By Dr. A.J. Drenth
ESFJs are one of sixteen personality types. I have found ESFJs to be less common than demographic data sometimes suggests, especially among Caucasian females. In my experience, they are far outnumbered by the ESFP type, at least in the U.S.
ESFJs are warm, engaging, caring, loyal, dutiful, and hardworking. They are admired for their work ethic, perseverance, devotion, and steadfastness. They strive to practice what they preach, holding fast to their commitments and convictions. As predominant Judgers, they take their work, family, and social roles rather seriously.
Like the ENFJ, ESFJs have strong interpersonal skills, capable of quickly establishing rapport with others. They are natural readers of people and their emotions, a trait which allows them to quickly relate to people. Because of their social intelligence and love for people, they often have a substantial network of friends, acquaintances, and social connections. Their people skills also contribute to their persuasiveness and prowess as salespersons.
While appearing outwardly confident and assertive, on the whole, ESFJs are no more inwardly sure of themselves than other types. Indeed, because their inner Judging function, Introverted Thinking (Ti), is inferior, ESFJs may feel they have relatively little inner control. Finding inner control elusive, they naturally turn their focus outwardly, hoping that achieving outer control will somehow bring them inner calm and security. Their primary means of achieving outer control is through Extraverted Feeling (Fe), which serves as their dominant function. By way of their Fe, ESFJs can befriend, persuade, and direct others. In so doing, ESFJs can reap the benefit of social support, as well as a sense of control and influence in the world of people.
Like their ESTJ counterparts, ESFJs’ auxiliary function, Introverted Sensing (Si), prompts them to keep one eye on the past and to preserve existing methods, traditions, and conventions. This is why David Keirsey classifies them as “guardians.” This may partly explain why many ESFJs love teaching, a role that allows them to relay existing knowledge and wisdom to others.
In sharing the same set of functions, ESFJs often resemble the ISFJ. One difference is ESFJs tend to more warm and engaging upfront, while ISFJs can be somewhat more socially anxious and take longer to warm-up. These two types also differ with regard to their inferior function issues, with ISFJs wrestling with Ne and ESFJs with Ti-related concerns.
ESFJs can also resemble ENFJs, since they share the same dominant and inferior function. Both types have strong social acumen and enjoy helping and supporting others. But because ENFJs use Ni as their auxiliary function, they are often more interested in theoretical or philosophical discussions than ESFJs are. On account of their Si, ESFJs tend to be more practical and traditional, whereas ENFJs are often less conventional in their approach.
While ESFJs differ from ESFPs by only one “preference” (i.e., J-P) they actually have zero functions in common. This makes these two types far more different than is commonly recognized. ESFJs, whose Extraverted Judging function is dominant (Fe), tend to be more direct and firm in their assertions than is true of ESFPs, whose Extraverted Judging function is tertiary (Te). Moreover, because of their Se, ESFPs are more concerned with keeping up with current trends and fashions, as well as modifying their appearance accordingly. ESFJs, by contrast, whose Sensing is introverted (Si), tend to have a diminished concern for doing so. Of course, ESFJs raised with Se types may assimilate certain Se tendencies because their Si has learned to see them as normal.
ESFJ Personality Type Development & “Functional Stack”
ESFJs’ functional stack is composed of the following functions:
Dominant: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Auxiliary: Introverted Sensing (Si)
Tertiary: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Inferior: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
ESFJs’ personality type development can be broadly conceived as consisting of three phases:
Phase I (Teens-20s)
Phase I is characterized by the development and employment of ESFJs’ dominant function, Extraverted Feeling (Fe). In developing and strengthening their Fe, Phase I ESFJs can seem inflexible and opinionated, quick to make judgments and draw conclusions about the world. Since their judgments are not yet being weighed and balanced by their auxiliary and tertiary functions, they are especially prone to jumping to conclusions.
Since Fe is a Judging function, ESFJs tend to take themselves and their lives quite seriously. Even from a relatively young age, they tend to strive for excellence in whatever they do. They can differ markedly from ISFJs in this phase, whose dominant function (Si) is a Perceiving function. This leads ISFJs to be more open and take life less seriously than Phase I ESFJs are wont to do. While both types utilize Fe, ISFJs are more concerned with perceiving the world (Si), while ESFJs are already working to change or control it (Fe).
Phase II (Late Teens-30s)
While the inferior function is not entirely dormant or inert in Phase I, the epic tug-of-war between the dominant and inferior does not come to the fore until Phase II. Once ESFJs’ dominant Fe reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, their inferior function, Introverted Thinking (Ti), begins to assert itself and play a more prominent role. This can be somewhat confusing since Ti is not next in line in ESFJs’ functional stack. However, this can be understood as deriving from Ti’s bipolar relationship with ESFJs’ dominant Fe.
Phase II ESFJs also show increasing use and development of their auxiliary function, Introverted Sensing (Si), and may even begin to tap into their tertiary function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne). These Perceiving functions allow ESFJs to open and modify their Fe judgments. They help them loosen their grip on life, tempering their Fe drive for outer order and control.
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
If all goes well and they are fortunate enough to enter Phase III, ESFJs become increasingly aware of the insidious effects of their inferior Ti. By increasing their self-awareness and learning to function more authentically as ESFJs, they can negotiate a better balance between their Fe and Ti. As they cultivate conditions that support their natural strengths, Phase III ESFJs can experience a heightened and enduring sense of peace, wholeness, and satisfaction.
ESFJs’ Dominant Function: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
As we’ve seen, Extraverted Feeling (Fe) is ESFJs’ dominant function. Since Fe is a Judging function that is extraverted in its direction, ESFJs are Extraverted Judging types, quick to express their feelings, opinions, and grievances. This can be both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, it contributes to ESFJs’ quick responsiveness and capacity for leadership. On the other, it can dispose them to judging prematurely or too severely.
Fe imbues ESFJs with a desire to control or otherwise influence others. Whereas Fi dominants (i.e., IFPs) seek control inwardly, Fe types do so outwardly. This desire for outer control should in no way be considered “bad” or unhealthy for ESFJs. As we’ve seen, Judging is a viable and commonly used means of navigating life. While ETJ types are often viewed as controlling commanders, ESFJs’ Feeling preference makes their means of control more subtle and in some ways more effective. Because of their ability to read and relate to people, ESFJs can skillfully discern the most effective route to influencing them.
Another feature of Fe involves meeting the needs of others. ESFJs work to ensure that everyone is getting along and is well cared for. ESFJs are often conceived as self-sacrificing, deferring their own needs for the sake of the collective good. In their attempt to cultivate good feelings in the social environment, ESFJs typically put on a happy face, displaying ample warmth, friendliness, and congeniality in their interactions. While Fi types may at times consider overt Fe friendliness as somewhat disingenuous, most ESFJs do so with good intentions of improving morale or finding consensus.
ESFJs’ Fe can present differently among strangers than it does with their intimates. In larger groups, ESFJs may seem consistently “positive” in their expressions as part of their attempt to cultivate good social feelings. In the company of close confidants, however, they are more apt to share their negative emotions and grievances. And because their words are often bathed in emotion, ESFJs can seem intense or dramatic in their expressions. While such expressions are commonly interpreted as “irrational” by Thinkers or Fi types, they are rational to the degree to which they accurately reflect the nature of the experienced emotion. In many instances, given sufficient time, ESFJs will further refine or soften their initial Fe judgments as they move through the Perceiving functions of their functional stack.
In contrast to IFPs, ESFJs can have a more difficult time independently perceiving their own emotions. This is due to the fact that their Feeling function is extraverted rather than introverted. Consequently, ESFJs don’t spend as much time trying to independently sort out their emotions. Inwardly, they deal largely in the currency of Si. So when ESFJs find themselves in emotionally troubling circumstances, they often (and should) turn to others for support or guidance. Expressing themselves through their Fe is critical to their psychological (and physical) health and well-being. Even if doing so does not provide them with an immediate solution to the problem at hand, they tend to feel better once they have expressed their feelings, be it through words or through tears. Unfortunately, parents and teachers often fail to understand this about their FJ children and may end up stifling their Fe expressions. At least in the U.S., Fi seems to be the most common and socially accepted way to handle emotions. ESFJ females, in particular, can feel misunderstood in a culture predominated by FP and TJ females.
The dominant position of their Fe also makes ESFJs a proactive and highly intentional type. ESFJs tend to take themselves, their lives, and their endeavors quite seriously. They are efficient and task-oriented, quickly moving from one thing to the next. To the casual onlooker, this may not always seem evident, since ESFJs spend much of their time engaging with people. But for ESFJs, their interactions with people are a substantive part of their life’s work. Even with communing with others, ESFJs often have an agenda—to help, teach, unite, etc.
ESFJs’ Auxiliary Function: Introverted Sensing (Si)
ESFJs use Introverted Sensing (Si) as their auxiliary function. Si contributes to ESFJs’ propensity to function as conservators of the past. The more often ESFJs do something in a particular way the harder it is for them to break out of that pattern. The same can be said for their beliefs and worldview. As adults, ESFJs often continue in the beliefs and worldview of their youth, including matters of politics and religion. The longer they are immersed in particular set of circumstances, the more difficult it can be for them to open themselves to alternatives.
ESFJs’ Tertiary Function: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Like Extraverted Sensing (Se), Extraverted Intuition (Ne) is a novelty-seeking function. Ne differs from Se, however, in that it is geared toward ideational rather than physical or sensory novelty. Ne types are more concerned with being creative, making connections, or exploring options than they are with experiencing sensory or material novelty.
Since Ne is in the lower half of ESFJs’ functional stack, they often have a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, they may fancy themselves clever, witty, creative, or savvy. This can be seen, for instance, in their desire to generate creative solutions or conjure clever comments. ESFJs may also employ their Ne in a variety arts and crafts or work to find creative ways of helping or teaching others.
The “hate” part of ESFJs’ relationship with their Ne can involve the way it injects uncertainty into their beliefs and worldview. ESFJs seek a firm and unambiguous worldview to base their lives on. And because abstract analysis is not their strong suit, wrestling with ideas that contradict their Si worldview can be unsettling.
ESFJs’ Inferior Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
For those unfamiliar with the workings and powerful influence of the inferior function, as well as various strategies for dealing with it, I encourage you to explore some of my posts on the inferior function.
Like other types, ESFJs can be readily blinded to the degree to which their inferior function impacts their decisions and behavior. Without sufficiently understanding their inferior function, Introverted Thinking (Ti), ESFJs will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unhealthy decision-making in their careers, lifestyle, and relationships.
As with INTPs and ISTPs, the overarching project of EFJ types can be seen as an attempt to forge a balance between their Ti and Fe, between independence (Ti) and interdependence (Fe), between self (Ti) and others (Fe). The difference is, for ITPs, Ti is far more conscious. They use their Ti to consciously create and maintain inner structure and order. While ITPs’ feel they have little control over others (Fe), their Ti confers a strong sense of inner control and self-regulation. It allows them to independently manage their thoughts and experiences so as to better cope with a world they see as outside their control. ITPs also use their own Ti powers of logic to discern what is true and reasonable.
Because Ti is inferior in their functional stack, ESFJs don’t enjoy the same degree of inner control that ITPs do (just as ITPs don’t experience the same sense of outer control as ESFJs). Nor do ESFJs experience the same confidence in wielding Ti logic. Just as feelings are slippery, elusive, and ephemeral for ITPs, so it is with logic for ESFJs. Despite its elusiveness, ESFJs remain forever captivated by and in pursuit of their Ti. They intuitively understand that Ti is somehow important in their quest for personal wholeness. Therefore, ESFJs can be seen as striving for a greater sense of inner control and logical competence (Ti), which may lead them to exhibit some of the same interests and self-conceptions as ITPs. They may, for instance, view themselves as highly logical, independent, and self-sufficient. They may extol the virtues of independent thought or laud the value of cognitively managing ones owns thoughts and feelings. They may also fancy themselves as highly self-aware or “self-taught.”
ESFJs may indulge their Ti by pouring over non-fiction books, trying to prop up their desire for logical understanding. Their Ti may even impel them to take up formal study in subjects like math, science, or computer programming. Some ESFJs may go so far as to consider themselves Introverts because of their desire for inner control or obsession with being logical. But just as other personality types misinterpret or overestimate the skills and know-how of their inferior function, so it is with ESFJs.
In truth, as Extraverts, ESFJs are far better at understanding and helping others (Fe) than they are themselves; they are more “other-aware” (Fe) than “self-aware” (Ti). Moreover, ESFJs are not nearly as logical or independent in their thinking as they might imagine themselves to be. Often uncertain of their Ti, ESFJs may try to convince themselves, even if unwittingly, of the veracity of their judgments through the act of convincing others. The more people they can convince that their idea is sound (Fe), the more confident they can feel in its logical veracity. But most people are not as convinced by the content of ESFJs’ Thinking judgments as they are by their persuasive Fe packaging. After all, it is primarily ESFJs’ Fe know-how that makes them effective teachers or salespersons.
Personal Growth for ESFJs
As I’ve described elsewhere, personal growth is more about utilizing our natural strengths and enhancing the conditions for functioning authentically according to our personality type than it is about directly developing or “improving” our inferior function. As we learn to function authentically, many of our inferior function related issues begin to take care of themselves.
In this vein, self-actualizing ESFJs can capitalize on their strengths of Fe and Si, while allowing their Ti concerns to resolve themselves. So rather than over-emphasizing their powers of logic and independence (Ti), ESFJs are better off allowing their self-identity to overlap with their relationships and social networks (Fe). Moreover, when it comes to self-help, ESFJs are wise to include others in the process (Fe) rather than attempting to manage their thoughts and emotions independently (Ti).
While the prospect of directly employing or identifying with their inferior Ti can at times be tempting, this does not represent a genuine path to wholeness for ESFJs. Foregoing this temptation requires trusting that their personal growth will occur primarily through regular use of their Fe and Si rather than trying to control Ti matters directly. By staying true to their most conscious and authentic selves (Fe and Si), ESFJs can move closer to an enduring sense of peace and wholeness.
For a more extensive look at each of the ESFJ’s personality preferences and functions, be sure to explore my eBook:
Famous/celebrity ESFJs: George Washington, Chris Christie, Michael Steele, Minnie Driver, Pat Flynn