As a child, you have naturally developed strategies in order to survive in your environment. These strategies emerged through the development of a cognitive function. There are 8 functions defined by Carl Jung, one of which you developed first. This first function will be your dominant function, a function that you will use all the time and sometimes on a daily basis. In order to develop this function correctly, your mind has made the choice to prioritize this function over all the others in order to avoid cognitive conflicts. In particular, your brain prioritizes the dominant function over the function opposite to it. This opposite function, which has been repressed from the beginning of your cognitive development, is called the inferior function. Especially if you are still young, it represents the part of your mind that you have not yet explored— as you have been too busy using your dominant function. The inferior function represents the dimension of your mind that you have most neglected during your life, the direction of thought that you have never wanted to take.
The Dilemma of the Inferior Function
By focusing solely on your dominant function, you have managed to meet some of your needs—but not without sacrifice. In fact, you have created a void in the opposite direction. This can make you incapable of meeting some of your needs, as they would require a totally opposite way of thinking than you are used to. It can be very disturbing and even frightening to have to do exactly the opposite of what you usually do, hence your instinctive rejection of such ideas. And yet, you are terribly eager to fill that gap you have been suffering from for years: this is the dilemma of the inferior function. You passionately want to fulfill all of your needs but that would require too great a sacrifice for your ego, so you never do it.
In Jungian psychology, each function is paramount for cognitive development. Consequently, the repression of a function has more or less serious consequences depending on the intensity of this repression. Indeed, this function can be the source of your greatest frustrations, fears, misfortunes… in short, your ultimate burden. Helpless in understanding the source of negative emotions, you seize every opportunity to fulfill the expectations of this function by undertaking unhealthy and meaningless actions in order to satisfy this function—even if only for a few minutes. Even worse, you hate that others notice this weak point because the years of carrying this burden have made you insecure about its presence. If you do not understand this dark beast in your mind, you are at least aware of your powerlessness in the face of it, and are afraid that it will be seen—hence many hypocritical behaviors may surface as compensation.
What can we do with it?
In personal development, understanding the inferior functions is a very powerful tool. Being your greatest void, the inferior function also represents your greatest potential for progression. However, understanding it and knowing how it manifests itself is a challenge that should never be underestimated. Unless your understanding of psychology is innate to you, or you already know the concept of inferior functions, you will project the cause of some of your problems or discomforts onto your inferior function repeatedly and erroneously. Awareness of the true influences of this function does not really begin until you are about 35-40 years of age and lasts for many years. Nevertheless, regardless of your age, premature awareness of this concept is possible and can only benefit you and bring you closer to a happier and more fulfilled version of yourself.
How Does the Inferior Function Stand Out?
In everyday life, it is as easy to unmask someone’s inferior function as it is to unmask their dominant one. Identify which situations someone is clumsy, uncomfortable, or acts in a childish way (and often with avoidance). In spite of this discomfort, identify if your subject is sensitive to the situation: Does he or she think about it often? Does he or she ruminate about it regularly? Does he or she take criticism about it very seriously?
In case of intense stress or fatigue, the inferior function will manifest itself in a brutal way: unusual behavior, often with a strong emotional character—irrational, impulsive, defensive, immature. The subject is no longer in control of what it does and may adopt destructive, or even self-destructive behaviors.
More generally, the inferior function manifests itself in extreme, all-or-nothing behavior. However, some individuals have suffered so much from their inferior function that they have taken the time, during their years of suffering or following traumas, to master, little by little, their inferior function until they are completely aware of it and use it better than their dominant function. They are at a stage where they fully benefit from both their dominant and inferior function without the use of one of the two functions preventing the use of the other.
To understand the rest, it is necessary to know the mature uses of cognitive functions.
Here are the descriptions of the manifestations of the 8 cognitive functions as inferior functions.
Tribe Functions: Te – Fe
In the inferior position, tribe functions are manifested by the strong need for social validation, making the individual sensitive to external judgements.
Types concerned: IxxP
Te – Extraverted Thinking
Te usually consists of structuring systems of thought and using them to gain power in the world.
When Te is in an inferior position, its users want to have power and influence in the world but often do not know how to do so. In order to protect their purely personal values (Fi dominant) from external judgements that could influence their reputation, they prefer not to talk about them and to remain discreet about them. They are uncomfortable expressing themselves because of a constant fear of bad external judgements. They are aware that, in a debate, for example, everything they say will be judged, analyzed, and that others will surely try to criticize all the arguments put forward. Consequently, they will speak only when they are sure of themselves; for example, when they have many sources to validate their argument, or not at all. This sensitivity to judgment during conversations is also on their side: they also judge what others are saying and will often be the first to ask the sources of such statements.
This tendency of judgment and fear of evaluation greatly lengthens their thought processes. At work, they can quickly become demotivated in the face of a heavy workload because they know it will take a long time to get into an effective thinking process.
They will never admit it to you, but their reputation is extremely important to them. They like people to have a good image of them. They don’t like competition or other environments where judgments are the norm because this risks their reputations. They will feel comfortable in an environment where they feel respected and are considered intelligent and successful, even if it is not necessarily the truth.
As mentioned in the introduction above, Te inferior can also develop exponentially in an individual, sometimes temporarily, making them more capable than average of doing things, like running a business, for example. No matter what projects they embark on, their efficiency and courage will be such that nothing can stop them in their success, whatever their definition of success is.
Fe – Extraverted Feeling
Fe is usually used to maintain harmony in a social group to allow individuals in that group to open up, receive and give love.
In an inferior position, Fe is the cause of an inability in its user to receive or give love, or more generally, to understand the most human language there is: emotional language. Fe inferior users lack empathy and are often unable to understand people in depth, preventing them from developing true intimate and trusting relationships with others. This lack of understanding of others can lead Fe inferior users to isolate themselves, or even to adopt anti-social behaviors or develop social anxiety.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for them, humans are social beings and are made to live with other humans. This means that Fe inferior users are bound to have to talk to individuals one day or another—so how will they do it?
Some are aware of their inability to understand others, so their greatest fear is that they will be rejected from the social group because of it. In response to this, they will try to display a minimalist Fe, being constantly kind and trying never to frustrate anyone for fear of being rejected. Conversely, others will never want to be limited by the “social nonsense” of a group’s recognized emotions and values, which are far too illogical for their Ti dominant. They will not hesitate to tell the truth without ever worrying about what others feel.
These two types have the same approach with themselves on their sentimental plane. They are unable to understand what they are feeling, sometimes to the point that they are unaware of actually feeling something. Understanding that they have feelings towards someone—whether they are angry, anxious, depressed, or happy—is a very fuzzy concept for them. They understand emotions in theory, but they don’t know what they really mean. This is why it is difficult to really communicate with them; they will rarely communicate their real desires to you, so you will never really know who they are behind this wall of logic imposed by Ti.
However, when they feel emotions, they often act like a tidal wave—whether positive or negative. When emotions appear on the surface, it is often already too late. In spite of the users’ effort not to communicate those emotions, when they do occur, they are uncontrolled and felt with intense purity so that the user can even lose control over reason. From an inability to speak because of love, to trembling during anger, to violent emotional outbursts, Fe inferior users know that this is a part of them that they do not have access to.
However, some Fe inferior users can become the most protective people in society in a mature and selfless way. When they are able to grasp what they feel, show empathy and understanding, and improve their emotional intelligence, they get rid of the one thing that blocks them from exposing themselves to the happiness of true friendships or romantic relationships.
Individuality Functions: Ti – Fi
In an inferior position, the functions of individuality are manifested by a disagreement of individuals with themselves.
Types concerned: ExxJ
Ti – Introverted Thinking
Ti normally aims to make logical, correct decisions based on impersonal judgment.
Users of Ti inferior usually have no interest in seeking the truth, as this is not consistent with maintaining a warm atmosphere (Fe dominant). For this harmony, they therefore regularly sacrifice their ability to reason with logic and objectivity. They are so anxious to maintain this intimate connection with others that they fear, from the bottom of their hearts, that the emergence of truths could hurt others and thus break the precious harmony they cherish so much. Thus, the use of Ti is rare and is often very basic because, deep down, it doesn’t matter if it is true—as long as they comfort and keep a loved one satisfied, they already have everything they want.
In order to get rid of the universally-undesirable and hard-to-swallow character of the truth, they will regularly try to bend the truth to universally-accepted value. In other words, they will try to establish a reasoning that is false but pleases everyone.
The most serious consequences of these behaviors are on themselves: they can develop a dependence on social relationships, without which they find themselves lost. Indeed, they do not have enough confidence in their ability to reason and make decisions on their own, so they will often need the opinion of others to make decisions, especially since they will be able to take advantage of this opportunity to please someone by satisfying their need.
Aware of their weakness in logic, they are afraid that others will notice this, or even worse, that others will notice that they are wrong and thus make quick judgements about the intelligence of Ti inferior users. Thus, these users, especially since their dominant function is the most communicative of functions (Fe), will quickly let you know how angry they are at your criticism of them. They are sensitive to criticism and will quickly throw the ball back to you, sometimes with impressive violence.
This complex of logic can turn into a blessing for some users of inferior Ti. Ti is their inferior function, and for this reason, some will do everything to make Ti perfectly conscious and thus a reference in decision-making. They will surely need time to set up their logic, but it will be perfect and with enough self-confidence that they will take part in saving the world from ignorance.
Fi – Introverted Feeling
Usually, Fi induces integrity in its user by maintaining consistency between its actions and its values. Fi is responsible for the user’s morals.
Fi inferior users are afraid of being immoral in their quest for results and efficiency induced by their dominant Te function, especially since they are the most capable of moral abuse. This fear is caused by the potential undesirable effects of immoral behavior: rejection from society or rejection from oneself (deprivation of love).
These users hate having to consider moral issues because for them they are nothing more than a burden in their quest for success. For them, “the end justifies the means,” and you have to be willing to make sacrifices when you want to change the world. So, why bother with such abstract and unnecessary considerations as moral values? They consider that this will never help them achieve their goals, and so they stray as far as possible from them.
The only value judgements they express are often so reduced and simplified that they no longer make any moral sense. On a large basis of bad faith, they simplify any value judgment by “completely good” or “completely null,” in order to bend morality to efficiency. Making these kinds of judgments means not having to deal with the true value of things and thus saving time, which is a perfect sacrifice of Fi for Te.
It’s in Fi inferior that they also hold all their emotions and the things they really care about. They contain them in order, once again, not to lose effectiveness. They think that if they started to really listen to themselves, then they wouldn’t be able to act so firmly and insensitively, and would therefore lose results. Consequently, they do not allow themselves to make mistakes, and impose this demand for quality on others as well.
Their general insensitivity will quickly be challenged if you criticize them on their morals. They will become much more emotional or take on the role of a victim, while assailing you with reasons why it is rational to do so and why you have nothing to say to them. They won’t show it, but you will probably hurt them deep down, right in their inferior function. Behind this impenetrable ego that they display lies the fragility of an inferior function and doubts about their moral sense. In other words, they doubt, see, know and regret being seen by themselves and others as bad people.
With enough criticism or significant events in their lives, Fi inferior users can drastically change their behavior and become almost the opposite of what they have always been. By letting go of their ego, some of them will develop a strong sense of morality and demonstrate their altruism, for example, through commitments to humanitarian work.
Divergent Functions: Se – Ne
In the lower position, the divergent functions are manifested by an abnormal psychological distance from the user’s external environment, which is considered chaotic.
Types concerned: IxxJ
Se – Extraverted Sensing
A good user of Se (in a dominant or auxiliary role) uses this function to engage with the world in a frank and frequent manner to bring the best experiences to others.
However, when Se is in an inferior position, we only see opposite behaviors. The Se inferior users hate having to engage with the world, especially when experiences are likely to be unpleasant. They will be terribly uncomfortable in environments where there is noise, dirt, danger, heat, etc.
To understand where this discomfort comes from, we have to go back to their dominant Ni function. These individuals are constantly in their heads, trapped in a world built by their own imagination. This world is so blatantly abstract that they find themselves extremely far from an objective, factual understanding of reality. Moreover, they care so much about their world and their own goals that they develop, over time, a fear of having to look at the reality of things—a reality that could call into question the intense daydreaming in their minds. This unwillingness to connect with reality is regularly the cause of their failure. If the visions they have of their future can come close to perfection in terms of detail, everything will fall apart when they forget, one too many times, to check the feasibility or truthfulness of their ideas. These individuals are those with the most will and potential, but also those who will miss the most opportunities.
This can have a significant impact on their daily happiness. In addition to seeing some of their dreams fade away, they will never really enjoy the present moment. By spending the majority of their lives thinking about “later,” they will never (or often too late), engage in the unique experiences that life has to offer. They will soon become aware of the phenomenal amount of time they have wasted on never really living. By realizing this, they will be able to adopt the opposite behavior by taking advantage—without any control—of anything that might make them enjoy the present moment, such as alcohol, drugs, sex, and potentially abuse these.
Their inability to be aware of the reality of things also explains their tendency to be clumsy, especially when they bring experiences to others. In a relationship with them, they may quickly become controlling and demanding because of their willingness to bend reality to the perfectionism of their minds. It is also for this reason that they will hate to fail in their performance. They tend to have very high standards of achievement and will often be very afraid of failing—whether at work, in relationships, in artistic or athletic performances or simply of not being their best. This is due to their idea that someone is evaluated on these actions, and therefore if they want to be loved, valued, and gain the loyalty of others, they must perform perfectly.
However, the Se inferior are also the ones who can bring themselves the best experiences. Indeed, once their lower function is translated into a state of total consciousness, you will see them be the most charming people you have ever known, performing at a very high level and making their dreams come true.
Ne – Extraverted Intuition
Let us remember Ne’s usual behavior: exercising a power of intuition over the outside world in order to imagine and become aware of all possible realities, present and future.
On the other hand, the position of Ne as an inferior function induces the fear of all the possibilities that the future holds. Si dominant users love facts and structure. Perfectly aware of the way things were, they demand that they remain so in order to keep a firm grip on reality. For this reason, reality alternatives are seen as the storm that tries to bring down the castle—a flood of ideas that, if some of them were true, could then change the facts and what is known—thus causing them lose control over reality. The madness of change in Ne is therefore the nightmare of these individuals.
They are so anxious to keep things in place and find the pace of life that gives them the most stability that they find it difficult to objectively evaluate the concepts that are embedded in harsh reality. Their view of the world is so rigid and fixed that linking facts to make assumptions, or even suggestions of what might be true, is a major challenge for them. Their use of Ne will often be immature or childish. Most of the time, they will not give in to any suggestions or be overwhelmed by their unrealistic assumptions, which often boil down to simply imagining the worst possible scenarios—subsequently causing them to be blamed for their pessimism.
In their professional or sentimental life, they will be blamed for not being open-minded enough. You won’t find anyone more stubborn than they are when it comes to making the slightest change in their lives. Don’t try to change the time they get up, their favorite food, their favorite shows, their dress code, the place of their desk, the way they drive, their routine, or their traditions, because you won’t succeed. As a result, they may be very anxious and suffer heavy failures in an environment (professional or not) involving frequent changes.
You will be very astonished at the behavior of the Ne inferior users when some of them will manage to make their inferior function conscious, for they will suddenly become the most unpredictable and imaginative individuals you know. No barriers of thought will limit their imagination, from which will flow many objective insights into the world. For their vision of the future will be so precise that they will know how to guide you in your life better than anyone else.
Convergent Functions: Si – Ni
In the lower position, convergent functions are manifested by the inability to conform psychologically to any structure.
Types concerned: ExxP
Si – Introverted Sensing
The Si function is, under normal conditions, used to provide its user with the stability needed to guarantee safety and comfort through the maintenance of adequate structures and living systems.
On the other hand, when Si is in an inferior position, its users find themselves unable to follow such a structure as it would have imposed on them since it would mean imposing heavy restrictions on their dominant function always in search of what is not: Ne.
The Si inferior users therefore find themselves in great difficulty when it comes to showing the slightest degree of organization. And this is not by choice, but by inability. Under normal conditions, their minds are blocked on the exploration of new possibilities and the exploitation of their vivid imagination—processes that require the erasing of all barriers of thought, and thus imply the non-respect of all that will force them to do the opposite.
This creates deep instability in their lives, as their extreme anti-conformist spirit prevents them from conforming, even to themselves. Indeed, they are never really present to themselves: if their body is here, their spirit is elsewhere, and vice versa. Thus, performing repetitive tasks, concentrating on some activity, following the rules, arriving on time, writing without mistakes, or even remembering where they left their keys become daily challenges.
Whether it’s for work or for love, making choices is very difficult. Being by far the best at predicting all possible scenarios and aware of all the parameters on which events depend, making a choice is also something they prefer to put off until they no longer have the time to make a decision.
Living far from reality and not being fully aware of their physical presence in the world, they prefer to never engage in experiences that could turn out to be bad. Indeed, these individuals will be most uncomfortable during bad experiences because they will consciously bring them back to the physical sensation they have of themselves—in their bodies—where they are not used to living. This explains, among other things, the great frequency with which they can fall ill or get injured, unaware of the physical realities undergone by their bodies.
Despite their deep desire to have a stable life, they will very regularly lack discipline in all aspects of their lives unless they begin to develop their lower function. Indeed, individuals who will develop their inferior Si function will become responsible individuals. For example, they will show great loyalty to their loved ones, will be solely responsible for their own comfort (and thus keep their home clean), will be efficient at work thanks to their great capacity for concentration, will become athletic thanks to their extraordinary stamina, will not forget anything, and will be people on whom we can definitely rely.
Ni – Introverted Intuition
Usually, when Ni is used, it gives the user the ability to immerse themselves in a very abstract understanding of the world in which they seek to achieve their most ambitious goals.
Conversely, as an inferior function, Ni makes its users unable to project themselves into plans for the future and thus limits their consciousness to the present moment. They do this because they know that using Ni (i.e. undertaking actions that will make sense in the long run), is contrary to the idea of enjoying the experiences that life gives them in the moment (Se dominant).
So, these individuals cannot decide what they want. Their use of Ni is very limited, and it is very difficult for them to connect with their real desires. Because of this, they often refuse to settle for a single choice because they know that the chances this choice is the wrong one are high. Thus, their opinions are therefore constantly changing.
Nevertheless, deep down inside, they want to find out who they are, what their purpose is and what their true desires are. That is why, when they think they have found what they love, they will rush to it in the hope of ending the long period of indecision they have just gone through. However, this happens, before they realize that it is not exactly what they wanted. Then they will go back into a phase of indecision.
This can have undesirable consequences in their love life. Indeed, it will be difficult to reassure their partners once they have learned how many conquests this Ni inferior user has undertook. It is difficult for them to admit it, but a good part of them has a tendency towards short relationships, or even infidelity, precisely because they never know what they want and become impulsive when they think they have found it.
Professionally, they can make many commitments and sacrifices for their careers. Their bold and risky approach to the world of work can pave the way to success quickly. However, their lack of projection into the future will be their downfall, especially since they will quickly lose motivation even in the case of minor failures due to their lack of patience and their thirst for immediate results and performance.
This is true unless they develop their inferior function. In that case, they will be able to distinguish between the act of enjoying the present moment and the act of making sacrifices in the service of their future. A specific goal in mind is the only thing they lack, and if they can find it and keep it, their determination combined with their keen sense of reality will help them to overcome whatever obstacles stand in their way: brace yourself for a new world.
Birdy and the Inferior Functions
On the Birdy app we consider your inferior function and other cognitive functions in our compatibility theory. Our goal is to connect you with the most naturally compatible people and help you learn more about how to develop your functions and understand the people around you better.
You can download our app for Android or iOS, or learn more about yourself by taking our personality test and reading more about your specific personality type.
If you want to learn more about why understanding your personality and cognitive functions is so important, you should read “The Importance of Knowing and Embracing Your Personality”