The inferior function is an interesting, important and rarely understood aspect of personality.
If our personality was the moon, it would be the dark side. It’s there, it’s real, it’s part of the whole picture, it just doesn’t spend a lot of time in the light.
It is essentially the polar opposite of our dominant function, and as such, it’s far less developed and often more hidden to ourselves and others.
Because our dominant (aka primary) function is so well developed and so efficient, we’re more comfortable using it in more challenging situations. The inferior function is much more difficult for us to use with skill. To put it into context, I’ll use a sports analogy.
Our primary function is like a professional baseball player who can hit 90mph fastballs.
Our inferior function is much more comfortable playing Tee-ball.
In the case of both INFJ and INTJ, the inferior function is Extraverted Sensing. Extraverted Sensing is the process we use to perceive directly with our senses in real-time. It relates to reaction, physical intelligence, bodily awareness, etc. Compared to other types INxJs aren’t as naturally talented at using this process and it can trip them up some times.
To use a personal example, as an INFJ myself, I struggled with physical fitness for a long time. I used to have an ESFP trainer who would have me do drills and exercises that required some agility… and I hated them! I just couldn’t keep up. I also tried programs like P90X and found them to be more draining than anything else. Finally I settled in to using an elliptical machine for my cardio workouts, which I absolutely love.
Now, an interesting quirk that’s particular to INxJ types is that we tend to enjoy using our inferior function more than other types. This has to do with the fact that Extraverted Sensing relates to physical pleasure and presence, while our dominant function, Introverted iNtuition, pulls us out of the moment and can be experienced as a sort of incessant rambling of the mind. Our brains work like a Rubik’s cube; constantly shifting perspectives to try and figure out how the world works. Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from that.
So when I do profiling sessions, it’s common for INxJs to say things like “I LOVE lifting weights because it’s the only time that I feel truly present.” It’s rare for someone of another type to list something that relates to their inferior function amongst their favorite activities.
In any case, the dominant and inferior functions are in opposition to each other and the tension between them is a defining aspect of our personalities.
“The greater the tension, the greater is the potential. Great energy springs from a correspondingly great tension of opposites.” – Carl Jung
Now there are different ways that people relate to their inferior functions and there are a number of factors beyond the scope of this post that play into that dynamic:
“As an inferior function, Se often leads INJs in either (or both) of two directions: to shun everything of a bodily nature as corrupt and animal (e.g. Immanuel Kant), or to crave “letting loose”…” – Lenore Thomson Bentz
I’m going to focus on INxJs who ‘crave letting loose’ and how that shows up for them. So let’s talk about this as it relates to music.
Because Extraverted Sensing relates to our senses, and because it’s our inferior function, INxJs usually have a higher threshold for the enjoyment of sensory experiences. We especially enjoy immersive experiences where we can shut off our brains and inhabit our bodies. It just takes a little extra for most of us to get there.
Because of this, many of us like to listen to music a little louder than the rest. This trips the threshold and puts us into our bodies.
Also, because Extraverted Sensing relates to bodily awareness, INxJs are often less comfortable than other types on stage. We may crave the heightened experience of being on stage, but can also fear coming off as awkward, self-conscious or clumsy.
This plays into something else that often comes up. Drugs and alcohol can help INxJs inhabit their body. Obviously this can be a problematic solution.
Those who have a more balanced, integrated relationship with their Extraverted Sensing function and who express it through more constructive activities like dance and exercise, are less prone to extreme behavior.
So how does Extraverted Sensing as an inferior function affect how an artist’s music sounds?
When it’s strongly expressed it can produce a lot of raw, primal power. Because it’s the inferior function, it contains a lot of tension, and when it’s let out it often comes with a lot of force. This can manifest in crushing guitar riffs from people like Tom Morello, Tony Iommi & Matt Bellamy.
It’s also important to note that our inferior function is especially entangled with our unconscious and can conjure up dark, ‘politically incorrect’ parts of ourselves as you see expressed in songs like ‘Closer (NSFW)‘ by Nine Inch Nails and some even darker material by artists like Tool.
Here are two songs in particular that stand out as expressions of Extraverted Sensing inferior:
“Howl” by Florence (INFJ) and the Machine:
“If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me
I held it in but now it seems you’ve set it running free
Screaming in the dark, I howl when we’re apart
drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart
My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in
You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to howl”
“Of Wolf and Man” by Metallica (Singer/Writer James Hetfield is INTJ)
“Shape shift, nose to the wind
Shape shift, feeling I have been
Move swift, all senses clean
Earth’s gift, back to the meaning
Back to the meaning of wolf and man”