By Dr. A.J. Drenth
We all recognize, at least on an intuitive or experiential level, the importance of both our dominant and inferior function. The problem is that, especially early in life, these two functions can seem irreconcilable. Their aims and approaches seem too disparate for any sort of meaningful or lasting integration. Invariably, this begets a love-hate or indulgent-avoidant relationship with our inferior function.
We indulge the inferior function when we try to satisfy it apart from the dominant function. An INTP, for instance, might temporarily forsake his dominant function, Introverted Thinking (Ti), by becoming infatuated with someone he has hardly even spoken to (Fe). While indulging the inferior function can generate incredible highs, we eventually learn that such highs are unsustainable and incapable of producing lasting satisfaction. We discover that indulging the inferior function creates a bipolar existence, one characterized by extreme highs and extreme lows.
While indulging the inferior function is not a desirable long-term solution, neither is ignoring or avoiding it. INFJs know, for instance, that their inferior Se is a fundamental part of who they are, one that cannot merely be explained or imagined away. The inferior function is elemental to our sense of drive and motivation. It’s like a magnet that pulls us forward in life. It is therefore critical that we work to understand the process of reconciling our dominant and inferior function.
Integrating the Inferior Function
The first key point to recognize is that integrating the inferior function is rarely easy or obvious. INTPs, for instance, should not be naive enough to believe that getting married will somehow resolve their inferior function (Fe) issues. Nor will making an effort to spend more time engaging with people (although this may provide temporary relief). Even INTPs who have managed to develop relatively good people skills may be far from reconciling their Ti and Fe. This is because integration is a far more subtle process than trying to directly engage or develop the inferior function.
The solution to the dominant-inferior debacle tends to emerge more subtly and gradually. Instead of developing and engaging the dominant and inferior on a separate basis, it involves an integration of the inferior function through the dominant (as well as through the other functions in the functional stack). This means that Se for an integrating INTJ will look quite different than it does for an ESP (see my post on Ni & Se in INJs vs ESPs for more on this).
For many people, the path to integration remains unclear until the second half of life. Thus, we might view the first half of life as a period of learning and preparation, often characterized by a process of trial-and-error. This is also when the love-hate relationship with the inferior function finds its peak.
In the second half of life, we begin to get a clearer picture of what integration might look like. We come to realize that it looks quite different than what we initially envisioned, having little to do with overt use of or attention to our inferior function.
While the specifics of this process varies among types (as well as, to some extent, among individuals of the same type), we can nonetheless discern a general pattern for successful integration. Namely, the move toward integration requires regular use and development of the dominant function. Ideally, this would involve the choice of work, lifestyle, and relationships that support and nourish its development. If this fails to occur in the first half of life, remedial work will be required in the second half of life, which for some, rightly or not, can feel like too little too late.
Development of the dominant function (and to some degree the auxiliary and tertiary) opens our eyes to how the inferior function might be successfully integrated. Interestingly, as it goes about its development, the dominant function commonly draws on information acquired by or generated from the inferior function. T types, for instance, often develop their T largely by analyzing F matters. In the same way, F types often apply their F to T matters (the same pattern can be seen in S and N types). Because the inferior (and/or tertiary function) plays a role in orienting our interests, goals, and motivations, we can see a preliminary relationship between the dominant and inferior existing early in life. And this is precisely why it is so easy to be deceived or get tripped up by the inferior function. We instinctively know it is important, even to the point of pursuing it passionately, but if we go about satisfying it in the wrong way, we inevitably pay a price.
So even though an N-dominant may find herself curiously passionate about S things, she must recognize that her most authentic path to S is through her N. While her raw material may be largely comprised of S perceptions (which are often unconscious), successful integration requires that her conscious energies be devoted to N perception. The idea is for her to eventually effect S change through her N, rather than trying to develop and utilize her S directly. The process of successful integration for the various personality types can be generally summed as follows:
Again, let’s use INTPs for a more specific example. The ultimate goal for INTPs, according to their functional stack, might be understood as developing their inner Thinking judgments (Ti) for the sake of eventually effecting Fe change. Ideally, Fe change for INTPs would not be focused on helping others in a hands-on way or trying to motivate them by engaging their emotions; such would be the work of EFJs. Instead, INTPs would be better to use their Ti and Ne to explore, explain, and organize concepts to further our understanding of the human condition and human relations (Fe); it is here where INTPs will find the elusive bridge between their Ti and Fe. So while others may surmise that INTPs are playing with ideas for its own sake, they are actually doing so in hopes of eventually contributing to the betterment of humanity; there is a J agenda behind their philosophizing. Without the hope of an eventual Fe application, playing with concepts can actually feel quite meaningless for INTPs, leaving them feeling mired an isolated, solipsistic existence. This again serves to illustrate that we cannot merely ignore and write off the inferior function, since it supplies much of the motivation for us to use and develop the other functions in our stack.