Carl Jung named each of his personality types according to its dominant function. What we now would refer to as an INJ type, for instance, Jung referred to as the Introverted Intuition (Ni) type. Jung of course had good reasons for doing so. For one, he saw the dominant function as the most conscious and well-developed of all the functions; even the auxiliary function, in his view, was typically far less consciously accessible. Jung did believe, however, that the non-dominant functions could to some extent be developed in order to round out and assist the dominant function.
In order to serve as an effective sidekick, Jung claimed that the non-dominant function would likely be of the opposite attitude, that is, opposite in its introverted (I) – extraverted (E) direction. Because the dominant function of extraverted types is by definition extraverted in its direction, extraverts, according to Jung, require the services of an introverted helper function (and vice-versa for introverted types). We now know from the work of Myers-Briggs and others that this helper function can be found in one of two places, namely, in either the auxiliary or inferior position of the function stack. Both the auxiliary and the inferior function will be of the opposite I-E direction as the dominant function. This holds true for all types. Let’s consider the ENFP and INTP types as examples:
ENFP Function Stack
Dominant: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Auxiliary: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Tertiary: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Inferior: Introverted Sensing (Si)
* * *
INTP Function Stack
Dominant: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Auxiliary: Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Tertiary: Introverted Sensing (Si)
Inferior: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
In examining the function stacks of these two types, you’ll notice a consistent oscillation between their E and I functions. This arrangement provides the necessary balance and complementarity between neighboring functions in the function stack.
A Suitable Sidekick: The Auxiliary vs. Inferior Function
Having now reviewed the basic architecture of the function stack, we can now consider whether the dominant is better off partnering with the auxiliary versus the inferior function. Or, in light of the fact that the ultimate goal of individuation is to develop and integrate ALL the functions in the function stack, we might instead ask ourselves which of these two functions should be the chief priority or first step in the journey toward type development.
In my book, The 16 Personality Types, I suggest that the four functions are, generally speaking, developed sequentially from the top of the function stack downward. There is, however, one notorious exception to this rule—the inferior function.
Because the inferior stands as the dichotomous opposite of the dominant, it carries an undeniable and often irresistible appeal. This stems in part from the sense that mastering the inferior function would represent a psychospiritual achievement of the highest order, as the inferior is in many respects the last and greatest hurdle in the individuation process. This is why so many of us partake in what Elaine Schallock has dubbed “jumping the (functional) stack,” in which we forgo the sequential development of the auxiliary and, subsequently, the tertiary function in favor of directly tackling the inferior function.
The problem with jumping the stack, as Elaine and I have discussed elsewhere, is the dominant and inferior are separated by a vast psychological chasm in terms of both consciousness and maturity. Namely, the dominant is the MOST conscious and developed of the four functions, or what we might think of as the “mature adult,” while the inferior is the LEAST conscious and mature—“the child.” Thus, allowing the childish inferior function to take the psychological reins is a questionable enterprise at best, one which can ignite a host of problems associated with what Naomi Quenk calls being “in the grip” of the inferior function.
The chief alternative to jumping the stack is the routine employment and development of the auxiliary function. Not only is the auxiliary more consciously available and naturally skilled than the inferior function, but it also complements the dominant function in the J-P domain. If the dominant is a judging function (e.g., Ti), for instance, the auxiliary will be a perceiving function (e.g., Ne). In complementing the dominant in both the I-E and J-P realms, the auxiliary is in many respects the perfect sidekick for the dominant. By contrast, the dominant and inferior functions are always either both J functions (e.g., Ti-Fe) or both P functions (e.g., Ne-Si), as can be seen in the function stacks outlined above.
I like to think of the auxiliary as a bridge function, one that connects the dominant function with the lower half of the function stack (e.g., the tertiary and inferior functions). While it may lack some of the romantic allure and sparkle of the inferior function, it represents a more sustainable path to the expansion and integration of one’s type. In most cases, attempting to integrate the dominant and inferior functions without the aid of the auxiliary creates an “either-or” or “tug-of-war” situation rather than a symbiotic one. Again, this is because the psychological gulf is too great without having first bridged the two by way of the auxiliary (and tertiary) function.
The Role of the Functions in Typing & Type Differences
One important upshot here is those who have yet to explore and develop their auxiliary function may find it harder to accurately identify their type. For instance, while an INJ may feel confident about her status as an N type, she may struggle to identify her auxiliary function and thus her status as an INTJ versus an INFJ.
Second, the presentation of individuals disposed to jumping the stack vis-à-vis those who routinely employ their auxiliary function can be striking. Individuals of the same personality type exhibiting stark differences of presentation are sometimes described in terms of “subtypes.” I have personally known a few INTJs, for instance, who exhibited relatively little development of their auxiliary function, Extraverted Thinking (Te). Spending the lion’s share of their time engrossed in perception by way of their dominant Ni or inferior Se function, their outer presentation can almost resemble that of P types, i.e., displaying far less outward rationality (i.e., Te) than we would typically expect from an INTJ. Such INTJs can even seem hedonistic in their fascination with video games, television, comic strips, etc., as well as in their over-indulgence in food, drink, or other sensory pleasures. Those with a more developed auxiliary Te, by contrast, tend to take life a little more seriously, are more conscientious, and are more heavily invested in their work. Again, the underlying type is the same in both cases, but when different functions are being emphasized the outward presentation can be glaringly different.
Of course, selecting the auxiliary versus the inferior function is not always a free or conscious choice, but may be influenced by a host of factors—unconscious, environmental, and otherwise. Nevertheless, the overarching goal of type development remains the same: to develop and integrate all four functions in a healthy and sustainable fashion. And as long as the inferior function is routinely granted undue power and attention, the benefits of the auxiliary as a bridge function are likely to remain unrealized and the personality more polarized.
Learn more about the type theory and type development in our books:
My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions
The 16 Personality Types: Profiles, Theory & Type Development
The Auxiliary Function: A Key to Growth, Identity & Life Purpose
The Inferior Function: An Underestimated (But Potent) Personality Factor
Mark E says
My inferior function holds no romatic allure; it’s a complete nightmare. As far as I know it’s Extraverted Thinking. I make harsh judgments, gross generalizations, and get bogged down in minor details when trying to think something through. And it’s compulsive as well, once it starts it takes me over completely and sometimes I only see what’s going on after it’s finished. I am very much ‘in the grip’ as the phrase goes.
I think my auxilary would be Se or Ne. I would prefer it to be Se, as that’s quite enjoyable if I can make myself do it. Ne can be a nightmare too, as I feel compelled to explore possibilities and my mind gets no rest.
I don’t know if I buy into Myers-Briggs really, but Jung’s functions seem to make some sense to me, especially the dominant/inferior pair. It’s one of those things that I can easily obsess about, so prefer to try not to think about it very much!
J stevens says
This article resonates with me. My mother and I are both ENFPs but it is rare that anyone would suggest we are similar. My mother met my father, an ISFJ, at 14 and they were married when she was 18. For nearly forty years he paid all the bills, grocery shopped, budgeted, planned and did well all the “adulting”. Dad passed away six years ago and that is when I realised how lost mum was without him. She had spent her whole life in perceiving mode and when things got hard instead of expressing herself via Fi-Te she would retreat and say and do nothing – including essential Te-type tasks like bills and housework – and play sudoku, video games, etc.
I am very different. I am highly imaginative and have trouble focusing, but I am also highly intentional about things that align with my values. I decided at a very young age I wanted an easier life than my parents (a mechanic and a factory worker) for me and my future family and determined not to repeat past mistakes, completed two degrees, including a doctorate. My house is clean, my affairs in order and I have zero problems expressing myself, values and feelings (Fi) through Te.
My mother always had everyone ‘judge’ for her. She went from her fathers house, to being married and quickly got a new partner when dad died. She was also the youngest child. I spent a number of years living alone before I married I’m also the eldest of three.
I would be really interested to hear how birth order impacts type development as I think this is a major factor at play.
I really love your articles. I find them well-thought over and intelligent, which is so wonderful compared to all the stuff on the internet designed to make money because it’s an entertaining read. I only wish I could support you financially, but I’m struggling myself and reference your work whenever I can (I’m hoping to buy all your books once I’ve saved up enough, but it may be a while as I’m going for paperback and they’re going to be shipped to Australia :D).
I don’t know how viable my article request (below) is or not, but I thought I might request it anyway. If enough people show interest it might be something worth writing.
I would love an article exploring the how to apply personality typology to others in day-to-day life, or what perspective to approach it from. I find it fantastic in terms of personal development (namely the in-depth descriptions of functional stack development found here), and it has held true in my experience of what types of people typically tend to communicate or get along with other types best (i.e INFJ – INTP friendships being common).
However, I know Jung writes that even if you’ve read theoretical books a foot thick you need to put them away in practice and deal with each patient as an individual. This is true, yet it also isn’t. If it were entirely true one wouldn’t read the books in the first place, and as I’ve said above I’ve found much accuracy in communication styles between types and consistent behaviour patterns.
But at the same time, people are individuals. I’ve found people don’t like being classed into a box of introvert or extrovert (as mentioned above) or even “MBTI,” despite its accuracy. And it’s not entirely accurate because 16 types of behaviour can’t capture the diversity of the 9 billion different people who are alive today. I’ve found the best way to look at it is as each type as a “family” rather than the individuals themselves, but I would love to know what either of your thoughts / perspectives on the matter are :)