This post was written as part of our “Ask Elaine” series.
I have read a lot about the inferior functions of intuitive types, which has been awesome, but I would be very interested to read more about Extraverted Intuition (Ne) and Introverted Intuition (Ni) as inferior functions. I have some beginnings of theories, but it’s always so helpful to get feedback, and other perspectives and insights.
Thank you, Jenna, for your question! As with so many of these questions, I’m often attracted to inquiries that may cause me to bite off more than I can chew, so to speak. I’ll avoid the temptation to turn this post into something the length of an entire book and instead try and touch on the points or highlights.
Our relationship with the inferior function is fairly complex. Many people who denounce type theory as hogwash are influenced by their perception that how we expect people to act on a theoretical level (i.e. Intuitives should act as Intuitives, for example) is not always consistent with real-life behavior (or even how people would necessarily choose to describe themselves when asked!) What they don’t realize is that there is a rational explanation for this paradoxical behavior rooted in inferior function dynamics.
The same general properties of the inferior function will, of course, apply to those with inferior Ne and Ni, in the same way that they would apply to Se and Si (or any of the functions for that matter). General properties of being in the grip of the inferior function include attitudes of extremism, perfectionism, naïve or juvenile idealization, infatuation, obsessiveness, and heightened sensitivity, among others. At their worst, those in the grip can be easily angered or offended. At best, grip behavior may simply be excessive interest in inferior function related activities, not necessarily leading to destructive behavior. In all cases, however, the argument can be made that involving oneself in inferior function related activities in some way enhances and indulges the ego’s need to find balance through the development of the Self’s weakest link.
More often than not, when we describe how the inferior function manifests itself in day-to-day life, the tone is of a notably negative nature (that’s a fun one to say five times fast!) This is usually somewhat alarming to folks – particularly those who have not yet had a critical psychic “event,” or confrontation, with their inferior function – because the tendency we have is to unwittingly glorify and idealize the role of our inferior function in our lives (that is, until it causes some sort of problem for us – and at some point it usually does). I would encourage readers to please refrain from thinking that I am a pessimist or buzzkill, or that it’s simply my intention to demonize us all; it isn’t.
The reality is that touching on issues related to the inferior function cannot really be done without ruffling feathers. The inferior function is, by nature, sensitive. I know that there are readers who will get to the end of this article and feel that all I’ve done is tear down ISJ and ESP types. Please realize that there are plenty of articles on the blog spelling out the problematic aspects of the inferior function for ALL of the types. I respond here to ISJ and ESP types in particular because it was specifically requested. Further, I believe that honestly squaring with the parts of ourselves that we remain unconscious or oblivious to helps us grow. Psychologically, most of that material is stored in the unconscious, the direct link to which is the inferior function. The sensitivity of the inferior function has the power to bring out the worst in us, particularly when left untamed, thus conjuring the critical tone. But the inferior function is not fundamentally wicked or evil. If we can bring consciousness to our weaknesses, we lessen the grip that the ego has over us. Therefore, inferior function enlightenment has great potential for bringing about the positive. The realization of the inferior function represents wholeness in all of us, which is a perfectly healthy ideal to strive for; however, if this achieved through inauthentic means (i.e. “jumping” the function stack) rather than the more deliberative and slow-paced development from the top of the stack down, it can and does produce sinister results.
Inferior Extraverted Intuition (Ne) in ISTJs & ISFJs
Having prefaced the answer with some background to inferior function dynamics, I can turn now to the specifics involved in Ne and Ni inferior function behavior. For any of the Si (Introverted Sensing) dominants (ISFJ and ISTJ), Ne (Extraverted Intuition) represents the inferior function. The primary property of Ne involves a fascination with creating and exploring possibilities. In dominant Ne types it represents thinking “outside of the box”, generating and seeking out new ideas, methods, theories, or inventions. It often has a speculative nature, and can even be described as “mystical” in its approach to spirituality as Ne is apt to believe in the unseen (that which is not necessarily detected by the five senses) forces that operate from without. In dominant Ne types, these attributes generally manifest in an entrepreneurial “anything is possible” type of optimism and creativity. Additionally, Ne dominants tend to be philosophizers, exploring various lines of theoretical thought, even if (and sometimes especially if) it means questioning the status quo.
When Ne manifests in Si dominants, it tends to retain some of these same properties but in a restricted way. Unlike dominant Ne types, ISJ’s are usually not apt to engage in truly radical or risky thought/behavior. Their grip experiences and explorations into the realm of Ne are generally limited to ideas that don’t risk challenging their religious beliefs or core principles: they simply are not as open as dominant Ne types. A “risky” behavior for an ISJ may be whether to consider chocolate this time instead of the usual vanilla. Many Si types spend a great deal of leisure time playing games or working puzzles like crosswords, Sudoku, and Scrabble. These sorts of games allow Ne to utilize creative thought and seek out possibilities within the confines of a theoretically “safe” exploration. In most instances, this type of inferior function indulgence doesn’t produce negative consequences as it’s generally self-contained.
Another pastime of Si dominants is in the realm of crafting. I tend to think of craft and fabric stores as largely dominated by Si types. I had to muse recently over one description of an ISTJ mother whose son would dread the days he was dragged to the fabric store for hours of perusing endless aisles of fabrics (many of which looked the same but in slight variations of color or pattern). Getting an Si type to try something “new” can always be a crapshoot; depending on the perceived “riskiness” of the new activity and the openness at the time of inferior Ne to take on the unknown, an Si type may or may not be open to learning new games, or crafts, etc. More often, Si tends to latch on to one favored game (i.e. Sudoku) or one favored craft (i.e. quilting), but will proceed to work endless variations of the same basic theme. Friends and family, thus, may all end up with the same home-made teapot cozy but each in a different color or pattern.
Si craft projects done in the grip of Ne can sometimes take on a “hodgepodge” appearance – things that don’t necessarily go together may somehow end up adorning a shelf or display case. In an attempt to exercise Ne creativity, the Si type may piece together individual design elements that when taken on the whole (especially by Se) appear confused, incohesive, juvenile or even tacky. Outfit combinations may be “clashy” and mismatched. For those who are dominant Ne types (especially ENFPs), being “funky” or unique in their dress is often done in a hip, cutting-edge and trend-setting manner. When ISJ types attempt the same thing, however, the result is usually underwhelming however well-intentioned.
A darker side of Si types in the grip of inferior Ne is the propensity for gossip. Undifferentiated inferior Ne is prone to highly suspicious and speculative thinking which more often than not is way off base and can trend toward the negative. ISJs seeking inferior Ne kicks may get a certain high or buzz from making conjectures in the form of gossip (“Does she look pregnant to you?…” or “He’s always working late, you know what that probably means…” etc.) What’s unfortunate, however, is that more often than not these conjectures are erroneous. Since they lack the strength of N dominants, their inferences are often inaccurate. And on the rare occasion such a conjecture is right, they may use this as validation for future forecasting, perhaps even seeing themselves as “sleuthy.” I’ve even encountered some ISJs who are so locked into the grip that they are in what I would call a perpetual state of suspicion.
Inferior Introverted Intuition (Ni) in ESFPs & ESTPs
After discussing Ne, it may be somewhat clearer how Introverted Intuition (Ni) manifests as an inferior function. For either of the Se dominants (ESFP and ESTP), Ni represents the inferior function. In Ni-dominant types, Introverted Intuition is used to see the deeper meaning or underlying thread that explains Sensing phenomenon. Ni is convergent in nature, meaning it hones in on specific causality rather than seeing endless variations and possibilities like Ne does. In a single word, Ni could be summarized as “insightful” (what it is insightful about will vary depending on whether one is an INTJ or INFJ). ESP types seeking fulfillment of inferior Ni will thus be drawn to obtaining deep wisdom or knowledge.
I have most often seen this attraction to Ni wisdom or knowledge for ESP types manifesting in religious fervor. Religion offers, as best it can, theoretical answers to deeper questions about life’s meaning, purpose, and how we ought to live (all N realms). Regularly studying religious texts and hearing messages / sermons that reveal hidden truths about the human condition fulfills inferior Ni. The mainstay of any religious message is metaphor, and Se dominants in the grip of Ni love a metaphor. It seems less consequential that the metaphor is accurate; often, the mere use of one is enough to inspire a sentiment of conviction in an ESP. That’s because the use of metaphor (a staple of dominant Ni types) has the superficial illusion of Ni truth, even if it makes no rational sense.
ESPs not necessarily drawn to religion may find yet another draw in the realm of higher education. It’s not uncommon for ESPs to be drawn to post-graduate studies (and sometimes not until they are older), as the idea of becoming an “expert” in a particular field is of great attraction to inferior Ni. Since Ni represents a convergent or concentrated form of knowledge, ESPs are probably less apt to dabble around in various N interests, preferring to settle on one and then “master” it. Ever clever, the ego in the grip of Ni subconsciously knows that narrowing the scope of the subject to be mastered is a more attainable goal than having a depth of knowledge across a broader field. For Ni dominants, the scope of insight (however deep) is generally broader than it is for ESPs in the grip of Ni.
Being a passive recipient of Ni wisdom is often not satisfying enough on its own for ESPs. In trying to find a balance between the inferior function’s desire for inner wisdom and their authentic Extraverted nature, ESPs usually feel compelled to share or show-off the knowledge they have attained. As such, ESPs can be compelled to enter into career fields where providing advice is a regular requirement of the job: counseling psychology (I’ve seen numerous ESFPs enter this field), financial advising (ESTPs), law, etc. Like Ni dominants in the grip of Se being drawn to mastering technical trades (culinary arts, painting, construction, sports, etc.), Se types in the grip of Ni will feel compelled to be advisors, experts, and teachers.
Since ESPs lack the ability to pull up subconscious material (i.e., Ni insight) autonomously, they are usually forced to rely on others’ insights, which they readily devour and attempt to repackage as their own. Such counterfeiting is generally transparent to N types who may be inclined to accuse them of posturing. And of all the types, ESPs are probably the mostly likely to utilize platitudes. ESPs not simply parroting what they’ve picked up from N types will primarily rely on their personal experiences (Se) and observations for insight. But even knowledge or insight that emerges independently may seem superficial and unoriginal, however well-intentioned. Again, I say “well-intentioned” because ESPs (in a projection of their own inferior Ni) often find advice to be helpful to them, therefore they assume that their advice will be helpful to others. Unfortunately, ESPs can be oblivious to the perceived flatness of their wisdom, genuinely believing that they have something perspicacious to offer; therefore, they may continue to solicit others with their advice and insight, even when it’s unwanted.
The less attractive side of this propensity is that it can create an attitude of arrogance and overconfidence. An ESTP financial advisor, for example, may be unwilling to admit that his lack of foresight or wisdom caused him to make bad investment choices leading to financial ruin for his clients. Of course, pride and egoism is par for the course for ANY of the types caught in the grip of the inferior function. Admitting weakness in these areas is often just too painful for us to consider. I only note that ESPs in particular can be afflicted with the rather unflattering quality of acting like “know-it-alls” and may be unlikely admit when their lack of insight fostered negative results.
I would like to conclude by reiterating what I said in the introductory paragraphs: all types have respective weaknesses and these weaknesses are rooted in the less-conscious inferior function. In our quest for wholeness and individuation it is natural that we seek to strengthen and fulfill our inferior function ideals. This quest, however, becomes a slippery slope when we let our egos get attached to our inferior function, essentially uprooting the dominant function as the seat of authority in favor of its paradoxical opposite.
The Inferior Function: An Overlooked (But Potent) Personality Factor