Some of us are enigmas. Sometimes we aren’t sure what MBTI type we fall under. Even when getting deep in our personal analysis and exploring everything we can about the theory, we can still get torn on where we see ourselves. Worse is what happens when we find neat little stereotypes and ideal presentations of the cognitive function stack, which only makes things more confusing because we don’t always see reality represented there.
So, let’s say you score reasonably high on I, N, and J, but find yourself middling on your T/F preference strength. It’s not an uncommon situation. It could be that you feel you are too logical and structured to fit the NF profile, or that you are too emotionally aware and in touch to fit the NT profile. In a sense, both INTJ and INFJ profiles fit and don’t fit at the same time. How can we address this?
Let’s take a look at an example of what might be happening when someone is relating heavily to their tertiary function, causing a skew in terms of the typical balance of personality traits according to the cognitive function stack theory. When, say, an INTJ is able to connect with their emotions and personal values readily, they can find themselves drawing more heavily from their tertiary function, Fi. This may look unusual according to stereotypes of what INTJs look like. What’s really going on?
The “Fi-heavy INTJ”
Let’s start off by saying that it is rare for someone to score 100% on any personality dimension in real life. You may prefer Thinking, but this doesn’t mean you don’t possess any Feeling preferences. For instance, I would consider myself a tactful person rather than a blunt person in social situations. This is because I find bluntness to be aggressive, and aggressiveness can inspire further aggressiveness and therefore danger. If I inspire a bar fight by being an asshole I’m definitely not going to win. Perhaps this is strategy on my part, but preferring tact over bluntness is still a Feeling preference.
In Step II of MBTI, these personality dimensions are measured via several facets and it is entirely likely that one may score a few facets on one side and a few on the other. Most people would consider me tender over tough, which is one of the Feeling over Thinking facets. But in the end, I prefer more Thinking facets than Feeling facets, which makes me a person who scores higher on Thinking than Feeling.
So let’s get back to the INTJ. In cognitive function stack theory, the typical INTJ looks like this:
You have all functions here going in descending order from most utilized to least utilized, but this person has a relatively healthy balance that will shift over time as they develop the lower functions. Generally, however strong your preference for one function is, the opposing function will have the same degree of weakness. The stronger your Ni is, the weaker your Se will be and so on.
Sometimes you’ll see INTJs who look like this, and these are the ones who earn all the stereotypes:
These people are very heavy on the auxiliary Te and command it so well you’d think they might be ENTJs. (Hint: if your “auxiliary” Te is stronger than your Ni, you are an ENTJ.) And their Fi is correspondingly weak. These people aren’t exactly balanced, nor are they representative of all INTJs who, in real life, have varying degrees of preference for each of the dimensions INTJs share. But they aren’t uncommon either, and tend to be the voice for the INTJ presence you see online. These are the people who identify with neither their feeling nor their sensing functions and thus make the mistake of assuming INTJs do not have feeling or sensing functions.
But sometimes, you’ll get something that looks like this:
When this happens, it is because the person in question is so strongly introverted they have developed their introverted functions far more than their extroverted functions. Fi ends up being stronger than Te even though it’s supposed to be in the tertiary position. And it is still your tertiary function, because your auxiliary function has to be the opposite attitude of your dominate. No one is truly an “Ni, Fi, Te, Se” type, per se. It’s more that your personality is looping in the back towards your introverted functions (or looping in the front if you are an extrovert, thus skipping the inner introverted functions).
If you remember that the attitude of a function shows whether the function is inward facing (introverted) or outward facing (extroverted), you may begin to see what’s going on here. This is common in those whose preferred attitude is so strong that they forgo the healthy development of their auxiliary function in favor of the dominate and tertiary, which share their preferred attitude. You see this referred to as the “Ni-Fi loop” sometimes, but in this case I’m referring to an entire personality that is developed by favoring these functions. A healthy INTJ needs to develop their Te. The auxiliary function is what makes a person able to adapt to the attitude they do not prefer which makes them a more well-rounded and functional person. But sometimes, things happen to get in the way of this. A.J. Drenth of Personality Junkie touches on this a bit:
INTJs who were abused, mistreated, or whose Fi was otherwise deeply affected may also develop strong interests in F matters, especially understanding their own personal past. They may spend significant time trying to analyze their childhood, trying to make sense of what happened and understand who they are as individuals (Fi).
In my personal case, I remember the exact moment my tertiary Fi came into full awareness. It was around 12, and my particular caretakers at the time were the type to settle everything, and I mean everything, in screaming matches. As a kid caught in the middle, I started to wonder about the discrepancy between reality and what all these adults were telling me. That experience made me realize that I was never going to let anyone tell me who or what I was, that I was going to get to the bottom of who my “real self” was before anyone else did so they couldn’t use “facts” about me that I was unaware of as weapons. Thus, my Fi awareness was born.
Would I look like a different INTJ if I hadn’t undergone emotional, mental, and verbal abuse as a child? Probably. I’d probably be a lot more confident. I’d be more comfortable with Te instead of always second-guessing myself or retreating to my introverted world. But that experience led me on a quest of self-development and I am thankful for that.
The point is, there are a lot of ways an INTJ can be or look. There’s no one central INTJ identity (besides having a preference for introversion, intuition, thinking, and judging). That’s going to look slightly different for everyone. Maybe you’re a person who doesn’t have a strong preference for Feeling or Thinking. That’s why we study the cognitive functions when learning about the dichotomies of personality preferences. Keep digging and see what fits you best.
If you are a person who feels you may be an Fi-heavy INTJ (or tertiary-heavy type of any sort), here are some articles for further reading:
Just remember that the path to personal development doesn’t always happen in a straight line. Theories are neat, real life is messy.