Used the right way, Myers-Briggs can be a powerful tool for growth and success — especially for HSPs. Here’s how to put it to use.
As a highly sensitive person, you probably feel keenly aware of the many stimuli around you as well as you own inner world. This heightened awareness can be a burden at times, but highly sensitive people (HSPs) also have a unique opportunity to leverage that awareness for personal growth. One way to do so is through a deeper understanding your Myers-Briggs personality type — and, specifically, with the Myers-Briggs “cognitive functions” that define each type.
In this article, I’ll explain what the cognitive functions are, why they have such a big effect on your success and happiness, and how to use them to supercharge yourself as a highly sensitive person.
What Are Cognitive Functions?
According to the personality theory put forward by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, there are eight different “cognitive functions,” which can be understood as thought processes that everyone uses to some degree. Everyone uses some of the functions more than others, however, and the specific functions you use most often determine your personality type. This is like the engine under the hood of the Myers-Briggs system.
Cognitive functions are either extroverted or introverted, meaning that they are focused on either the external world or a person’s internal thoughts. (Everyone uses both introverted and extroverted functions, regardless of whether the person is an introvert or extrovert overall.) Some of the functions relate to how you make decisions (by “thinking” and “feeling”), and some relate to how you gather information (“sensing” or “intuition”).
The eight cognitive functions, then, are as follows:
- Extroverted Thinking (Te). You can think of this as making decisions by testing ideas in the world and seeing the results, or by going with whatever will be most effective, efficient, or utilitarian. For example, many top CEOs are the ENTJ personality type, which is led by this function.
- Introverted Thinking (Ti). This function involves making decisions by going with whatever the facts or data suggest is right, following the most accurate method, or using logic to reason out the best solution. Many mathematicians and computer scientists are INTPs, who are led by this function.
- Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Extroverted feeling means making decisions by whatever will create harmony and peace with others, improve relationships with others, strengthen bonds or be most empathetic and caring. Many diplomats, teachers, and nurses are ENFJs, who lead with this function.
- Introverted Feeling (Fi). This function means making decisions based on what is most authentic to yourself, what allows you to express your emotions, or how to be truest to your ideals. Many artists are INFPs, who are led by this function.
- Extroverted Sensing (Se). Extroverted sensing means gathering information by using your body and your five senses to experience it firsthand. It involves not only taking in information through the senses, but interacting physically with things to learn about them. Many athletes and performers are ESFPs, who lead with this function.
- Introverted Sensing (Si). Introverted sensing means gathering information about the world by trusting what you have experienced before, the knowledge of others who are respected or experienced, the formal rules for how to do something right, and the traditions and norms of the group. Many accountants are ISTJs, who are led by this function.
- Extroverted Intuition (Ne). Extroverted intuition means gathering information by brainstorming, considering many points of view, theorizing what may be possible, and exploring many different options. Many entrepreneurs are the ENTP personality type, which leads with this function.
- Introverted Intuition (Ni). You can think of introverted intuition as gathering information by deeply contemplating an issue along with its explanations, finding its connections to other ideas, and reasoning out all of its implications. Many philosophers and scientists are the INTJ personality type, which leads with this function.
Each of the sixteen personality types has a unique set of four main functions that it uses most often, from the first or “dominant” function to the fourth or “inferior” function. For example, the INFJ — one of the more common personality types for HSPs — tends to use Ni (Introverted Intuition) the most, followed by Fe (Extroverted Feeling), Ti (Introverted Thinking), and Se (Extroverted Sensing) as its inferior function — the one it uses only when the others don’t seem to be working.
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Your ‘Inferior Function’ Is a Key to Personal Growth
That fourth function is known as the “inferior function” and usually entails a thought process that a person may have difficulty using effectively. We all have those elements of our personalities that seem to present a continual struggle — the skills that we so desperately want to build but have so much difficulty knowing where to begin.
As a highly sensitive person, these undeveloped traits can be especially distressing, because you likely have a nagging sense that something is not quite right. By understanding which elements of your inner world need growth and how to foster that growth, you can contribute to our own peace and happiness and also your ability to show up for your family, friends, and community.
HSPs can be any of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types, and each one’s inferior function can rear its head in ugly ways when you’re under stress. Developing that function in an intentional, controlled way, however, does not have to be painful. It can even be fun.
Below are eight actually enjoyable ways to bring out your potential with your inferior function and have a lovely time doing it. None of these activities are overstimulating or difficult to get started in. Luckily, stretching our intrapersonal skills doesn’t mean we need to jump into a moshpit or go clubbing with 200 of our closest friends (phew!).
How to Develop Each of the 8 Cognitive Functions
Fe (INTPs and ISTPs): Join or start an RPG Group
Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons have become so much more than the ones your dad played in the 80s. They are a beloved hobby for millions of people, and they can be an enjoyable and low-stakes practice ground for thinking quickly in a group setting. Many tabletop RPGs involve narrating in the moment and reacting to both chance and the other players’ actions. Some systems even have interpersonal communication as a key gameplay element. This focus on group dynamics can be helpful in developing your extroverted feeling. As you play the character you’ve designed, think about how they might feel in a particular situation or how they would act in a way that’s in-character. There’s even an added layer of dynamics with the real-life group members as you all interact with each others’ ideas.
Ne (ISTJs and ISFJs): Make Something Without Following the Instructions
You’re already great at making things happen; why not try adding a little twist to what you already enjoy to develop your extroverted intuition? If you bake, try a new flavor or substitute some ingredients to see what happens. (It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t “turn out right;” we’re focusing on the journey rather than the destination right now.) Lego aficionados can try building a set but changing something about it. Are you a musician? Play a favorite piece or song with a different tempo, a new instrument, or even a different time signature. (How would “Für Elise” sound in 4/4?) There may be nothing new under the sun, but there are plenty of new ways to combine the things and ideas around us. Once you begin to branch out, there’s no limit to what you can come up with.
Inferior Se (INFJs and INTJs): Volunteer at your Community Garden
Time to get your hands dirty and grow your extroverted sensing (along with some plants while you’re at it!). Caring for a garden forces you to engage almost daily with the smell of earth, the weight of a watering can in your hand, and the feel of the sun on your back as you pull those ever-present weeds. (If dirty hands or bugs do not sound sensorily fun to you, a pair of quality gardening gloves is a lifesaver – it works for me!) This connection with the outside world can help you to “get out of your head” if you find yourself getting stuck ruminating. If your town offers community gardening opportunities, that can also be an excellent way to give back to your neighborhood and collaborate with others as an added bonus.
INFP (Inferior Te): Break a Big Project into Bite-sized Goals
You probably have a cool idea floating around up there in your head that you haven’t implemented yet, and you’ll need some extroverted thinking to make it happen. Determine what your goal is and all of the separate tasks that go into that. For example, if you want to record an album, it may entail practicing your instrument daily, setting aside time to brainstorm lyrics, editing or finding someone to edit your work, and learning how to use recording software and equipment. The tasks should be concrete and specific enough that you can look back and be encouraged by your progress. Create a checklist or reminders in your calendar to stay on top of things. When you’re tempted to give up on the little tasks, just remember that they’re all contributing, bit by bit, to making your dream a reality.
Inferior Fi (ENTJs and ESTJs): Keep a Journal
Since extroverted thinking is your dominant function, you may make most of your decisions using logic and facts, which can lead to sound choices but also leave you feeling disconnected from your inner world if your own emotions are not consulted. The practice of journaling can help you stop and identify how your decisions make you feel and whether they line up with your values and who you are. This will in turn feed into your thinking and help you to become even more confident in your choices. The journal can be as organized or as informal as you like; a daily exercise like a color-coded mood tracking chart or simply listing your high point and low point for the day can be a helpful prompt. You may find a neatly ordered journal to be calming and aesthetically pleasing. (Here are the types of journals that work best for HSPs.)
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HSPs often live with high levels of anxiety, sensory overload and stress — and negative emotions can overwhelm us. But what if you could finally feel calm instead?
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Inferior Ni (ESFPs and ESTPs): Plan Your Next Vacation
Since extroverted sensing is your dominant function, you probably feel keenly aware of your sensory environment, especially as an HSP. You also enjoy living in the present and may not enjoy thinking about the future as much. To increase your awareness of introverted intuition, try making a plan for a fun trip you’d like to take while anticipating what’s likely to happen along the way. (If a whole vacation is not feasible right now, plan a date or a girls’/guys’ night out in your city.) For example, does the traffic on the way to the beach usually back up on Saturday evenings? Set your departure time for mid-morning. Is there a certain restaurant you want to try? Look it up ahead of time to see when it’s most crowded or whether they take reservations. When you get to your destination, you and your fellow vacationers will be able to enjoy the moment all the more knowing that you’re prepared for any potential hiccups.
For extra Ni bonus points: bring along some detective stories to read on the beach (or wherever) and enjoy picking out patterns and solving crimes with characters like Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Chesterton’s Father Brown.
Inferior Si (ENFPs and ENTPs): Do Something You Haven’t Done in a Long Time
Your dominant function (extroverted intuition) can be a powerful, visionary tool, but sometimes you can become so focused on future possibilities that you forget how you got to the place where you are now. Try picking up an old hobby (especially if it’s something memory-related like scrapbooking!), taking a walk in a neighborhood you used to live in, or listening to an album that got you through a rough time a few years ago. Giving yourself a tangible reminder of the past can help to ground you and remind you of the experiences that have made you who you are today. And that, in turn, provides you with a secure base from which to build your next dream or scheme.
Inferior Ti (ESFJs and ENFJs): Read Up on a Topic that Interests You
Your preferred decision-making process, Fe, is often based on the feelings of others — but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a great capacity for knowledge to add to your mental toolkit. Introverted thinking has to do with how facts fit into your own personal knowledge framework, so learning about something that involves systems or interconnectedness can help you to bring out this trait in yourself. Learning a language is one activity that can help. The grammar and vocabulary all fit together into a system that makes sense within itself and fosters communication. Studying sociology or psychology may also interest you, since it uses theory and research to provide insight into human behavior and emotions.
Often, strengthening your inferior function doesn’t just open you up to an unexplored side of yourself, although that’s certainly a worthy goal. It strengthens and informs your more dominant traits too, leaving you more in tune with yourself, the outside world, and your friends and loved ones. So have fun discovering something new and finding out how delightful personality growth can be!
You Might Like:
- This Is What Each MBTI Personality Type Looks Like as an HSP
- How Sensitive Is Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type?
- How Being a Highly Sensitive Person Affects Your Body Physically
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