Extraverted Sensing is the INFJ’s weakest cognitive function, and that can create some real challenges.
As an INFJ, one of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, my inferior function is Extraverted Sensing (Se). I’ve heard it explained in several different ways, but what makes the most sense to me is that it’s the way I interact with the physical world around me, in the present time. I have to specify that last part because, when I get caught up in my inner world (often), I am almost always thinking in terms of the future. And when I’m not in the future, I’m reflecting upon the past. Being in the here and now is not easy for me.
There’s a lot to learn about one’s inferior function (here’s a good place to start), particularly how it impacts a person who is under a significant amount of stress. I give in to Extraverted Sensing during these times, usually through fidgeting, watching hours of television, shopping high-quality clothing and related products, and — most of all — eating my favorite foods. I also find comfort in all these things when life gets busy, my typical work schedule changes, or traveling begins.
When I’m not particularly stressed, however, and am going about my daily life as usual, my Extraverted Sensing presents entirely different sets of struggles. This inferior cognitive function is shared by INFJs and INTJs, though everyone can expect to experience its effects differently.
(What’s your personality type? We recommend this free personality assessment.)
Here are the ways inferior sensing affects my daily life as an INFJ. Are your experiences similar?
How Extraverted Sensing Affects My Life
1. My apartment decor game is weak.
One major way weak Extraverted Sensing affects me is I tend to only take notice of and remember physical surroundings that I interact with on a regular basis. For this reason, my roommate could rearrange most of the apartment, but as long as the furniture I typically sit in is in the same basic area, I will not notice for a while — if ever. The other day, I asked where a particular antique piece had gone, only to discover that I’d been walking past it every day for almost a year.
If I were not living with an ISFP, my apartment would likely have only two or three meaningful pieces on its otherwise bare walls. I value beauty and art as much as anyone else, and would buy more original art than I have the wall space for if I had the means, but interior design is not something I personally have an eye for.
I know my living room has pictures, plants, and other decorations on every wall, but if asked to describe any of it in detail, all I could tell a person confidently is my favorite painting, “Obsession” by Texan artist Dawn Winter (who also happens to be an INFJ), is on the wall opposite the television. I know that because I make a point to enjoy it daily. Everything else is a blur in my memory.
In short, though I have excellent situational memory, my spatial memory is beyond lacking.
2. I am worse than bad at directions.
Unless I drive the same route just about every day, I will always depend on GPS. It actually blows my mind how easily others — even children — can make sense of navigating between and in large cities.
Once, I was making my commute home from work, after nearly two years of the same drive, and I missed my exit. Baffled as to how that could have happened, I made a point to pay very close attention the next day. Guess what? I missed it again. It took until the third day to realize the reason I’d missed it: The exit before mine was closed and blocked off. I was so used to responding to the visual cue of that first exit that even a slight change in how it appeared managed to throw me off.
Before I was old enough to drive, I spent all my time as a passenger preoccupied in my own mind — pondering, imagining, planning. I’ve since learned that most people spend at least part of their childhood observing traffic patterns and driving habits. Perhaps if I had spent less time inside my head and more time watching how driving worked, I wouldn’t have the disadvantage I have now.
Or maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. I will never know.
3. I can’t find what’s right in front of me.
Sometimes, I can be so overwhelmed by the visual information in front of me that I can be staring right at something and not see it. This is most obvious at the grocery store. I will stand where I know a particular item should be, scan every inch of shelf space, and still not find what I need.
The most obvious solution would be to flag down a worker, but I would almost rather stare at the shelf until closing time than do that, so I typically just walk away and return a moment later. Usually, that works.
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4. Maintaining eye contact is easy until I need to contemplate something.
I value eye contact, never wanting the person I’m conversing with to feel like they don’t have my full attention. This becomes difficult, however, when either my Introverted Thinking or Introverted Intuition functions want to kick in. This generally only happens during deep, philosophical conversations (my favorite kind) and lectures/speeches.
When I’m listening to a presentation, I get more out of it when I’m doing just that: listening. If I stare at my notebook, rather than the speaker, I can take in every word and also reflect and build upon the speaker’s ideas in my mind.
When I look directly at the speaker, my focus is spent separating the spoken message from what I’m seeing. I can still contemplate to a certain degree, but not nearly as deeply as when I eliminate the visual input altogether.
5. Getting my attention is not easy.
When my mind is focused on something, or I’m zeroed in on a particular project, getting my attention can be difficult, if not darn near impossible. To an outside observer, it may seem like the problem is I can’t multitask — that I can only focus on one thing at a time. This isn’t actually the case.
Whenever it does happen, when a person says my name repeatedly without being heard, the reason isn’t that I’m focusing hard on one task; I’m likely doing that one task and, in my head, contemplating its outcome, planning a backup option, and maybe even thinking about lunch or a new personal project I’ve been considering. The point is, I’m the least likely to notice outward stimuli during the times when I’m multitasking mentally… which is often.
Though I know inferior outward sensing is at the root of this personal shortcoming, I do not consider it an excuse. Getting lost in my mind is a rewarding process for me, but what’s far more important in my work is making a positive difference in others’ lives. Making someone feel unheard or unnoticed is definitely not something I want to be responsible for, so I make a point to keep as present and aware as I possibly can — and to apologize and make up for it when I fall short.
My understanding of MBTI personality types expanded significantly once I learned the theory of cognitive functions. Thinking about personality in terms of four functions, stacked from strongest to weakest, made a lot of sense to me. Though exploring my top functions is incredibly rewarding, observing how my most inferior function plays a role in my life was just as beneficial in my pursuit to know myself better.
To my fellow INFJs (and INTJs who share inferior Extraverted Sensing), I encourage you to take a look at how it rears its head in your daily lives. Some of you may relate to my experience; some may have an entirely different experience altogether! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.