Like the INFJ, the INTJ personality type is among the rarest of the sixteen types, thought to comprise only 2-3% of the population. More often than not, INTJs carry a Y-chromosome, outnumbering INTJ females at a clip of four to one.
With Introverted Intuition (Ni) as their dominant function, INTJs’ signature strength is deep perception. This of course cannot be divorced from their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), which subconsciously amasses sensory information from the environment. This stream of sensory data provides the raw material for their Ni to form its “impressions” and theories. Much of this process occurs rather passively and subconsciously, allowing INTJs to know things without a full realization of how they know them. This is one of the inherent challenges of intuitive knowing, being able to translate what can often be an amorphous intuition or image into a more rational, communicable form.
As Ni dominants, INTJs are naturally attuned to “the big picture.” They can’t help but see how everything is interconnected. They are born theorists, concerned with explicating the underlying connections and cause-effect relationships of the physical world (Se/Te). This is why the world’s greatest mathematicians and physicists (e.g., Stephen Hawking) are often INTJs.
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Since their dominant function is a Perceiving function, INTJs often present as passive, even somewhat phlegmatic. More proactive types, such as ENTJs, might even deem them somewhat lazy or apathetic. But calling INTJs (or INFJs) lazy is to miss the point of what it means to be a Perceiver. Since INTJs’ first and foremost job is to Perceive rather than Judge or act, functioning in a passive mode of perception is actually their most authentic form of “work,” work that can ultimately be of great benefit to society. After all, the reason that INTJs’ theories are often superior is because, as Perceivers, they do not force things. They patiently allow their Intuition to do its work until it is finally time to translate it a la their auxiliary Te. This is one way they differ significantly from NP types (including INTPs), who can seem more impulsive, random, and arbitrary in their theorizing.
As Te types, INTJs generally display little as far as variability of emotion or expression. Exuding an air of learnedness and erudition, they may sometimes be perceived as intellectual snobs or elitists (similar to how INFJs can seem like cultural or artistic snobs). Perceptions of arrogance or aloofness notwithstanding, their status as intellectuals is typically well-founded. Not only do INTJs sport the highest collective IQ of all types, but they are almost always well-informed, displaying broad-ranging knowledge and incredible memories. As Te types, they are undeterred from directly and firmly (or some would say, “bluntly”) expressing their viewpoints. Similar to ENTJs, onlookers can be taken aback by their directness, viewing them as opinionated, dogmatic, or closed-minded.
INTJs can also be surprisingly talkative, especially once their Ni gets rolling. Like INFJs, they can talk at great length (and depth) on topics that interest them. This is one reason INTJs often like lecturing and college teaching. And while not the most dynamic or energetic of orators, INTJs enjoy wit and relaying stories or illustrations from pop culture. This can help to “humanize” them in the eyes of their listeners, even if their delivery remains a bit dry and monotonal. Since INTJs express themselves a la Te, it can be easy for others to miss this “lighter side” of the INTJ. Many would be surprised that INTJs are characteristically light, even playful, far less serious inwardly than might be inferred from their outward presentation.
INTJ Personality Type Development & Functional Stack
INTJs’ functional stack is composed of the following functions:
Dominant: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Auxiliary: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Tertiary: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Inferior: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
The personality type development of INTJs can be broadly conceived according to three phases:
Phase I (Early Childhood)
Early in life, INTJs are characterized by the development and dominance of their Introverted Intuition (Ni). As Introverts, they may also show significant development of their second function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), which can serve as a helpful extraverted tool for navigating the outside world. The Ni-Te function pair allows INTJs to make and express judgments.
Since Ni is a perceiving function, it would be spurious to classify INTJs as closed-minded at any point in their development. But during Phase I, at least when viewed from without, they may seem rigid, stubborn, opinionated, or closed-minded. Even if their judgments are presciently accurate, they may, at this stage, lack some discernment regarding if, when, and how it is best to express those judgments. Moreover, their Ni-Te conclusions are not yet being honed and tempered by their tertiary Fi, making the INTJ more reluctant to review or revise them.
Phase II (Adolescence-30s)
Once the dominant function reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, INTJs’ inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), enters the picture and begins to play a more influential role. This can be confusing because the inferior is not next in line for development in the functional stack. The inferior’s undue influence derives from its bipolar relationship with the dominant function. As I have described elsewhere, the inferior function is the primary culprit in unwise career and relational decision-making. Unfortunately, its influence peaks in Phase II, which happens to be the same time INTJs are making life-altering decisions about their careers and relationships.
In addition to the increasing presence and influence of their inferior Se, INTJs’ also experience a refinement of their Te judgments as they become more open to the personal feelings and values associated with their tertiary function, Introverted Feeling (Fi).
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
Phase III, a phase which many individuals never reach or complete, is characterized by an attempt to understand and integrate the tertiary and inferior functions. By bringing greater awareness to these less conscious functions into the light of consciousness, we can better envision our path toward wholeness. Doing so requires understanding the nature of how these functions manifest within our type, including the ways they can be grandiose, selfish, defensive, and destructive. It also requires becoming more aware of our personal patterns of unconscious behavior, including ways we have avoided, indulged, or crutched our inferior function. Once these patterns have been laid bare, they can be supplanted with new and healthier thoughts and behaviors.
INTJs’ Dominant Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
As suggested in our earlier section on Judging and Perceiving, in order to understand INTJs (or other IJ types), we must recognize the full implications of their dominant function being a Perceiving function. In short, I suggest that INTJs are best understood as predominant Perceivers and display many characteristics of EPs, only that these are manifested inwardly rather than outwardly.
While INTJs can certainly function as rational thinkers a la their auxiliary Te, their first preference is to process matters in less rational ways through Ni. In its popular connotation, intuition is understood as an unconscious way of knowing, or what Malcolm Gladwell has called, “thinking without thinking.” It is therefore interesting to consider that, for dominant Intuitives like INTJs, intuition is considered their most conscious function.
While intuition is more conscious for INTJs than it is for other types, it is important to remember that Ni is a Perceiving function. So although INTJs may have readier access to its workings and products, there is still a sense in which they don’t control it. When we start talking about control, we move into the domain of the Judging functions. What INTJs can control is their level of exposure to the problems they want their Ni to solve, as well as the sort of raw material that feeds into their Ni. The more they are exposed to or immersed in a certain topic, the more their insight will deepen. So it’s not that INTJs can be totally hands-off, content to merely sit back and allow Ni to immediately solve everything for them. Rather, INTJs who function optimally find the right balance between allowing their Ni to do its thing and consciously participating with it. We might think of this as a process of mutual informing and enrichment between the conscious and unconscious mind.
Because INTJs can be profoundly insightful and prescient, Ni can almost seem magical to the outsider. While not discounting the impressiveness of INJ insights, the workings of Ni can be rationally understood. Namely, INTJs’ inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), unconsciously gathers copious amounts of sensory information from the outside world. Ni then processes the data in order to make sense of it, like assembling pieces of a puzzle. Eventually, an “impression” is formed about what is happening. Since outsiders are only be privy to the end result of this process, as delivered through INTJs’ auxiliary Te, they typically don’t understand the process by which the insight was formed, making it seem more magical than it really is.
It is often said that human beings rely more heavily on vision than any of our other senses. This seems particularly true of INJs, who often report a strong visual element associated with their Ni. Many INTJs report thinking by way of images more than words. Their intuitions may emerge in the form of symbols, images, dreams, or patterns. This is consistent with Jung’s characterization of the Ni type as the dreamer or seer. There is a distinct visual character to these notions, which is why vision-related terms—foresight, insight, seer, visionary, etc.—are invariably used in describing INJs. The visual nature of Ni might also tie into their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), which is also a visual function. The difference is that Se is attuned to the specifics and details of the environment, whereas Ni is more concerned with forming an impression or theory of what is happening based on the totality of incoming sensory information.
Visual processing also seems advantageous for the reconciliation of opposites, which seems to be a specialty of Ni. Verbal processing can be understood as a largely left-brained affair. In order to name or otherwise describe things in words, we must extract whatever we hope to describe from its surrounding context. This discrimination is what the left brain does. While undoubtedly useful, language in many ways relies on our ability to keep things separate and distinct. This can make it difficult to find solutions to certain problems, especially those in which two ideas or concepts seem contradictory. The nice thing about visual processing is it doesn’t have the same rules or impediments as verbal processing. In some cases, problems can be solved through the use of images or symbols that seemed intransigent to logical solutions. The work of Einstein is a good example of the merits of non-verbal problem-solving. Indeed, one reason why INTJs can be such formidable theorists is they can approach problems through the non-rational ways of Ni, as well as the more rational approach of Te. They can capitalize on the strengths of both the left and right brain, of both words and images. Jung is a classic example of such a thinker.
(This Personality Junkie post is continued on the next page.)