Developing Cognitive Functions

By Jesse Geroir

To begin, one of the most commonly asked questions once a person begins to investigate MBTI and the Jungian based cognitive function model that underlies it is: Can I develop my more undeveloped functions? That is, can I somehow 'practice' my tertiary or inferior function or any of the other functions that they do not have. As with the majority of people who take an interest in MBTI, most of them do so in order to understand themselves and others better and quickly realize how bad they are at certain areas of life. And if they don't, they should, as that's kind of the whole point of MBTI.

Regarding whether or not one can develop functions that are not within one's functional stack, I'm inclined to think that you simply can't. Every model of personality that involves the entire 8 functions or the interplay of more than just the common four in an MBTI personality type (where the arrangement is already somewhat circumspect) tends to veer off into this abyss of incomprehensible complexity through some kind of derived web of interplay of functions.

However, I am inclined to believe that one can develop one's tertiary and inferior function. However, it doesn't occur in a logical way; it occurs in an intuitive way. And I think I can best explain and convey such development through the following series of images.

Picture 1 Picture 2
Picture 3

It may seem somewhat silly, but I do believe that the above images are keen examples of the development of a function, either tertiary or inferior. As soon as I saw them, I became keenly aware of the conflict in them, and I find them very representative of the intuitive nature of function development. I will begin by explaining the background of them.

The general meme that the above images follow is quite simple. They were made on the weapons board of the 4Chan forum, a discussion board meant for the discussion of the military, guns, weapons, and other such things. As a result, the forum very much has a military/gun culture about it and it is populated by a lot of SJs and SPs.

The above images were made in response to the 'justgirlythings' Tumblr account whose images make up the top half of the above images. Where that account would take some kind of nice-looking stock photo and then put on some Cosmo or other women's magazine-worthy phrase that apparently was just a 'girly' thing. These phrases range from "loving the shape of your body" to "being conflicted about growing out your hair or cutting it short" to "wondering if the relationship will last".

The statements are generally somewhat emotional or about emotional experiences and range from things that are somewhat thought-provoking or about deeper experiences that women encounter that men don't to, well, self-absorbed shallow statements on life.

Now naturally the pro-military gun-toting weapons board of 4Chan found the entire meme and its self-absorbed shallow statements and general attitude to be worthy of ridicule and derision and so that's when they added the second frame below the first. They did so to contrast them for comedic effect and show how absurd the general attitude shown in them is. That the 'justgirlythings' attitude is one worth mocking and that it should be viewed with disdain.

And it is very much a sense of disdain that is conveyed through the images. The 'justgirlythings' attitude struck them on a fundamental level as something that is repulsive and so they set out to show the absurdity of the statements and how each one constitutes a bit of a self-centered first world problem.

However, you can notice something interesting happening across the images. While some of them, like the above ones, are made purely to mock the ultra-feminine shallow statements and attitude, they quickly begin to become subversive in their nature and humor:

Picture 4

Here they can begin to convey a deeper sense of humanity. They go from purely mocking the attitude to having a deeper understanding of it, where the attitude becomes less limited, less infantile, and is perceived in a more complex way through the lens of a greater human understanding. In the above image, through the contrast we are granted a dual sense of the statement. It points out and evokes both the light and the dark.

And in some others, the entire subversive nature of the humor tends to change. It becomes almost poignant rather than mocking - less accusatory towards the shallow attitude and more interested in pointing out the undignified shallow nature of the attitude through exemplifying how such an attitude can become or be seen as noble:

Picture 5 Picture 6
Picture 7

Here the contrast is different. Instead of mocking, we see a frame where the statement and attitude is not so much contrasted in a deriding manner as it is exemplified in a noble way. The above three images aren't mean to mock the attitude, only to show that it's somewhat shallow and, more importantly, that men and others experience these emotions and thoughts too and so they aren't just ultra-feminine things.

I find there is almost a sense of irony about it that begins to arise. Among these very manly military types who scoff at any mention of feeling and pride themselves on their masculinity (as felt in the above images), you also get the sense that they are really into the whole 'brotherhood' of the military.

Being mostly STJs and STPs, they seem to despise their tertiary and inferior feeling and yet through these images they come to terms with it in a subversive way. At the same time that they are making fun of the attitude of the spoiled sorority girl (which is a bit of a straw-man), they are elevating the attitude via the military photos and the greater humanity of it. This irrational intuitive process allows them to understand and individuate positive aspects of the derided inferior or tertiary function.

So first the 'justgirlythings' attitude is demonized and mocked. It is seen as something that is lacking and yet something that is lacking, not because it is needed, but because it is worthless, because it is infantile, because it is shallow. But then its initial shallowness is glanced past. It is then seen as being limited - life is more complicated than such an attitude and shallowness allows. There are large segments of human experience that prove such a shallowness as being limited, as coming up short, as being self-centered or missing the mark a bit. And then finally, once it is realized that life is more complicated than the shallow attitude allows, there comes a very subtle realization that perhaps the shallow attitude can be deepened. That it can be seen in a greater complexity. That there is more to it than what first appears and that it can essentially be dredged out and that there can be found something noble and worthy within the attitude.

What was once base is now worshiped. We come to realize that we have just been hating on something petty and if we just endlessly hate on something petty, we will kind of become petty ourselves. The only way to transcend our own pettiness is to realize positive aspects of the attitude and how we embody those positive aspects - to essentially incorporate them and lead by example.

In this manner, learning to integrate an undeveloped function, either the inferior or tertiary, is as much an attitude as it is practicing or carrying out the behavior commonly associated with such behavior. Even more so in a general sense where, due to the unconscious nature of the undeveloped function, any general attempt to try to develop it by simply copying the actions of those proficient in it can lead to getting the end results of what the other person normally achieves but through the use of the dominant or auxiliary function.

For example, on one forum where there was a discussion about how INTJs could develop better use of their Extroverted Sensing, a few INTJs mentioned that they had had experiences with psychedelic drugs that had made them realize the physical world and their bodies more and how they realized that the world was just a series of circumstances and that we are all unique individuals with our own lives, going about bumping into each other. Others suggested meditation, trying to quiet the mind in order to realize the world more, to realize the physicality of being and to develop a sense of mindfulness.

While I don't necessarily disagree with these statements or methods, I don't think they are really embracing of the INTJ's inferior function, Extroverted Sensation. In effect, I think it's trying to access Se through Ni. They are kind of tricking themselves into thinking they are developing Se when they are really just approaching Se through Ni and letting Ni do all the heavy lifting.

The reason is that both methods, psychedelic drugs and meditation, essentially rely on the whole idea of the realization of the outer world and physicality of things through some grand moment of internal insight. That is pretty much the definition of Ni and how it operates. Now again, I don't think such approaches are necessarily bad, just that they are just that - approaches. The INTJ in question is approaching the idea of Se and kind of getting the sense of it and what it is through their dominant function, and to this end I think this is how we invariably approach all development of the undeveloped functions. They are unconscious and so we have to approach them with the dominant and auxiliary function. However, approaching an undeveloped function and getting a sense of it and even accepting it is a far cry from development and integration. It is just the first step on the path towards integration, although most confuse it for the last.

For example, developing Extroverted Sensing in INTJs is largely about just getting out and doing things. This may sound exceedingly simple, but it is just that, no grand meaning, no complex insight to the problem. You can't practice Extroverted Sensing by thinking about it or trying to figure out how it works or by having some grand insight into the problem of it. That's Ni.

Extroverted Sensing is pretty much just being open to and wanting to explore experiences for their own sake. To just go along with the surface layer of things and just having fun. It is an expansive energy. If you look at ESFPs and ESTPs and how they work and operate, they operate in an expansive manner. They'll do things just to see where they go and to have fun and you can almost see their personality expand outward a bit as they'll encounter new things or just react to what's going on if it's busy and interesting and they will have fun that way.

While INTJs don't need to do what Se dominants do or to that extreme, the same kind of expansive attitude towards doing things can go a long way and help towards having a better balanced and more rounded lifestyle and personality.

And yet, despite it seeming exceedingly simple, a fair number (including myself) of INTJs are loath to do it. Loath to just get out of the house and enjoy people and do stuff. Loath to just impulsively go with the flow and engage in an activity without any overt goal. Loath to actually pay attention to people and their small talk and the trivialities of their lives.

Overall, once there has been a change of attitude where the inferior function is realized as legitimate and has been accepted, the real work begins. And largely it's not as hard as much as it is boring. It's almost learning to nag oneself; learning to carry out certain behaviors not really because you want to do them, but because you should and need to in order to stay balanced. It's boring in the same way that sticking to a diet is boring. You're both forced to acknowledge a failing or weakness and consciously carry out some activity not so much because you want to, but because the consequences of not doing so are worse than the activity.

This is why it often takes us a while to really develop a sense of the tertiary or inferior function. Life hits us with the consequences a bunch of times until we get stuck in a rut and back ourselves into a corner and throw up our hands, thinking there is no way out, only to admit defeat after a while and overcome our ego enough in order to be like a child once again, willing to accept our limitations and learn, learn to nag ourselves or to at least try, in order to do a bit better.

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