I know we’ve talked a bit about cognitive functions, especially in regards to the INTJ. But I want to share an old post I wrote for my now defunct blog The INTJ Way because I had fun examining my personal relationship to each of the cognitive functions. Keep in mind that this applies to me personally and may not apply to you, even if you are an INTJ. However, it should still be a useful look into one type’s relationship to their cognitive functions.
And yes, of course, the cognitive function stack model is a model, not an actual, literal description of how our personality manifests in perfect order. At times some people’s tertiary function can appear to play a stronger role than their auxiliary, or maybe their “7th function” is one they have quite a competent grasp on. That being said, the function stack theory is a reasonable framework from which to build our understanding of MBTI, so it’s one I get quite a bit of use from.
Now, onto my relationship to the INTJ function stack!
Ni, for me, is like the FTL drive in Battlestar Galactica. You punch in a number of coordinates (I refer to them as “data points”) and jump to a new location. This may appear to others as the Ni-user’s mind jumping in and out of space, but really, there is a pattern and a structure to it. Ni is fed information through one’s experiences and then manufactures that information into insightful directions or conclusions.
When I was first learning about the cognitive functions, I was so lost by descriptions of Ni. I’d read descriptions of Ti and think, well, I think a lot…I’m analytical, I rake over ideas and thoughts and things….so I clearly must be an introverted thinker, right? The thing is, if you are an Ni-user, you are consciously thinking. You’re mulling, you’re analyzing, you’re comparing and contrasting, you’re understanding, you’re pairing and defining and structuring ideas in your head. You’re thinking, a lot. But what Ni is doing is taking all those little pieces in your head and connecting the dots almost behind the scenes. Whereas Ne looks to pair two things together to see how they could make a new thing, Ni runs in the background and makes those connections almost subconsciously. Your mind is full of thoughts but what comes out as intuitive insight is just your Ni putting two and two together. With enough coordinates, you can travel anywhere. With enough data points, you can see into any future. Ni-users see patterns and can access those patterns very quickly. When they have lived long enough to see those patterns play out again and again, they get very good at sensing the next step with exceeding accuracy.
Te is what motivates action in the real world. It’s the part of me that calculates time down to the second, the part that manages the exact amount of time I have to accomplish a certain number of goals, the part that keeps an itemized list in my head for which actions to complete in which order, the part that makes me effective and goal-oriented. I rarely let a ball drop, I rarely forget a task or an appointment. I’m very good at how much types of management. I’d say logistics is a strength of mine due to Te and the role it plays in my personality. I know exactly how many ingredients I have to make a certain recipe a certain number of times, or how much I can use the toilet paper roll before I can expect to replace it, or how many trips I can take a certain distance before I have to get gas. I know what goals I have and how to accomplish them.
However, Te is my auxiliary function and as such it can be draining to rely on Te too much or find myself in a position where I have to rely on it solely without the chance to retreat to my inner world, which I much prefer. I am perfectly happy to let others take over and plan or structure things if they want. I’m absolutely capable of doing it myself and will do so if it needs to be done, but I never mind being left alone to do my own thing. I also don’t care for managing people or delegating tasks to them. I prefer to be accountable for my own work load, and I prefer to just get things done myself if I can.
As a strong introvert, my access to Fi is not particularly undeveloped for an INTJ. Fi is a user-first function, which means we filter value and meaning through our own perspective first rather than the perspective of others. This makes Fi-users very independent, and also a little selfish at times. The lower in the function stack Fi falls, the more callous the person tends to seem towards the emotions of others. Even Fi-doms can be a little self-absorbed and me first, so imagine how this looks in a tertiary Fi-user.
I have a set of values and principles which guide me, and these can be very strong. I’m also aware of my own inner world and whether I feel at peace there. I don’t always understand my emotions and I have trouble sorting them, defining them, or feeling them, but if something is off emotionally I’m aware of it. I use my personal feelings as a compass for understanding others’ feelings and fall flat when my own emotional experiences provide no context to understand someone else’s.
As a tertiary Fi-user, my intuitive function comes first. That means that context matters more to me than values in most situations. I can say that murder is wrong, but give me the right context and I’ll see it differently. If your values differ from mine, philosophically I can appreciate your perspective (provided it’s a good one) even if you don’t share my values. Fi takes more of a live and let live approach and this is certainly true of me. That isn’t to say I don’t have my rationality-bypass issues; we all do. But even then, I seek to understand the motivations for my reactions and values rather than accept the feeling at face value.
I am not frequently moved by emotional things that happen to other people. I care, but the care is purely “cognitive empathy” and rarely the affective kind. I can’t feel other people’s emotions. Other people being upset do not make me feel upset.
I’m motivated by good ideas and solid arguments, not emotional manipulation. I’m motivated by necessity or effectiveness, not sob stories. I’m more motivated by resource management than people. But if you hit that Fi-berserk button, watch the fuck out. If I see unfairness or someone getting hurt when they shouldn’t be, I will lose my detached and philosophical perspective and Se will take over.
Se, for INxJs, is that function that takes us out of our minds and into the present moment. It is incredibly challenging for us. It’s what makes us quick and adaptive and in the present. It makes those of us who constantly think and analyze stumble.
Se is standing on a skateboard and knowing exactly how to shift your weight to hit each turn and jump, to stay upright, to dodge obstacles. Se is letting your mind go and being fully in your body. Because that’s so difficult for me, I don’t do very well in situations that require this kind of focus. My mind wanders too much. I’m that idiot in the outfield staring at the sky waiting for a baseball to knock me unconscious. (For the record, yes, I was literally picked last for the team in P.E.)
When I’m in situations that require my full attention on the physical for long periods of time I get drained quickly. Se is my inferior function for a reason, so when I do use it I engage in repetitive, stimulating physical actions (like rubbing my hands or skin picking) or I hyper-focus on some part of my body or internal sensation I’m feeling. I don’t really overindulge in food or drink but I might get sucked into a sensation like standing in water so hot my skin turns red. Suffice it to say, the only physical stimuli I like are consistent ones so that my mind can be free to wander. I’m not a good “in the moment” responder.
I’ll be honest. Ne drives me crazy. I feel like Ne leads off into irrelevant tangents and pulls away from the goal at hand, whether that goal be understanding, agreement, or getting something done. I like examining ideas and considering new angles, but only if I can see a purpose for doing so. I don’t have much patience for Ne at all.
It can be pretty funny when I’m paired with Ne-users who like to open up many angles and consider different possibilities. I get frustrated quickly when it seems like I’m trying to stitch an idea together and they are trying to rip out all the seams. However, both Ne and Ni types are enthusiastic about ideas and can talk for hours without running out of things to say, so I’m never disappointed by this function in others for long.
The more I studied cognitive functions, the less I understood about Ti. Descriptions of Ti sound a lot like how I think, but Ti in practice shows a certain exactness that drives me crazy. Ti-users tend to want to get to specifics whereas I want to get to the whole. They stop me to quibble on a point when I feel the overall point should be implied from context. “I know what you meant” is something I say far more often than Ti-users in a situation where something wasn’t communicated precisely or eloquently. I don’t need every single coordinate along the way; I just need enough points to punch in where I’m going and I’m there. And that, I think, is the key difference between Ni and Ti (for those of you engaged in the Am I an INTP or an INTJ battle).
Yikes. This one has to be the worst function for me, second to Se. It catches me off-guard every time and I never know what to do with it. I’ve had the lucky grace to spend most of my life with TPs, FPs, and TJs to escape Fe almost entirely. Fe-users do not much like me, and if they do like me, they don’t like me for long. I just cannot get it together in terms of what they want, need, and expect from other people. It makes no sense. And they are always disappointed with me. I’ve never met an Fe-user I didn’t disappoint.
The problem is that Fe-users have special signals set up to gauge what they are receiving from others. But remember my Fi from earlier? Since it doesn’t occur to me to ask for much, it doesn’t occur to me to give much, either, in the emotional and social departments. And while Fe will give you the shirt off its back, you better believe there’s a tab and Fe is keeping score. That sounds like I’m trying to portray Fe unfairly, but the truth is that Fe is being socially efficient and socially aware, much like how Te utilizes checks and balances with logistics. You need someone to be able to measure how successful a social endeavor is, or a relationship. That person just isn’t going to be me.
For an INTJ, my Si isn’t weak. If I feel off, I’m very aware. I know right away when something is wrong with my internal sensations. I know right away when something I am eating or drinking tastes different than it has in the past. I know instantly when an article of clothing has a new hole or stain, or something is on my body that wasn’t before. But this may be a little deceptive, since INTJs value consistency and security. Because our sensing function is so weak, we may be hyper-aware of sensations that could be threatening in order to compensate. Whereas Si-doms take comfort in creating a precedent and following through on traditions and trusted experiences, INxJs are more motivated in this area by insecurity and anxiety. I’m too sucked into my own mind; I don’t want to have to think about new sensations. And if I liked a certain food a certain way, I am going to be pissed if it’s not what I expect.
All that being said, I don’t have the best memory and I don’t have much of a mind for facts of the past, like history or family stories. I get bored by that and want to look to the future, to ideas, to the abstract.
I told you at the beginning that this was my personal relationship to each of the cognitive functions in the INTJ function stack, so if you are an INTJ (or any other type), your results will most certainly vary. I share this not to pigeonhole anyone into behaving a certain way because it’s how “all INTJs do it” but to get you thinking about your relationship to your own cognitive function stack. Again, your relationship to each of the functions may be weaker or stronger than what the function stack model tells you (not to mention the fact that there’s some debate about the proper stack order in the first place). Some INTJs actually work to develop their Se and have a pretty good relationship with it, while others have made their peace with Ne or Fe in a way that I haven’t. Our relationships to each of the cognitive functions shift and develop over time, as they should.
I wrote this when I was still exploring my MBTI type, and even though my understanding of self has developed since then, I still thought it’d be valuable to share. Especially if you are struggling to understand the difference between your Ni and Ti or trying to decide between two similar types.
For fun, try writing out your relationship to each of the cognitive functions if you think you aren’t sure about your type. Once you really look at how they manifest in you and how you relate to them, you might settle on a better fit type.