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ISFP, or Introverted Sensing Feeling Perceiver

is a label borrowed from MBTI nomenclature and now applied to the Jungian Cognitive Function set {Fi, Se, Ni, Te}.

What Is Personality Type

What Is Personality Type

Dominant: Introverted Feeling (Fi)

"I think it's important not to overthink things. I guess I know generally how I feel about things, but I often don't really consciously think about it until a situation comes up, and then I just respond in whatever way feels right at the time. I don't think you can really prepare for the most important moments in life because you never really know what things are going to be like until you get there and feel for yourself how it affects you, emotionally and physically. I'm usually pretty good at figuring out how other people feel, too--just from watching them and thinking about how I'd feel if I were in their shoes. It's really important to treat people in a caring and understanding way--I know that's how I'd want them to treat me. More than anything, I guess, I just want to be who I am and not try to overanalyze or define things more heavily than I need to. Just feel it out, do what seems moral and feels right to you in that moment and you'll know what to do when the time comes."

ISFPs, more than just about any other type, need to feel that they have the freedom to spread out and be themselves, to do whatever it takes to find the kind of life and the kind of friends and the kind of job and the kind of hobbies that really feel like "home" and make them feel balanced and at peace with themselves and their values. While they are equally as focused on personal values and an individualistic sense of morality as INFPs, the major difference in the application of dominant Fi is that ISFPs do not analyze and reanalyze their values through hypothetical or theoretical extensions of their imaginations. Unless they are directly contributing to solving a real moral dilemma that affects them or a friend or loved one personally, they see little value in hashing and rehashing all the different possible applications of their values when there is so much immediately available information to deal with in the real world of tangible sensations and emotions.

For this reason, among others, ISFPs epitomize the sort of "go with the flow and let your heart be your guide" sort of mentality that's often attributed to P types; however, unlike the EP types, who react to their environments in a way that's designed to appeal to the demands and expectations of their perceptual surroundings, ISFPs begin by consulting their subjective internal values and then support and assist their private judgments with the information immediately surrounding them. What makes this process unique is that ISFPs don't necessarily know how a given idea or moral concept will affect their sense of ethics until a realistically tangible scenario arises in which they can react in the way that feels most natural. It just doesn't strike them as a worthwhile investment of time to worry about things that don't directly impact the immediacy of the situation in front of them. While INFPs may know substantially in advance how all sorts of different situations would impact their ideals and the resultant emotional evaluations, ISFPs often can't assign any real meaning to a theoretical ideal until they're right in the middle of an actual situation that makes it real for them. When asked, "How would you feel if xyz happened?", often the ISFP answer is, "I don't know--it's never happened and it's not happening now. So who cares?"

Introverted feeling for ISFPs often prompts the assimilation and support of various ethical causes and crusades, ranging from basic, everyday human kindness to grand-sweeping visions for idealistic change and promotion of universal harmony (especially as tertiary Ni develops and grants the ISFP a deeper range of interpretive possibilities for the application of his values toward global alignment with what he sees as "the greater good.") These ideals represent more than just optimistic hopes and daydreams; they serve as a window into the ISFP's uniquely personal vision for a better world tomorrow than we have today. The development of this vision can take an ISFP the better part of his life to mold into something coherent enough that it can be explained or shared concretely with others--but ISFPs spend the better part of their lives filling themselves with real experiences precisely so that they will understand themselves and their relationship to the world fully and completely enough to share this vision in a way that combines the fire of their passions with raw, genuine empathy for the needs and feelings that unite humanity on a universal level.

You can find these developing visions in the artistic works ISFPs tend to spend substantial amounts of time perfecting--often credited as "artists", ISFPs may display this affinity for aesthetic quality through music, graphic design, acting, fashion, arts and crafts, woodwork or other concrete artistic creations--but they need not show it through traditional artistic outlets, and it's important to realize that while many ISFPs are involved in artistic pursuits, many are not. Some may go their entire lives without ever finding the right medium to express exactly what they feel inside, but rest assured they're always searching. Some may find it through something as simple as feeding the homeless, adopting stray animals, or mentoring young children--anything that makes them feel as if they've had some sort of positive, tangible impact on another person's life. ISFPs almost always practice what they preach--if they advocate something, you can bet they're out there doing it themselves.

Auxiliary: Extroverted Sensation (Se)

"Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind." --Bruce Lee, ISFP

"Alert and ready to react on a split second's notice, auxiliary Se serves as Fi's liaison to the exciting world of sensations and sensory responses. It's the combination of Se's natural command of visual/auditory appeal and Fi's sense of aesthetic value and significance that grants ISFPs their oft-stereotyped position as purveyors of all things artistic and expressive. While this reputation may be somewhat exaggerated, it is true that ISFPs often feel a need to express and display their personal identities through visually engaging media--their homes and personal dress are often a little offbeat and uniquely decorated, aimed at creating a sense of calmness and tranquility that connects us to our spiritual and emotional needs while avoiding social expectations and pretense. ISFPs need things to be real, and they need to show their convictions, tastes, and preferences through real demonstrations of the sensory properties thereof. As with all SP types, it's important to remember that actions speak louder than words: Se puts the ISFP in touch with the sensory expectations of his surroundings and the natural audiences those surroundings create. This lends itself not only to their vaunted sense of improvisational spontaneity, but also a clear idea of what "plays" and what doesn't--some ISFPs even make it their business to be keenly aware of what trends and fashions in visual and aesthetic design are currently making the greatest impact on the greatest number of people, and to make a conscious effort to stay ahead of the curve. (Some even become what you might call "hipsters"--effortlessly grasping the essence of "cool" but quietly comfortable with the status it conveys, and silently amused at the failed attempts of others to imitate it.)

Unlike ESPs, who often fill their time with exciting and physically thrilling activities largely for the immediate excitement involved in losing themselves in their sensory reactions, ISFPs engage in similar surface behaviors for a somewhat different purpose: they need these sorts of experiences not only because they appreciate the face value of sensory impression for its own sake, but more importantly because putting themselves into unfamiliar situations forces them to define their own values and identities through the means they choose to find their way out. ISFPs often feel they must prove that they have what it takes to find their way out of dangerous situations as a means of confirming the value and moral worth of their own character to themselves.

ISFPs have a reputation for dropping everything and leaving to embark on some sort of journey or expedition with little to no preparation and no apparent reason for doing so beyond a momentary whim. Variety is the spice of life, and if they do the same thing for too long, ISFPs may feel trapped and locked in to one course of action--they need to change their surroundings every so often just to make sure they aren't losing touch with what's really important to them by becoming too entrenched in one approach or one way of living life. While this may confuse other types (except EPs, who do the same things purely to stave off boredom, as is a constant concern for them), ISFPs have more reason for doing this than simple enjoyment of the experience itself. Since they often see little to no value in hypothetical self-analysis, they may find it difficult to get in touch with their true selves until they've forced themselves into difficult or unexpected situations that require immediate and instinctive responses. People show their true colors most completely when a crisis arises, and as dominant Fi types, it's of the utmost importance to discover and nurture their individual identities: what better way for Fi to accomplish this than to involve oneself directly in real life, and see how we respond? Paradoxically for a type often characterized as so calm and serene, it's often during moments of acute crisis that ISFPs find the experiences that come to define the overall meaning of their lives.

On the other hand, Se may result in some negative tendencies for the ISFP who applies it in excess. When an ISFP sees a situation she perceives as patently wrong or immoral, she may throw herself headlong into the fray with little regard for the long-term implications of this behavior. While her resourcefulness and tactile adaptability are valuable gifts, it is possible for her to misjudge or overestimate her own on-the-spot problem solving ability and to actually make problems worse by getting involved in situations where her presence exacerbates the problem and then fails to introduce any genuinely useful solution. As long as Fi feels it is sticking up for what's right, Se may misrepresent the ISFP's generally good intentions through arrogant displays of physical bravado, or excessively grand gestures of love, or some bizarre combination of the two. I've known male ISFPs who, due to upbringing in an environment unfriendly to their fundamentally sensitive nature, have grown to overcompensate for this perceived "weakness" by exaggerating their Se in order to show their friends and families that they can be "manly" too--they may hit on every woman in a 20 mile radius, start fights at the drop of a hat, or constantly feel pressure to "perform" and impress their "audiences" at every juncture.

While Se does tend to lend itself to a certain flair for performance and its impact on an audience, constantly living in this mode of interaction is an approach better left to Se dominants--when an Se auxiliary type attempts it, he may wear himself too thin and block out the more important internal identity that defines his sense of self. While development of Se is certainly a useful and necessary component of the ISFP's total cognitive balance, forcing too much of it too quickly will almost invariably result in a feeling of squelched identity. "Who am I really?", Fi may rightly ask. It's vital for the young ISFP to remember that, while it's healthy to experiment with new sorts of situations and approaches to life, he needs to spend more time reflecting on the significance of these events to himself, in order to carve out their part in his total self-understanding and sense of internal balance.

Tertiary: Introverted iNtuition (Ni)

As time and maturity set in, ISFPs often begin to feel that something is missing in their perspectives. They know how to judge right from wrong, and they know how to respond instinctively and make an impact on others, but they may still feel as though something is missing--something they can't quite identify or articulate. It's tertiary Ni that fills this gap--by adding a sense of intuitive depth to their range of cognitive options, ISFPs can begin to see beyond the immediacy of the moment consider the implications of their values and actions on a grander scale.

I have one ISFP friend who, seemingly on a whim, left home to hike the entire ~2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail on a personal mission to prove to himself that he could endure the challenges involved. This is classic ISFP behavior: when he returned, my social group could scarcely believe he was the same person. Where before he had been angry, impulsive, and dissatisfied with his life, now he radiated a sense of calmness, of comfortable acceptance of his own identity--a master of his own destiny. When asked what had changed, he simply replied that after hiking 2,200 miles and staring death in the face on numerous occasions, living purely off the land and finding his own way to his own end, the ordinary challenges of everyday life just didn't really seem significant in the grand scheme of things anymore.

What my friend had done was developed his tertiary Ni: no longer content to consider only the immediate implications of the interaction between his values and his present surroundings, he had become able to reconsider the assumptions his mindset would naturally make regarding the overall significance of everything surrounding him. He had developed an entirely new level of perspective and the effect was obvious and inspirational to everyone around him.

When ISFPs apply Ni is a less productive way, typically by neglecting Se development and slipping into an FiNi loop, the result is generally a combination of bitter cynicism toward the intentions of everyone around them, and feelings of hopeless isolation and detachment from the real and concrete experiences by which they discover their sense of meaning and purpose. Burdened with too much Ni too soon, the ISFP may decide to simply "drop out" of life in general--convinced that nothing will ever grant him the sense of personal fulfillment he desires because nothing is truly significant in a global sense, he may resign himself to cynical commentary on the hopelessness of it all. "Why even bother? Nothing is ever going to change. Nothing I do is ever going to make any serious difference to anybody--so what's the point? Why should I even bother? I already know what's going to happen, and it's not anything I want to be a part of--so I quit."

The solution generally involves learning to get wrapped up in the excitement of the moment, in finding some activity that not only brings the ISFP closer to her idealized sense of internal harmony, but that will remind her that things can always change on a moment's notice, and we should always be ready to respond and adapt our approach to the external world in kind. When a proficient Ni combines with this properly developed Se, it grants the ISFP a newfound sense of the long-term significance of her actions: rather than indulge in self-pity and doubt the value in anything she does, as FiNi would encourage on its own, a balanced handle on Ni will create the realization that every day of her life, the ISFP has a chance to change the world for the better. Even the smallest act of kindness, compassion, or personal expression can impact someone's life--or even many people's lives--on a much grander scale than we may ever directly know.

Inferior: Extroverted Thinking (Te)

Rounding out the weaker end of the ISFP cognitive hierarchy, we come to Te. Directly at odds with Fi's sense of individual freedom, undeveloped Te threatens everything the ISFP considers central to the core of his values: personal ethics, freedom to change or remove external structure abruptly, and ability to express oneself freely and redefine (or completely ignore) convention. In short, when the ISFP has not yet integrated Te, it seems to put a damper on everything he considers important about himself and his way of life.

It's not uncommon to see young ISFPs, especially, using the concept of Te itself as a general scapegoat for all that's wrong with the world. This happens most frequently when something is getting in the way of their sense of spontaneity and they start to feel trapped or locked into one particular methodology or way of seeing things. Many ISFPs would do well to remember that the purpose of this attitude is efficiency and organization, not necessarily the personal attack or deliberate blow to their identities that they may often perceive it as. When an external source of Te threatens her own subconscious identification with it, the ISFP would generally prefer do anything she can to escape the situation rather than resorting to full-on confrontation. Unless they (or their loved ones) have been deeply and deliberately attacked or injured, ISFPs rarely hold grudges for long periods of time; however, when they are irritated, we can expect occasional small measures of minor revenge, ranging from not showing up for obligations ("You don't care about my contributions? Fine, have fun doing the work without me!") to passive-aggressive needling at the suggestion that she be forced to do anything against her will that doesn't feel like the right course of action at the moment.

When inferior Te explodes, it tends to result in the ISFP temporarily indulging in all the behaviors he normally hates and thus works hard to keep locked away in his subconscious. As with INFPs, this often surfaces in the midst of creative projects that the ISFP finds important, and it happens most often when creative partners are not deemed to be holding up their weight in terms of contribution to the project, or are trying to steer the creative flow in a direction that strikes Fi as clearly "wrong", or not in the spirit or essence of the feeling or mood he's trying to convey. Here is where we find the nitpicking perfectionist hiding inside the otherwise easy-going, friendly observer: strike at something too close to her heart, and you may quickly find an unexpected blowup when the normally quiet and compassionate ISFP is forced to assume a decision-making leadership role that, truth be told, she'd prefer would never have to occur because people should know how to conduct themselves in a reasonable and compassionate way.

"I don't want to be the bad guy, but if you keep pushing me I'm going to have to set things straight." Well aware of the uses of Se in terms of aggression and intimidation, most ISFPs tend to hide that side of themselves away except in situations where they believe it's necessary to protect their internal selves from similarly aggressive behavior from others. Nonetheless, when a situation becomes seriously threatening, if something is just too obscenely wrong or cruel or indecent to allow, Se's anger may trigger an even worse response from the far less comfortable Te. When the situation has gotten so bad that he's no longer content to respond to it through his normal instinctive sensory reaction, he must actually stop to deliberately plan and strategize an effective response for rearranging resources (mostly human resources, since that is what he prefers to work with) according to some external law or measurable standard that may stomp all over whatever others feel as individuals is important to the situation at hand. If you force Te out of an ISFP, it typically means you've done something he finds so unacceptable that he has to disrupt his natural flow of harmonious action and reaction in order to get something extremely threatening under control--and that's really not something he wants to do often.

Since this response is something he normally despises in others, seeing it from himself creates feelings of hypocrisy and the resultant guilt tends to generate a very negative association with any sort of Te usage at all. It takes a long time and a lot of experience for the ISFP to learn to communicate his grievances calmly and productively enough to lead a group effectively while balancing the competing goals of respecting everyone's individuality and simultaneously generating measurable results. Sometimes the two goals conflict and a decision has to be made--the generally idealistic and amiable ISFP may have serious difficulty putting his foot down on anything or standing up for his own viewpoint, even when others are actually taking advantage of his natural kindness and patience. Since they know they tend to be unable to control themselves when this sort of situation arises, they do their best to simply avoid confrontations until they've learned to develop a sort of detached diplomacy, by which they can comfortably voice their concerns--and even criticisms--without sounding too harsh for their own standards or letting their feelings boil over and exaggerate the criticisms being offered.

Eventually Fi, Se, Ni and Te should balance out into a very calm and understanding individual who knows how to apply just the right touch of administrative control without stepping on anyone's toes or allowing any disputes to turn from productive exchanges of ideas into hostile personal attacks. As he learns that sometimes personal feelings have to be sacrificed--or at least delayed temporarily--for the sake of moving forward with more widespread goals, his worldview will naturally right itself and come to broaden its understanding of harmonious, fair and balanced decision-making. Armed with a healthy sense of skepticism and concern for practicality, the well-balanced ISFP will find his goals and ideals aligning more closely with the immediacy of physical reality than he ever thought possible.