The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs Functions Ever

The most complicated aspect of Myers-Briggs personality types is also one of the things that makes it a useful theory. It’s the answer to criticisms like “But people aren’t 100% introverts or extroverts” and “Sometimes I use thinking and sometimes feeling, so the test must be wrong.”

Myers-Briggs theory describes complex, nuanced, dynamic personalities using something called “function stacks.” That term refers to mental processes (functions) that people use in a certain order (stack) of preference. But when you start trying to study function stacks and people are throwing around phrases like “Extroverted Intuition” and “Introverted Thinking” it starts getting confusing, especially after you learn ENxJs don’t even use Extroverted Intuition and IxTJ types don’t use Introverted Thinking. What on earth is going on?

I’ve written about cognitive functions before, but I feel like I’ve always fallen short of explaining the concept both simply and concisely. I’ll link to those more in-depth posts at the end of this article, but right now let’s try and break this topic down for the simplest function stack guide on the Internet. The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs Functions Ever |

What J and P Really Mean

Contrary to popular opinion, Judging and Perceiving aren’t a sliding scale. They aren’t even meant to stand on their own as an aspect of your personality — they’re just in your four-letter type to describe how you use the other letters. Thinking and Feeling are both Judging functions because they’re involved in how you make decisions. Sensing and Intuition are both Perceiving functions because they’re about how you learn information. Continue reading

Befriending Your Inferior Function

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?