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 enumerated in my latest eBook, My True Type, 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. While they 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.
INTJs’ Auxiliary Function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
INTJs’ auxiliary function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), hails squarely from the left brain. The left brain is characteristically abstract, logical, analytical, and systematic. It takes the perceived world and breaks it down into parts. It then proceeds to name each part, describe its functions, and determine its relationship to other parts. Te functions to rationally understand the world, thereby making it more amenable to structuring, prediction, and control.
While INTJs’ Ni is anything but systematic, once an intuition has been uploaded into consciousness, their Te takes over and works to give it rational form, sort of like decompressing a computer file. This process can be painstaking, often taking longer than birthing the intuition itself. But in order for others to trust and get behind their ideas, INTJs must do their best to translate their intuitions into words or formulae.
In honing and shaping their intuitions, INTJs’ Te is highly systematic and methodical, even perfectionistic. They proceed carefully and slowly, always looking forward to foresee potential obstacles and contingencies. They work to incorporate facts, data, and other objective considerations.
Unlike FJs, INTJs are not as concerned with preserving social harmony. Te is characteristically impersonal, focused on objects and systems rather than subjective feelings. Through the impersonal and objectifying lens of Te, the world becomes a giant machine, a system of interrelated parts that functions according to the laws of cause and effect.
A Te-based approach also emphasizes quantification, including utilizing objective and measurable goals and standards. Never vague or ambiguous, it employs clear definitions, policies, plans, and procedures. It carefully spells out how to get from here to there, using as many maps, directions, and labels as appropriate. The modern world, characterized by a sprawling system of laws and bureaucracy, might be viewed as the offspring of an unchecked Te.
In the end, it is important to remember that INTJs, like ISTJs, are not Te-dominant types. Not only are they blessed with the ability to isolate and analyze specifics, but they can simultaneously maintain a clear vision of the whole system, including its hierarchical structure and the interrelationships of its constituent parts. Their proficiency with seeing both the big picture (Ni) and its specifics (Te) makes INTJs masters of strategy, systemic analysis and reform, and contingency planning. They are quintessential “systems thinkers.”
INTJs’ Tertiary Function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Introverted Feeling (Fi) is INTJs’ tertiary function. An important feature of Fi is its direction. Because it is introverted, onlookers are barred from accessing INTJs’ emotions. This is exacerbated by the fact that Fi falls lower in their functional stack, after their Te. Hence, rightly or not, INTJs can seem impersonal and insensitive to others’ feelings.
As INTJs become more aware of their Fi, they get better acquainted with their personal feelings and values. They discover that truth does not merely reside at the level of universals (Ni-Te) but also in the felt experience of the individual (Fi). This may inspire INTJs to dive deeper into the process of self-discovery. Frederich Nietzsche, often cast as an INTJ, was deeply concerned with self-discovery and self-actualization, exemplified in his famous dictum “Become who you are.”
It is not uncommon for INTJs to be largely career focused (Te) as young adults. But as they develop in their type, they may start to ask themselves if they are really doing what they want to be doing and how well it coheres with their values.
Fi may also inspire INTJs to work toward change and reform. Their Ni and Fi can work together to formulate a grand vision, while their Te specifies plans for implementation. Their drive for change and reform may find roots in any number of fields—from politics, to business, to education, and so on.
Lastly, less mature INTJs can be prone to taking things personally (as Fi types are wont to do). They may seem excessively sensitive, quick to overreact and defend themselves. With growth and maturity, however, INTJs become less defensive and less apt to take things personally.
INTJs’ Inferior Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
Like other types, INTJs 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, INTJs will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unwise decision-making in their careers, lifestyle, and relationships. As discussed on my INTJ careers page, INTJs may be enticed by their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), to pursue careers for which they are ill-suited. In order to avoid being subconsciously controlled by their inferior function, INTJs must work to understand the ways in which their inferior Se manifests in their personality.
Sensory Novelty & Material Security
Like INFJs, INTJs can display a curious thirst for sensory novelty, material comforts, and physical thrills (Se). They may drive expensive cars, purchase luxurious homes, or arrange for the exclusive accommodations when travelling. When caught in the grip of their inferior Se, even the most responsible INTJs can lose control. They may turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, extravagant vacations, or food to indulge their Se. They may also tend to struggle with subsistence-related fears. They may worry excessively about losing their jobs, being forced to relocate, or not having enough money. This S-N battle can also make decisions about careers and relationships more difficult for INTJs. They may struggle to choose between a career or partner that promises material security or novelty (Se) versus metaphysical (Ni) fulfillment.
Of all types, INTJs (and INFJs) are the most detached and disconnected from their own bodies. Not only is their S function inferior, but INTJs do not have Si in their functional stack, which is the function that contributes an internal sense of one’s body. In his book, Jung’s Four and Some Philosophers, Thomas King writes of the Introverted Intuitive: “his hands are alien to him and his body unfamiliar.”
Because of their detachment from their physicality, INTJs may have fears or nightmares regarding unforeseen declines in their health. Others may forget to eat regularly and appear undernourished, or they may overeat because of lack of attention to how much they are eating. To compensate for this mind-body disconnect, they may subject themselves to overly strict, even obsessive, regimens of diet and exercise.
All N dominants can be perfectionistic, driven to see their N ideals perfectly translated into S reality. This is no different for INTJs, who place the highest value on quality and accuracy in their work. Some INTJs may be willing to sacrifice everything, even their own health, to ensure their work is done perfectly, with no detail overlooked. Any deviation from their ideal is viewed as a desecration, an irreparable marring of their perfect ideal. It is therefore unsurprising that their perfectionism can be destructive if left unchecked.
Dealing with N-S Discrepancies
In attempt to temper their perfectionism, INTJs may focus primarily on identifying and articulating truth, while disinvolving themselves from its application. In typological terms, they try to emphasize N and diminish the importance of S. This may be why INTJs are common among academics, as the academy allows them to develop their theories more or less independently of their application.
Other INTJs may work to actualize their ideals while trying to content themselves with something less than perfection. This option, while frustrating to their penchant for perfectionism, may be somewhat more enticing to their Se, which pushes for a tangible end product. However, this brings about a new set of concerns. Namely, once an S outcome deviates from the N ideal, at what point is it no longer acceptable? INTJs may face this question in both their work and their relationships, forced to consider whether the outcome is acceptable or whether they should just cut their losses and start over.
What seems most important for individuating INTJs to recognize is that their primary job is to perceive and analyze, to provide a coherent and accurate explanation of a particular physical system or phenomenon. The implementation or application of that analysis is typically best left to other types. If INTJs can learn to focus primarily on the Ni-Te process, without getting tied up in controlling or micromanaging Se outcomes, they will be much better off.
For a more extensive look at each of the INTJ’s personality preferences and functions, check out my latest e-Book:
Famous INTJs/ Celebrities:
Stephen Hawking, John Nash, Al Gore, John Paul Sartre, Mary Poppins, Dr. House (television), Ayn Rand, Hillary Clinton, Monk (television), Daniel Quinn, Sherlock (television)
*INTJs may find some points of overlap with Enneagram Ones (1w9), Threes (3w4), or Fives (5w4, 5w6).