INFJ (NiFe) 8 Cognitive Functions Explained
by Lisa Sparrow
If you know that the acronym “INFJ” stands for introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging, you might think that you know all about INFJs.
The truth is, however, that the acronym is just the tip of the iceberg. To really understand the INFJ personality type, you need to know about INFJ cognitive functions.
That’s because INFJ cognitive functions can help you understand how INFJs actually work. They can explain how INFJs make decisions, react under stress, process information, and much more.
So, in this article, we will explore everything about the eight INFJ cognitive functions, including:
- What Are Cognitive Functions?
- The 4 INFJ Primary Functions
- The 4 INFJ Shadow Functions
- How INFJ Cognitive Functions Affect Personality Development
- 4 Ways to Create Harmony Between Your Feeling and Thinking Nature
Let’s dive right in!
What Are Cognitive Functions?
Cognitive functions are mental processes that make up your personality type and thus define your behavior.
Each personality type has eight cognitive functions that fall into two categories:
- Judging functions. These are thinking and feeling functions that define your decision-making process.
- Perceiving functions. These cognitive functions include sensing and intuition, both of which help you make sense of the world.
All cognitive functions can be either introverted (directed towards your inner world) or extraverted (directed towards the outside world).
Every personality type uses all eight cognitive functions to some extent. The four functions you use the most are called primary functions, whereas the four functions that you use the least are known as shadow functions.
Based on how much you use each primary cognitive function, they are classified as:
- The dominant function
- The auxiliary function
- The tertiary function
- The inferior function
This is also known as the cognitive function stack that defines each of the 16 personalities.
Shadow functions, on the other hand, are classified as such:
- The opposing role
- The critical parent
- The trickster
- The demon
Unlike primary functions, shadow functions are underdeveloped and only used in times of stress.
The 4 INFJ Primary Functions
Now that you have a better idea of what cognitive functions are, let’s take a closer look at the INFJ function stack.
Every INFJ has the following primary functions:
- Dominant function - introverted intuition (Ni)
- Auxiliary function - extraverted feeling (Fe)
- Tertiary function - introverted thinking (Ti)
- Inferior function - extraverted sensing (Se)
Introverted Intuition (Ni)
Out of all the INFJ cognitive functions, introverted intuition is the most influential as it is their dominant function, which shapes how INFJs understand the world.
Unlike other cognitive functions, introverted intuition can seem mysterious and difficult to grasp, especially for sensing personality types. For most people, intuition is a subconscious process that gives them insights seemingly out of nowhere. INFJs, on the other hand, can naturally access their intuition on a conscious level.
That’s because having introverted intuition as their dominant cognitive function allows INFJs to process information by identifying patterns, similarities, and connections between events.
Essentially, INFJs see life as a puzzle, where all the pieces are connected to create a bigger, meaningful picture. It’s not uncommon for INFJs to think in images and symbols instead of words.
As a result, INFJs tend to be very insightful. They can easily tell how a current situation will likely play out in the future, which to others might seem magical or even prophetic.
In reality, however, INFJs are simply highly perceptive individuals that regard life as a series of cause-effect relationships. This means that despite being one of the feeling personality types, INFJ personalities are in fact driven by analytical thinking. As such, their intuitive insights aren’t magical or otherworldly, and rather come from their skills to synthesize data.
Still, introverted intuition gives INFJs a dreamy and mystical aura. More often than not, INFJs are less concerned with the physical world than other personalities are. Instead, they’re fascinated by ideas, symbols, and meaning-making.
For this reason, many INFJs have an interest in philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, dream analysis, and other topics that delve deeper into human existence.
Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Extraverted feeling is the first extraverted function in the INFJ function stack, meaning that INFJs tend to use this function the most around other people.
Being driven by extraverted feeling makes INFJs compassionate, welcoming, empathetic, warm, and highly aware of other people’s feelings. Because their feeling function is directed outwards, it’s not uncommon for INFJs to be better at understanding other people’s emotions than their own.
As such, INFJs can be easily influenced by other people’s moods and often struggle with regulating their emotions independently. INFJs can even quickly absorb and internalize other people’s negative emotions as their own, which can be overwhelming and emotionally draining.
In such cases, INFJs often face a dilemma: while they do need other people’s support to deal with their emotions, they often feel like a burden when they ask others for help. After all, INFJs are called Counselors for a reason - they are so used to helping other people, that they find it difficult to break the dynamic and ask for help themselves.
Moreover, as an auxiliary function, an INFJ’s extraverted feeling supports their introverted intuition. This essentially means that INFJs use their intuition to read other people instead of purely relying on communication. Since INFJs naturally decode symbols, they are usually skilled at reading people’s facial expressions and body language.
This combination of Ni and Fe cognitive functions also allows INFJs to quickly spot lies and inconsistencies. As a result, INFJs are often the first people in the room to notice that someone has ulterior motives.
Overall, extraverted feeling leads INFJs to care deeply about other people’s feelings. For this reason, they do their best to avoid conflict and make others feel comfortable in their presence, sometimes at their own expense.
Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Introverted thinking is the tertiary INFJ cognitive function. Compared to the first two primary cognitive functions, INFJs use introverted thinking less often, especially before their personality fully develops.
Introverted thinking can make INFJs appear similar to other thinking personality types. That’s because Ti is the cognitive function that ignites a thirst for knowledge in INFJs. It pushes them to look for logical explanations for the way the world works, which is why many INFJs eventually develop an interest in science.
INFJs typically use introverted thinking when they’re alone, as it is an introverted tertiary cognitive function. As such, INFJs often spend their spare time researching and thinking about different topics, from spirituality to quantum physics.
However, INFJs differ from other thinking types as their Ni and Fe functions shape their thinking process. These INFJ functions bring about a desire to find meaning (Ni) and understand people (Fe). As such, they are less concerned with how things work and more interested in their meaning.
For example, if a thinking personality type researches artificial intelligence, they will likely be interested in knowing how it works. INFJs, on the other hand, are keener to understand how AI can impact society.
Well-developed introverted thinking can also help INFJs enhance their analytical and critical thinking skills. This way, they can learn to question their own beliefs and see situations from different perspectives.
Extraverted Sensing (Se)
Extraverted sensing is the last function in the INFJ function stack, meaning that it’s the least developed INFJ cognitive function.
INFJs have a rich inner world and thus tend to live inside their heads. However, extraverted sensing can push INFJs to engage with the world around them. It can also help them stay grounded in the present moment.
INFJs with a well-developed Se tend to appreciate the arts and strive to create beauty in their surroundings. If their extraverted sensing is underdeveloped, however, INFJs can be oblivious to the physical world. For example, they can easily lose their belongings or forget to take care of their physical needs, such as eating regularly.
On top of that, extraverted sensing can cause INFJs to experience sensory overload. Harsh lights, loud sounds, unpleasant smells, and such might affect them more than most other personality types. For this reason, a chaotic or disorganized environment can easily stress INFJs out.
Although extraverted sensing is the last primary INFJ cognitive function, it still plays an important role. That’s because Se supports other INFJ cognitive functions, which helps INFJs make sense of what’s happening around them. For example, INFJs often observe their surroundings (Se) and then use this information to interpret people’s emotions (Fe).
The 4 INFJ Shadow Functions
Besides the primary functions, INFJs also have the following four shadow functions:
- The opposing role - extraverted intuition (Ne)
- The critical parent - introverted feeling (Fi)
- The trickster - extraverted thinking (Te)
- The demon - introverted sensing (Si)
Now, let’s see how the shadow functions manifest when INFJs experience too much stress.
Extraverted Intuition (Ne)
Extraverted intuition is the first one of the shadow INFJ cognitive functions. While it is still completely unconscious, it’s still their most advanced shadow function.
As an extraverted shadow function, it typically comes out during arguments, which INFJs try to avoid at all costs due to their primary extraverted feeling function.
Generally speaking, extraverted intuition refers to the ability to foresee unlimited potential outcomes of one situation. People that have extraverted intuition as one of their primary cognitive functions (e.g. ENFPs and INFPs) tend to be very open-minded and can easily change their opinions.
On the contrary, INFJs have introverted intuition as their dominant function and extraverted intuition as their opposing role. This essentially means that INFJs hold on to their beliefs very firmly, so much so that it’s nearly impossible for INFJs to change them. In fact, many INFJs regard changing their mind as self-betrayal.
When someone challenges their intuitive insights, for example, INFJs feel threatened. This induces an unconscious switch to extraverted intuition so that INFJs can hold onto their arguments instead of changing their beliefs. As a result, stress can cause INFJs to use their Ne to stretch out their points and use logical fallacies to prove themselves.
Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Introverted feeling is the second INFJ shadow function, which usually shows up when INFJs have to make difficult decisions and don’t want to speak their mind.
As mentioned above, the INFJ function stack includes extraverted feeling, which is why INFJs can understand other people’s emotions better than their own. In turn, this makes INFJs prone to ignoring their needs.
This can happen unintentionally, as many INFJs have trouble identifying their needs and wishes, especially before they develop their extraverted sensing. However, sometimes INFJs simply don’t say “no” to maintain harmony and thus abandon their needs to please others.
It’s also not uncommon for INFJs to struggle with decision-making, especially if their choices impact other people. Even day-to-day decisions (e.g. deciding on a restaurant) can cause some INFJs to feel anxious, as they don’t want to look selfish or make a bad decision.
When INFJs are pressed to make decisions or don’t voice their opinions, their critical parent steps in. Their introverted feeling then manifests in a judgemental internal monologue, such as:
- “Why can’t you just pick something? You’re wasting everyone’s time.”
- “You are a failure, you aren’t even capable of thinking for yourself.”
- “You are such an embarrassment, you don’t even live up to your standards.”
Extraverted Thinking (Te)
Also called the trickster, extraverted thinking is the third INFJ shadow function, which typically leads to misunderstandings and distorted perceptions of other people’s actions.
Interestingly, extraverted thinking typically comes out only when INFJs are communicating with Te-dominant types, such as ESTJs. That’s because INFJs often dislike strong displays of extraverted thinking.
As a cognitive function, extraverted thinking allows people to make decisions based on pure logic, which makes Te-dominant personalities highly efficient. However, they often disregard people’s feelings and may talk in an authoritative manner, which INFJs might find inappropriate and insulting.
As a result, extraverted thinking in INFJs manifests as a need to challenge or protect themselves from Te-dominant people. Typically, this happens when INFJs perceive other people’s actions and intentions as controlling.
For example, a Te-dominant coworker in a workplace might try to help an INFJ colleague by telling them how to perform a task. However, most INFJs have issues with authority. As such, being told what to do can unconsciously trigger the extraverted thinking in the INFJ, causing them to misinterpret the co-worker’s actions as an attempt to control them. As a result, the INFJ might become defensive.
Introverted Sensing (Si)
Introverted sensing is the most suppressed and underdeveloped INFJ cognitive function.
Introverted sensing refers to the ability to recall past experiences, which people use to make informed decisions based on what worked and didn’t in the past.
However, INFJs have little to no control over their introverted sensing, so it manifests negatively.
Because of their underdeveloped introverted sensing, INFJs are prone to dwelling on their past mistakes, failures, and bad experiences. Besides making them feel pessimistic and hopeless, this can also prevent INFJs from learning from their past, healing, and living a fulfilling life.
How Do INFJ Cognitive Functions Affect Personality Development?
One thing you should know about INFJ cognitive functions is that INFJs aren’t simply born with them. Instead, their cognitive functions develop over time.
As INFJ cognitive functions develop, they impact an INFJ’s behavior, personality traits, interests, and other characteristics.
So, let’s take a look at how cognitive functions affect people with the INFJ personality type during different personality development phases.
First Personality Development Phase
The first personality development phase happens in the childhood of INFJs, when their dominant function, introverted intuition, begins to develop.
Since Ni is an introverted function, INFJs also start developing their first extraverted function, extraverted feeling, to interact with their surroundings and navigate the external world.
The early development of Ni causes INFJ children to appear more mature than their peers, as they are often highly introverted and independent compared to other children. Because they are great at decoding symbols and making connections, many INFJs also learn to read at a very early age.
Since their introverted intuition and extraverted feeling develop around the same time, INFJs may appear overly opinionated in their childhood. Because of their Fe, INFJ children also tend to be very sensitive, especially when they see injustice. As such, it’s not unusual for INFJ children to fantasize about ending homelessness or advocate against eating meat, for example.
Second Personality Development Phase
The second personality development phase begins in early adolescence and typically lasts until INFJs are in their 30s.
During this time, INFJs start developing their fourth cognitive function, extraverted sensing. As this INFJ cognitive function develops, INFJs may become interested in the arts and experiment with their appearance. At this phase, INFJs often seek to experience the external world at its fullest, which makes them much more adventurous. They may also appear more extroverted.
Extraverted sensing may cause INFJs to also become indecisive, as they want to experience all that life has to offer. For example, they may find it hard to choose and stick to one major in college, which is why many INFJs decide to drop out.
As INFJs gain experience and their extraverted sensing become stronger, they also begin to develop their tertiary function, introverted thinking. This helps INFJs refine their decision-making process, allowing them to become more rational and confident in their decisions.
Third Personality Development Phase
The third personality development phase is supposed to start when INFJs enter their 30s and last for the rest of their lives. However, many people don’t reach or complete this phase of personality development.
This personality development phase is essentially focused on fully integrating the tertiary and inferior cognitive functions. For INFJs, this means the integration of both introverted thinking and extraverted sensing into their personality. This allows INFJs to become wiser, healthier, and make better decisions.
To reach the third personality development phase, INFJs need to explore and become aware of their behavior patterns, personality traits, as well as strengths and weaknesses. From there, INFJs can challenge their own beliefs, break their personal patterns, and develop their Ti and Se.
While such personal growth requires a lot of hard work, it eventually brings a sense of accomplishment and increases life satisfaction.
4 Ways to Create Harmony Between Your Feeling and Thinking Nature
As we’ve discussed, INFJ is a feeling personality type, yet many INFJs come across as thinking types due to their tertiary introverted thinking function, analytical thinking skills, and scientific interests.
For this reason, INFJs often feel pulled in different directions, and thus many have difficulties finding inner harmony. For example, you might have a hard time choosing whether to pursue the arts or science.
So, here are some useful tips to help you balance and integrate your feeling and thinking personality sides:
- Accept yourself. INFJs are complex personalities, which is why they often feel misunderstood and struggle to find their true path. The only way to create inner harmony, however, is to truly accept and embrace yourself with all of your complexities, instead of trying to fit into a box.
- Make decisions based on your feelings. Extraverted feeling is the auxiliary INFJ cognitive function that defines your decision-making process. While you may have the urge to use your logical thinking to make decisions, your Ti isn’t as developed as your Fe. As such, your feelings and intuition will guide you to make better decisions.
- Take advantage of your introverted thinking. Use your Ti to challenge your beliefs, insights, and opinions. This way, you can integrate your introverted thinking into your personality and boost your personal growth. Moreover, challenging your own beliefs can help you avoid feeling threatened when other people question them. Ultimately, this can prevent you from switching to your opposing role function, extraverted intuition.
- Have various hobbies. To live a fulfilled life, INFJs need both a creative outlet and intellectual stimulation. As such, make sure to take on artistic hobbies, such as drawing or writing, as well as pursue your interest in science in your spare time.
Although cognitive functions aren’t easy to understand, hopefully, you now have a better idea of INFJ cognitive functions and how they affect INFJs throughout their personality development.
Before you go, here’s a quick recap of the key points we talked about in this article:
- Cognitive functions define how people process information and make decisions.
- Primary cognitive functions are the four functions that a personality type exhibits most often, whereas shadow cognitive functions only come up in stressful situations.
- The dominant INFJ function stack includes extraverted feeling, introverted thinking, extraverted sensing, and introverted intuition.
- INFJ shadow functions are extraverted intuition, introverted feeling, extraverted thinking, and introverted sensing, all of which are unconscious and show up under stress.
- To balance your feeling and thinking nature as an INFJ, it’s important that you have a variety of hobbies, accept your complex nature, challenge your beliefs through your introverted thinking function, and use extraverted feeling to make decisions.