Bridging psychological type and depth psychology

Editors: Carol Shumate, Mark Hunziker, and Jenny Soper

Next Issue: April

Do You Trust Your Dominant Function?

Edvard Munch, "Melancholy" (1892-1893)When I realized, a few years ago, that my dominant function, introverted intuiting (Ni), may not be nearly as well-developed as I would like to think, it came as discouraging news. The task of differentiating lower function-attitudes is the normal work of reasonably mature adults; and persevering in that struggle seems somewhat noble and heroic. But if even the most fundamental part of who we are is immature and unreliable, it’s easy to wonder whether our sense of progress toward individuation might be an illusion.

Many people grow up in families and/or cultures that don’t support their preferred ways of seeing the world and operating in it; and many of these environments actively discourage normal development of certain function-attitudes. Just as I was realizing that underdevelopment of our naturally preferred functions is probably a common type-development issue, I heard a prominent Jungian psychoanalyst say that he, in fact, finds it to be the case.

This seems like a too-rarely-admitted aspect of type development that could benefit from some public discussion. So our questions to PTD readers are: Do you use your dominant function-attitude confidently? Heroically?  Do you recall using it differently in childhood? Do you know when to trust it, even if no one else does? If not, do you have a sense of what’s getting in the way?

Header Image:  Edvard Munch, “Melancholy” (1892-1893). Courtesy, National Gallery, Oslo


    Mark, you have presented us with an interesting question. As I read the title of your article I thought why isn’t he asking if we find we place too much trust in our dominant. Of course, my dominant, introverted sensation, is the most preferred perceiving process for the majority of the population while your dominant is the least preferred perceiving process. What a difference in perspective we have as a result of social expectations and accpetance. I remember as a teenager walking on our farm and finding myself in a place that I did not recognize. I was overcome with panic. Later I realized I had only approached a section of woods from a different direction than I normally did and did not recognize my surroundings. I even went back to the place several times and tried to approach from the same direction again to relive the feeling of panic. I could not recreate the feeling because I now had an inner image that told me where I was.

    My problem has been learning to question my dominant or admit it might not be correct. It’s very difficult for me to question its correctness in the moment. Afterwards I’m better at acknowledging my mistakes. For me, it’s my ego that is blocking my willingness to consider the slightest possibility that my dominant might be wrong.

  • Bob,
    I agree that ‘inflation,’ as you describe, is the far more common issue with the ‘heroic’ dominant. Here’s a bit more detail about my own experience, which may shed more light on what I’m talking about:

    I began to question the ‘maturity level’ of my dominant function when I realized that I often have not trusted it when I should. I see the natural role of dominant functions as ‘heroic’ (Beebe’s term) –‘leading the charge’ as it were. This is particularly noticeable (in me and in everyone) when it becomes inflated, leading one into courses of action that turn out to be ill-advised—and which would have been challenged and probably altered, had other internal voices been consulted before charging in.

    In reviewing the choices I’ve made in my life that haven’t turned out well, I realized that a few have been of the inflated Hero kind, but more have resulted from not acting on what my heroic Ni ‘knew.’ Introverted intuition provides insights about the future. But they are often so contrary to ‘common knowledge’ that it takes a lot of trust to act upon them. What’s more, my preferred decision-making function, my extraverted thinking auxiliary, often has immediately dismissed the Ni insights as wrong, or at best unreliable, because either the insights themselves or the idea of acting upon them was illogical.

    This is what I mean by not ‘trusting’ my dominant function (though it may well look quite different for other dominant functions); and since realizing this, I have been focusing on learning how to determine when its vision should be acted upon, and then to just go with it.

  • Mark, thanks for your response. I especially find the following interesting, “I have been focusing on learning how to determine when its vision should be acted upon, and then to just go with it.” I have the same reactions regarding my introverted intuition which is in my “demonic” position using Beebe’s model. I had always attributed my reactions to trusting my introverted intuition to its position in my psyche. Now I’m wondering if you aren’t revealing something about introverted intuition regardless of its position in the psyche.

  • I have the same experience that Bob describes, that is, I don’t trust my introverted intuition either. But I have it in the 5th (Opposing Personality) position so maybe that’s to be expected. Certainly, Ni is not favored in a culture that demands data and experience. Cheryl Simon mentions this problem too in her article in this issue, “Unconscious Guardians,” where she describes her experience with her father. Even Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country,” and since the Old Testament prophets were probably all using Ni when they prophesied, this seems to allude to the resistance to Ni by the indigenous culture. Mark, I hope you’ll share some clues on “how to determine when its vision should be acted on.” – Carol

  • Glad to see this post, being a supposed INTJ wo much connection w most descriptions of Ni. I love Lenore Thompson’s version of Ni and see it all over my personality, but relate much more to Ti in everyone else’s. I wonder almost every day if I’m an INTP, silly and trivial as that sounds to me when I state it out loud.

    Vicky Jo Varner emailed me and mentioned that INTJs seem to overdevelop T and underdevelop N, and I loved that we had both had that insight independently. I used to blame the school system and culture for encouraging rational discourse but not intuition. Presum, I thought, they did out of necessity this bc it’s imposs to “teach” N, though you might coach it, whereas T is built for discussions among diverse people about correct answers. More succinctly, much of schooling is about reaching the right answer, and N merely strands you w a bunch of good ones.

    But I’m not so sure. I see N everywhere now, even Ni, when I look in the arts (TV, vid games, fiction), (maybe) bc the arts have come to the masses now, thanks (maybe) to technology, custom-made media, and widespread higher education.

    An example. The climax of Kung Fu Panda, big time spoiler alert. The chosen one (prophecy, Ni) will inherit the Dragon Scroll and the contents of that scroll will help him save the community. But when the panda finally gets it, it’s blank. Except after musing, the Hero has the sudden insight where he knows the answer (Ni): the scroll is reflective. Bc the Big Secret is what’s reflected in the scroll: the panda. The panda need only look within himself for the secret to becoming the Dragon Warrior. Super Ni, right?

    But that’s just one. My generation seems to love Ni, and spreads it all over the arts and media. Relativism is highly N, esp Ni, and that undercurrent drowns almost all potentially good fiction (until Infinite Jest found solid ground toward a new zeitgeist, look at me, pretty words and ideas with no justification or reason for readers to believe it).

    So I can no longer believe that schooling fails to nourish it. There’s something else going on, esp in INTJs, where they laugh at being (or at least being called) robots and they are foundationally skeptical and critical, but they don’t meditate or know.

  • Josh, you’re so right about Ni and this media/techy generation–finally Ni’s time has come. In interviewing CEOs for a book on leadership, I also found a huge preponderance of INTJs, not what I expected. Something is happening out there. And thanks for the image of the blank Dragon Scroll. That says it all.

  • In the last two or three decades, extraverted sensation has migrated from the shadow to become, increasingly, the dominant function in American culture, replacing the extraverted thinking of the founding fathers which had defined us for so long. The U.S. no longer excels at governance, but we have gotten very good at making and consuming products. We do amazing things with technology. We’ve even gotten sophisticated about food and clothes.

    As extraverted sensation finds its place at the head, it draws introverted intuition out of the shadows and into the position of the country’s anima/animus. Where before we always treated introverted intuition with suspicion, as if it were a trick, we begin to take it serious as an aspiration and an ideal. Forty years ago, it was considered borderline-crazy in American culture to ask of some surprising occurrence on the national scene, “What does this mean for us? Why is this happening now?” At that time, introverted intuition was the domain of hippy spiritualists and religious nuts. Now that is starting to change.

  • As in INFJ, Ni is my “go to” for functioning, but I think it took me a long time to really trust and use in everyday life, although when I did things started to go much better. If it’s true that Se (Inferior in INFJ) might be equated with the ego in INJ types then that might explain why using it to try to make things happen and control the outer world never worked well for me and once I lived more through Ni and let its visions happen in their own time I became much happier.

  • Adam, I liked hearing your thoughts, lots fo good stuff. I agree on the Te nature of the U.S.’s experiment in governance (or non-governance where possible), and wd add the significant N nature of such a forward-thinking experiment. But I think there was also a huge Se element back then, with 90% of people being “farmers” and so closely connected with the land and practical tasks that had to be accomplished. We hear more in history books about the Te part, but I imagine the actual culture of the time (and lasting through early 1900s, when we were still 90% “farmers”) was heavily Se. As for nowadays or the past few decades, I do see materialism as partly an Se development, now that you mention it. But materialism is dying. People were replacing objects they must have just to have stuff, with special elite objects made just for them that they must have (last generation), and now with media they must consume just to consume it, which is no longer Se. And now we have highly fantasy-oriented fictional worlds made special just for niche groups, becoming the norm in broad-based popular culture. Sounds like N, particularly Ni, is having its heyday. Not so?

  • Hi,

    I think Mark’s point about trust in the dominant and it’s effective use etc. is a useful point, particularly at the basic level where knowing your type preferences or the preferences of others tells you nothing about how they are used and how effective they are, in particular because type isn’t behaviour or skill.

    And regarding environmental or existential contexts contexts, perhaps also existential angst and what Durkheim called anomie in some instances. INFP males, for instance usually report a lot of these experiences, to me anyway, and I have my own INTP experience. So I expect all types to be represented in these issues and I’ve had discussions with people of a wide range of types regarding their experiences.

    Being of a different ideology or perspective, I have no idea what acting heroically might be with regard to a superior function, for several reasons and I wonder whether some of the time spent on particular self-evaluation is all that helpful. In fact concentrating on individuation might be an indication you’re on the wrong track. It is, after all, about being yourself. So this is an interesting discussion that might be better held in another place than online. I’ve always been an INTP,and I like that because it’s who I am, but it hasn’t been good for my health and well-being, really.

    I’m also responding to Carol’s expressed surprise about the numbers of INTJs she’s encountering in her current research. Unlike INFJs, who appear to be genuinely rare, I’ve never thought of INTJs as rare, particularly in management, but also in politics. Two Australian Prime Ministers, two State Premiers (female), Presidential candidates and Secretaries of State, Rupert Murdoch, Bob Geldof, Mother Teresa, perhaps a Pope. These are all observational, of course. But I’ve always experienced Strategic Planning as an INTJ haven and computer modelling with its adherence to particular frameworks, often economic. So I think the statistical data underrepresents INTJs in the general population and I’ve thought that for nearly 20 years. I personally experience INTJs as being significant participants and influences in Western culture at least. But we may be different in Australia, who knows?

    Now, whether any of these people, known and unknown are comfortable in their INTJ world and trust their dominant is unknown; you have to observe and ask. Certainly one recent Prime Minister was noted for some extreme controlling habits which were obviously not using superior or auxiliary function. Success in life isn’t necessarily public success. Mary McCaulley used to talk about people who liked their auxiliary more than their dominant.

    So there are some thoughts, for what they’re worth. I may also have missed the point.



  • Josh: Your comment gave me a lot to think about. I hadn’t considered how much the history we read in school highlights thinking and deemphasizes the sensation aspects of lived experience.
    I hope you are right that materialism is waning and that introverted intuition is coming into its own in the younger generation. I have heard this same observation recently and find it hopeful.

    Mark, rereading your piece made me realize how close your comments come to what Jung said in writing the Red Book. He talked about having to sacrifice his thinking, which he had perhaps trusted more than his introverted intuition during his years of leadership in the psychoanalytic movement. In the Red Book we see him connect to the anima of extraverted sensation and really become a full-fledged introverted intuitive.

  • Carol asked, above, what I’ve learned regarding knowing when to trust and act upon my introverted intuition; and two, quite different, responses come to mind. The first is a technique for consciously ‘managing’ typological blind spots: an eight-step decision-making checklist. When I do this, I intentionally look at each of the four kinds of information, as defined by the four function-attitudes of perception. Then I work through the four judging function-attitude-based approaches to making the decision. Of course this methodical and somewhat labor-intensive technique works best when we face a ‘big’ decision —one where we realize that we need to go to extra effort to ‘get it right;’ and works well regardless of our type bias.

    My second response is about ‘type development’/individuation and is what I had in mind when I wrote, above, about learning when to trust my dominant Ni vision. It’s about sometimes having a sense of being more whole, more integrated, in engaging Ni —and learning to recognize when I’m coming from this place of greater integrity vs. when I’m not. When I am, I simply feel more solid, more grounded. When I’m not, I feel slightly more tenuous, less balanced. John Beebe’s image of the Hero/Anima ‘spine’ of selfhood (paraphrased) certainly applies here. I’m not particularly aware that I’m noticing or using more concrete data, as one might expect if the Se Anima is more engaged. I.e. I’m not aware of the Se ‘component’ of the process as separate. It still feels like my good-ole introverted intuition —but like a Ni version 2.0. Adam’s description, above, of Jung’s Bollengen/Red Book experience, expressed it elegantly: By ‘sacrificing’ (or at least setting aside) my thinking, I find it possible to feel when I’m ‘connecting’ to the Anima of extraverted sensation because it feels like I’m ‘really becoming a more full-fledged introverted intuitive.’

  • My apologies for just now commenting–it’s been on my to-do list since first published.

    My ‘hero’ is Ni as well, and for years I trusted it implicitly. As I mature [age :-)], I have gained more self-awareness, and I can see the effect my Ni has on both others and myself, just as often negative as positive. As a result, I have become much less trusting and aim for the happy medium that brings balance.

    Until I began studying type, I had no understanding of the patience that was required for Ni to perform well. Patience is not one of my character traits so I often felt at loose ends and inadequate when it wasn’t working quickly, and certain and confident when it was. It also was beyond my comprehension that everyone else wasn’t able to understand Ni for what it was, or depend on it as I did/do, and that they assumed my certainty was arrogance–yet I didn’t have the type vocabulary to express any of this.

    I attribute the trust, or lack therof, to many factors along a gradient: complete trust would be from blindness/ignorance of other processes at work; complete lack of trust would be from unbridled perceptions and undisciplined judging processes resulting in no focus, and thus, no Ni. Along this spectrum lies *enough* input and judgement to *know* the answer. How do I *know* when there’s *enough*? I just do.

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