By A.J. Drenth
Not all INFJs (nor those of any other type for that matter) are alike. While it is true that all INFJs use the same four functions (Ni, Fe, Ti, Se), the degree to which they employ each function can vary widely and produce striking intra-type differences. These differences can also be described in terms of “subtypes,” suggesting that each personality type carries the potential for a variety of presentations.
Understanding intra-type variations is valuable for a couple reasons. First and foremost, it can help us avoid type confusion and more readily zero-in our true personality type. If we restrict ourselves to a singular image of a given type, individuals who deviate from that image will be automatically and erroneously excluded. This can leave people feeling that they don’t have a clear type because their understanding of the types was too narrow or monolithic.
Second, it is important to distinguish between type variations and type development. Namely, we must recognize that some type variations are more mature, developed, and healthy than others. Familiarizing ourselves with the healthy versus unhealthy manifestations of the types can furnish insight for personal growth and development.
In this post, we will focus on a presentation commonly seen in all types, which occurs when individuals “jump the (functional) stack.” As depicted in the image below, jumping the stack involves a sort of leapfrogging between the dominant and inferior functions, as well as a relative neglect of the auxiliary and tertiary functions. As discussed in my book, The 16 Personality Types, this process is driven by the allure of the inferior function, which in a manner similar to crash diets and “get rich quick” schemes, promises a quick but ultimately unreliable route to type development.
Individuals who routinely jump the stack will present differently from those who show more consistent use and integration of all four functions. Much like crash dieters, stack jumpers are more apt to experience extreme highs and lows as they toggle between the disparate worlds of the dominant and inferior functions.
“Jumping” between Intuition & Sensing (IJs & EPs)
The INFJ, INTJ, ENFP, and ENTP types use intuition (N), in either its introverted (Ni) or extraverted (Ne) form, as their dominant function. These types are at home with abstract ideation, including the discernment of patterns and connections that fall outside the bounds of concrete perception (S). But because neither life nor the psyche is one-dimensional, these types must also learn to employ and develop their other functions. As pointed to in my recent post, Two Paths to Type Development, the most enticing alternative to the dominant is not the function we might expect—the auxiliary function—but the inferior function.
Directly engaging the inferior function by way of stack jumping is typically well-characterized as indulgent behavior. For INJs and ENPs, this indulgence is sensory (S) in nature, which often involves binging on sensory pleasures such as food or alcohol. I’ve known a number of INJs in particular who have described the experience of savoring fine food and wine in almost spiritual terms; the world of sensation is a fascinating new world for otherworldly intuitives.
Unfortunately, when these types are employing only their N and S functions, they exhibit a notable lack of temperance and moderation, virtues provided largely by the judging functions (i.e., the T and F functions). Bypassing their auxiliary and tertiary judging functions can also make these types extremely unproductive. They may spend all day lost in perception only to realize they’ve got little to nothing accomplished. INJs and ENPs who are more integrated, however, do a better job balancing their perceiving proclivities with a healthy dose of J moderation and intentionality.
Much of what I just said about INJs and ENPs also applies to ISJs and ESPs, who also utilize perceiving (i.e., S / N) functions as their dominant and inferior functions. The difference is that spending substantial time engrossed in N perception is generally healthier and more sustainable for N types than it is for S types. But because of the allure and ego-gratification associated with the inferior function, ISJs and ESPs are often drawn to N indulgences, including assuming N leadership roles (e.g., pundits, politicians, pastors, counselors, etc.). Indeed, the world of N can be just as magical for S types as the world of S pleasures for N dominants.
“Jumping” between Thinking & Feeling (IPs & EJs)
Being that IPs (INTP, INFP, ISTP, ISFP) and EJs (ENTJ, ENFJ, ESTJ, ESFJ) lead with a judging function (Ti or Fi for IPs, Te or Fe for EJs), unbridled perceiving, or what some might call laziness, is typically not an issue for these types. As outlined in my book, My True Type, IPs and EJs are inclined to take life more seriously and approach it with greater intentionality. Extensive perceiving can leave these types feeling restless and poised to resume their preferred mode of actively shaping or ordering their inner or outer world. Despite the intentionality of their approach, there is still a sense in which jumping the stack remains an indulgent and ultimately unhealthy practice for these types.
IFPs who jump the stack oscillate between inwardly exploring their feelings and values (Fi) and attempting to find or create order in the outside world (Te). When indulging their inferior Te, IFPs may avidly work to organize their living space, gain control over their finances, create “to-do lists,” look for ways to advance their careers, or immerse themselves in T subjects (e.g., math, science). In short, they aim to gain control over or achieve competence in T matters. This is readily witnessed in the living spaces of ISFPs, which tend to be extremely orderly and organized, perhaps more so than any other type.
As I discussed in my recent post, Career-Family Conflict in INFP, ISFP, ENTJ & ESTJ Types, both IFPs and ETJs use Fi and Te, only they do so in the opposite order. They thus deal with similar sorts of conflicts and challenges, such as how to reconcile the challenges of career and family. ETJs are naturally geared to focus on their work and careers, even to the point of workaholism. However, this tendency is counterbalanced by their inferior Fi, which beckons them to explore their feelings / values and invest time and energy in their loved ones.
For ITPs and EFJs, the dominant-inferior dynamic is one of independence and self-reliance (Ti) versus connecting and working with others (Fe). As Ti-dominants, ITPs are vigilant in protecting their alone time so that they can pursue their own projects and interests. At the same time, they rely on others for support, affirmation, and inspiration, making complete social isolation unthinkable. This situation is reversed for EFJs. While EFJs’ dominant orientation (Fe) is interpersonal in nature, they are simultaneously compelled toward greater independence and self-reliance (Ti).
Taken together, IPs and EJs who routinely jump the stack will spend less time engaged in P activities such as play, relaxation, and perception. Instead, the lion’s share of their efforts is devoted to managing themselves (Fi /Ti), their work (T), their physical environment (Te), and/or their relationships (F). Because of their penchant for control, they tend to be more high-strung than types who lead with a perceiving function.
Jumping the stack is a less developed and less optimal approach to utilizing one’s personality functions. Those who routinely jump the stack tend to be more unstable and imbalanced as they oscillate between the extremes of the dominant and inferior function.
In order to become more whole balanced, IJs and EPs must work to develop and integrate their judging functions, while IPs and EJs must aim to spend more time in perception. Instead of leapfrogging between the dominant and inferior functions, all the personality types must be willing to move through the middle portion of the functional stack and develop what I call the “bridge functions” (i.e., the auxiliary and tertiary). Only by bridging the dominant and inferior functions in this manner can true integration be achieved.