Serving as the backbone of institutions, organisations and families; ISFJs are preservers of meaning. You might think of them as private investors in society.
Picture the scene for a moment. You stumble outside of a club and barrel into a taxi after one too many cocktails. Your friends are worried you drank too much and they’re probably right. You’re unresponsive to their words — and your next memory is waking up to intimidating hospital lighting. In leaning over to one side a nurse startles you, declaring you are free to leave. You may thank her, in a booze-addled state, but forget her existence almost certainly as a minor detail in a day best forgotten.
It is this casual acceptance of tireless service an ISFJ will over the course of their life come to expect, for they perform their duties for others and rarely for themselves. An overall preference to Sensing-Feeling means the concrete realities that affect how people feel, and manage their emotions, concern them most of all. A Judging preference augments their compassion with a degree of organisation and scheduling, for there is no time to be negligent in their stewardship, it’s an anathema to their existence.
Kiersey’s Four Temperaments help us to contextualise the overall leanings of type. The ISFJ belongs to the Guardians (SJ preference). Their prevailing nature being to unite groups and people, providing stability and security. It’s not the great leaps of innovation or grandstanding that stirs. Some might underappreciate their efforts, furthering the potential for such types to be exploited.
In recent times a manager in the English Premier League exemplifies this. Arsene Wenger is a stalwart among Premier League management but to a discontented group of fans, his ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ style is too static for modern football. Wenger highlights a distinct truth, that through tireless service this type distinguishes itself. Many nurses and caregivers find the ISFJ temperament germane to the role, as the combination of concrete detail orientation and accommodation befits the practice of looking after people and administration of medicine.
In the motions of the daily rigour, an ISFJ will find their cognitive preferences to lend an almost unimpeachable quality of dependability. Reliable contribution marks their lives and the competence in which they orient this towards groups and families is second-to-none. ISFJs maintain a streak of unwavering dutiful apropos in their professional lives, straddling this business-like image with a relaxed, emotive display outside of their work surroundings.
If responsible for a team, a sudden change that imposes on the group will evoke their feelings. In such instances, the safeguarding disposition emboldens the group. It’s through this oversight of the group that an ISFJ finds it necessary to attend to all of the finer details, administration tasks and nitty-gritty that others find less motivating.
The ISFJ is a dominant perceiver supported by an extraverted judging process.
- Introverted Sensing (Si)
Dominant / Perception
- Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Auxiliary / Judgment
- Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Tertiary / Judgment
- Extraverted iNtuition (Ne)
Inferior / Perception
The MBTI shorthand of ISFJ refers to an introvert that leads with Sensing (IS) supported by the extraverted judgment process of Feeling (FJ).
Introverted sensing is perhaps the least noticeable dominant and best regarded as a personal consultant charged with collecting memories, experiences and sensations and storing them with incredible richness. In tandem with Feeling this fosters a nagging desire for the way things were, with recollections of cherished people & social settings seeming an indelible imprint.
The proportion of introverted sensors among social media has I believe contributed to a throwback culture, where online profiles are highlight reels and denizens of mediocre climates wish they were back in the Spanish villa before the plane has even touched down on terra firma in their homeland. This introverted type views their memories as a colourful, enlivening tapestry of events that can be experienced again and again, almost on demand. Feeling gives a particular focus to these events, where roles are clear and an appropriate value is to be found.
Of course we all have a powerful memory, but for these types the memory is the administrative ruler of the mind. In a piece by Susan Dominus for the NY Times, the rise and implied demise of social psychologist Amy Cuddy is written with an administrative diligence. The first paragraph is an extensive, laboured recollection with highly specific details:
“As she talked about her life in recent years, my attention kept drifting to her left arm, which she had trapped underneath her right leg, which crossed the left. She was slightly hunched over, and yet her right arm, long and lean — she danced for many years — gesticulated freely and expressively, so that the contrast gave the impression of someone in a conflicted emotional state, someone both wanting to tell her story and unsure about doing so.“
Susan’s recollection is startlingly precise, she weaves the details with a complete sense of ease as if rifling through the filing cabinet of her mind. Yet the colour of her words lacks the logical coldness, she characterises how Amy was feeling — at that time.
Jung described this localised process as being almost unable to divorce itself of the value aspect, remarking that the introverted attitude of sensation is “definitely based upon the subjective portion of perception”. Au fond, the dominant Si users are perceiving the moment as it relates to historical data.
Serial users of this function adopt a check-and-balances disposition, in a permanent state of identifying mismatch with their current situation and their stored impressions. The world is preferred to be experienced in reference to this impression, as if the moment calls upon an array of stored values to determine the meaning. It’s the antithesis of extraverted sensation, which attributes no aspect value to sense perception.
Maintaining the cherished familiar.
This type tends to develop strong connections to routine, tradition and reliable pillars of society – the kind that support and nurture communities, social groups and families. The accumulation of experiences takes an almost entirely subjective regard wherein the physical qualities pale in comparison to the historical influence. On more than one occasion, I’ve noticed a peculiarity; prominent Si users assert if they cannot recall something, as if proofing their own mind; like a librarian fastidiously correcting a section that misses a key text. This Si-Ti combination is prominent in diagnosing a problem. Stored data is analysed, and possibilities are consulted as an afterthought.
Reluctance to change is a common strand among the ISXJ types, and if an ISFJ is comfortable in an environment they will be hard pressed to see a need for change. I knew a housemate of such a persuasion. She cares about people but is a cog in the machine and her fundamental goodwill of mankind is questioned in the daily happenings of her employment. She feels that some things are better left unchanged and refuses to part with an outmoded phone owing to the memories attached. When a man left her adrift after significant investment, the attachments proved to be liabilities, with a certain perspective.
The dominant introverted sensors are predisposed to a remarkable accuracy of recollection and their accounts of events are often precise, detailed and characterised by depth. The user interprets everything in line with their inner worldview and stored memories. Therefore no two Si users can be alike and will value things differently. Though it is common to see them as traditionalists, it does not define them. Si also has a stricter interpretation of ‘inner sensing’. SJ types report an overall familiarity with how their bodies are feeling to them, though with this type it may present as feelings that elude reason, where the ISTJ might be better equipped to determine the sensations.
It’s only a sensitive soul that would see an angsty talent in the form of Eminem and feel an obligation to take him under his wing. Dr. Dre enabled Eminem’s meteoric rise, through a parental attitude and sincere desire to see the duckling prosper. In the truest form of the caregiving stereotype, the Doctor nurtured Marshall Mathers, assauging Eminem’s inferior Feeling.
While that might characterise Dre as a Feeling-oriented man, his insistence that the rap game never forget him, respect the events of the past, and time-orientation in “Still D.R.E.” and “Forgot About Dre” among others indicates a chronological focus.
“They say raps changed, they wanna know how I feel about it.” – Dr. Dre
This line from “Still D.R.E.” is a suitable summary of Dre, he perceives the change in time, how things used to be, and his focus is the feeling judgment of those changes. It may have been ghostwritten, but his way of writing is laced in the track. It’s a theme that purveys his rap, and it crystallises in the later duet with Eminem on “Forgot About Dre”.
“Got a crib with a studio and it’s all full of tracks to add to the wall
Full of plaques, hanging up in the office in back of my house like trophies
Did y’all think I’mma let my dough freeze, ho please
You better bow down on both knees, who you think taught you to smoke trees
Who you think brought you the oldies
Eazy-E’s, Ice Cubes, and D.O.C’s
The Snoop D-O-double-G’s”
Note the concerted recollection of tangible assets, it mirrors the New York Times piece in its specificity. His focus is on the past in this verse, the entire verse in fact is an account of what Dre has done for the rap game. You could argue it’s a retrospective, but compare this with Eminem’s first line:
“Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got something to say
But nothing comes out when they move their lips”
Eminem’s focus is immediately different; the concern is in the present, leading to the assessment of the future. Unlike Dre, he doesn’t give the same consideration to the past – but both are grounded in reality. In the vein of Taylor Swift, Dre is a Sensor at his core and therefore has the proclivity to theming his albums in accordance with the passage of time. Where Swift had 1989, Dre had 2001. Andre, as is his birthname, also references the temporal with his label Aftermath Entertainment.
In his verse on the Next Episode, Dre highlights the ISFJ’s disposition in his recollection of his origin and the sensing details of that environment:
Straight off the fuckin’ streets of C-P-T
King of the beats, you ride to ’em in your Fleet (Fleetwood)
Or Coupe DeVille rollin’ on dubs
How you feelin’ whoopty whoop, nigga what?
Dre and Snoop chronic’d out in the ‘llac
With Doc in the back, sippin’ on ‘gnac
Clip in the strap, dippin’ through hoods (what hoods?)
Compton, Long Beach, Inglewood
You’ll observe a sentence structure Dre uses again and again. Introducing a setting, he’ll prceed to elaborate in detail to recreate the event from memory through his rhymes. The dominant function for this type informs conversation, it’s the pool of resources from which a harmonising association can be made with the other person.
In “I Need a Doctor”, Eminem bestows appreciation for the (almost sacrificial) kindness Dre offered him when he was neglected by the hip-hop world. Marshall, in pained inferior Fe expression, implores Dre to remember who he is. We can think of this as Eminem incentivising Dre to tap into his dominant functions instead of flailing in his lower order conscious functions.
Dre’s reply is a verse that perfectly characterises his type’s heroic function.
It literally feels like a lifetime ago
But I still remember the shit like it was just yesterday though
You walked in, yellow jump suit, whole room, cracked jokes
Once you got inside the booth, told you, mic smoke
Went through friends, some of them I put on, but they just left
They said they was ridin’ to the death
But where the fuck are they now, now that I need them?
For Dre, his recollection is as fresh as if it were the present. The pattern persists from the NY Times piece and other tracks from the Doctor; Dre proceeds to itemise the sensing aspects of his memory — reliving the experience as he spins his words. His primary focus is anecdotal and his judgment extends to whether the mismatch between the past and the present is harmonious. In this case, Dre reprimands the affectations of loyalty from his past.
The first thing one should observe of an auxiliary extraverted feeling user is their reserved, perhaps even reluctant, but evidently kindly (or at times reproachful) expression. Absent the animated countenance of the dominant form, it’s muted but still recognisable as the face of a quiet, privately emotive individual.
Harnessing this function in tandem with introverted sensing incurs a respect for social order, traditions & rituals. These types seek to maintain group morale, listen to the experiences of others, and how their emotions might be affecting them. Taking stock of the group in this fashion permits them to dip into their extensive library of stored impressions to consider how best to aid those around them.
Safeguarding groups is a hallmark.
There’s no surprise that a catch-all name for this type is that of a defender. These introverted caregivers are apt to keeping people together, protecting them from undue change if necessary. Without the feelers, there would be chaos. My first meaningful acquaintance with an ISFJ grounded this insight:
“I followed the rules. College, corp job, marriage, house in suburbs, kids. Then I woke up.” – Mark Baxter
I identifed that Mark Baxter was an ISFJ shortly after my fascination with type bore full force. As a clear introvert, his penchant for tradition and sense of pragmatic reason immediately attracted me to this type. Throughout his life Mark was content to sit in the social orders rendered so comfortable by his dominant function. As such, Mark fell into a routine of living that ISFJs generally prefer, but he eventually “woke up” as he discovered his blanket approach to compassion was rarely reciprocated, his utility of feeling needed a redirection to avoid it overwhelming him.
In an interview with BigBoyTV, Dr. Dre shares this trait. He describes watching a performance for Straight Outta Compton and becoming “emotional”.
“We wanted to be as authentic as possible, there’s this actor Jason Mitchell who actually plays Eazy. He did an incredible job, I mean there’s a couple of times when I got a little emotional.”
As a self-described “doctor”, it’s not a stretch for us to see him as a natural nurturer. This is especially true in the song with Eminem, “Guilty Conscience”. In the music video, echoed in the lyrics, Eminem plays the devil on the shoulder of an everyman, while Dre is the angel, urging the protagonist not to succumb to temptation. It’s a perfect representation of auxiliary vs inferior extraverted feeling. Eminem’s is unrefined, volatile. Dre on the other hand offers a broad, universal compassion.
In serving others it’s of vital importance to maintain a watch over yourself. It is the conclusion so often found that when someone is selfless, they value themselves as inferior to those they help. This is of course, not the case. It’s the frame however from which an ISFJ can get caught unaware.
Introverted Sensing in tandem with Extraverted Feeling excels at role assignment. In terms of family and security, this talent is more prominent, and it is not surprising that Mark Baxter post-divorce has learned from the episode and assigned roles in line with his what matters to him.
It’s worth mentioning that because of the strong Fe use, ISFJs rarely take the credit, like to stand out or be recognised openly. They see what they do as a part of human nature and contribution, though I would contest that now and then, a pat on the back does no harm.
Introverted thinking simmers in the background, providing explanatory assistance to the ISFJ and their overarching judgment of the strange and familiar. Under the weight of its opposing judging function, extraverted feeling, this function finds itself trying to decipher the why behind the appraisal of the motivations and moods of others.
ISFJs will find that Ti asserts itself with an obsessive urge to understand the reasoning behind the actions of others. They might come to apply this function in a dissecting manner, inspecting social groups and organisations for their respective suitability, particularly with regard to the service of others.
When Mark Baxter faced a testing divorce, he was flung into the grip of his inferior – ‘why is this happening to me?’ As a consequence of his confusion, Ti was called into action to solve the problem, right about the time its emergence was taking place. A fortuitious timing of events, as he capitalised on this richness of development and reinvented himself – while others might double-down on appeasement as a sexual strategy.
Seeking the core truth.
ISFJs have a knack for troubleshooting, time-optimising for work and a desire for the fundamental truths. This usually makes them quite assertive communicators when their Ti side is activated, as they will not hesitate in using this function to demonstrate the efficacy of a line of thinking. The function predominates when problems arise, as solutions are first diagnostic curiosities that develop into meaningful change.
As an ISFJ gets older, this function becomes more developed. ISFJs find greater awareness of their lived experiences through Si and become more comfortable with deconstructing these experiences, inevitably developing an ad-hoc competence in discovering the underlying causes that precipitated them.
PUA-turned-wholesome romantic Neil Strauss is an example of this. In his infamous work ‘The Game’, he entered into a world of pick-up artists where his Ti and Ne could be tantalised by the types like Mystery, the PUA sort that needed lines and routines to understand the social cues at work. Style, as Neil went by, never required this – he required something different.
Years later, after his book is a distant memory – Strauss now preaches a new truth. In fact, truth indicates the naming of his book. His emergence resulted in a deep questioning, but the return to form soon follows, and his life of a grounded, sensitive feeler took precedence once more.
Ne as a function is concerned with connectivity in the external world: how things are alike, and the possibilities that spring forth. It is a relational form of perception. Ne users often demonstrate a sense of idealism with the world, owing to this web-like form of intuition. Extraverted intuition is ‘what could be’, and with the ISFJ it is the temptation to deregulate from the cycles of normality that teases and taunts them.
The inferior form of this function has an extreme or muted utility. Where it serves to provide a rich palette of alternatives when tried-and-true is not sufficient, it also tempts the user with the possibilities that might not stack up with reality, or be helpful at all. I believe when an ISFJ fails to recognise themselves in their routine this function causes particular distress. Tiger Woods perhaps knows something of this, as his life is marked by the necessity of consistent performance, the temptation to discard expectation and act out remains potent.
Inferior Ne can be endlessly speculative.
It is mentioned in A.J. Drenth’s My True Type, that the combination of Si and Ne resorts in a form of resourcefulness, fashioning solutions from existing resources and employing the ingenuity of Ne with the conservative nature of Si. In places where adherence to rules is mandatory, Si comes out on top, but there are times when rules are not imposed and the possibilities begin to froth in the mind of an ISFJ, this can seem without limit as they barrel into every possible permutation of an event.
There is a balancing act that ISFJ’s can appreciate here too. The desire for novel possibilities afforded by Ne is often tempered by Si, which allows an ISFJ to be relentlessly reliable (almost anal-retentive at times) with their work or social life.
Stressors in work and life however cause Ne to see the worst in potential possibilities, losing all attentiveness to detail as their dominant perceiving function is coloured by their inferior function. This spiralling of dreaming up negative situations can have a detrimental effect if an ISFJ entertains it at length. Their view of events may become expansive with a catastrophic filter, as if every possibility portends doom.
Beneath the surface of the conscious functions lie the unconscious opposites, that are outside of our present capacity for awareness. We can examine them only through noticing the prominence of the opposite.
The memory warehouse of the conscious function is supplied by Se. An ISFJ will struggle to be in the present if their minds are permitted to wander, but if nostalgia is not an option, their senses can be razor sharp.
The introverted value system presents often when the extraverted canvassing of Fe fails to honour the individual, or is simply not an option. There are times where harmony is nothing more than idealism. In such cases, a personal stamp of feeling must reign. For all other values the group colours what matters.
The experimentation that Ti informs in the conscious stack often provides the illusion of a favourable result. This is the presentation of Te, the Loki among the stack. Arsene Wenger’s tactical blunders (he recently omitted a star striker from a big game) come to mind. For a more results-driven individual, they are incomprehensible.
Buried within the unconscious for the ISFJ is the abstract vision that INTJs wield on a daily basis. The uncertainty of Ne alone is a troubling ask for this type, with the familiar a safety net in times of duress. To go one beyond that and enact a singular vision, acting on visual patterns, transgresses the functional aptitude to draw on the past, to focus on the grounded realities. It borders on the impossible.
Last Updated: 27/11/17
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