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ESFJ, or Extroverted Sensing Feeling Judger

is a label borrowed from MBTI nomenclature and now applied to the Jungian Cognitive Function set {Fe, Si, Ne, Ti}.

What Is Personality Type

What Is Personality Type

Dominant: Extroverted Feeling (Fe)

"I'd say that I focus primarily on my responsibilities and obligations to others, to the people around me. It's not just the people that are directly involved with my life--although they are the most important ones--it's just that I really feel I'm at my best when I'm getting directly involved and doing something that's immediately useful to someone else. I'm good at just looking at the facts, figuring out a practical way to help people get what they need, and then getting it done. I think a lot of people have a tendency to needlessly complicate things, so they often come to me for advice because I'm good at simplifying their problems into concrete, realistic steps that will make a genuine difference today. And what I'm really best at is doing this in a way that makes me a lot of friends--I don't like to step on people's toes, and I feel I'm pretty good at moving things forward in a way that makes most everybody happy. I have a gift for bringing out the best in people--I know how to encourage them because I can just tell what they need to hear in order to motivate them to do their best. It's hard to express just how important it is to have a strong network of people that you can count on, and to always, always reciprocate that need by being the person others can count on at all costs. There's really nothing worse to me than letting down the people who depend on me--they need me and I feel most fulfilled when I can be there to assist them in any way necessary. If I don't know how, I'll do the research and find out what real steps are needed to bring important goals into reality. I also think it's really important to be as prepared as you can, but also to take life one step at a time! Just figure out what needs to be done next, and then focus on that one thing until it's done. If you get too caught up in daydreaming and trying to figure out everything before you even start, how can you ever really make a difference in anyone else's life?"

Like all SJ types, ESFJs are, unfortunately, often inaccurately stereotyped as busy bodies who have nothing to better to do than enforce arbitrary tradition and social courtesy on those around them. In reality, this is simply not the case for most ESFJs and the idea that this is representative of their behavior is rooted in a number of fundamental misunderstandings about the nature of their function attitudes.

First of all, Fe dominants do not change their moral attitudes with the wind, and they don't automatically blend into whatever cultural milieu happens to surround them. Although they're typically very skilled at deliberately doing this when they want to, it's important to remember that Fe dominants define their positions and directions in life according to their interpersonal obligations--and that means their relationships are defined by sets of common values and implied understanding due to similar cultural and moral backgrounds. Because their interpersonal strategy depends primarily on finding common ground by which to relate to others and form complex networks of personal, familial, and societal loyalties, ESFJs at their best can find something in common with just about anyone. This is often misinterpreted (especially by Fi types) as a deliberate attempt at manipulation for personal gain--and while it's true that less savory ESFJs are not above abusing their gifts for such nefarious purposes, to assume that this is their standard MO is to completely miss the central point of their value system. Developing common ethical viewpoints with others is, of course, the ESFJ's way of checking his own viewpoint against a collectivized standard that transcends the limitations on his own personal experiences, like a system of moral checks and balances. But more than that, it's also his primary method of relating to and dealing effectively with his external surroundings: ESFJs feel most at home when constantly in contact with a lot of different people, because it gives them the greatest number of opportunities to both stay in touch with the consensus among their peers about what is the "right" way to feel, and to offer their heartfelt help and support at every turn.

It's often hard to explain to Fi types how this sort of mentality constitutes a genuine expression of real feeling--but in order to fully understand the Fe mindset we need to step outside the assumption that everyone experiences the idea of moral virtue in terms of an individual or subjective standard. Even Ti dominant/auxiliary types, while they are themselves Fe types as well, may have great difficulty reconciling their strong individual principles with the philosophy most central to the Fe outlook: that the actual content of moral beliefs themselves pales in comparison to the importance of the relationships and support networks they represent. When faced with an ethical dilemma, the ESFJ's natural conclusion is that she cannot make any objectively reasonable evaluation of the situation until she understands how the people in the relationships by which she defines her entire existence will feel about the issue in question. If it becomes evident that her first conclusion is roundly rejected by the people she views as peers, she will, in characteristic Fe fashion, tend to push aside her own personal misgivings and adjust her outlook to whatever appears most likely to promote the overall well-being of the larger group while avoiding unnecessary conflict and keeping everyone as happy as possible. For this reason, it's not at all uncommon to see ESFJs in leadership positions--much like their ENFJ cousins, they naturally gravitate toward situations where they can utilize their people skills to balance productive delegation of tasks against diplomatic cooperation in order to build toward lasting, long-term relationships. In Fe's world, if you don't have clearly structured relationships through objectively observable declarations of mutual responsibility, you have no coherent means of navigating life itself.

The classic irony of the ESFJ archetype serves to highlight what is both one of the type's greatest strengths and simultaneously one of its most glaring weaknesses: self-sacrificial insistence on setting aside one's own needs and feelings as long as the broader needs of the larger group are met. While this can result in some extraordinarily selfless behavior when applied positively, it can also become a serious issue if not kept in check, as the ESFJ retains the ability to view himself as a "good person" only when he feels he is doing something that serves a practical need or purpose for others--and if that means trying as hard as he can to block out the reality of his own misgivings or reservations, he may forge on down this dangerous path with little regard for the long-term consequences of continually squelching his own best interests. Worse yet, due to this causal association between (and, at times, even total inability to separate) "what's best for everyone else" and "what's best for me", exceptionally unhealthy ESFJs may sometimes find themselves abusing Fe's awareness of collectivized moral values in order to justify behavior that is ultimately self-serving by convincing themselves that everything they do is "what's best for my people" in the end. Of course, this sort of behavior is relatively uncommon in most ESFJs--the worst thing you'll generally see from most of them is the occasional unintentional step on someone else's idea of personal freedom or expression (though such mishaps are generally well-intentioned) in favor of helping everyone else. The Fe dominant mindset is, in itself, almost utilitarian: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Auxiliary: Introverted Sensation (Si)

"As an auxiliary function, Si serves an important purpose as a sort of life raft back to the inner self, a balancing force against the constant demands and expectations of the external world and its objective Feeling requirements. Unlike ISFJs, who are more inclined to (privately) disregard external cultural or familial traditions if their own experiences and insights lead them to believe some other approach will be more comfortable or more effective, ESFJs often have a difficult time breaking from the social fabric of their peers and companions. Like all Pi functions, auxiliary Si serves as a reminder that, no matter what external data may say, there are some things we "just know" from experience, often welling up apparently out of nowhere and providing strong hunches and instincts that something simply doesn't feel familiar enough to be right.

While Si dominant types typically have little to no problem placing their own experiential perceptions and the resultant expectations of meaning ("I know it's this way because I've done it and I know how it's supposed to feel") above externally imposed methodology, the Si auxiliary types (ESxJ) may struggle to a substantially greater degree to integrate their own personal experiences and assumptions into the framework of externalized expectations by which they govern their lives and define their sense of purpose. In seeking to grow and develop on a personal level, it's vital for the ESFJ to recognize that not all experiences in life can be related completely to others, and that some of the most important personal developments must come from the inside.

As Je dominant types, ESFJs need to depend on some externally verifiable standard by which to "prove" the merit and validity of their belief systems and approaches to problem-solving. If the only evidence she can provide for the value of her ideas is that "it just feels wrong if I don't" or "somehow I just know this is the best way", the ESFJ may simply ignore her instincts despite knowing deep down that something is being handled less than ideally--anything to avoid being branded an "outsider" or accused of selfishly placing her own needs above the all-encompassing needs of a greater (and therefore more important) majority. While she may often become accustomed to handling life primarily through habit, routine, and clear instructions, being forced to learn to interpret meaning according to whatever her gut instincts tell her may seem, at first, to fly in the face of dominant Fe's overwhelming prerogatives. All too often Si is relegated to the background--its suggestions and cognitive influence may make themselves internally evident, but when they conflict with external expectations, the beleaguered ESFJ may find herself at a loss for how to explain them in any way that resonates with her peers or team members.

In general, ESFJs do not appreciate having to completely remap an experience or skill set they've internalized before, and in most cases they're able (via Si's highly specified database of sensation and associated meaning) to recognize their own natural limitations and avoid wandering too far out into the wild without a clear map. If they find that their established interpretations are continually generating inaccurate or useless results, they may be left wondering whether they can really count on the consistent outcomes around which they tend to structure their happiness and personal comfort. When their personal preferences, obligations, responsibilities, and relationships cease to provide consistently positive feedback, something must be terribly wrong--and ESFJs see it as their personal duty to find out what that is and fill in the gaps, in order to get things running smoothly again as soon as possible. Not only do they need to feel that others depend on them (Fe), they also need to feel secure in the knowledge that they can depend on others (Si)--lest their expectations be let down, sabotaging their ability to predict the outcomes of their actions and thus leaving them at the mercy of random chaos.

Of course, on the positive side, ESFJs who understand how to tap into and express Si in a way that their peers find palatable will vastly increase their skill sets while simultaneously setting themselves apart and injecting their own personal experiences and interpretations into whatever they find themselves engaged in. There's a lot to be said for knowing when to keep things simple and just stick with what's already known to work, and Si provides a way for ESFJs to conceptualize ways of doing this while still staying within a framework that is predictable and comfortable to the personal sensory expectations they've come to internalize. Like all Pi functions, auxiliary Si has a certain perceptual comfort zone where it feels most useful and applicable, but unlike Ni, its information is based on direct sensory data, and the red flags go up the second something violates its expectations for "normal" assessments of meaning and interpretation. This may even result in seemingly irrational superstitious beliefs--Si, perhaps moreso than any other function attitude, epitomizes the idea that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." If we've done it a particular way before and we know it worked, why risk changing anything about our approach until it stops working? After all, we can never be quite sure what "minor" details will end up making a big difference to the outcome, and to Si, it just doesn't make good sense to destroy a winning formula in pursuit of some idealistic pipe dream.

Tertiary: Extroverted iNtuition (Ne)

Rounding out the ESFJ's personality in the tertiary position, Ne can perhaps best be described as a "wild card" in the ESFJ cognitive style. While they will rarely throw caution to the wind and leap into the unknown as easily as, say, Ne dominants, they will often find smaller ways to change things up and attempt new and different directions in life solely for the purpose of experimentation. Some ESFJs express tertiary Ne by assuming the "class clown" or other entertainer role among their peer groups. (In this regard, it's not unreasonable to confuse them with Se dominants, although their motivations are not quite the same.)

Continuing in this vein, many ESFJs enjoy planning and hosting parties and social events--their reputations as the world's hosts and hostesses, while somewhat overemphasized in most ESFJ profiles, is not entirely undeserved. Instead of completely changing the idea or purpose of these gatherings, however, as an Ne dominant might, tertiary Ne will step in and lead to smaller (but still often adventurous) changes within the context of the more important and consistently maintained ritual. For example, one ESFJ that I know makes a point of trying every Chinese restaurant she can find--she maintains Si's enjoyment of the consistent expectation that her love of Chinese food demands, but she's constantly looking for new variations within that consistent theme, just in case something unexpectedly positive and novel happens. This "Ne experimentation within the context of Si's comfort zone" becomes a running theme for not only for ESFJs, but also for many SJ types in the process of developing their tertiary or inferior Ne: Ne represents a desire for change, exploration, and immediate response to all sorts of different information and new stimuli. It's the undying optimism present in the hope for a better future, and it's a large part of what gives many ESFJs their characteristic upbeat attitude: when they're able to combine a realistic, task-oriented handle on day-to-day goals with an open-minded willingness to experiment with new and creative approaches to those goals, they seamlessly integrate practical productivity with a healthy level of personal growth and innovation.

Of course, not all Ne use is positive in nature. When Si is neglected, leaving FeNe to fend for themselves with no substantial introverted perspective, ESFJs may become far too caught up in the impressions they make on others, resulting in strange and confusing behavior that seems to waver between exaggerated displays of loyalty (and oversensitivity to perceived failure of others to reciprocate it) and outlandish attempts to garner attention and be viewed as interesting or noteworthy. Unfortunately for the FeNe loop ESFJ, these two goals can easily conflict, and when Si fails to provide the subjective perception required to mitigate such circumstances, many stereotypically negative ESFJ traits can arise, precluding the successful bonding and interpersonal exchanges of loyalty upon which the ESFJ builds his self-image. When dealing with more unbalanced ESFJs, expect emotional manipulation, extreme neediness, and even unwarranted intrusion into the private affairs of others--all "for their own good", of course.

It's also worth noting that the common assumptions about ESFJ demeanor and surface behavior are misguided at best, and sharply counterproductive at worst. By virtue of its spontaneous and improvisational nature, tertiary Ne may occasionally lead the ESFJ into a role or persona that no one--not even himself--expects from him, and since Ne left to its own devices takes so little time to reflect internally, the resultant changes (albeit mostly temporary) may not always reflect the kind and giving attitude to which ESFJs typically aspire. While they may tend to present a friendly, sunny face to most outsiders most of the time, it's during a crisis (preferably one they've had time to thoroughly prepare for) when the true strength of their resolve, determination, and organizational abilities comes to light. Even when they are decidedly uncomfortable due to abrupt and unwelcome change, ESFJs will rarely reduce themselves to states of outright panic--they don't have time for that, because they're too busy focusing on making sure everyone else stays calm in moving toward a resolution that both accomplishes something meaningful and makes every member feel like a crucial part of a cohesive team or unit. Ask an ESFJ what's most important in a work situation, and you'll surely find camaraderie, teamwork, cooperation, and mutual respect at the top of the list--but it's important to recognize that even these ideals, while they are the first line of defense for ESFJs, can be temporarily set aside if circumstances becomes dire enough. When everything is falling apart, ESFJs will do whatever it takes to protect their own--and while they'd prefer to do it diplomatically in most cases, they will not shy away from confrontation if an unexpected situation truly leaves no other options.

Inferior: Introverted Thinking (Ti)

When applied as an inferior function attitude, Ti tends to serve the somewhat peculiar purpose of providing that little voice in the back of the ESFJ's head that says, "Wait a minute--I don't care how well this binds my people together; it just doesn't make any sense!" As Je dominant types, ESFJs often have trouble finding any purpose in the idea of introverted judgment at all. After all, from an Fe standpoint, judgment serves primarily to connect people through an objectively observable rubric that can settle disputes through mutual adherence to a common set of moral prerogatives. When Ti comes along and begins insisting on extremely subjective and personalized principles, its presence may often feel not just foreign, but outright counterproductive. Fe operates primarily through generalized moral precepts that operate most effectively when used to govern and unite large groups--the idea of judgment-based principles that only make sense subjectively seems to subvert the obvious group-oriented nature of this prime directive, leaving the ESFJ to wonder why he should ever bother listening to such seemingly selfish impulses in the first place.

The aforementioned conflict between personal needs and the needs of the larger group is closely related to the conflict between dominant Fe and undifferentiated inferior Ti. While ultimately these two attitudes should work together to produce a more complete and well-rounded worldview, the development process along the way is almost invariably more than a little rocky. As unconscious Ti influences flood his consciousness in moments of stress, the ESFJ will often take out his confusing feelings on himself by redoubling his efforts to ignore these "selfish" impulses. One common method of attempting to cope with the resultant stress and personal guilt involves the reaffirmation of Fe's collective principles by self-reference back to Ti's own belief that "everything my group believes clearly makes the most inherent sense (by virtue of the fact that my group is better than yours.)" Dogmatic insistence upon the self-evident nature of her own cultural values may often characterize the ESFJ in the grip of inferior Ti--once her mind is made up that something is inherently true or correct, she may have great difficulty opening up to the possibility that other methods of reasoning and evaluation are worth any consideration at all.

Furthermore, this form of circular reasoning may go completely unnoticed and seem perfectly natural to the generally weak and incomplete Thinking function represented by inferior Ti. Refusal to consider other possibilities grants both a convenient excuse to remain in one's comfort zone and to reinforce the superiority of one's own familial or social body. Inferior Ti has a tendency to produce a nagging feeling that there's no purely structural reason that any one group's values should be objectively superior to any other's, but this difficult realization can all too easily be swept up in the current of Fe's powerful loyalist sympathies and brushed under the rug for convenience's sake. Ultimately, dominant Fe must confront the idea that foreign value systems exist and that it's impractical and parochial to go through life excluding virtually everyone who doesn't fit the arbitrary constraints of the ESFJ's own personal background and time-tested methods.

As two sides of the same coin, Fe and Ti will eventually reconcile with each other enough to recognize their own symbiotic relationship: the stronger Ti becomes, the more the ESFJ develops his own sense of personalized integrity and universal principles, and the less Ti will serve to simply parrot the group-oriented values ingrained by Fe's relationships to others and reinforced by Si's penchant for ritual. The result: a well-rounded, dependable individual who's loyal to a fault, but knows where to draw the line and set out on his own when his life path veers off in a different direction.