Emotions, MBTI, and the limits of language..

Okay… after some conversing with other smart people on this subject (looking at YOU, Ms. Danson), I really am beginning to question a few things about the MBTI classifications.

Not that I think that the insights that it has about functions are wrong–I am becoming more and more convinced that the model of “functions” that people have and develop and the grouping of these functions together in certain patterns to create “types”–that seems, for the most part, relatively accurate to me.

Or at least, the INTJ in me has found that it works, and that is what is important to me.

However–the more I have been grokking/intuiting how different combinations of perceiving/judging functions involving the F(e/i) functions work in people–based on my experience of their types and reflections upon how they act–the more problematic I think some of theoretical structures in MBTI seem to be.

I also think some of these problems may actually originate in the very basic terminology that has been chosen to designate certain functional activities.

Okay–to get specific–let me begin with an example.

Talking over the Fi/Fe distinctions that I’ve been playing around with, a few things seemed clear to me:

Dominant extraverted F’s behaved in very different ways from those whose Fe’s were merely auxiliary.  ESFJ’s and ENFJ’s are much more “active” in terms of their desire to actually work with the emotional states of people.  As I’ve noted in prior posts–they do it differently–ESFJ’s are more about pushing default emotional buttons and their motivation for doing so is often more “conservative/traditional” in nature–in the sense of trying to make reality conform to the structures that they’ve been raised with and have been comfortable with in the past.  ENFJ’s, on the other hand, are less about buttons, and more about sculpting (to use a different metaphor) the emotional landscape/playground, and while default buttons are available to them–they are more likely to be able to fashion an actual emotional handle within people, grab onto it, and move them with far more accuracy to where they want them on the chessboard than by just pushing a button and having the people move themselves.

Anyway.. those are the Dom Fe’s…but what about the Auxiliary Fe’s.. the INFJ’s and the ISFJ’s… and here my personal experience is less thorough, and thus the conclusions are a bit more tentative.  It is true that I know one ISFJ quite well and have met a few others, and the patterns in them seem to be consistent and do make sense when compared to these related Fe types.  ISFJ’s, in my experience, are like ESFJ’s in that they tend to value social harmony (in fact, probably even more so than the ESFJ’s…)–but they are less likely, in my experience, to try and actively push the buttons of others directly and openly to try and achieve this harmony.  Instead, they tend to try and work on their own to produce the necessary conditions for harmony–to try and sort of lay the groundwork for harmony–to nurture harmony.  In essence, by example, they try to get people to push their own default buttons and move themselves.   While they may try to induce people to change in this manner, this inducing is more nuanced and far more subtle (most of the time), and it will rarely extend to direct conflicts unless circumstances are extreme.  Furthermore, although both ESFJ’s and ISFJ’s know how to play the “martyr card” exceptionally well–they do it in very different fashions.  ESFJ’s are more loud and open about this–whereas the ISFJ’s will just do everything and beyond in their power to make the situation “perfect” and then when someone else obviously fucks it up, they don’t have to even talk about how they’ve suffered–because their quiet acceptance shows it far more to anyone paying attention… (perhaps this is my bias.. but this has been my experience…)

In any case–what about INFJ’s?  I have little experience with them, but after talking with friends–it seems like INFJ’s are also like ISFJ’s in being less direct in how they deal with these situations–but that they are also very much like ENFJ’s in having a much more intuitive and dynamic way of reaching their goals.  They work–as one friend mentioned–sideways rather than head on, and are more likely to do something for you than to do it to you.  Furthermore, more than any of these other Fe types–they seem to be very conscious of the internal/external divide–corresponding to subjective/objective aspects of reality–and appear (very strongly) to have very well defined public persona and a much more sequestered private persona.  This split seems to be most consciously recognized in this type and I would theorize that this consciousness has everything to do with a dominant Ni.

I say this, because most INTJ’s I know have something similar going on.  While I wouldn’t classify this as really separate or split personalities–I would say that both INTJ’s and INFJ’s seem to be clearly cognizant of the utility of masks when dealing with that outside/objective reality.  Perhaps this comes from the implicit “duality” that comes from Ni–and by that I mean that Ni directly groks/perceives underlying patterns/connections/relationships from the external sensory data that it takes in.  However, this process–because it is creating abstractions constantly as it goes along always is left with both the original data and the abstracted connections–thus there are always TWO aspects to any perception that are prominent for Ni’s.

Of course, someone could retort–isn’t this true for Si’s also–they always take in the sensory data, have a sensation from it based on prior experiences–and thus also have a kind of “duality” going on.  To this, I would have to say that I agree–Si’s also have a kind of duality going on, but the difference to me lies in the different emphases of the Si and Ni function.  Dominant Si’s generate an immediate sensation–that is then compared by either Fe(ISFJ) or Te (ISTJ) to prior experience and the sensation itself is not different in form than the prior experiences. Also–the sensory foundation for these sensations is, and remains, usually “factual/detail” oriented.

In contrast–Ni doesn’t just take in data–but–as part of the perceiving– synthesizes the data into new forms that are then worked upon by the Fe and Te functions.  This synthesis process provides both an entirely different product, but also implicitly demonstrates/gives the notion of constructing as part of working with reality..

To boil this down quickly, metaphorically, and oversimplified–and then get back on track–giving Si two landscape pictures will primarily generate data about differences and similarities in color, the placement of elements, and other details, whereas with Ni, the products will be more about differences in the meaning of the picture–about the goals of what the painter was trying to evoke, etc.

For these reasons, I think INFJ’s and their separate persona are somewhat different than the rest of the Dom/Aux Fe’s mainly in that there dominant Ni’s almost seem to create a kind of mini simulated “Fi” (we could label it “fi”) that is lacking in the other types.

And here is where I want to get to the point, and it is this:  In almost all of my interactions with these strong Fe types, I’ve found their emotional reactions to experiences to be so very alien to me in many ways.  Obviously, MBTI could point out that this reaction comes from the Fi/Fe difference between us, and that does make sense to a point–but only to a point and here’s where the problem starts to crop up.

Specifically, I’ve noticed in all of these types (but least in the sole INFJ I know–maybe because it is hidden or protected so well or because of the Ni-generated “fi” that I’ve hypothesized), a marked tendency to not actually have a real handle on anything resembling an inner, subjective, value system.  Now, while I’ve seen people in MBTI then go and extend the whole system to say that everyone actually has all 8 functions–always in a very particular sequenced order–I find such arguments to be less convincing when compared to my experience.  In particular, I would argue that all people are faced with situations where they have emotional reactions that primarily address one’s inner subjective values, usually because these situations are very, very personal and rather unique, rather than being standard “objective/external” situations.

In these cases, what I’ve noticed about strong Fe types is the tendency to try and avoid these situations in any way possible–either to ignore them or to dampen through drug use (prescribed or otherwise–and alcohol is a drug here..)–and when that fails, to crash and burn in a fashion that takes significant efforts to repair.

Before I go further, let me note that I’ve not noticed the same tendency, AT ALL, in Fi types–either dominant Fi’s or otherwise.  All the INFP’s, ENFP’s, ISFP’s, and ESFP’s I’ve known, have never attempted to avoid these inner subjective feelings or act as if they don’t exist–even when they are negative feelings–but instead, are quite cognizant of how they feel about things, and the problems that they have come more from when there is conflict between how they feel about something, and what the external world is telling them what its collective (Fe) feelings about the situation is and that these individuals feelings are not justified or accepted.

In essence, what it seems like to me is that Fi, as a function really seems to represent one’s own internal feelings about themselves, whereas Fe is a function that is a method of dealing with the emotional landscape/social environment that inherently exists when you get any large group of primates together.

Now.. what I want to ask–do both of these really share that much in common to both be called a “feeling” function?  I don’t doubt that there are people whose capacities in these two different areas are very different–nor does it seem false that types who are very good at one seem to be far less capable at the other (although this already seems a bit questionable as I write it when I contemplate certain individuals…)–but it does seem questionable to me that there is some sort of quasi-generic “feeling function” that I can, metaphorically, point inwards or outwards and feed it a different (either subjectively-generated(i) or objectively-generated(e)) set of values and that it thus acts the same, but with different inputs leading to different outputs????

This is what I’m questioning… and I’m starting to be convinced that Fi and Fe are not necessarily similar enough to both be “F” in any helpful sense.  Now.. one might also point out that Ti and Te might be flawed in this sense (or that the perceiving functions might also be–but I do actually think they function more similarly… but that’s an argument for another time..) and that might be true–but let’s stick to Fi and Fe here…

To state it another way–is having a strong intrapersonal intelligence(~Fi) really that closely related to having a strong interpersonal intelligence (~Fe) functionally—and are they mutually exclusive in the ways that MBTI seems to set them up?

I’m beginning to doubt this in certain ways–but also to believe in it in others… For example–the seeming lack of strong ability to deal with intrapersonal aspects in strong Fe’s may point to some actual physical brain/genome type facts in humans that might be based on different neuron structures or chemical balances… but then again–is this really an either/or thing–or is it a continuum?

These are the questions I have.

A final thought–although it is a big one–that also cropped up here–is the observation that the word “feeling” in MBTI is really, really, problematic in my view.  The problem I see comes from the fact that as it is described in MBTI, “feeling” is a judging function that applies a certain kind of criterion (values) to sensory/perceptual data in order to make decisions….and I do have to say that this activity really is something that goes on when one has feelings about something.

However–look at the word “feeling” for just a second.  Really look at it and think about it.  Now, think about what your hands and skin do.  Think about what we define as the range of human senses.

Feeling is fucking one of the basic, primal senses that we, like most higher lifeforms on earth, possess!!!!

Tactile sensations and the fact that one of our two most functionally important senses (well, I’d argue that vision and tactile feeling  are the two most important ones for average humans… ahead of hearing, smell, and taste in that order) are described by the word feeling is an important fact that could quite significantly be playing a role here.

I would further argue that the choice of the word “feelings” to describe how our emotions actually work–is something that should not be dismissed, but rather should be looked at more closely.  I think I am more and more convinced that there is a kind of “reaching out” functional attribute to emotions/feelings–a reaching out that involves perception in a very tactile way that may not be adequately covered by the kind of binary system that MBTI sets up–and one that is obscured–at least a bit–but making Fi/Fe related in the way that they are…

I must think more on this–perhaps, what I’m seeing is just really explainable by the combination of N/S with T/F–but I do still think that the terminology of using “F” in this context is unhelpful at best–and that there might be something truly functionally different on a fundamental level in the process by which Fe’s go about doing what they do vs. what Fi’s are doing..


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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4 Responses to Emotions, MBTI, and the limits of language..

  1. Lisabeth Williamson says:

    MBTI and INTJ……What are these ?

    I was just debating , in the last two months , about how I would want to leave this world.
    ( to mention ,my mom is fading.) I ,humorously , admit ,I would like to be eaten by a Bear ,,then I consider ,that would not be a nice thing for the Bear. I dO know that it is not in Baltimore ,I want to fade . I appreciated seeing that Bear ‘ connotation . I am reading your ‘Blog and have a limited education – I appreciate your patioence and corrections are allowed ,in case they are administered. Thanks for letting me nose through, sniff sniff hmmm. Nice to see -not playing dead .

    • tricstmr says:


      You are always welcome to wander around here… I like visitors and the curious.

      As for your question–MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which is a particular way of analyzing people to classify them as a particular kind of personality. INTJ is the designation for one of the 16 types of personalities that this MBTI designates and determines.

      For more information–you can just google MBTI or INTJ, but if you want to go figure out which type it says you are, then try out here:


      And note your result. Then try going here:


      and look at your type description and see if it fits. It may or may not. You can also go read the other types.

      Right now, I’m reading a book written about MBTI types–and I’m actually taking quite a critical view of it. Some things in the system make a lot of sense–but others–not so much.

      In any case–happy wandering! (and don’t go get eaten by a bear any time soon! )

  2. Pingback: What do you Do? | The Philosophy of NOM

  3. Pingback: Types and Questions to Live by… | The Philosophy of NOM

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