Invoking the Inferior Function

by Sue Blair

If you are reading this article you are probably fascinated by Type. I’ve been studying Type for nearly 20 years and I’m not bored yet. It just seems incredible to me that the patterns of the human mind have been recognised and observed for decades and yet the level of general public interest seems relatively low. What’s going on? To me it seems astonishing. We see patterns in nature constantly; the roots of a tree are oh so similar to the tributaries of a river and the arteries of the heart. There is only a short leap to believe that patterns of the mind may also exist and even a brief study of Typology proves that it’s too consistent to be accidental.

My aim when working in this field is not just to understand the workings of the mind, with all its intricate complexities, but also to put these differences across to others in a way that makes sense. No psychological training or expertise is required, just a desire to see people as different and unique entities who are just trying to get through life as well as they can, albeit with varying perspectives.

My Type travels often land me on the not so well-trodden paths. I like to explore the more forgotten elements to better see the whole picture. Unsurprisingly people who are new to Type focus on their dominant and auxiliary function. This is quite understandable given that this is immediately revealing and, quite often, alarmingly confronting. If we are to truly take in the work of personal growth, it is important to travel further down the road.

I believe that the dominant function can almost take care of itself. It’s going to do what it’s going to do. It takes little effort to access. The beauty of knowing what that function does reflects in our delight when we consciously put it to good use. I was talking to an Air New Zealand pilot at a pre-Christmas function and he told me that he just retired after 40 years of service. I asked him if he felt he would miss his work. He replied that he’d miss the first and the last 10 minutes of the flight but the rest he would happily leave behind. My Type related interpretation of this is that you are at your best when you are knowingly using your skills to do the work that you are meant to be doing. I believe it is the same when using your dominant function. There is, or should be, a joy in it. Of course, when over-played it can also become a caricature of itself and become a fairly dysfunctional character in your personal drama. But that’s another story.

For now I’d like to look at what we can learn from our inferior function, the opposite in both function and attitude to the dominant function. For me, as Te (Extraverted Thinking) dominant my inferior function is Fi (Introverted Feeling).

There are, of course, many theories on how this function appears (or not) in our lives. There is also debate as to whether it is ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious’. Mark Hunziker has made some excellent comments on this in his book ‘Depth Typology’ which I highly recommend. Type is an energy system and if we only maximise the dominant we don’t optimise the whole. In typological terms, the ‘conscious’ and the ‘unconscious’ are not nouns – they are adverbs. The question is not whether a particular function is in our conscious or unconscious, it is whether we have access to it conscious-ly or unconscious-ly. It is also true that we all use all the functions, of course we do, but how much influence do we have over when they appear?

It is suggested that most people have conscious access to the dominant and auxiliary functions and some people, certainly not all, have conscious access to the tertiary and inferior function. Therefore, if and when we do gain access to the inferior function what advice can it give us that will help us along the self-development path?  I agree with Hunziker when he says that it is not possible to just give yourself the task of practising to use your inferior function. Firstly, you must have the desire to do so. This desire does not adhere to a convenient timetable but if we consciously prepare and encourage growth it increases our chance of success. It is also a very worthy aspiration.

When working well for us the inferior function can act like a much-needed psychotherapist who gives us a timely tap on the shoulder and reminds us to keep things in balance. In fact, the name I have given this function in my work is ‘The Balancer’. If we don’t open up a space for this function then the dominant will take off like a horse bolting. Not much good will happen after this point, so we need some reigns to steady the pace.

I can only be relatively sure of my own Type preferences and the guidance I receive from my own inferior function. When exploring how other Types work it is informed guesswork. However, from experience I can say that it is amazing how often coaching conversations seem to suggest the accuracy of this.

Here are some basic ideas for each of the functions on the questions our inferior function is asking us, if only we choose to listen:

  • Questions for Te from Fi:  What does my conscience tell me? What can I live with?
  • Questions for Fi from Te:  What accomplishments are possible which stem from my beliefs? Can I be more efficient when I aim to make a difference?
  • Questions for Ti from Fe:  Is an expression of feeling required to resolve this problem? Has everyone been heard?
  • Questions for Fe from Ti:  Have you defined the root cause of the issue? What questions have yet to be asked?
  • Questions for Se from Ni:  What evidence from the immediate environment can help you anticipate the implications for the future? Is it worth tuning in to the less obvious?
  • Questions for Ni from Se:  What is the best way to get a reality check? What activity can I do to ground myself?
  • Questions for Ne from Si:  What can I learn from history that can inform my creativity? Is what I am about to do a mistake I’ve made before?
  • Questions for Si from Ne:  Now that you have the foundations set, where else can this take you? Is there another way?

It is worth being aware that under stress the wisdom of the inferior is much harder to come by. In fact, the dominant function tries its level best to convince you that addressing these questions is a complete waste of time. Yet again, the beauty of this theory is that we can be reminded to open up the communication path to receive the message that our mind is clearly wanting to send but our ego takes over and blocks the way.

In my life I have found it immensely helpful to have personal connections with people who are my opposite. I am exceedingly fortunate that my twin sister, who I am very close to in all ways other than geographically (she is in the UK and I am in New Zealand) has been my accidental therapist since we both woke up to our differences somewhere in our twenties. This ESTJ/INFP combination helps us both. She questions my intentions and urges me to realise my inner complexity, which I have learnt to appreciate, and I motivate her to put her beliefs into action. If you share my good fortune and have a friend or confidante who lives with your inferior function as their dominant this can be a most rewarding relationship. Like many Type professionals I was initially so surprised to find how many couples are complete opposites. I now understand how this can be a good match. Challenging at times, naturally, but also representing the learning we all need to grow and reach our full potential.

The tension of the opposites is seen so many times in nature; breathing, tides, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to name just a few; it is unsurprising that it is also seen in the psychology of the mind. We just need to be aware of it, know where to look and listen to the advice that can come our way if we let it.

About the Author

Sue Blair (ESTJ) has worked with psychological type for over 16 years. She is an international presenter and keynote speaker, as well as a qualified MBTI practitioner. She is the author of The Personality Puzzle card sort resources, now used worldwide by coaches and counsellors.  She has taught thousands of teachers, parents, students and businesses about the importance of self-awareness and communication.

 

[Photo by Damon Hall from Pexels]

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