By Dr. A.J. Drenth
The ISFP personality type is one of sixteen types. ISFPs comprise about 8-9% of the general population, making them one of the more commonly encountered types.
ISFPs are lovers, nurturers, and caregivers. They experience great joy from spending time and making memories with their friends and loved ones. Like the INFP, they have a particular fondness for children and animals, as their dominant function, Introverted Feeling (Fi), is drawn to those incapable of helping themselves.
ISFPs form deep emotional attachments to their loved ones, contributing to a strong sense of loyalty and devotion. ISFPs are generally less focused on the well-being of the masses (a concern of Fe and/or Intuitive types) than they are with applying their Fi in more local and concrete ways.
Both INFPs and ISFPs are sensitive to injustices and dehumanization (Fi). While perceived injustices may motivate INFPs to write poetry or novels (Fi-Ne), ISFPs are more apt to respond with action and hands-on aid (Se). An ISFP friend of mine, for instance, works in inner-city Berkeley providing food and other goods to the homeless.
Like the ESFP, ISFPs often display a high concern for, as well as good taste in, fashion and aesthetics. They are often physically attractive, well manicured, and enjoy keeping up their appearance. INFPs, by contrast, are often well-described as “earthy” and are far less concerned with enhancing, embellishing, or carefully attending to their physical presentation. Therefore, ISFPs and INFPs can often be distinguished rather quickly by mere observation of their physical presentation.
Like the ISTP, ISFPs commonly display impressive kinesthetic intelligence. They are often athletic and endowed with good dexterity and hand-eye coordination. In contrast to INFPs, who exhibit high levels of mental energy, ISFPs possess more physical energy and stamina. While INFPs use their Ne to explore and manufacture new ideas, ISFPs employ their hands, body, and other senses to explore and manipulate the physical world (Se).
Like other IP types, ISFPs are quite independent and self-motivated. Their sense of values (Fi), as well as their desire to excel performance-wise (Se), can motivate them to diligently and seriously apply themselves. However, because of their preference for hands-on activities, some may underperform in academic settings. As is true of other Sensing types, being forced to deal in abstractions for too long can be draining for ISFPs.
ISFPs often seem more optimistic and easily satisfied with life than INFPs. INFPs frequently have a depressive or melancholic bent, struggling to make it in a world that seems indifferent to the “impractical” (N) gifts they have to offer. ISFPs, by contrast, seem to more easily assimilate themselves to conventional careers and lifestyles.
ISFP Personality Development & “Functional Stack”
As is true for all the types, ISFPs’ functional stack is composed of four functions:
ISFPs’ personality type development can be broadly conceived as consisting of three phases:
Phase I (Youth-20s)
This phase of development is characterized by the emergence of Introverted Feeling (Fi) as ISFPs’ dominant personality function. Phase I ISFPs are quick to make Fi judgments, even if keeping most of their opinions and sentiments to themselves. ISFPs are also prone to viewing things in terms of black and white in this phase of their type development.
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 ISFPs’ dominant Fi reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, their inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), begins to assert itself and play a more significant role. This can be somewhat confusing since Te is not next in line in ISFPs’ functional stack, but can be understood as deriving from its bipolar relationship with their dominant Fi.
Phase II ISFPs also show increasing use and development of their auxiliary function, Extraverted Sensing (Se). Their Se compels them to seek out new sensations, interests, and experiences. As a Perceiving function, it also facilitates an opening of their Fi judgments to see if they pass the test of lived experience. Phase II ISFPs may also begin to tap into their tertiary function, Introverted Intuition (Ni). Ni can subconsciously assist ISFPs in piecing together their Se experiences into a clearer and more coherent worldview.
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
If all goes well and they are fortunate enough to enter Phase III, ISFPs become increasingly aware of the insidious ways of their inferior Te. As they become more aware of their inferior and learn to function more authentically as ISFPs, they can experience greater balance between their Fi and Te, as well as a long-awaited sense of peace and wholeness.
ISFPs’ Dominant Function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
ISFPs’ dominant function is Introverted Feeling (Fi). Compared with Extraverted Feeling (Fe), Fi is more intensive, individualized, and idiosyncratic. Since Fi judgments are formed independent of collective sentiments, ISFPs may be wary of Fe judgments and expressions, which, from an Fi perspective, may seem generic, fake, or contrived.
Rightly or not, Fi is commonly perceived as more emotionally “mature” than Fe. For ISFPs, as well as other FP types, emotions are not readily expressed or dramatized. Instead, they are typically managed internally or repackaged and expressed via Extraverted Thinking (Te). Consequently, ISFPs are outwardly measured and rational in their presentation; outsiders may even mistake them for Thinking types.
The same introverted property which provides emotional restraint is also responsible for the depth and intensity of Fi. At times, one might glimpse such intensity of emotion passing through ISFPs’ Te in the form of biting or caustic remarks.
Since Fi is a Judging function, it is characteristically more serious than it is light and playful. It is therefore unsurprising that ISFPs often take themselves and their lives quite seriously. In this respect, they differ from ESFPs, whose dominant function (Se) is more fun-loving and excitement-seeking. While both types utilize Se and Fi, ESFPs’ are primarily geared to absorb, experience, and respond to the world (Se), whereas ISFPs are more intentional in their approach. Finding it difficult to relax and do nothing, ISFPs excel at constantly busying themselves with tasks and other matters.
ISFPs’ Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
Extraverted Sensing (Se) serves as ISFPs’ auxiliary function. It attunes to concrete sensory details of the external world by way of the five senses (i.e., sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste). Se types can often be found scanning the environment for interesting sensory novelties, noticing details other types might miss. They often display a strong visual recall, or what is sometimes dubbed a “photographic” memory.
Se differs from Ne in that it is not a highly verbal function. While INFPs enjoy discussing ideas, ISFPs often prefer to be “doing” something. While INFPs love playing with words or abstractions, ISFPs may get swept up in sports, performance, cooking, etc. Despite these abstract versus concrete differences, both ISFPs and INFPs are commonly considered “artistic.” Unlike IJs, who outwardly express Judging (Fe or Te), IPs extravert their Perceiving function (Se or Ne). This can lead IPs to appear more creative or artistic. With regard to creative expression, INFPs are inclined toward writing or poetry, while ISFPs are often better suited for painting, sculpting, or various types of performance.
Especially in F types, Se contributes to a strong concern for taste, aesthetics, and fashion. As mentioned earlier, ISFPs are more concerned with their appearance and more liberal users of make-up or other embellishments than INFPs (who use Si) tend to be. Not only is Se associated with taste, but because it is extraverted, it gravitates toward popular tastes and fashions. This creates an interesting dynamic in ISFPs. On the one hand, their Fi is highly individualized, concerned with making its own value judgments and developing its own tastes. On the other hand, their Se encourages them to notice what everyone else is doing and to follow suit. Because Fi is dominant, however, we would expect it to win out most of the time.
The Fi-Se combination may also inspire ISFPs to develop refined tastes for food or drink. Many enjoy cooking, wine tasting, and sampling new cuisines and restaurants. Contrast this with INFPs, whose Ne-Si combination inspires a more basic diet, often centered on organic or whole foods.
Se can also be associated with broad interests in sports or other “hands-on” activities. It may compel ISFPs to take up work as chefs, artisans, dancers, musicians, physical and occupational therapists, and the like.
ISFPs’ Tertiary Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Like ISTPs, ISFPs use Introverted Intuition (Ni) as their tertiary function, which may lead them to develop some degree of interest in abstract or theoretical topics. After all, Ni and Fi are the two introverted functions employed by INTJs, who are among the most theoretically-minded of all types. However, because ISFPs’ Ni is tertiary rather than dominant, it is far less accessible for conscious intuitive perception. So like other SP types, ISFPs gain most of their insights through lived experience rather than through bursts of intuitive knowing.
ISFPs’ Inferior Function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
As is true of other types, ISFPs can be easily blinded to the degree to which their inferior function impacts their decisions and behavior. Without sufficient awareness and integration of their inferior, ISFPs will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unwise decision-making in their careers and relationships. Therefore, ISFPs must work to understand the ways in which their inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), manifests in their personality.
For both ISFPs and INFPs, the Fi-Te function pair involves a tension between individuality and subjectivity (Fi), on the one hand, and standardized ways of doing things (Te), on the other. Consciously, ISFPs tend to emphasize the former, championing the unique values and preferences of the individual (Fi). Unconsciously, however, they are drawn to “objective” truths and more standardized ways of doing things (Te).
Since all Introverts’ inferior function is extraverted in direction, it is sensitive to externalities. For ISFPs, their inferior Te is attuned to the structure of external systems, systems that are inextricably linked with Fi-related concerns such as hunger, homelessness, or other injustices. This is one of the chief ways their Te works with their Fi. Their Te draws conclusions about external circumstances and their Fi provides the subjective response to those Te judgments. The world relies on ISFPs (and INFPs) to use this Te-Fi process to identify potential injustices and to ensure that the individual (Fi) doesn’t get lost in the system (Te).
ISFPs’ Te can also contribute a desire to organize the immediate environment. Like INFPs, ISFPs can derive a great deal of guilty pleasure from ordering and organizing, giving their Te the sense of external control it desires.
Te may also inspire ISFPs to “follow the rules” and “be responsible.” ISFPs who regularly indulge their Te may be so bent on being pious or responsible that they fail to spend time sufficient time exploring and experiencing life (Se). And because responsibility is culturally endorsed as a positive virtue, they may fail to realize that being obsessed with it is actually quite unhealthy for them, forfeiting their openness to new experiences and potentially some degree of compassion (Fi). In the grip of Te, ISFPs can become rigid, particular, and dogmatic, appearing more like ESTJs than ISFPs.
ISFPs feel they have little control over the outside world. Like other IPs, ISFPs they are known for their lack of assertiveness and conflict avoidance. This is partly due to their Fi’s desire to avoid hurting others’ feelings. It also relates to the fact that being “assertive” involves extraverted Judging, which for ISFPs, is in the inferior position (Te). So when it comes to expressing their judgments, they often avoid doing so directly. Instead, they may simply swallow the judgment and try to deal with its attendant feelings by way of their Fi. Or, they may address the issue more obliquely through action (Se). Like other P-types, ISFPs can be disposed to expressing their grievances through passive-aggressive behavior.
For ISFPs, personal growth requires regular employment of their dominant Fi and auxiliary Se. It involves avoiding obsessing over Te responsibilities and, instead, building a life based on care and empathy (Fi), as well as a breadth of activities (Se). Those who do so successfully are more open, flexible, and balanced, capable of avoiding the traps and pitfalls of the inferior function.
For a more extensive look at each of the ISFP’s personality preferences and functions, be sure to explore my latest eBook:
Famous/celebrity ISFPs: Rihanna, Ben Carson, Justin Timberlake
This ISFP description may also resonate with Enneagram Twos (2w1, 2w3), Fours (4w3, 4w5), Sixes (6w5, 6w7), or Nines (9w8, 9w1).