I had two Myers-Briggs-related thoughts while watching Disney’s new live-action Cinderella last Sunday. 1) she’s a perfect example of an ISFJ, and 2) she’s a perfect example of why people mistake ISFJs for INFJs and vice versa.
Usually when we talk about fictional ISFJs we talk about men — Samwise Gamgee, John Watson, Steve Rodgers … and they are all very good examples of ISFJs in fiction. But in real life, ISFJ women outnumber ISFJ men, so it seems odd not to have a woman on the list of famous fictional ISFJs. I think Cinderella is a great example of an ISFJ, and here’s why.
Cinderella, like other ISFJs, leads with a process called Introverted Sensing (Si). Dr. A.J. Drenth considers it one of the “least understood of the eight Myers-Briggs functions,” and David Keirsey chategorized them with the Guardian types (SJs). All Guardians use Si as their their first or second function.
They are more concerned with ensuring their beliefs and behaviors are consistent with an existing standard than they are in formulating their own set of standards. In many ways, they are dependent on what has already been already been tried and established, systems of thought that grant them a sense of consistency and security. –Dr. Drenth
Because ISFJs pair Si with Extroverted Feeling (Fe), which is a deeply relational function, they are largely motivated by a desire to help other people. They need to be needed, and they are more willing than other types to serve without looking for a reward. This doesn’t mean they don’t crave appreciation, or that they won’t resent being treated like a doormat, but they are unlikely to upset the status quo by telling those in authority that they deserve better.
My sister (an INTJ) has always described Cinderella as her least favorite Disney princess because she’s such a “spineless push-over” and she’s “too nice.” No one would actually put up with being treated like that, right? Actually, yes. An ISFJ would given the right circumstances, but it’s not because she’s “spineless.” It’s because she feels like she has a duty to stay. In this new version of Cinderella, Ella tells a friend in the market that she stays with her stepmother because the house was important to her parents. She will not leave because the grief she has to put-up with from her step-family is not too high a price to pay for fulfilling her duty to her parent’s legacy. For an ISFJ, it is more important to maintain peace, help others, and preserve important locations and institutions than it is to be independent. An INFJ, for example, would stay for different reasons.
INFJ vs. ISFJ
Before I even left the theater, I knew I wanted to write about the difference between ISFJs and INFJs if I mentioned Cinderella in a blog post. When I got home and checked my e-mail, I saw I had a comment on a post I wrote several months ago about Myers-Briggs types among the Disney princesses. I’d typed Cinderella as an ISFJ, but this commenter argued, “she’s an INFJ. She thinks and dreams about the future (Ni) way too much to have Si rather than Ni.” This is a perfectly understandable argument. I’m an INFJ, and while I was watching Cinderella I realized that I would have acted almost exactly the same way Ella did in these circumstances. At least, it would have looked the same to an outside observer.
INFJs lead with Introverted Intuition (Ni) instead of Introverted Sensing (Si), but they both interact with the outer world using Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Personality Hackers calls Fe Harmony, because every type who uses Harmony as their first or second function are interested in maintaining peaceful relationships with others. They will do, or put up with, almost anything to avoid confrontation. That would be a chief motive for an INFJ who stayed in a situation like Cinderella’s. In that, they are like ISFJs. Duty, however, would not play much of a role in an INFJ’s decision-making. They would be more likely to feel trapped because they weren’t sure how to turn their dreams into reality, not because they thought they shouldn’t leave.
This brings us to the idea of dreaming. Cinderella’s imaginative side is more visible in the 1950 version, with the song “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” But I don’t really get the impression that Cinderella’s dreams function the same as the way as an INFJ’s dreams about the future. For an INFJs, the inner world is real, often more real than the outer world. For Cinderella, I think her dreams serve a more self-encouraging role as she insists on framing things in a positive light. You see that more clearly in the 2015 version, when Ella convinces herself that being banished to the attic is actually a positive experience. An INFJ dreams about the future because that’s what INFJs do. Cinderella dreams about the future because she needs to believe things will get better.
Both Si and Ni are perceiving functions, meaning they take in and process information on an almost unconscious level. Dr. Drenth says, “Si more or less preserves and relays information in its original form. Ni acts more synthetically, weaving together disparate information to construct novel theories, visions, and insights.” Intuitive are more creative, and Sensing types are more detail-oriented. INFJs are concerned with possibility, ISFJs with reality. Ella didn’t go to the ball for the abstract possibility of meeting the prince, falling in love, and being rescued from her mundane life. She went to the ball with the more realistic expectation of attending an enjoyable party and seeing a man named Kit again.
Please feel free to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments. What did you think of the film? Do you think I’ve typed Cinderella correctly?