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When we’re talking about someone’s personality type in the Myers-Briggs system, we usually discuss their primary and secondary functions (also called mental processes). An INFJ, for example, leads with a process called Introverted Intuition (a perceiving/learning function), which is supported with Extroverted Feeling (a judging/decision making function). An ENTP, on the other hand, leads with Extroverted Intuition, 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 two processes you use most are more visible, and they define your personality as others typically see it, but our less developed functions play a significant role as well. Today, we’ll be looking at types which use Sensing as an inferior function.
ENTPs, ENFPs, INFJs, and INTJs usually rely on their dominant Intuition and then, to a lesser extent, their Thinking and Feeling functions. Inferior Sensing can, however, still show up in their everyday lives, often through hobbies and interests that don’t seem to quite fit with the more visible aspects of their personalities.
Often, dominant Intuitive types will excel in one or more particular area that requires using Sensing to notice details and interact with physical things in the world around you. This could be something like doing your own accounting, specializing in a certain kind of cooking, or maintaining a nice garden. It could also be a more active hobby like horseback riding, hiking, or team sports for the extroverts. Listening to music, attending concerts, and reading escapist literature is also popular.
Characteristics of Inferior Sensing
ENTPs and ENFPs use dominant Extroverted Intuition, which makes Introverted Sensing their inferior function. In her book Was That Really Me?* Naomi Quenk says inferior Introverted Sensing displays the following traits (I’ve put the traits of Si-dominant ISFJs and ISTJs in parenthesis):
- Withdrawal and depression (Solitude and refection)
- Obsessiveness (Attention to facts and details)
- Focus on the body (Awareness of internal experience)
INFJs and INTJs also lead with an intuitive function. They primarily use Introverted Intuition, so that makes Extroverted Sensing their stress function. Here are the traits Quenk associates with inferior Extroverted Sensing (and their counterparts in Se-dominant types like ESTPs and ESFPs).
- Obsessive focus on external data (Focus on external data)
- Overindulgence in sensory pleasures (Seeking sensual/aesthetic pleasure)
- Adversarial attitude toward the outer world (Delight in the outer world)
As you can see, there are similarities in how a dominant Sensing type and an inferior Sensing type use their sensing functions. In the case of ENFPs, ENTPs, INFJs, and INTJs however, sensing is poorly developed and rarely used effectively.
Though Sensing plays a role in the everyday lives of ENFPs, ENTPS, INTJs, and INFJs, it shows up most often when these types are stressed. The sort of stressors we usually think about (running out of time, feeling overwhelmed, grief, etc.) can all trigger an inferior function episode. Some extra things that intuitive types are sensitive to include someone pointing out a sensing/factual mistake, physical exhaustion, and having to keep track of lots of details at once.
Both introverted and extroverted intuitive types have have trouble with focusing on their bodies too much when stressed. Dominant Sensing types are usually comfortable in their own skins and enjoy sensory experiences like eating nice food or drinking a good wine. But stressed intuitives might develop hypochondria and blow any sort of medical concern out of proportion, or over-indulge by eating and drinking too much. They can also binge on other sensory pleasures, like obsessively gaming or watching too much TV to escape the outer world (Quenk p.197-201, 245-521).
Stressed intuitives often retreat from the world. It seems particularly hostile when we’re stressed, and all the incoming sensory data is simply too much to handle. The extroverted types will isolate themselves and fall into depression, while introverts tend to get angry, suspicious and hostile (I also know ENFPs who get angry when stressed, and INTJs who get depressed. It’s not just an Introvert/Extrovert thing).
Getting Out of Stress
Not everyone gets out of their stress reaction using the same techniques. For INFJs and INTJs, as for many introverts, “space and a low-pressure environment” are key to returning to equilibrium. Quenk also notes that “INTJs and INFJs agree that the worst thing others can do when they are in this state is to give them advice or try to fix the problem” (p. 207). When stressed, we’re not processing things logically and if you try to convince us that how we feel isn’t valid, we don’t take it well. Eventually some Introverted Intuitives want someone to talk with, especially INFJs, but not at first.
Extroverted Intuitives also need significant amounts of alone time. They really need people to “back off and avoid patronizing them.” They’re more likely than introverts to talk it out with other people, but, like the INFJs and INTJs, ENTPs and ENFPs just need someone to listen, not try to fix things. ENFPS in particular eventually want someone to validate their feelings and reassure them (Quenk p. 258).
Getting out and taking a walk or exercising is often helpful for all the types using inferior Sensing. Introverted types prefer to do this alone, while extroverts might want more company. Quenk says that extroverted types are also more likely use getting adequate sleep, eating good food, and doing something relaxing to climb out of a grip experience (p. 258), but I can say from experience that some INFJs also find that useful.
Learning From the Inferior
Integration of the inferior function into everyday life generally happens in mid-life. However, Intuitive types can start learning to use their Sensing function any time. Isabel Meyer suggested that every type exercise all four of their functions when making a decision. Your dominant Intuition is able to gather and generate possibilities, which is great for creative problem solving. When we add Sensing, instead of ignoring it, we can start to use more of an impartial, realistic approach to problem solving. It’s useful for finding out exactly what the problem is so we can use our intuition to solve it (Meyers, Gifts Differing*, 197).
Introverted Intuitives who integrate their Sensing function often find enjoyable ways of indulging their sensing side through hobbies, and become more comfortable with their outer environment and with other people (p. 209). Extroverted Intuitives who integrate their inferior Sensing give themselves permission to slow down and enjoy life. They also start to tap into their introverted side and enjoy times of quite reflection (p. 260). Both types experience less guilt as they mature. They also start to take better care of themselves, and often become self-aware enough to avoid many grip experiences (p. 210, 261)
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