In this post I will be explaining cognitive stacks, which can help each personality type recognize and develop their unique gifts. The book, Gifts Differing, is an excellent resource to better understand how cognitive functions work. The author, Isabel Briggs Meyers, helped her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, develop the MBTI personality tests.
Meyers clearly explains the big picture of each personality type’s strengths and weaknesses. She covers everything from type development to tips for relationships between personality types. I definitely recommend the book to anyone remotely interested in personality typing!
As I mentioned earlier, each personality type has unique gifts based on the functions in their cognitive stack. Cognitive stacks describe your personality type’s natural order for using Sensing, iNtuition, Feeling and Thinking. This post will break down the role each function plays, using the ENFP type as an example. You can find a chart with cognitive stacks for all 16 Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators at the end of this post. The chart also provides definitions for each of the 8 cognitive functions.
Importance of Specialized Functions
Each type’s four-letter code represents a person’s preference between four sets of dichotomies, or poles on a spectrum. The two middle letters of the code determine which traits each type specializes in (e.g. NF for the ENFP). Although the two less preferred functions in these dichotomies are not spelled out in the four-letter code, they also are a part of the cognitive stack (e.g. an ENFP’s stack would be NF | TS). These functions receive less emphasis because they are weaker and less developed.
Naturally, most people want to improve their weaknesses, so they attempt to grow all of their functions at once. While this may seem like a good idea, it can actually be detrimental to that person’s growth journey. It is impractical and impossible to use both functions within a dichotomy at the same time (e.g. Thinking and Feeling). In times that you seem to be using both functions simultaneously, you are really only vacillating between the two functions. This prevents you from using either function effectively. God designed our specialized strengths and weaknesses to work together with other people as parts of a body (I Corinthians 12:14-27; Romans 12:6). These specializations constitute the elements of a properly functioning society.
Development of Specialized Functions
Everyone needs functions to gather information (Percieving) and to act on that information (Judging). Therefore each personality type specializes in one cognitive function from each of the Judging and Percieving categories. Each type also needs a way to extravert (relate to their outer world) and introvert (relate to their inner world). When combined, the primary and secondary functions contain all of these elements.
Strengthening the primary and secondary functions creates a stable and balanced personality. These strengths are the foundation of your type’s unique gifts. Once you can identify cognitive functions in everyday life, you can focus on activities that use your gifts and limit those that don’t. Over time, many people also learn to use their strengths to compensate for the weaknesses in their less developed functions. Once the stronger functions are well developed, the weaker functions often follow.
Breaking Down the Cognitive Stack
Your Type’s Natural Strength (Primary) Function
The dominant characteristic of your personality
Your primary function is usually the most fulfilling for you to use, and rightly so. This function acts in your preferred direction of introversion or extraversion. Most people begin developing its associated traits from a young age. For some, it is so far ingrained in their personality, that they may not be aware when they are using it. This is especially true of introverts since the people around them don’t usually recognize what is happening in their inner world.
Extraverted Intuition, also known as Exploration is the ENFP’s primary function.
Your Type’s Growth (Secondary) Function
Compliments and balances your primary function
Pairing your primary function with your secondary function helps balance your personality. It helps you relate to the world in the opposite direction (extraverted/introverted) of your primary function. Also, your secondary function will not be in the same category (judging/perceiving) as your primary function. This means that the two functions serve to complete instead of competing with each other. Together your primary function and secondary function give you your unique niche in the world. They also fuel your biggest accomplishments in life.
More people are aware of their secondary function because it is sometimes uncomfortable for them. However, it is an essential function to fully develop personal growth. For Extraverts, this function provides inner guidance for their outer actions. For Introverts, this function allows them to relate to the outside world.
Introverted Feeling is the ENFP’s secondary function.
Your Type’s Comfort Zone (Tertiary) Function
Provides each type with a means of recreation
Although this function is less developed than the secondary function, most people find it more comfortable to use. Underdeveloped types often use this function in place of their growth function. It is an easy substitution since both are from the same Judging or Perceiving category. Usually the tertiary function is paired with either the inferior or the primary function.
Each type becomes its worst self when the tiertiary function is paired with the inferior function. This often happens during times of stress.
When the tertiary function is paired with the primary function, there is no outlet for the less preferred world. For extraverts, the result is often burnout and stress because they never check in with their inner world. Introverts often exhibit stereotypical awkwardness and an inability to relate to people. However, in moderation this combination can be useful for a recreational activity, such as a hobby or an unusual skill. For example, introverts may use their tertiary function to create art or form new ideas, and extraverts often use it to throw a party or compete in games.
Here are some questions to ask when using the tertiary function:
- Is this activity fun or relaxing?
- Am I using this instead of my growth function because it is more comfortable or quicker to use?
- Am I under stress?
- Does this task require this function or can I compensate by using my stronger functions?
- Am I limiting the activities in my life that require this function?
Extraverted Thinking is the ENFP’s tertiary function.
Your Type’s Blindspot (Inferior) Function
Balances out the primary function
Although it is such a small part of our personality, how we use our inferior function is quite complex. As the opposing function to the primary function, it is the weakest quality for any given type. Most people will usually shy away from or dread tasks requiring this function.
Here are a few tips for using the inferior function:
- Recognize the occasions you will need to use this function.
- When possible, give yourself time to prepare for situations requiring this function.
- Break up activities that use this function into short segments.
- Experiment with this function with short, low-pressure, activities.
- Get help when possible from someone who is stronger in this function.
An ENFP’s inferior function is Introverted Sensing.
Find Your Gifts and Grow!
Each type will have certain activities they need to avoid and others that will help them shine. Below are some tips for the ENFP type to use their gifts to the fullest. I hope to create growth profiles for more types in the future according to people’s interest.
ENFPs are bright and energetic trailblazers. They thrive on meaningful interaction and involvement with their outside world. They are often misjudged as flighty and insincere. But when ENFPs commit to causes in line with their personal values they become passionate and inspiring leaders.
ENFP Growth Tips
ENFP Growth Outlets
The ENFP graphics are from my MBTI series on Instagram (#personalitytypingforhomemakers). I am slowly creating growth profiles for other types according to interest. This week I will be adding the INFJ type. Let me know if there is a particular type you would like to see! See this page for a pinnable version of the ENFP Growth Overview.
Cognitive Stacks Chart
I want to hear from you!
Which cognitive function do you think is your strongest function?
I hope that the past few posts in the Personality Typing for Homemakers series have been helpful to you. For the next month or so I will be switching gears and focusing on some other tools to help you in your personal growth journey. Don’t worry, I still plan to write more about Personality Typing in the future! Let me know if there is a particular aspect that you would like to hear more about!
Right now I am working on a series of posts on goal-setting. These posts will also feature some of my own goals. I hope that they will not only be an inspiration to you but also help you to get to know a bit more about me and the principles that govern what I write about.