functions are the ones we use most comfortably, the tertiary function develops as we mature, and the inferior function is largely outside our conscious control. Much of what makes one type distinct from another has to do with how we use our particular combination of four functions. I have a blog post explaining exactly how the four-letter type relates to function stacks. I won’t take the time to repeat that information here, but here are a couple examples:

  • INFJ function stack: 1) Introverted Intuition, 2) Extroverted Feeling, 3) Introverted Thinking, 4) Extroverted Sensing.
  • ESFP function stack: 1) Extroverted Sensing, 2) Introverted Feeling, 3) Extroverted Thinking, 4) Introverted Intuition.

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.

Often when you’re reading about functions, the “shadow” is treated as just another name for the “inferior function.” I’ve done that myself in several posts. This is also what Isabel Briggs Meyers implies in her book Gifts Differing.* She describes the shadow as “the product of the least-developed part, which a person rejects and disowns. The shadow uses relatively childish and primitive kinds of judgements and perceptions, not intentionally in the service of conscious aims” (Meyers, 1995, p.84). She doesn’t spend much time talking about the shadow, but I get the sense reading her description that she thinks it can include both the tertiary and the inferior function if they are not well developed.

The Jungian Shadow

The best resource I’ve found for explaining the role of inferior functions is the book Was That Really Me? by Naomi L. Quenk. In her introductory chapters, she addresses the concept of the inferior function and the shadow.

Many people confuse the inferior function with the concept of the shadow and use the terms interchangeably (Quenk, 1982). In Jung’s system, the shadow is an archetype, one of our innate modes of responding to important universal psychological realities. The shadow includes those things people are unable or unwilling to acknowledge about themselves, such as undesirable character traits, weaknesses, fears, and lapses in morality, or desirable qualities such as intelligence, attractiveness, and leadership skills. The shadow is a key component of a person’s personal unconscious, a layer of the psyche that is more accessible than its much larger counterpart, the collective unconscious. (Quenk, 2002, Was That Really Me?* p.49)

Quenk draws a distinction between the inferior function as a sort of “doorway” to our unconscious, and the shadow. Our shadow informs our inferior functions, but is not the inferior function itself. Together, our inferior function and the shadow make up our personal unconscious (Jung, 1970, Mysterium coniunctionis).  This is made more confusing by the fact that Jung himself referred to the shadow as an “‘inferior’ personality.” He still draws a distinction between the fourth function and the shadow, though.

The individuation process is invariably started off by the patient’s becoming conscious of the shadow, a personality component usually with a negative sign. This ‘inferior’ personality is made up of everything that will not fit in with, and adapt to, the laws and regulations of conscious life. … Closer investigation shows that there is at least one function in it which ought to collaborate in orienting consciousness. Or rather, this function does collaborate, not for the benefit of conscious, purposive intentions, but in the interests of unconscious tendencies pursuing a different goal. It is this fourth, ‘inferior’ function which acts autonomously towards consciousness and cannot be harnessed to the latter’s intentions. (Jung, 1969, Psychology and Religion: West and East*

So, in Jungian psychology the shadow isn’t composed of any of our four functions. It is outside our conscious control, and shows up through our inferior function, which most of us don’t understand well or use effectively. It’s not necessarily bad but it often shows up as our “dark side,” the part of us that appears when we’re under stress. The shadow and inferior function are very much connected, but they are still different (even though we may use them interchangeably).

Four “Shadows”

One other explanation of shadow functions that you’ll occasionally see is a claim that each type uses all 8 functions. This theory describes the four functions that we just discussed as the “dominant processes” and the other 4 as the “shadow processes.” Using the same examples from before, it looks like this:

  • INFJ
    • dominant processes: 1) Introverted Intuition, 2) Extroverted Feeling, 3) Introverted Thinking, 4) Extroverted Sensing.
    • Shadow processes: 1) Extroverted Intuition, 2) Introverted Feeling, 3) Extroverted Thinking, 4) Introverted Sensing.
  • ESFP
    • dominant processes: 1) Extroverted Sensing, 2) Introverted Feeling, 3) Extroverted Thinking, 4) Introverted Intuition.
    • shadow processes: 1) Introverted Sensing, 2) Extroverted Feeling, 3) Introverted Thinking, 4) Extroverted Intuition.

It’s basically a way to quantify our unconscious and describe how it manifests through our inferior function. However, I don’t think Jung assigned “functions” within the shadow or thought the unconscious could be understood in that way, and I haven’t read support for this theory of 8 functions from psychologists discussing the MBTI.

Probably the best way to understand the idea of a “shadow” is to say that it is the part of our personal unconscious that we have the most limited access to. We experience our shadow through our inferior function, which is a part of the unconscious that we can access more easily because it is still on our function stack. Usually it shows up in a negative way under stress, but there’s also a good side to explore as well.

But the shadow is merely somewhat inferior, primitive, unadapted, and awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities which would in a way vitalize and embellish human existence, but — convention forbids! (Jung, 1969, Psychology and Religion: West and East)

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INFJ Dark Side

Descriptions of the INFJ personality type often emphasize our peaceful natures and ignore any hint of a “dark side.” For example, one commenter on my INFJ Loki post argued my typing is inaccurate because he couldn’t imagin an INFJ “carrying on a constant fight with everyone around you for the majority of your existence.” He knows INFJs are generally peaceful and conflict-avoidant, and couldn’t buy an INFJ as this type of villain.

People also describe INFJs as disconnected from the world, and unlikely to feel involved in the reality of what’s going on around us. All too often, people incorrectly assume this means we don’t care about what other people do or things that happen. This isn’t true. As Amelia Brown points out in her post The Dark Side Of The INFJ Personality Type, INFJs can be stubborn, judge others harshly, and abruptly cut people out of their lives. We do notice, and care, what’s going on enough to have a pretty decisive reaction in some cases.

Though INFJs are generally peaceful, gentle, and dislike engaging in confrontations, we’re not completely harmless (just ask my siblings). Every personality type has a dark side, and INFJs can be just as scary as anyone else.

INFJ Dark Side | LikeAnAnchor.com
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