Turning J and P on their heads

I’ve gone into a lot of depth in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, albeit haphazardly as befits a P-type, right?

But lately I’ve been looking at the simpler measure of the P and the J, and what that means for how we ideally function in the world.

I’m an INFP, who has ended up sharpening his J approach to life in order to “get s*** done!”, because if I stay in P mode I’m afraid life will just blend into some kind of seamless, mysterious whole without my understanding or control.

Actually that sounds kinda nice.

My wife is a genuine J type, yet somehow we’ve ended up inverted. I’m usually in control, deciding what we’ll do and when we’ll do it, while she’s been seemingly content to follow my lead and see what happens.

Which has worked. But it’s been a lot of work, with each of us using our weaker functions to get through life.

Embrace your P-ness

Logically the answer is to revert to our genuine types. That means I should relax, accept that I’m intrinsically disorganized by worldly standards, and let my wife take up some of the slack.

Become the feckless hippie my MBTI results suggest I ought to be, (or more flattering but therefore less therapeutic, the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog…thanks INTJ!)

But it’s really hard to go against years of training and conditioning.

It’s really hard to stop J-ing, to just let go and not even write blog posts summing up the awesome insights that come to me.

And perhaps that’s because the simple P-J message is a little too simple after all.

It’s meant to tell us which of our functions is extroverted – the perceiving one, or the judging one.

But if you’re an introvert, your extroverted function will be auxiliary, subordinate to and weaker than your dominant.

So I may be a P-type, but since my dominant function is a judging function, I’m not the most P that a P could be.

Likewise, my wife is a J-type, but her dominant is a perceiving function, so she’s not the most J kind of J either.

As one site puts it:

IP types have a dominant introverted judging function, which will make them seem more like judgers (J types) than other P types.

And for IJ types vice-versa.

Typical of an INFP (apparently), these kinds of renovations of my theoretical model come easily and frequently, but they don’t change the underlying “feel” I have for what is important.

When I act or think like a J-type, I might be relying too much on my inferior Te (extroverted Thinking) function, as I previously thought, but another way of looking at the whole situation is that I have unhealthy Fi (introverted Feeling) pushing me to accomplish things.

When too many possibilities proliferate, I get tired and want to put away my MBTI toys because I sense that achieving perfect understanding will not yield proportional benefits to me.

Yet this in turn reflects an aspect of my inferior Te – taking single variables and enlarging them until they seem to account for everything. Yes! That’s the one-single mistake I make! (ironic laughter).

The good news is that for an introverted Feeler the actual thoughts don’t need to be nailed down. Despite my past attempts to find all the answers to everything and be right all the time, I don’t really need to know anything, so long as I know how I feel.


Myers-Briggs functions vs temperamental factors

I’ve been using the MBTI functions as a way of sharpening focus on the four temperaments.

This is because pragmatically the functions allow a finer-grained analysis of the temperaments.

For example, what’s the difference between a melancholic-phlegmatic and a melancholic-sanguine?

Both are NF types. Melancholic-phlegmatics are xNFP and melancholic-sanguines are xNFJ.

This means that melancholic-phlegmatics are using extroverted intuition (Ne) and introverted feeling (Fi), whereas melancholic-sanguines are using introverted intuition (Ni) and extroverted feeling (Fe).

So in the first instance, although both are melancholic with the combination of feeling and intuition, the NeFi combo is already a more introverted way of being than the NiFe combo. Fe is externally oriented, meaning that the melancholic-sanguine makes decisions according to their sense of how others are feeling, for the sake of group harmony.

Fe types want to connect with others and maintain good relationships, whereas Fi types are more motivated by internal coherence and authenticity.


In addition to the orientation of the feeling function, the third and fourth functions of either type also play a role in describing the difference in temperament.

Melancholic-phlegmatics’ third and fourth functions are extroverted thinking (Te) and introverted sensing (Si). Melancholic-sanguines’ are introverted thinking (Ti) and extroverted sensing (Se).

The significant part here is that Si and Se are the determining functions of the phlegmatic and sanguine temperaments respectively. Si gives the phlegmatic their inward, mnemonic focus. Se gives sanguines their sensory, outward, experiential focus.

That’s why these two types of melancholic can be similar, yet in other ways so distinct. What makes one melancholic partly phlegmatic is the inward orientation of their Feeling function plus their introverted sensing (Si) in third or fourth place. What makes the other melancholic more sanguine is the extroversion of their Feeling, plus the extroverted sensing (Se) in their third or fourth place.

Or is it…

But the functions are just useful, finer-grained descriptions. No one knows if they are actually different cognitive functions, and so we can ask which is the underlying reality: MBTI functions, or temperamental factors?

What I mean by temperamental factors is that the four temperaments are typically described as combinations of two factors – the clearest of which (in my opinion) are excitability and duration of impression.

Given that a melancholic has low excitability with enduring impressions, but that melancholics differ by degrees, we can ask the following interesting (but not very pragmatic) question:

Are the differing degrees of melancholic due to real differences in cognitive function, or are supposed differences in cognitive function just ways of describing varying degrees of melancholy?

In other words, are Fi and Fe different things, or are they just different degrees of the same thing?

As far as I can tell, it’s quite possible that Fi is really just a less excitable form of Feeling, and Fe a more excitable one.

But going a step further, I’m not sure that Feeling and Thinking are necessarily different things either.

It’s plausible that F and T represent less excitable and more excitable forms of the same cognitive process. In effect, F is like a blurred and impressionistic version of the sharper, detail-oriented T.

OCEAN follow-up: disorganised and disagreeable

I did an online test for the Big 5 personality traits just now, and the results were interesting:

As expected, I’m both extremely Introverted and extremely Neurotic.

In my previous post I suggested that I might be high in Conscientiousness and Agreeableness, but I also noted that these qualities felt forced and unnatural.

I subsequently read the actual criteria for the two traits, and concluded that I’m practicing “pseudo-” Conscientiousness and Agreeableness, attempting to mimic traits I don’t actually possess.

In other words, I’m not naturally an organised, disciplined, tidy person, but I put pressure on myself to be organised and disciplined where it counts.

The results of the online test corroborate my suspicions.

Openness to new experiences was surprisingly high, but that could be because the trait is manifested differently between introverts and extroverts. An extrovert might be open to “new experiences”, but an introvert can be open to “new ideas”, ways of thinking and seeing the world.

So I think I’m on the right track: trying too hard to be conscientious and agreeable in certain circumstances is actually a manifestation of neuroticism, and exacerbates those negative emotions.

Being less agreeable and more disorganised might not change my other traits, but it would be more authentic, and, if I’m right, authenticity could be the key to ameliorating neuroticism.

OCEANs of meaning for the INFP/Melancholic-Phlegmatic

I’ve been delving deeper into the MBTI system and in particular the dominant introverted Feeling function of the INFP.

The developing theme in either temperament or MBTI terms is that I tend to suppress my normal way of functioning in favour of more pro-social functions.

Eg. as a Melancholic-Phlegmatic temperament, the phlegmatic desire to follow the rules and avoid conflict is more socially accepted than the idealism and search for meaning of the melancholic.

As an INFP, my tertiary and inferior functions of introverted Sensing and extroverted Thinking are more respected, more ‘useful’ and easier to communicate than my dominant function of introverted Feeling, and auxiliary function of extroverted Intuition.

The curse of the INFP is that society encourages us to use our ST functions, but over-reliance on these functions at the expense of our FN makes us feel bad. Really really bad.

Because (ironically) the core value of introverted Feeling is authenticity, and nothing harms your authenticity more than systematically ignoring and deprecating the call of authenticity.

OCEAN and the Big 5

My wife showed me this TED talk by Dr Brian Little on personality.

In it he refers to the Big 5 personality traits, a data-driven set of personality traits that are observable in normal distribution across the population.

Unlike the MBTI, the Big 5 is widely accepted in psychological research. However, what the Big 5 measures is different from either the MBTI or the temperaments theory.

In effect, the Big 5 provides a kind of ‘snapshot’ of these five traits in your personality: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

I’ve not paid too much attention to the Big 5 because what it doesn’t tell you is the underlying logic or rationale behind your personality. It doesn’t necessarily tell you why you are introverted and neurotic, just that you are.

But at the end of the talk Dr Little said something very interesting.

He observed that acting in ways that contradict your personality comes at a cost. He gave the example of himself as a professor acting in more extroverted ways to keep his students engaged, despite being extremely introverted himself.

After a bout of “pseudo-extroversion” he needs to take time to rest and repair himself.

Why is this interesting to me? Because acting contrary to my underlying personality traits is exactly what I’ve described above, in terms of suppressing or neglecting my dominant function of introverted Feeling, or pushing my phlegmatic traits ahead of my melancholic ones.

Usefully combining the two approaches

If I reflect on the categories of the Big 5, I would say that I am low in Openness, extremely high in Conscientiousness, low in Extroversion, high in Agreeableness, and extremely high in Neuroticism.

As a snapshot of my personality traits, what stands out to me is that both Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are things I try to foster. Or to put it another way, they are sources of fatigue and exhaustion for me.

Introversion comes naturally, by contrast, and Neuroticism is a weird category that – to me – feels like an aspect of existence that is only observed in the negative…a lot like introverted Feeling.

Unpacking that last sentence:

Neuroticism is a tendency to experience negative emotions like anxiety. For INFPs these negative emotions are experienced via introverted Feeling. Introverted Feeling is the function that facilitates strong and pervasive emotions – both positive and negative. Not all Neurotic personalities are INFP, but I’d bet that the majority of INFPs are Neurotic.

If I’m right then Neuroticism is an expression of introverted Feeling in response to negative stimuli such as chronically ignoring and suppressing one’s introverted Feeling, or trying to live according to lesser parts of your personality. Being inauthentic.

That being so, the OCEAN view of my personality provides significant clues to what is going on, as opposed to the temperament and MBTI perspectives which show instead the underlying logic or principles of my personality.

Where does this ocean go?

Thinking about OCEAN in terms of authentic and inauthentic personality traits, it’s immediately obvious that Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are forced. They represent the phlegmatic traits of diligence, following the rules (or expectations) and avoiding conflict.

The harder I try to be Conscientious and Agreeable, the worse my Neuroticism becomes. In effect, I’m only pretending to be Conscientious and Agreeable, and the pretense exhausts me and makes me feel inauthentic…hence the Neuroticism.

To complicate matters, my Conscientiousness and Agreeableness are motivated in part by Neurotic concerns like anxiety. They build on each other, creating a vicious circle.

The solution therefore is to stop being Conscientious, and stop trying to be Agreeable.

For an INFP/Melancholic-Phlegmatic, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness offer a false promise of relieving anxiety and attaining peace. But instead they merely heighten our inauthentic mode of behaviour, leaving us Feeling worse than ever.

How many INFPs throw themselves into Conscientious effort, only to collapse afterward, feeling not only physically exhausted but somehow mentally or emotionally damaged by the whole process?

Being inauthentic and exhausted discourages us from exploring and being more outgoing. Our Openness to experience suffers as a result.

Pseudo-Agreeableness and Pseudo-Conscientiousness

Wikipedia describes Agreeableness as:

Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naive or submissive. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentativeness or untrustworthiness.

Conscientiousness is described as:

Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as stubbornness and obsession. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.

Agreeableness and Conscientiousness are obviously pro-social and valued qualities to possess. The trouble is that INFPs don’t really possess them.

Instead, more often than not I think we’re beating ourselves into submission, aping these desired qualities in deeply inauthentic ways.

Why do we do this? Why do we practice fake Conscientiousness and false Agreeableness? I think it comes from the slow and often nebulous qualities of our dominant function: introverted Feeling. From an early age, we are either slow to work out how we feel about the things going on around us, and/or unable to communicate or justify the conclusions we reach.

Even as an adult, introverted Feeling is very hard to describe. It’s immersive but impossible to communicate without experiencing it, and hard to describe even to one’s own satisfaction.

So how could we resist the pressure from parents, peers, authority figures and society generally to try to adopt or emulate “desirable” qualities like Extroversion, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness?

And how could we stand by an authentic self or cognitive function that seems so hard to pin down, even for ourselves?

Even in writing this, I’m resisting Conscientiousness impulses to check things, work caveats into the text, and arrive at “appropriate” conclusions that will hopefully please the reader.

Ironically, for an INFP it can be the hardest thing in the world to just not give a ****.

More to the story

There’s obviously a lot more that could be said, for instance: being introverted means people can easily project desired qualities onto you, especially when you’re young. So the mere fact that INFPs are quiet and slow to reach conclusions, means that people will praise us for being good listeners, or being polite, or being agreeable.

We may well seize upon these false affirmations as validations of an identity we don’t really possess. We find it easy (at first) to fill the expected shape that society offers of being a well-mannered and quiet child, and then find it hard to break out of that container, or to even realise that it’s not who we are.

Because INFPs don’t really understand themselves very well either. Maybe I really am a good, conscientious and agreeable person? How do I know that I’m not? How do I know that anxiety and Neuroticism aren’t “normal” for conscientious and agreeable people?

I won’t finish with a neat conclusion because I’m resisting the compulsion to be conscientious and agreeable.