Type Dynamics: Functions in Myers Briggs Personality Type
If you've been reading about the MBTI and Myers Briggs personality type, you may have come across discussions of functions. Often notated as Te, Si, Ne, and so on, the functions describe our basic mental processes. How we organize and prioritize these mental processes affects how we make decisions, solve problems, manage conflict, and approach the world.
Each of us has four basic mental functions:
- Sensing: we take in factual information about the world around us.
- Intuition: we draw conclusions and make assumptions about the world around us.
- Thinking: we analyze the situation based on objective logic.
- Feeling: we evaluate the situation based on our values and emotions.
Although we all share these four basic functions, you may have noticed that some sound more familiar and comfortable to you. That's because, depending on your personality type, the order in which you use the functions is different. Your favorite or dominant function is the one that drives your personality. Your dominant function depends on your personality type; you can look up the dominant function of your own type in our personality type profiles. Here, we'll use the type INTJ as an example.
INTJs have Intuition as their dominant function. This means that their preferred way of thinking is to search for meaning, connection, and possibilities. Dominant Intuitives are big-picture thinkers who care less about the facts than how they fit together; they focus on creating ideas.
Because the dominant function is your most preferred mental process, it is used in your preferred world: the external world (for Extroverts) or the internal world (for Introverts). Thus, the dominant function can be either extroverted or introverted, depending on the individual's E/I preference. This is the reason for the notation of Te, Si, etc. The capital letter denotes the function, where the small letter indicates where the function is directed.
Because INTJs prefer Introversion, their dominant function of Intuition is applied to their internal world (this would be noted as Ni). Their search for connections, meaning, and possibilities takes place inside their own minds, in a self-directed and often solitary manner. Types with Introverted Intuition as their dominant function have a rich inner life and can spend a great deal of time in their own minds, imagining possibilities and creating ideas.
Your second-favorite function is called the auxiliary function. This function provides balance and direction for your dominant function. It is used in the opposite world from your dominant function, so if you're an Introvert, your dominant function is directed to your inner world, while your auxiliary function is directed outward.
INTJs' auxiliary function is Extroverted Thinking (Te). When approaching the world around them, they analyze objective data, principles of cause and effect, and logical consequences. Because this is their Extroverted function--the one they apply to the outside world--this is the function that other people see most. INTJs communicate with others in terms of logic, reason, and analysis.
The third function in your hierarchy is called the tertiary function. This function is less developed and is often unreliable--sometimes it offers useful insights and contributions, and other times it just confuses things. The tertiary function is more difficult for us to access in making decisions, and often we must put in practiced effort to use it effectively. This function is not assigned an Extroverted/Introverted designation. It may be expressed in either world.
For the INTJ, the tertiary function is Feeling. Because Feeling is not well developed for INTJs, they are often not aware of their emotions and may ignore them altogether. Situations with high emotional content provoke anxiety, and the INTJ will typically try to fall back on the preferred functions of Intuition and Thinking to deal with them rather than accessing the more difficult Feeling function. However, if INTJs make the effort to develop their Feeling function, they will find it adds depth to their experiences and balance to their decisions.
The last function in the hierarchy is the inferior function: the least developed process and the one that we have the most difficulty applying. Situations that demand we use this function are challenging and often confusing for us, like trying to speak another language or eating with chopsticks for the first time. This function, like the auxiliary function, is directed to our less-preferred world: Introverts have extroverted inferior functions, and vice versa.
For INTJs, the inferior function is Extroverted Sensing. The most difficult thing for an INTJ is to notice the details and realities of the world around him or her. Because Sensing is inferior, INTJs are not tuned into their surroundings, and may appear oblivious. They may also neglect to consider the practicalities of their ideas.
Before you despair about your inferior function, keep in mind that type theory allows for development over time. Your dominant and auxiliary functions are developed in your teens and twenties; early in life, you learn how to use the mental processes that come naturally to you. As you move through adulthood, you begin to develop your tertiary function into a more reliable and accessible process. Later in life, you will find yourself starting to access your inferior function and discovering how to use it as well.
If you find yourself taking up a hobby that presents a new way of thinking or a unique challenge, it is likely part of your type development. For instance, dominant Intuitives sometimes take up hands-on, sensory pursuits like cooking or gardening when they start to develop their Sensing side. Dominant Thinkers who are developing their Feeling function may volunteer, become more active in spiritual pursuits, or become interested in expressionist art.
Challenging yourself with an activity that forces you to think in a new and different way is a fantastic way to open your mind to new ways of thinking, and to develop yourself into a more well-rounded person. According to psychologist Carl Jung, the originator of type theory, we all have a natural drive to develop ourselves. More importantly, we each possess the innate ability to become balanced and effective people.