What I really love about the Myers-Briggs personality type theory is how positive and optimistic it is. The original classic by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter Myers is called Gifts Differing.* The overarching theme of the book is that we each have a gift and we are all awesome in our own special way.
Awww… Let’s all hold hands and sit around the fire and sing Kumbaya! Should we throw in some hugs too while we are at it? 😉
There’s just one tiny kink in this system. You see, the special gift comes at a price.
According to the personality type theory, humans have eight cognitive functions at their disposal. The cognitive functions are eight different ways for our brains to gather and process information. And we each have a favorite function assigned by our genes (also called the primary or dominant function). Our favorite function is our gift – it’s what we can become really good at.
But when we spend a ton of time practicing our gift, we are by default not spending time practicing the opposite of our gift (also called the inferior function). So we never become really good at it.
To give you an example of how this works, I’m going to describe myself – mainly because I feel more comfortable criticizing myself. I feel like I have to be more polite when I talk about other personality types. 😉
My personality type is INFJ and my gift (or my primary function) is introverted intuition – producing flashes of insight and visions for the future. The opposite of my gift (or my inferior function) is extraverted sensing: using your senses to pay attention to your environment – being present, paying attention to the outer world, and acting in the moment.
Introverted intuition requires a lot of time in solitude and a lot of time paying attention to one’s thoughts. And the more time you spend paying attention to your own thoughts, the less time you are going to spend paying attention to what is going on around you.
So in the last 24 hours, when I was mulling over this article in my head, I probably missed a gazillion little details when I was in the car on the way to Target, when I zoned out during dinner, and when I accidentally shampooed my hair three times forgetting what I was supposed to be doing in the shower. Now multiply this kind of stuff happening for 40 years. Because I’ve spent a lot of time over 40 years intuiting, I’ve gotten really good at that. But I’ve gotten no better than a very young child at extraverted sensing.
In practice, “no better than a very young child” usually translates into one of three things:
- You totally suck at it
- You are really sensitive to it
- You overcompensate for your weakness
I have all three of these lovelies going for me. I totally suck at paying attention to my environment. I’ve lived in the same area for more than 15 years and I still get lost all the time. I have no clue where anything is and I hope whoever invented GPS is really rich.
I totally suck at taking quick action in the moment. Like playing fast video games or driving a car in city traffic. I’m terrible at those types of things. Like the worst ever!
I’m also really sensitive to sensory overload. Like when I go to an amusement park or a rock concert with a lot of lights, sounds, and people to pay attention to, I experience a hangover-like state the next day even if I don’t drink anything. It totally wipes me out.
Lastly, when I do pay attention to my environment, I overcompensate by being really picky and unreasonably perfectionistic. Everything has to be just so. I’ll read every email at least 15 times before I send it. I’ll obsess over some small corner of my house, while the rest of the place is a total wreck. (I won’t admit it, but it could be that all the organizing articles on this website are the result of my out-of-control inferior function.)
So how is one supposed to deal with the inferior function, which frankly speaking, sounds like a giant pain in the ass? Well, read on for four ways in which it can be helpful to be aware of your greatest weakness.
(Pssst, if you don’t know your personality type yet, go read this article first and then come back here.)
1. Become Aware Of Your Blind Spot So You Can Take It Into Account
The inferior function is often called the blind spot, because you are so bad at it that it’s completely off your radar. You don’t even realize how bad you are at it. When you become aware of it, you can at the very least take precautions to protect yourself from the more harmful effects of it. You can take your short-comings into account.
Like if I take my kids to an amusement park, I know not to plan any activities for the next day. And when I want to do something hands-on or practical, I’m going to run it by my handy husband first, so he can tell me what tangible fact or detail I’m forgetting to consider in my grand plan. Or on a more big picture level, I know that my career of choice needs to lean more toward slow and steady introverted pondering than extraverted action in the moment.
Here are the inferior functions of each of the 16 personality types and how they might show up in some less than pleasant ways.
INFJ, INTJ: Extraverted Sensing
People whose primary function is extraverted sensing have a gift for being present, adapting to different physical environments, and acting in the moment. They are practical problem solvers with a realistic assessment of any situation. But since this is INFJs’ and INTJs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- having a hard time “being present” and “living in the moment”
- not paying attention to what is going on around them and not noticing tangible details in the environment
- being hypercritical and perfectionistic when paying attention to the environment
- being highly sensitive and easily overstimulated by sensory overload
- overindulging in sensual pleasures, such as food or alcohol, when stressed
ISFJ, ISTJ: Extraverted Intuiting
Extraverted intuition is aware of possibilities and open to new ideas. Extraverted intuition asks “what could be” and “what if” and uses the answers to brainstorm ideas for changing the world. People whose primary function is extraverted intuition have a gift for originality and enthusiasm. They give the rest of us the inspiration to try new things. But since this is ISFJs’ and ISTJs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- being uncomfortable with change or anything new
- being afraid that anything new or different will be bad
- having anxiety and worry over the future
- acting impulsively and becoming reckless when stressed
INFP, ISFP: Extraverted Thinking
People whose primary function is extraverted thinking have a gift for taking charge, making decisions, and organizing people and systems to get things done. They are good at objective analysis and logical reasoning. But since this is INFPs’ and ISFPs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- not driven to take charge of a situation or be the decision maker
- uncomfortable with administrative structures or bureaucracies
- uncomfortable with objective analysis
- hypercritical of other people who are logically inconsistent, inaccurate, or inauthentic.
- jump into things too quickly with a poor outcome when stressed
INTP, ISTP: Extraverted Feeling
Extraverted feeling is all about group happiness. A person using extraverted feeling seeks harmony in personal relationships, and above all else, just wants everyone to get along. People whose primary function is extraverted feeling are very good at picking up cultural norms and the “appropriate” thing to do in a social situation. They have excellent social skills. But since this is INTPs’ and ISTPs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- choosing truthfulness over tactfulness and logic over relationships
- not understanding the impact their words and actions might have on other people
- not knowing how to act in situations where they are expected to share their feelings
- overcompensating by being too sensitive and cautious about hurting other people’s feelings
ENFP, ENTP: Introverted Sensing
Introverted sensing remembers facts and details. People whose primary function is introverted sensing are good at following routines and standard operating procedures without getting bored. They can be very detail-oriented, systematic, thorough, and reliable. Their preference is to maintain familiar traditions, customs, and ways of doing things. But since this is ENFPs’ and ENTPs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- lack of attention to facts and details
- starting projects but not finishing them
- overcompensating by obsessing over facts and details
ESFP, ESTP: Introverted Intuiting
Introverted intuition is a deep and thoughtful way of perceiving that mostly focuses on abstract ideas and unseen meanings. Introverted intuition produces flashes of insight that come seemingly out of nowhere, and even though there may not be concrete evidence, introverted intuition knows the insight to be true. For people whose primary function is introverted intuition, the insights produced by introverted intuition often turn into new ideas and visions for the future. But since this is ESFPs’ and ESTPs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- confusion rather than clarity or insight
- seeing only negative possibilities rather than possibilities for improvement
ENFJ, ESFJ: Introverted Thinking
Introverted thinking is all about impersonal and objective analysis. People whose primary function is introverted thinking have a gift for independent thinking – they are masters of analysis, organizing, and critique. But since this is ENFJs’ and ESFJs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- not being critical enough and just adapting to other people’s opinions
- being blind to the facts especially when they wish something wasn’t true
- being overly critical of others
- convoluted logic
ENTJ, ESTJ: Introverted Feeling
Introverted feeling could also be called the conscience. People whose primary function is introverted feeling have strong convictions of right and wrong. They seek to maintain their personal integrity by behaving according to their convictions and help other people do the same. People who favor introverted feeling will feel compelled to speak out and stand up for what they believe to be right even if it creates tension in a group. They can be very devoted to people and causes they care about. But since this is ENTJs’ and ESTJs’ inferior function, they often struggle with some of the following:
- ignore feeling values (impact on people) too much, not taking into account what they actually care about and what other people care about
- confuse feeling values with sentimentality or emotionality
- fear of feelings or emotions
- outbursts of emotion that seem out of proportion to the situation
2. It May Be Mostly A Hate Relationship, But Find The Love
Even though many of us struggle with our inferior function, it still often has some appeal to us, especially as we get older and are ready to explore more sides of ourselves. As much as we like our primary function, we need occasional breaks from it. We need to do the opposite to rest and relax. It might feel good to find a safe way to indulge your inferior function in a low-pressure setting, just for fun.
At times, I’ve been compelled to try to do things with my hands and I have a hobby-interest in interior design – activities that require me to get out of my head and visit my environment. My ESFJ grandmother who falls short on objective analytical skills likes to do cross-word puzzles. My ISFP sister who wouldn’t be caught dead orchestrating other people’s lives, keeps her own apartment so organized and clean, I wouldn’t hesitate to eat off the floors. My ISTJ mother who has always been very attached to her familiar routines has started taking annual trips to the other side of the world to visit her grand-kids.
3. Become More Accepting Of Other People’s Blind Spots
Many of us go through life kind of blind to our own shortcomings, but quick to notice other people’s. Ever since I became consciously aware of my own blind spot, I’ve become much more patient with and understanding of others. I think about myself driving in four lanes of 65-mile per hour traffic and how hard and exhausting that is for me. That’s how hard it is for my ISFJ daughter to change her routine. That’s how hard it is for my ESFJ husband to remain objective.
Your blind spot is not an excuse to hurt other people. But the INTP rocket scientist with no social skills could probably be forgiven for some of his awkwardness. He’s been too busy introverting about rocket science to practice how to harmonize. The INFP best-selling author could probably be forgiven for forgetting to report to her publishing agent. She’s been too busy developing her literary genius to learn how to deal with a bureaucracy.
4. Recognize That Even Though Your Blind Spot Doesn’t Work For You, It’s Someone Else’s Gift
At best, we usually have mixed feelings toward our inferior function. It hasn’t worked very well for us in the past, so we have labeled it unreliable. Sometimes we take this a step further though and say that because it’s unreliable for us, it must be unreliable for other people as well. So those people who use this function all the time… Well, they might be crazy and they can’t be trusted for sure!
It would be very easy for me to say that because extraverted sensing doesn’t work for me as an INFJ, there must be something wrong with ESFPs and ESTPs, whose primary function is extraverted sensing. In return, an ESFP who has trouble with introverted intuition might see me as a weirdo. Here are all the personality type pairings where these prejudices might come up:
- INFJs & INTJs versus ESFPs & ESTPs
- ISFJs & ISTJs versus ENFPs & ENTPs
- INFPs & ISFPs versus ENTJs & ESTJs
- INTPs & ISTPs versus ENFJs & ESFJs
My older daughter and I happen to fall in one of these opposite pairs. She is an ESFP and her primary function is extraverted sensing – my inferior. When she was around two, I actually took her to see a psychologist and an occupational therapist, because I was convinced there was something wrong with her. She touches everything! She runs around! She talks to strangers! She is wild! Of course, I eventually figured out that her personality is simply very different from my own and hers is actually a lot more suited to navigating mainstream society than mine.
By the time my daughter hits teenhood, I fully expect her to return the favor and try to commit her absent-minded Mom into a looney-bin. But as I have learned to appreciate her force of nature ways, maybe she will eventually learn to appreciate some of my insights.
What about you? Do you ever get tripped up by your blind spot? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below! 🙂
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