Introverted Sanguines and Extroverted Phlegmatics: the confusing middle-ground

This piece will get technical, so skip it if you aren’t interested in the minutiae of MBTI and temperament theory.

I’m mindful that when I pick people’s temperament I’m doing so in a subjective way based on my past experiences and the feel I have for people, in addition to more objective elements from a theoretical context.

Cholerics just feel hard and sharp to me. I can compare the feel of each new person to past examples I’ve collected (gotta catch em all!). I can identify patterns and key markers, and I can look at how they behave interpersonally and their overall direction in life.

Ambitious? High-energy? Disagreeable? Driven? The evidence will be there, and if it’s not, there’ll be a reason why it’s not.

I think this dual subjective/objective approach is good because it doesn’t rely entirely on how I feel about a person, but nor does it rely on disconnected data points. It has the strengths of both. It certainly has weaknesses too, but there’s no perfect alternative.

Any theory or system will have limitations. The only truly deadly limitation is to be oblivious to those limitations.

People who are hard to pick

I’ve encountered a number of people whose temperament is hard to pick.

The extreme cases are always the easiest: extreme cholerics, melancholics, sanguines and phlegmatics tend to be living caricatures of their type.

Cholerics in general are easiest to pick because of their disagreeableness and ambition or high self-regard.

Melancholics are probably the next easiest, though their tendency to try to fit in socially sometimes masks their melancholic aspect. Neuroticism is usually the key distinguishing feature of melancholics.

But the truly hard cases are the non-extreme versions of sanguine and phlegmatic temperament.

Sanguines are by nature more extroverted and phlegmatics are more introverted; the hard cases are therefore introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics.

Let’s get technical

In MBTI terms, cholerics are NT, melancholics NF, sanguines Se, and phlegmatics Si.

Note that cholerics and melancholics are defined by the combination of intuition (N) and Thinking or Feeling respectively, whereas sanguines and phlegmatics are defined by the orientation of their Sensing function – sanguines have extroverted Sensing and phlegmatics have introverted Sensing.

What that means is that while cholerics are always intuitive and Thinking, sanguines and phlegmatics can be Sensing and Thinking or Sensing and Feeling.

The functional stack

The standard MBTI labels like INFP immediately tell us a person’s top two functions, their dominant and auxiliary.

But in practice we all use four functions consciously, though with decreasing levels of ability and effort.

The label INFP tells us that this person has a dominant of Fi, and auxiliary of Ne. This means they must have a tertiary of Si and an inferior of Te.

In theory, at various stages of life and especially under pressure, people will resort to their tertiary and inferior functions.

So although an INFP is a melancholic (NF), under pressure they will draw more heavily on Si and Te as a complementary pair of functions.

Si and Te working together would resemble an STJ type… a phlegmatic, because of the introverted Sensing function.

We can therefore say that all NFPs have a secondary temperament of STJ, hence they are melancholic-phlegmatic.

Secondary temperament

We can extrapolate these tertiary and inferior pairs for all the MBTI types and thereby work out the “secondary temperaments”:

NTP->SFJ = Choleric-phlegmatic

NTJ->SFP = Choleric-sanguine

NFP->STJ = Melancholic-phlegmatic

NFJ->STP = Melancholic-sanguine

STP->NFJ = Sanguine-melancholic

SFP->NTJ = Sanguine-choleric

STJ->NFP = Phlegmatic-melancholic

SFJ->NTP = Phlegmatic-choleric

Bear in mind that these are just general rules of how the functions work together. Individuals might have developed or emphasised different combinations of functions.

For example, I’m an INFP, but due to peculiarities of my early life I learned to develop my Te and sometimes use it in conjunction with Ne while suppressing Fi.

In temperament terms I’m still clearly a Melancholic-phlegmatic, but the Ne-Te combination resembles a minor choleric influence that manifests as an internal pressure to get things done and achieve something.

Incidentally, combining two extroverted or two introverted functions like Ne-Te is considered unhealthy and unsustainable.

Introverted Sanguines

An ISTP friend once referred to himself as a “chameleon”, because he felt he could adapt his personality to changing circumstances with relative ease, though he noted that some adaptations were more taxing than others.

This same friend was difficult to type in temperament terms, as he appeared to lack extremes of any temperament.

Any STP should have NFJ as secondary temperament: Sanguine-melancholic.

But looking at the functional stack of an ISTP in particular, something unusual happens:

Ti – Se – Ni – Fe

The Se is what makes someone sanguine, but in an auxiliary position the Se is subordinate to the dominant Ti, and so its effect is muted.

Initially I would have been content to describe an ISTP as a Sanguine-melancholic. But the melancholic aspect is not as pronounced, and it can be confused by the strong influence of dominant Ti.

If we go only by the dominant function, then the ISTP shares Ti with the INTP – a choleric-phlegmatic – but without the Ne (extroverted intuition) that gives full flight to the INTP’s Ti.

The same pattern applies to ISFPs.

They ought to be simply sanguine-cholerics, since they have an NT combo in their tertiary/inferior positions.

But an ISFP has dominant Fi, a function that is shared by INFPs like me.

A sanguine-choleric ought to be the exact opposite of a melancholic-phlegmatic, yet I can relate to their Fi function.

Extroverted Phlegmatics

The same pattern applies to ESxJs, because the overall extroversion of the E-types shifts Si into an auxiliary rather than dominant position.

ESFJs ought to be phlegmatic-choleric, and they share dominant Fe with ENFJs who are melancholic-sanguine.

ESTJs ought to be phlegmatic-melancholic, but they share dominant Te with ENTJs who are choleric-sanguine.

A more balanced temperament?

What this all suggests to me is that the introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics are the most balanced of the temperaments. Lacking strong intuition they are missing the edge or “enduring impressions” that both cholerics and melancholics possess, and which can be understood as a kind of unconscious processing of the world around us.

Sanguines live more in the present moment of sensory stimulation while phlegmatics live more in the past of memory and experience. Cholerics and melancholics live more in the abstract world created by the unconscious processing of their intuition.

But for introverted sanguines and extroverted phlegmatics these sensory orientations are subordinate to their dominant judging functions.

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On reading omens part 2

I used to read the Yi Jing a lot, the Chinese Classic of Change.

I often received a result that included words like “It furthers one to have somewhere to go” and “It furthers one to see the great man”.

I baulked at these lines, not because I disagreed with them but because I had nowhere to go, and no idea who “the great man” might be.

Somewhere to go

Throughout my life I’ve often had a yearning to go somewhere, with the sense that once I got there I would find respite and a sense of identity.

But where was this place? All I had was a feeling.

Knowing the INFP temperament, I can see that this Feeling is the place I was yearning for. Not a physical location, but a feeling-place presented to my imagination as a physical location that I had to find.

It was a message from my innermost being, guiding me not to a physical place but to a Feeling where I would find rest and strength.

There was no mystical cave or temple monastery to go to in search of wisdom.

Or maybe there was, but I had already read so many stories of people who travelled to some mysterious destination only to find that what they were looking for was within them all along.

Without going out of your door you can know all things on earth, without looking out of your window you can know the ways of heaven. The farther one travels the less one knows.

– DaoDeJing

Find the feeling

The work I’ve done this past year with the Abraham-Hicks material has shown me that everything begins with the feeling.

It was not fruitless to have only the feeling of the mysterious place I sought; but it was a mistake to discount and suppress the feeling just because I could not find an obvious physical correlation to it.

The feeling itself was the place I needed to find and take comfort in and from.

This is especially true for Melancholic-Phlegmatics (INFP/ENFP) because our yearning and search for ideals means that we don’t always appreciate or move toward real instances of what we desire.

We might look around and see nothing that matches our desire and our ideal, so we tear down the ideal as too vague or too unrealistic or simply unhelpful.

But feeling better is the most helpful thing in the world. Feeling better is the reason why we pursue our ideals in the first place.

It’s not so much that achieving the ideal will make us feel good, but that feeling good is aligned with these particular ideals and desires peculiar to us as individuals.

Re-reading the Yi

Without resistance the idea of having “somewhere to go” elicits a feeling that is very uplifting. In this sense it matches the spirit of “seek and ye shall find”.

Some people know exactly what they want. But for others it’s better to know how we want to feel, and then let feeling be the filter and the guide that brings us to what we desire.

Re-reading the Yi Jing in this light, in a strictly personal, private interpretation, the meaning is much clearer than before because it is unconstrained by worries about objectivity, historicity, and consistency with how others might have read it or are reading it now.

In the reading of omens none of that matters.

Why explaining myself makes my ankle hurt

I see meaning and significance in many places.

Like an Augur – someone who could read omens in the flight of birds and other seemingly random occurrences.

Recently I went to see a physiotherapist about chronic stiffness and discomfort in my shoulders and neck, and he immediately traced it my right hip having rotated forward.

I saw it as signifying how I’ve been forever trying (unsuccessfully) to put forward a more practical, worldly, and conscientious part of me in an almost defensive posture that asserts the dominant side of my body.

Not long after seeing the physio I had a recurrence of inflammation in my left ankle, an old ache that leaves the joint feeling unstable and sore.

Again, it’s not that I go searching for an interpretation. I just immediately saw it as connected to my timidity about my own personal beliefs.

In fact both the hip and the ankle correspond to an issue I’ve raised before: the pressure for a Melancholic/INFP to conform to objective, shared reasoning and logic.

In MBTI terms it’s the INFP struggle with inferior extroverted Thinking (Te).

The INFP dominant function of introverted Feeling (Fi) is intrinsically subjective and difficult to describe or communicate, let alone explain or justify.

Other people (even other INFPs) tend not to understand our Fi approach and request or demand explanations or justifications for our beliefs and choices.

Taken to an extreme, an INFP can end up utilising inferior Te to try to “translate” nebulous yet powerful Fi judgements into more commonly accepted language and contexts.

This effort to translate is – like an artist or a comedian having to constantly explain their art or jokes – taxing, demoralising, and at odds with our dominant mode of being.

How can you justify yourself?

The pain in my ankle signifies my hesitance at putting forward my own personal beliefs and judgements.  I’m much more comfortable asserting broad generalities and carefully weighed observations.

But I can’t stand upon these measured justifications and explanations because they aren’t really a part of me. Like my hip, I’ve tried to push them further than they are meant to go.

The sad thing is that in conversation with others I’m so preoccupied by the effort to frame and contextualise my own beliefs that I end up losing sight of what those beliefs are.

I know my own thoughts deep down, but they’re unpracticed and wordless after years of trying to explain myself in other people’s terms.

When I talk to others I find myself trying to work out where they stand and what they believe, as if I can then build a bridge from their world to mine.

But what if that isn’t possible? What if people aren’t interested or able to see where I’m coming from, no matter how straightforward and simple I draw the map?

And at the heart of it all is not a genuine desire for others to understand me, but a fear of their judgement if they misunderstand me.

That’s why I have a pain in my ankle, because I’m afraid to put my weight on my own personal, private, unerring belief. I’m afraid to stand on it, because of how others might judge me if I drop the defense of framing and contextualising, justifying and explaining myself.

But there’s a simple remedy to this ailment.

I don’t need to justify or explain my beliefs to anyone. I simply don’t need to justify or explain my beliefs to anyone.

My beliefs do not need to be explicable or justifiable. I do not need to internally audit my thoughts and feelings in preparation for giving account.

After all, most people don’t want justifications or explanations beyond the most basic. No one but bullies demand justifications, and even their demands are more about power than about justification per se.

The genuinely curious ask questions and try to understand.

After all, justification implies permission or approval, and nobody needs permission or approval for their own beliefs.

Other people might criticise you or mock you if they don’t like your beliefs, but that’s not really about beliefs, but about how we interact with others.

If I want my ankle to stop hurting, I need to stop speaking in impersonal, cautious generalities. I am not, after all, an objective and impartial person. I’m not meant to be, and no one is.

What I desire and appreciate is the freedom to not explain myself or justify myself in this way; the freedom to not reach for the most justifiable or relevant aspects of my experience, and stop hiding behind the most plausible words I can conjure.

I don’t want to be at pains to cast myself in a sympathetic light anymore, always translating my thoughts into what I think other people will find easier to relate to.

NB: Yes, I realise this reads like an explanation of why I don’t want to explain myself, but…I don’t have to justify this!

The more I think, the less I feel

How can I communicate this without thinking it too much?

Well here we go:

Extroverted Thinking and introverted Feeling are….different.

Te is objective, rational, sharp, efficient, logical, systematic, direct, cold.

Fi is subjective, mercurial, powerful, intoxicating, pervasive, singular, awesome.

I was going to say “polar opposites” but that’s too reasonable. Their difference is more like: listening to music is different from following a set of instructions.

Building a wall out of bricks is different from stoking a fire.

Smiling happily is different from explaining something.

Background and explanation

Swimming lessons: the instructor throws a bunch of weighted toys into the pool and the kids all dive to pick them up.

That’s how Te feels – holding my breath while squinting hard at the blurry objects on the floor, straining to grab them before I rush back up for air.

And I got damn good at it. Diving for treasures, I can hold my breath for a long, long time.

But Native Te-users would look askance: what’s the rush? You seem…stressed. Why so…”all or nothing”?

It’s like a poet working as a technical writer because poetry won’t pay the bills. Hold your breath, get in, get out. Just get the job done.

Your opinions are worthless

I studied philosophy, history, politics, ethics, theology, and did I mention philosophy?

Philosophy is epistemology, moral philosophy, cognitive science, philosophy of science, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, …..

****, try again:

How do you know what you know? What does ‘know’ even mean? What does ‘mean’ mean? What?

You’re just a material composite of chemical reactions or physical interactions, or biological processes, or a figment of Descartes’ imagination.

How does your mind understand the words you just read? Can anyone understand anything? Let’s look at a thousand cases of very localised brain-damage to understand how the undamaged brain works.

There are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretation of phenomena…but that depends on how you define “moral”.

Look, let’s just agree that philosophy is the process of testing the logic and internal coherence of all the sh!t people say. Put your brain through a sieve, and you’ll know at least that your brain is 100% sievable.

Why would you want to sieve your brain? Because maybe all you have is a sieve…and a brain…and a whole lot of time on your hands.

(And you love the idea of being intellectually superior to others and the university used to be an awesome place to live and work).

All that matters is reasons. Reasons. No thought, claim or idea is off limits, so long as its supported. Nothing is unacceptable bar the insupportable.

Support = reasons….reasons other people can follow. 

Reasons other people can follow = Te

That’s not perfect, it’ll never be perfect, because philosophy is just a game for intellectuals who enjoy arguing for their competing imperfect attempts to square the circle.

Philosophy doesn’t take into account fundamental differences in temperament because that would totally **** with the game.

What if you prefer theory A over theory B, not because A is more logical or well-supported than B, but because it suits your temperament better?

As William James put it:

“The history of philosophy is, to a great extent, that of a certain clash of human temperaments…Of whatever temperament a philosopher is, he tries, when philosophizing, to sink the fact of his temperament…

Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises…He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that suits it…

Yet in the forum he can make no claim, on bare ground of his temperament, to superior discernment or authority. There arises thus a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions; the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned.”

Object to it if you like, but philosophers don’t really agree on anything anyway.

Arriving at consensus is not the most important thing in philosophy. The most important thing in philosophy – as with any hobby – is having the time and resources to pursue it.

Subjective feeling is the ultimate insupportable claim

This education in philosophy compounded upbringing and added the academic standard of “unsupported truth-claims are worse than useless” to the privately ingrained ethos “your feelings don’t matter”.

Fi doesn’t follow Te rules. They are as if mutually exclusive domains, hence the weird analogies I’ve used.

And I’ve spent the best part of twenty years excluding Fi as much as possible from my decision-making, imagining, and disposition.

I’ve bricked up this living, dynamic, changeable, flowing object and tried to contain it in a cold, hard, unchanging environment.

Water, treasure, and dreams of spiders

I had an iconic dream many years ago in which I was diving for treasure (gold coins) in a shallow pool.

But I dug too deep and out of the depths arose a menacing black spider.

That spider has been a recurring theme in dreams ever since.

But I finally understand it: the search for treasure beneath the water (unconscious) is the lure of Te, my inferior function, and the promise of its mysterious wisdom and knowledge (the treasure).

The spider is the awful feeling that comes with suppressing or disrupting Fi, my dominant function.

The resolution doesn’t come with escaping the spider, killing it, or making it go away. The resolution comes with embracing Fi, the contemptible “baseless opinion” or “insupportable feeling”. It comes with giving up the illusory treasure beneath the water, the false promise of objective reasoning that proved pointless and wearying and endlessly bleak.

For an INFP, Fi is freedom. We aren’t meant to be rational analysts, dispassionate observers or efficient, responsible organisers.

We’re meant to be wanderers, poets, hippies, shamans, all the disgustingly unconstrained and freely-feeling tropes I’ve recoiled from in scorn because they have no power or standing in a Te world.

But that’s the whole point: this isn’t a Te world. This is my world, and it’s a world of Feeling.

Te belongs, but it belongs at the bottom, at the end, an afterthought a finishing touch, an ability but not an obligation. A capacity, but only a small one.

I quit holding my breath, I’m through.

What is introverted Thinking (Ti)?

INFPs have extroverted Thinking (Te) as our inferior function.

Te is loosely characterised as pragmatic, goal oriented, and efficient.

This might sound like the very opposite of an INFP, and indeed when we try to use our inferior function we usually do so in a comparatively rudimentary way.

By contrast, introverted Thinking (Ti) is usually depicted as more of an observational, big picture, theoretical modelling of how things work.

If Te wants to get things done, Ti wants to understand how and why things work.

Ti dominant types are INTP and ISTP, while ENTP and ESTP have Ti in their auxiliary (second) position.

Jung on introverted Thinking

Ti is often presented as highly objective, but Jung demurred, stating that:

External facts are not the aim and origin of this thinking, although the introvert would often like to make it so appear. It begins in the subject, and returns to the subject, although it may undertake the widest flights into the territory of the real and the actual.

Hence, in the statement of new facts, its chief value is indirect, because new views rather than the perception of new facts are its main concern.

It formulates questions and creates theories; it opens up prospects and yields insight, but in the presence of facts it exhibits a reserved demeanour. As illustrative examples they have their value, but they must not prevail. Facts are collected as evidence or examples for a theory, but never for their own sake…

For this kind of thinking facts are of secondary importance; what, apparently, is of absolutely paramount importance is the development and presentation of the subjective idea, that primordial symbolical image standing more or less darkly before the inner vision.

Its aim, therefore, is never concerned with an intellectual reconstruction of concrete actuality, but with the shaping of that dim image into a resplendent idea.

Its desire is to reach reality; its goal is to see how external facts fit into, and fulfil, the framework of the idea; its actual creative power is proved by the fact that this thinking can also create that idea which, though not present in the external facts, is yet the most suitable, abstract expression of them.

Its task is accomplished when the idea it has fashioned seems to emerge so inevitably from the external facts that they actually prove its validity.

Strangely, I can relate to this. For a long time I was inspired by the thought of understanding the true nature of reality, and I sensed these “primordial images” and sought to describe and define them.

It’s said that male INFPs often mis-type themselves as INTPs (but not the other way around). I think this is because “Feeling” is regarded as subjective and feminine, and therefore we are encouraged and conditioned to always explain, rationalise, and justify what we sense through feeling, and strive to be objective and aloof in our beliefs and opinions.

What introverted Feeling and introverted Thinking have in common, according to Jung, is that they are both subjective, and both oriented toward “primordial images”.

This is the introverted aspect of either function – users of Ti and Fi are both excited by this inner image dimly perceived or felt. Both wish to bring that image into the light or into life, but Ti apprehends it conceptually and logically, while Fi apprehends it by feeling.

Happiness for Ti-users

Presumably Ti plays an analogous role in INTPs and ISTPs as Fi does in INFPs.

Jung states that Ti has a kind of inner, subjective direction to it that Te doesn’t have. He contrasts Darwin and Kant:

Just as Darwin might possibly represent the normal extraverted thinking type, so we might point to Kant as a counter-example of the normal introverted thinking type. The former speaks with facts; the latter appeals to the subjective factor. Darwin ranges over the wide fields of objective facts, while Kant restricts himself to a critique of knowledge in general.

This subjective direction must be conceptual rather than feeling-based as it is for Fi, so I imagine that Ti users feel a kind of pull towards an underlying conceptual reality behind things.

If I can find the feeling-image of a library, a Ti-user can find the conceptual-image of a library, and perhaps be in a better position to communicate his image than I am mine.

I can’t describe the feel of a library, though I might describe the sensory details and circumstances of a library that feels right to me.

But a Ti-user might very well say that a library is conceptually an information-sharing system, or a way of offsetting the cost of books, or part of a government interest in public education, or…possibly all of the above, and individual Ti-users might bring to the subject their own conceptual priorities.

Can an INFP use Ti?

In theory, an INFP using Ti is bizarre and improbable. Ti is said to be a “shadow-function” for INFPs. Shadow functions are deeply unconscious and inaccessible, but still play some role in our experience of life.

Still, it seems unlikely that I’ve actually been using Ti in the past, even if it felt like that at times.

What’s more likely is that a learned distrust of Fi, coupled with a study of Philosophy, encouraged me to restrict my expression of Fi to more abstract, conceptual and objective forms.

Philosophy enforces logical and analytical thinking; but it’s also true that my enjoyment of philosophy was limited. It never fully satisfied me even though I was shaped by it, and following things conceptually without an accompanying positive feeling leaves me exhausted and miserable.

In hindsight, I probably used (and endured) Philosophy to the extent that it mirrored the feeling-images I already possessed.

Talking to genuine Ti-users makes it clear that my perspective is a lot “fuzzier” and feeling-oriented than theirs. I might be able to describe some of my feeling-images in conceptual terms, but its rarely worth the effort because it still feels as though communication has been unsuccessful.

Which makes sense, doesn’t it? Because what I’m trying to communicate is not really the conceptual aspect of these images, but the feeling. You can’t translate feeling into concept.

With other Fi-users, communication is about pointing to a particular feeling-image. But non-Fi-users will always see things differently.

Why people can’t describe introverted Feeling

Most descriptions of introverted Feeling suck.

They’re either circular, truistic, or just plain wrong.

Circular definitions tend to say that introverted Feeling is about:

Feelings and values.

Many throw in beliefs for good measure, as if other cognitive functions are not about beliefs.

The “just plain wrong” category usually conflates feeling with emotion.

What is a value?

Value is an ambiguous term, so substituting “feeling” with “value” doesn’t clarify anything.

Values can mean “the things we place importance on”, but it can also mean “our standards or principles of moral behaviour”.

This latter definition leads to people drawing on specifically moral examples to illustrate how introverted Feeling works.

But Fi is not just about moral circumstances. I can use Fi to decide if a movie is a good movie or a bad one. That’s not a moral judgement.

What is missing from these descriptions is that introverted Feeling applies as much to objects, people, places, and events as it does to moral circumstances.

“Values” doesn’t really capture this. It’s just a partial synonym that people use because they don’t know how to define Fi more precisely.

And because they don’t know how to define Fi, they tend to focus on the negatives (like indecision, stubbornness), or entirely other-centred positives like empathy, caring, being a good listener, and so on.

Jung defined Fi

Jung describes Fi as a process that aims to find a kind of primordial image underlying external objects.

It is stimulated by objects, but then devalues them in search of a more intense vision.

This does apply to values and morality, but only because values and morality are a subset of things about which we can feel, and from which we can extrapolate ideal images.

But it’s more pertinent and more accurate to understand Fi in an everyday context rather than focusing on moral situations, which are already complicated by their very nature.

An INFP should have, for example, some kind of feeling for what an ideal library would look like, based on all their past experiences and observations of different libraries.

The ideal library is not a moral concept, and it’s not really a “values” concept either.

Instead it’s almost an archetypal image, and it is identified, understood, and assessed by the INFPs introverted Feeling.

You’re doing it constantly

The focus on values and morals exists because the INFP is most visible when they choose an unconventional path over a “moral” issue.

No one stops an INFP to ask them how their local library compares (feeling-wise) to the ideal image of a library deep in the recesses of their soul.

But for most of us, moral controversies are few and far between. It’s not enough to accept INFP descriptors based on other people’s observations:

Quiet, a good listener, has an unusual lifestyle.

It’s just because there’s such a thing as an ideal way to live your life, that INFPs are mistaken for simply having “strong values”.

How does Fi work (in an INFP/Melancholic)?

Fi is a subjective evaluation or judgement of things that creates an ideal form of the object, according to subjective feeling.

Huh?

Bear with me.

Introverted Feeling (Fi) is a judging function in the Jungian/MBTI system.

For INFP/melancholics Fi is the dominant function.

It’s weird. Really weird and hard to communicate.

So how does it work?

I’ve previously described Fi as like a continuous, internal movie soundtrack. But that’s really just a side-effect of having Fi.

How Fi actually works is as follows:

Ever since I was a kid I loved swords.

This love of swords evokes in me a strong feeling about swords, a feeling that is informed by everything I’ve ever read, seen, imagined or thought about swords.

At some point my feeling function created a kind of platonic ideal of a sword…not so much the look or context or dimensions or material properties of the sword, but the feeling of the sword in its ideal form.

A sword is ideal to the extent that it conforms to this feeling, which is separate from, but related to, the specific qualities and context that comprise it.

It’s as if I took all my experiences of actual swords and extrapolated from them to the existence of a hypothetical sword that exists only in my feelings.

That’s why Jung wrote that Fi:

“is continually seeking an image which has no existence in reality, but which it has seen in a kind of vision. It glides unheedingly over all objects that do not fit with its aim. It strives after inner intensity, for which the objects serve at most as stimulus.”

The “vision” is the ideal feeling-form of the object.

Fi-users are empowered to judge things according to these feeling-forms. We look at real instances of swords and use our ideal feeling-form to decide if it is a “good” sword or not.

Accordingly, when we see things like the Sword of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter movies, my Fi reacts negatively.

Further elaboration might objectively vindicate or subjectively justify that strong inner response, but the domain of Fi is really either to “glide unheedingly over” things that don’t match the Fi image, or sigh unhappily at the wrong execution of an ideal.

And to be honest it’s not easy to explain what exactly is wrong with the sword. It’s a feeling, and would require research (justification and explanation) to communicate to someone else.

Once we delve into justification we’re no longer in Fi mode, and are liable to get sidetracked. There are always valid arguments that can be made to justify alternative points of view.

An INFP is more likely to just step out of the debate.

When Fi isn’t working

Now that I understand Fi much better, I can see that there are aspects of my life where I haven’t really been using Fi at all.

Not using Fi is a worrying sign for a Fi-dom.

It means I’m operating blindly in these areas, trying to utilise less powerful functions to solve my problems.

For example, I’ve struggled with physical posture for years. I’ve been physically stiff since I was a teenager, and have spent years working at stretching and building various muscles and joints, trying to find a stronger, more relaxed, and pain-free mode of movement.

What I’m lacking is a Fi feeling to guide me – not necessarily a feeling about posture, but perhaps a feeling about the activity I’m engaged in. Properly engaging my dominant function would smooth out the resistance that results in stiffness and tension.

Instead, I’ve tried to fill in the gaps using introverted Sensing (Si) and extroverted Thinking (Te) approaches. I’ve studied anatomy, I’ve looked at functional exercises, psychological approaches, mind-body systems…

None of them provided a long-term solution, because I was already undermining my greatest strength, and then using these weaker functions to try to compensate.

Staring out into empty space

I think what actually panics me is the emptiness where I ought to have a feeling-form to guide me.  It’s as if I’ve suffered temporary blindness or hearing loss and have to scramble to depend on other senses to fill in the gaps, while acutely aware of my vulnerability.

Many times I’ve found myself realising I have no idea what I’m doing, and I’ve learned to resort to Si and Te to make sense of the situation. My Te approach is to analyse tasks or circumstances according to goals and outcomes. Eg. “What is the purpose of this? What are we trying to achieve, and what is the best/most efficient way to achieve it?”

But this takes a great deal of energy, is less refined (since it’s my inferior function) and further compounds the absence of Fi guidance.

Finding Fi

I think the solution is to begin looking for positive feelings within these activities where Fi is lacking. Look for aspects that feel good.

It also helps to let go of pre-existing beliefs or ideas from other sources that tell you how you ought to feel, or what you ought to be doing.

Think of it as going back to a clean slate, and then allowing feeling to re-emerge uninhibited.

Remember that Fi is subjective – it’s all about how you feel, not how others feel or what they think or what they tell you is important. Don’t try to justify good feeling to yourself or to others.

At the same time, trust that feeling good is a key component in your overall way of being. Everything will fall into place if you feel good; and if your activities feel like an endless struggle, it’s likely because you’re ignoring or haven’t yet let your Fi guide you in those activities.

Fi is mysterious after all, and in a Fi-dom it’s unconsciously linked to a whole lot of other functions and processes. Even something as simple as going for a walk can be awkward and uncomfortable if Fi isn’t active.

In fact, going for a walk when you don’t feel good and your Fi is suppressed is like going for a walk with a blindfold on. Fi is an INFP’s dominant function, and without it everything is a struggle.

Positive thinking for INFP/Melancholics

Last year in a fit of clarity I decided to finally read some positive-thinking material.

I cringed inwardly, having previously dismissed this material as over-hyped, delusional New Thought motivational rubbish (not too positive, was I?).

But I had a few experiences where it was obvious that my circumstances were reflecting my own inner state back at me, over and over again.

Relationships where the same patterns repeated endlessly no matter what I did; but the moment I changed my perspective, it was as if everything around me changed too.

(I discovered much the same dynamic in my approach to eating and diet: I thought I wanted to lose weight, but on closer examination I had complex motives and desires that were keeping me stuck.)

So I still cringe occasionally, but otherwise I’m enjoying the benefits of studying and applying the material produced by Esther Hicks, on positive thinking and the law of attraction.

Positive feeling for INFP/Melancholics

Although this material is accessible to everyone, it is perfect for INFP/Melancholics, because it focuses first and foremost on how you feel.

I’ve had half a lifetime of being told explicitly and implicitly that how I feel doesn’t matter at all. Feeling bad about objective reality is irrelevant at best and a moral failing at worst.

It seemed that introverted Feeling (Fi) and melancholic idealism were things that just wouldn’t (and couldn’t) fit into the objective world, and I’ve even argued here that we live in a world dominated by Sanguine, Choleric, and Phlegmatic values instead (that’s SP, NT, and SJ, in MBTI).

Feeling is judgement

It really sucks to feel bad all the time, and to believe on top of it that you must do your best to ignore these bad feelings, because…reality.

So how does positive thinking/law of attraction material make a difference?

For starters, it takes the judging function of introverted feeling seriously.

Your feelings are your “inner guidance system” that tells you whether or not the thoughts you are thinking right now are in alignment with your deeper desires and “inner being” (call it soul, true self, higher power, or whatever you like).

Feeling bad is therefore not a personal quirk or moral failing, it’s an indicator that you are thinking in ways that contradict your own genuine desires and your inner being.

And if you don’t heed the signals of how you feel, you will continue to experience circumstances that feel more or less exactly the same.

Turning life around

INFP/Melancholics are prone to depression and anxiety. Yet these are simply emotional indicators that we are, right now, focusing on thoughts that do not match our genuine desires, or our inner being.

Since our circumstances reflect what we are focused on, feeling bad means we are going to continue to feel bad.

It was no coincidence that having felt depressed and anxious for many years, I continued to feel depressed and anxious.

The more I tried to understand depression and anxiety, the more entrenched it became, because I continued to focus on it and look for reasons “out there”, in the world or in my own personality.

Eventually I concluded that depression and anxiety were an unavoidable outcome of someone with my temperament and personality living in “the real world”.

I became an expert at reinforcing my pessimistic view of the world, despite how bad it made me feel.

Nothing is more important than feeling good

My knowledge and experience in philosophy, religion, and all kinds of intellectual analysis were not very useful until I knew what I was looking for.

But now it’s obvious to me that we do in fact create our own reality, shape our own experience, by what we choose to focus on.

If you want to be happy, focus on things that feel genuinely good, or at least better than you currently feel, while trusting that your experience and perception will change as you begin to feel better.

This is a complete inversion of the “worldly” approach, which incidentally matches the inferior extroverted Thinking function (Te) of the INFP.

From a worldly/Te perspective, you can feel good when you accomplish your goals, and you should feel bad if you fail to achieve them.

But notice that as an INFP, this is my negative perception of “how the world works”. In other words, my negative view of the world is that it operates according to my inferior function, that people are only interested in accomplishments, achievements, and utility.

Suspicious!

Question your negative beliefs

Does the world really revolve around utility and accomplishments?

Does every single person on earth value achievement and efficiency above all else?

Is the whole world ruled by ruthless market forces?

No.

But in thinking this way, I sought out experiences that confirmed my thoughts, and I ignored or downplayed evidence to the contrary.

Playing the game of “Yes, but…”

Have you ever noticed what happens when you try to cheer up an unhappy person, or when someone happy tries to cheer you up?

You both play the “Yes, but…” game; only you play it in different ways.

The positive person says “Yes, your situation has some difficulties, but there are positives to it as well…”

I acknowledge how you feel, but there are ways for you to feel better.

The negative person says “Yes, there are some things in life that seem okay, but there are negatives to it that you mustn’t ignore!”

If you’re intent on playing the game negatively, nothing and nobody can stop you. There’s no limit to the negative aspects you can discover in life if you really try. You can find, or create, down-sides to everything!

And for the same reasons, you can find, or create, a positive side to everything too. Even the very worst experiences strengthen your desire for something better.

One step at a time

I have to give full credit to Esther Hicks’ material for helping me change how I feel. It’s not just the basic principles, but also finer points like knowing that we can’t make a sustainable jump in feeling from “horrifically depressed” to “overwhelming joy”.

It can’t be done, and the desire to make these kind of leaps is in fact a form of self-sabotage.

But starting out with the intention to “feel better”, and taking small steps in feeling “less bad” is the way to slow down the negative habits of thought we’ve been practicing for decades, and make lasting improvements in our thoughts, our mood, and our whole experience of life.

Fixing a melancholic

Harry Potter is an excellent allegory for how a melancholic engages with the world.

The contrast between “normal” life and the melancholic search for meaning is wonderfully depicted in the revelation that a secret world of witches, wizards, and magic exists alongside, but carefully hidden from the muggles.

The quick derogatory explanation that Harry’s aunt, uncle and cousin are muggles – that the whole of Harry’s small world up to that point is a muggle world – immediately validates Harry’s deep dissatisfaction with life.

Breaking a melancholic

Melancholics correspond to the MBTI types ENFP, INFP, INFJ, and ENFJ. The combination of intuition and feeling typifies the melancholic temperament.

For NFJs, feeling is externally oriented, seeking harmony with others. For NFPs, feeling is internally oriented – arguably the most mysterious and introverted of the cognitive functions.

INFPs have introverted Feeling (Fi) as our dominant function. It’s hard to describe, but imagine your feeling state dominating your conscious experience prior to, and seemingly independent of, any other aspect of experience.

Imagine watching a movie with an intense soundtrack that dominates and overwhelms everything else, including dialogue and visuals.

This soundtrack is inescapable.

The health of an INFP might be viewed as a function of the coherence between the soundtrack and the rest of the movie. If the two don’t match, there is dissonance that reverberates through the score, and the INFP is then caught in a feedback loop where the only option is to shut down, retreat, sleep it off.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to live “normally”, while the soundtrack plays heavy, leaden themes that wear me down. The thought of living a “normal” life….the thought that a normal life is all that there is, all that is possible, is deeply destructive.

The soundtrack of introverted feeling informs me constantly that this is not what I want. But through my formative experiences and my subsequent worldview I’ve persisted in this unwanted direction.

Suppressing the dominant function

A dominant function can’t be truly suppressed in the sense of eradicating it. But if a soundtrack continues long enough in monotonous tones of protest, you can learn to ignore it for the most part.

The functional stack of an INFP is introverted Feeling (Fi) , extroverted Intuition (Ne), introverted Sensing (Si), and extroverted Thinking (Te).

Learning to ignore my Fi, I turned to the lesser functions and tried to live through Ne, Si, and Te.

This matches the common experience of neglecting one’s dominant function in favour of the inferior function, a stage of life that IIRC corresponds to the 20s-30s.

My inferior function of extroverted Thinking is all about efficiency and goals. Te-dominant people revel in achievements and outcomes; but Te in the inferior position is a far more modest and limited version.

Ignoring my Fi, I tried to view life through the lens of Te. This translated into a very uneasy, irritable and stressful form of goal-directed motivation, and an intense, acute, but wearying analytical mindset.

I describe this as a “problem-solving” attitude to life. At one stage I even looked to problem-solving as a possible strength or “vocation” in life. But problem-solving didn’t leave me with any lasting solutions. I could critique and analyse and deconstruct, but it wasn’t fulfilling, and it wasn’t creative.

Rehabilitating introverted Feeling

What I’ve been working towards (now that there’s nowhere else to go) is the rehabilitation of Fi.

Positive-thinking has been instrumental and life-changing in this respect; it might be more accurate to call it “positive-feeling” since how I feel is the first indicator and measure of the thoughts I am thinking.

But the goal-oriented mindset has been deeply ingrained in me. I even approached “feeling better” from a goal-oriented, problem-solving perspective.

Yesterday I realised that like everything else, engaging in a problem-solving attitude doesn’t bring me lasting solutions, it just attunes me to further problems. If I really loved solving problems, the good news is that there is no end to the available problems to solve.

But since a problem-solving attitude is wearying and detrimental and ultimately unsatisfying, it’s time for me to find something else.

Enjoying life

You can try to enjoy life as the solution to a problem, or to achieve the goal of “feeling better”. But to really change, I have to stop trying to solve problems or achieve goals and instead start enjoying life for the sake of enjoyment.

The difference is profound. Seeking to enjoy life tunes me in to all the things I can enjoy. It lets me forget about “keeping score” with whatever problems I’ve been trying to solve or goals I’ve been trying to achieve.

I feel physically different, because ignoring Fi introduced unnecessary tension into my mind and body, and employing Te was an additional effort.

I can honestly say that in the past 20 or so years I haven’t “let go” of that problem-solving attitude except for occasional instances of revelry or relaxation.

20+ years of internal conflict, unnecessary effort, and unremitting tension come to an end when I choose to enjoy rather than solve, and appreciate rather than answer.

I feel rejuvenated, because I’m judging by different criteria now. The considerations and concerns of extroverted thinking don’t matter at all to introverted feeling. At most, they’re my fourth priority instead of my first.

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.