By Dr. A.J. Drenth
“ESFP” is one of sixteen personality types. It is among the most commonly encountered personality types, especially among women, comprising upwards of 10% of the general population.
Like the ISFP, ESFPs are often considered physically attractive. Of course, this might be partly attributable to their extraverted personality, as well as their concern for keeping up their appearance. They are attuned to what is trendy and popular, willing to modify their appearance accordingly. Glitz, glamor, perfume, jewelry—all are a part of the ESFPs’ repertoire.
It’s not that ESFPs are necessarily pretentious or narcissistic about their appearance. Rather, because of their dominant function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), they seem to have a natural eye for beauty, style, and aesthetics. Their homes are often immaculate and tastefully adorned, as ESFPs love to ensconce themselves in beautiful and well-accoutered surroundings.
As much as anything else, ESFPs are disposed to seeking sensory, material, and experiential novelty (Se). This is part of the reason they enjoy keeping up with current trends and fashions. Their Se is hungry for new stimulation—new sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences.
Like the ESTP, ESFPs also display high levels of kinesthetic intelligence. They are often athletic and endowed with good dexterity and hand-eye coordination. In contrast to the ENFP, who exhibits a preponderance of mental energy, ESFPs can display great physical energy. ENFPs use their Ne to explore new ideas. ESFPs employ their senses to explore and manipulate the physical world (Se).
ESFPs can also make great performers. Their sense of style and presentation, combined with their kinesthetic capacities, allow them to excel as actors, vocalists, and the like. For similar reasons, ESFPs can make skilled marketers and salespersons.
ESFPs’ penchant for sensory and material novelties, as well as their knack for social “performance,” has at times earned them the label of “hedonist” or “life of the party.” While this may be true in some cases, especially early in their development, it only captures one aspect of the ESFP, namely, that of their dominant function (Se). What is often missed is the fact that many ESFPs present as intelligent, articulate, and composed. They use their tertiary function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), to express themselves in a measured and rational way.
ESFPs are generally adaptable and open to new experiences. Despite their status as Extraverts, they, like other SP types, are often more interested in “doing” or being otherwise entertained than they are in sitting around talking. While they can certainly be chatty at times, Se, by nature, is not a highly verbal function. ESFPs often express themselves through action rather than words, showing their love and thoughtfulness through gifts or acts of kindness.
ESFPs are often most verbally engaged when granted an opportunity to proffer advice. Rightly or not, they often see themselves as wise counselors. Because of their Ni function, they feel they can independently generate insights and answers for others’ problems. This is why ESFP-career seekers may gravitate to careers like counseling. Because Ni and Te make-up their subconscious ego, there may be nothing more ego-gratifying for ESFPs than giving advice. Wittingly or not, a common reason they maintain a wide social circle is because it provides them ample opportunity to advise others. ESFPs like having others turn to them for help and guidance, since it helps them feel valuable and important (it also gives their inferior Ni quite an ego boost). If they aren’t careful, however, ESFPs propensity to proffer unsolicited advice can be off-putting to others.
Because of the composed and measured presentation of Te, as well as their penchant for maintaining neat and tidy surroundings (even if largely for aesthetic reasons), ESFPs are commonly mistyped as ESFJs. In my experience, however, ESFPs are far more common than ESFJs are, at least in the U.S. As Si types, ESFJs are generally less stylish and image conscious than ESFPs are. And because ESFJs use Extraverted Feeling, they have a more natural sense of warmth and approachability.
While not to quite the same extent as ISFPs, ESFPs are lovers, nurturers, and caregivers. They love children and animals, whose relative helplessness makes them perfect recipients of ESFPs’ affection.
Although ESFPs can present as warm and inviting, this is best understood as an Se social performance rather than a natural expression of feeling. The natural direction of their Feeling is inward (i.e., Introverted Feeling (Fi)). Fi prompts ESFPs to manage their emotions on a largely independent basis. The sense of emotional independence conferred by Fi may also contribute to their confidence in advising others about how to manage their emotional concerns.
All in all, ESFPs are fun, active, attractive, and impressive. While generally fun-loving and easy-going (Se), they can also be assertive, controlling, and subtly manipulative. Like other personality types, their degree of psychological health depends on their degree of personal growth, including the way they go about reconciling their conscious and less conscious personality functions.
ESFP Personality Development & “Functional Stack”
Each personality type prefers to use four of the eight functions first described by Jung. These four functions comprise a type’s “functional stack.” The relative strength of preference for these four functions is expressed in the following manner: dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior. ESFPs’ first preference is Se, followed by Fi, Te and Ni respectively. This is depicted in the arrangement of their functional stack:
While we will soon discuss each function in greater depth, for now, we will turn to another feature of ESFPs’ personality—their type development. As is true for all types, ESFPs’ type development consists of three general phases. These phases roughly correspond to the ordering of the functional stack, with Se being the first function to blossom, Fi the second, on so on. But as we will see, the inferior function is sort of a special case, summoning ESFPs’ attention at an earlier phase than might otherwise be expected.
Phase I (Teens-20s)
This phase of development is characterized by the emergence of Extraverted Sensing (Se) as ESFPs’ dominant personality function. Phase I ESFPs are fun-loving and free-spirited. They enjoy being active and drinking in all the experiences life has to offer. Since their foremost concern is absorbing and experiencing the world, Phase I ESFPs tend not to take themselves or life itself too seriously.
Phase II (20s & 30s)
While the inferior function is not entirely dormant or inert in Phase I, the epic tug-of-war between the dominant and inferior does not come to the fore until Phase II. Once ESFPs’ dominant Se reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, their inferior function, Introverted Intuition (Ni), begins to assert itself and play a more significant role. This can be somewhat confusing since Ni is not next in line in ESFPs’ functional stack, but can be understood as deriving from its bipolar relationship with their dominant Se. Phase II ESFPs also show increasing use and development of their auxiliary function, Introverted Feeling (Fi), and may even begin to tap into their tertiary function, Extraverted Thinking (Te).
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
If all goes well and they are fortunate enough to enter Phase III, ESFPs become increasingly aware of the insidious ways of their inferior Ni. As they become more aware of their inferior and learn to function more healthily as ESFPs, they experience greater balance between their Se and Ni, as well as a long-awaited sense of peace and wholeness.
ESFPs’ Dominant Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
There are two varieties of Sensing: Introverted Sensing (Si) and Extraverted Sensing (Se). Si involves a strong attachment to past precedent—to the routine, familiar, and predictable. Not only does it seek to conserve past precedent, but it is also conservative with respect to the material world. Si types (SJs and NPs) are less apt to lather on make-up or concern themselves with current styles and fashions, opting for a more “natural,” simple, and less embellished appearance.
Se involves the perception of information through the five senses (i.e., sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste). It is sensual, instinctual, and appetitive. Compared to Si, it is more liberal and novelty-oriented with respect to sensations and the material world. Se types love novel sensations, physical thrills, and material comforts. They are “sensation-seekers,” relishing novel experiences and the thrill of action. Many enjoy cooking and experimenting with new recipes. Because Se is concerned with “here and now” experiences, it can also be associated with a present temporal orientation.
Se attunes to the concrete details and sense data. ESFPs naturally scan the environment for interesting sensory novelties, noticing details that other types might miss. This is why they often have a strong visual recall, or what is sometimes dubbed a “photographic” memory.
Like other SPs types, ESFPs enjoy an array of sports and other “hands-on” activities. They commonly take up work as chefs, cosmetologists, nurses, waitresses, physical/ occupational therapists, and the like.
ESFPs’ Auxiliary Function: Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Because ESFPs’ auxiliary function, Introverted Feeling (Fi), is one of inner Judging, they are more serious inwardly than they might appear outwardly. Their Fi grants them a good sense of inner control, independently managing and regulating their emotions.
Compared to Extraverted Feeling (Fe), Fi is more individualistic and idiosyncratic. Because Fi judgments are formed largely independently, Fi types can be a bit wary of Fe expressions. To FP types, Fe can seem generic, fake, or contrived. With that said, since ESFPs often use their Se to mimic Fe, they are apt to be less bothered by Fe expressions than IFPs might be.
Rightly or wrongly, Fi can also seem more emotionally “mature” than Fe. This Since ESFPs’ emotions are often repackaged and expressed via their tertiary Te, they can often come across as measured and rational; they may even be mistaken for Thinking types. Unlike Fe emotion, Fi emotion is not given an opportunity to “run rampant” in its outward expression–it is restrained. The same introverted property which provides such restraint is also responsible for its intensiveness. At times, that Fi intensity of emotion comes out through Te in the form of biting or sarcastic remarks, something ESFPs need to be wary of.
ESFPs’ Tertiary Function: Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Extraverted Thinking (Te) involves the outward expression of rational judgments. As we’ve seen, Te contributes to ESFPs’ ability to communicate in a measured and articulate fashion. Their Te is particularly active when proffering advice, at times leading them to seem preachy or condescending.
But because Te is in the bottom half of their functional stack, ESFPs are not always comfortable expressing their judgments, especially early in their development. This can lead them, along with other Perceiving types, to merely adapt rather than assert themselves. And since Perceivers are generally uncomfortable with direct conflict, they often mistake relational harmony for relational health, forgoing open communication in favor of preserving outer peace. So while ESFPs are generally more self-assertive than IPs are, those who fail to self-express via their Te can still find themselves in relational trouble because of inadequate communication.
Te can also inspire ESFPs to “be responsible,” follow the rules, or “do things by the book.” And because responsibility is culturally endorsed as a positive virtue, they may fail to realize that being obsessed with it is actually quite unhealthy for them. An overactive Te can contribute to an air of smugness and self-righteousness in ESFPs, detracting from their better virtues of openness (Se) and compassion (Fi).
ESFPs’ Inferior Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
As is true of other types, ESFPs 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, ESFPs will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unwise decision-making in their lifestyle, careers, and relationships. ESFPs seeking self-knowledge and personal growth must work to understand the ways their inferior function, Introverted Intuition (Ni), manifests in their personality.
For NJ types, Ni confers a depth of perception and insight. But because Ni is essentially unconscious and undeveloped in ESFPs, they do not enjoy the same degree of access or benefit from its workings. Nonetheless, for reasons I have described elsewhere, their inferior Ni remains highly attractive and alluring. For this reason, ESFPs often delude themselves into believing they are deeply insightful and entitled to function as sages or counselors.
While ESFPs’ auxiliary Fi does confer a healthy and genuine concern for friends and loved ones, this differs from the ego boost they receive from using their Ni and Te to proffer advice. In many ways, ESFPs can be understood as trying to validate their self-worth or achieve wholeness through counseling others. And while some ESFPs can seem impressive and convincing in doing so (especially at first blush), like other types, they are prone to overestimating their inferior’s capacities. The fact is that, as Se types, they are not wired to function as idea generators or advice givers. When ESFPs fancy themselves as Ni sages, they are being deceived, even if unknowingly, by their ego.
Similar to the Enneagram Two, as described by Riso and Hudson, ESFPs in the grip of their inferior Ni are prideful and self-righteous. They can be slow to see or admit their own personal failures or shortcomings, since this would threaten their self-image of being wise (Ni) and righteous (Te).
Their inferior Ni can also cause ESFPs to latch onto a particular theory, worldview, or plan for their lives. So instead of going with the flow and allowing life to come to them (Se), they try to control life (Te) to ensure it conforms to their Ni vision or ideals. This of course goes against their natural (and healthy) mode of functioning as ESPs. By going against the “natural order” for their type, they are susceptible to unwise decision-making in their careers and relationships.
Healthy functioning for ESFPs, as well as other personality types, involves the development and regular employment of their dominant and auxiliary functions. In truth, ESFPs best insights and decisions come from a breadth of lived experience (Se) and a compassionate outlook (Fi) rather than from indulging their Ni. Understanding this alone is a critical first step for ESFPs seeking enduring peace, wholeness, and life satisfaction.
For a more extensive look at each of the ESFP personality preferences and functions, be sure to explore our latest eBook, My True Type: Clarifying Your Personality Type, Preferences & Functions.
Famous / Celebrity ESFPs:
Heidi Klum, Ryan Seacrest, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Megyn Kelly, Kelly Clarkson