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ISTJ, or Introverted Sensing Thinking Judger

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

What Is Personality Type

What Is Personality Type

Dominant: Introverted Sensation (Si)

"I'm a realistic, no-nonsense kind of person. Some people think that makes me old-fashioned--and I guess sometimes I am--but it's not because I think older ideas or approaches are inherently better. I just see a lot of wisdom in being prepared and knowing how you're going to approach any given problem and get the result you want. I figure, if you've been there and done it yourself, you don't need anyone else's advice because you know for yourself how to get the job done. That's the only way to keep things under control, really. People sometimes think all I do is work--but that's not true. I like to have fun, too--I just like to make sure my work is done first so that I can relax and enjoy myself comfortably. I enjoy building real knowledge and useful skills that relate to the things I find myself naturally good at. There's simply no sense in wandering around trying to jump into a million different areas--it's important to know what you do well and stick to it reliably. I've got to have a sense of direction--usually guided by what I've learned through my own experiences--and it's very important to me to keep my word and dependably do what I say I'm going to do, when I say I'm going to do it. If I don't help make life stable for others, how can I expect it to stay that way for me?"

Often stereotyped for their sense of duty and reliability, ISTJs are most often perceived by others as practical-minded people who like to structure things just right to stay within realistic limits and keep things within their comfort zones. It's not that they have no interest in play, as others may incorrectly assume from their oft-stoic demeanor--indeed, ISTJs lend themselves to a very particular brand of subtle and esoteric humor that others may often miss entirely--it's just that they know exactly how they like their surroundings to be, and they do everything they can to maximize the stability of the conditions and experiences in which they prefer to immerse themselves.

As a dominant Pi type, it's extremely evident to the ISTJ that he needs to be careful what sorts of information and experiences he allows himself prolonged exposure to. Often especially impressionable as children, ISTJs discover quickly that they have an unconscious tendency to concentrate both their work and play time toward highly specified areas in which they can amass the greatest amount of raw data possible. Unlike INTJs, who may spend years of their lives trying to determine what exactly it is they are passionate about and what role they want to fulfill, ISTJs tend to learn early on that they have very specific tastes and preferences and that life goes much better for them when they design and structure it around maximizing their exposure to the particular kinds of sensory information that bring them the most consistent success--and from that consistent success springs the life-long sense of fulfillment they derive from routinized structure and repetition of the activities they know from experience that they can perform proficiently.

It's hard to articulate exactly what it is that ISTJs will describe as what they enjoy about their life's work, but it tends to relate to the feeling of familiarity related to the repetition of certain "rituals" involved in the process of working with things that bring them sensory enjoyment. An ISTJ into literature might describe the smell of an old book as one opens its pages for the first time in years, or the texture of the worn paper rubbing against his fingers as he carefully turns them. An ISTJ who's passionate about fine wine might extol the virtues of that first sharp taste of alcohol when the liquid makes contact with his tongue. ISTJs may surprise friends and family with the depth of knowledge and experience they build in relation to their often esoteric and unexpected hobbies and interests. Every time they experience a familiar sensation, the more pleasing and complete and comforting that sensation becomes--and the more their internal database becomes aligned toward desire for more sensations of a similar nature.

There's a scene in the short-lived TV show Freaks and Geeks where a (presumably ISFP) girl is describing her love for the Grateful Dead album American Beauty--"I wish I could forget I'd ever heard it, just so I could hear it for the first time again!" This attitude would likely strike an ISTJ as peculiar and even downright nonsensical. Experiencing something new just for its own sake is like making the first paintbrush stroke on a new, blank canvas. It's not totally worthless, but the best things in life get better with time--every time we listen to our favorite record, or watch our favorite movie, or bond with a friend or loved one, all of our compiled experiences with the familiarity of those sensations come together to produce an even more complete communion with the sensory enjoyment of that specific kind of experience. The more we build sensory data related to that which we already know we enjoy and understand, the more richly and deeply we appreciate everything it has to offer, and the more we can internalize the fundamental nature of this sensation and mark its place more clearly on our private maps of previous impressions. New things are fine, and they have their place, but they simply don't compare to the depth with which we can appreciate that which we've come to know intimately over years of attachment and connection.

This taste for depth of understanding through sensory familiarity leads ISTJs to, often unintentionally, build extraordinary internal banks of knowledge, facts, possessions, and skill sets related directly to the flavors of experience by which they come to define not only their areas of interest and life's work, but by extension their entire identities. Outsiders may be totally unaware of the rich world of internal experiences the ISTJ is constantly busy building and reinforcing--if seen and understood only through Te, their preferred means of interacting and organizing their external world connections, one may have no idea what personal pursuits and interests truly define the ISTJ's (typically very private) sense of self.

Auxiliary: Extroverted Thinking (Te)

"You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don't do too many things wrong." --Warren Buffett, ISTJ

"Unfortunately, dominant Si on its own does very little to grant the ISTJ any form of meaningful communication with others. Since its method of comprehension and its means of interpreting experiences are so inherently personalized, so dependent upon the individual's private reactions and the idiosyncrasies of his own worldview, some form of objective judgment, evaluation and organization becomes a necessary tool in the formation of relationships to people and institutions outside the self, and thus aids in the eventual acquisition of more of the highly specified sensory input upon which the dominant function thrives.

Here the ISTJ carves out a place for the attitude by which most outsiders--even close friends and family, in many cases--come to define and understand his nature. Te enters the mix as a much-needed universal metric by which to categorize, organize, evaluate, measure, and test for consistency. Painfully aware that his own impressions, in most cases, are too subjective to even communicate meaningfully to others, the ISTJ must master a secondary language and form of communication by which he can establish the sort of structure and order by which his relationships to the external world can be conducted meaningfully and depended upon to continue bringing him the sorts of experience to which he is accustomed. Through strong Te, the ISTJ supports Si's need for routinized sensory input by aligning himself with an objectively observable and empirically demonstrable construct for standardizing the way we as a group understand and enforce logical categorization and evaluation.

Often, Te as an auxiliary function may be applied as a sort of bureaucratic "mask" for dealing with people the ISTJ neither likes nor has any interest in communicating with on a legitimately personal basis. (Indeed, she may enjoy a private laugh at the ironic contrast between her private self and her "public face", and the entertaining realization that the outsider believes this Te "mask" actually constitutes the totality of her personal identity.) ISTJs are not unaware that others may view them, due to their Te handling of virtually all external interactions, as uptight sticklers for regulation--and they're not above playing into this image, both because they do see a lot of value in keeping things structured and regulated, and because they often find it immensely funny when others completely misinterpret their private selves based on the public masks they display for purposes of cooperative productivity. (This particular brand of dual-identity humor also seems to strike INTJs in a similar way.)

In terms of practical application, Te promotes an overarching concern for making sure things are done right. The ISTJ will go to painstaking detail to make sure that which she's responsible for is performed correctly and thoroughly, and that it meets the expectations and standards of the people who know how to do it the right way. "Measure twice, cut once." Chronically cautious and eternally vigilant, ISTJs will not stand by and watch a job be done incorrectly when they know how to do it themselves. If no one else can be counted on to do things the right way, ISTJs will step in and shoulder all of the responsibility themselves. When they have a job to do, very little can distract them or get in the way of timely completion of their goals.

As with all TJ types, Te also creates a high sense of accountability and responsibility for one's own situation and well-being. Te balks at the idea of inefficient distribution of resources, and ISTJs are no exception. Strong-willed and determined to make ends meet purely through their own individual hard work and perseverance, ISTJs may even go so far as to reject charity or free resources from others when they see no reason they can't simply redouble their efforts and work harder to generate their own means of financial support. They won't stop until the quota is met, the deadline satisfied, the standards upheld. All of this ties directly back into Si's desire for stability: Te represents a universal set of logical standards and evaluations from which no one is exempt. Nobody gets exceptions to the rules, because the rules represent the lifeblood of the system under which all interactions with others are governed: if we can't count on the rules to be enforced uniformly and consistently, we can't count on anything, and if life can't be predictably structured and molded into useful constructs and interactions between parties, Si can't expect to receive the specific kinds of sensory input to which it's become accustomed. Then we're lost without a map--up the creek without a paddle. And that's the last place in the world an ISTJ wants to be.

Tertiary: Introverted Feeling (Fi)

Buried deep within the private realms of the ISTJ's psyche, we find the tertiary function, Fi. Of great interest is the fact that most ISTJs are far more aware of their own Feeling functions than the people surrounding them--often, even some close friends and family may describe the ISTJ as cold and unsympathetic, descriptions which, unfortunately, both hurt the ISTJ's very private feelings and reinforce his desire to keep those feelings further isolated from the world around him.

Nevertheless, Fi in ISTJs seems to often produce a sort of romantic, chivalrous attachment to what they see as all the best things about the various ways things have been in the past. Again, it's important to note that they don't value older methods or ideals purely for the sake of tradition; they simply recognize that few methods or approaches would have any lasting impact if there were not some clear utility or wisdom in them. Traditions would likely not have become traditions in the first place if there were not some inherent value in the sort of universal virtues and common sense right-and-wrong that they represent so succinctly. Through Fi, ISTJs find a sense of personalized aesthetic value and moral fiber: transient goals, objectives, and even laws may come and go; however, the deeply held personal values by which they can hold themselves accountable to the timeless nature of virtue and Goodness itself can always be counted on to remain the same. That which is right shall always be right, and that which is wrong shall always stay that way. Fi grants the ISTJ the power to break from and object to man-made rules and laws which conflict with the very fiber of his inner being. It reminds him that sometimes, the right thing to do is simply the right thing to do, regardless of what any official authorities may have to say about it. Fi expects no reward or recognition for its observation of these moral precepts inherent in the fabric of the human condition: it simply calls a spade a spade, and it expects that any good and decent human being should understand the obvious value in that sentiment.

When Fi takes too strong a role in cognition and overtakes Te, forming an "SiFi loop", the ISTJ may completely and totally withdraw from virtually all surroundings and circumstances which are not immediately familiar and comforting to his sense of stable interpretive meaning. All forms of external interaction seems to involve uncertainty, which makes them inherently unsafe--avoidant behavior becomes the norm, as the ISTJ with poor Te finds himself both unable to confidently take command of any situation or assert his organizational abilities toward any productive end, and irrationally sensitive to any form of experiential input which does not align with the sense of dependable routine which defines the boundaries of his comfort zone. The SiFi loop ISTJ will continue to narrow his perceptual intake further and further, convinced that anything he doesn't already know completely will only attack and further corrupt or damage his easily impressionable sense of personal ethics and ideals. Inferior Ne--as we will see in the next section--leads to a flood of dangerous and threatening external possibilities which must be contained and avoided at all costs.

Ideally, tertiary Fi should assist Te in providing the ISTJ a sense of grounding in that which she knows to be right and just. The two may combine and manifest together in ways others find unfair or overly controlling; however, the ISTJ remains resolute in that which she knows has always been and will always be the way that a virtuous person conducts herself. Imagine, if you will, the friend who forcibly obtains her drunken cohort's car keys--she may not technically have a legal right to do so, but Fi understands that sometimes the objectively measurable law is not enough. You may hate her for it now, but in time you'll see that it's for your own good, and the ISTJ's willingness to put up with your unpleasant response in the mean time serves only as a sign of reinforcement to Fi's certainty that it's setting aside petty desires for popularity in order to stick up for what true friends know is genuinely important--and there's a lot to be said for that.

Inferior: Extroverted iNtuition (Ne)

Lastly, we find the feared and hidden iNtuitive function, seemingly at odds with everything by which Si defines its sense of personal and perceptual limitations. While Si would lead us to seek information in the vein of that which we already know we are comfortable with, and to build more depth of experience in those areas, Ne comes along and suggests the exact opposite: that we explore as much new and unfamiliar territory as we can find, and that as soon as we begin to develop any sort of familiarity with it, we abandon it and move on to another new train of untapped information. Ne creates that nagging sense of incompleteness in the back of the ISTJ's mind: when undeveloped, it's responsible for the feeling that no matter how much we think we've mapped out, there's always an infinite number of unexplored pathways that will ultimately change the meaning and significance of everything we think we've learned thus far. While Si is most at home extending its depth of understanding in a few specific comfort zones, Ne seems to strike at the very heart of this approach by insisting that we change course as often as possible, just in case we happen upon something interesting and unexpected.

To the young ISTJ, this attitude comes off as reckless, hedonistic, and outright frightening. In the midst of such apparent chaos, Si can find no sense of purpose, no tangible objective or clear direction, and no apparent rhyme or reason among anything it already knows. Ne represents the subconscious desire to throw out the map and be glad it's gone, to get lost just for the sake of forcing ourselves to explore and find the way back through experimentation and guesswork. In the grip of the inferior function, the ISTJ may feel his entire world is collapsing around him: nothing is certain, and all manner of terrifying possible future scenarios may be lurking just around the corner. This can manifest itself in the form of a number of uncharacteristic impulsive behaviors: the ISTJ may feel he must abandon everything he has worked to build his life toward, to start over elsewhere with a completely clean slate, to throw out the masses of extensive impressions Si has spent years building and start again from nothing. Few things could be more intimidating.

As the ISTJ gains wisdom and experience, he will gradually learn to integrate Ne into his preferred Si mindset by recognizing it as a part of his cognition which he can, in time, learn to predict and anticipate. I've known ISTJs who, much to the surprise of their friends and family, will occasionally disappear for a (meticulously planned) weekend in Atlantic City, indulging in one big burst of all the things they normally work so tirelessly to block from their experiential palates. The key for IJs dealing with inferior Pe functions seems to be finding controlled outlets in which they can grant themselves measured doses of the sort of "off the rails" experiences their subconscious desires point toward while staying within a structured framework that prevents total ruination in the event that things get out of control.

As this process continues to mature and refine itself over time, the ISTJ will eventually find herself increasingly more comfortable with more risk and more exposure to the new and unfamiliar experiences her inferior function desires. Because occasional indulgence in unfamiliarity will result in the internalization of new kinds of experiences, the unfamiliar will slowly become familiar as she increases the breadth of her taste for different kinds of impressions and ideas. The more this continues, the more it will naturally occur to the ISTJ that all areas of life are somehow interconnected in terms of a larger picture she does not yet fully understand--and the more this picture and the interconnectedness it represents become an area of interest, the more she will naturally satisfy dominant Si's needs by absorbing ever more information related to that singular subject area--and by extension through inferior Ne, all subject areas.

By forcing herself occasionally out of her comfort zone, the ISTJ will find that the more she seeks out new areas of study, the more the entire world will assimilate itself into her comfort zone. The very thing she fears most will become her greatest strength: the more the unknown becomes the known, the more the concept of "unknown" will, in itself, disappear and ultimately become unknown! The well-balanced ISTJ becomes something of an accidental polymath: well-versed in many areas, yet blissfully unaware of the separation between them. The resultant individuals almost invariably strike their communities as people of vast wisdom and experience--fair-minded and venerable, worthy of the utmost respect and admiration.