Understanding INFJ Darkness: Getting to Know the INFJs Shadow Functions
“Knowing your darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”
– Carl Jung, INFJ
INFJs are very complex, insightful individuals who rely primarily on four cognitive functions: Introverted Intuition, Extraverted Feeling, Introverted Thinking, and Extraverted Sensing. This combination of functions helps the INFJ to have an intense focus on the future, and deep insights into people and situations. They are extremely empathetic and compassionate people who combine intuition, empathy, and logic (through their tertiary thinking function) to form uncannily accurate forecasts of what could be. I’m guessing that if you’re on this page you have a basic understanding of what the INFJ personality is like, because this particular post is going to get a lot more in-depth about INFJ features that are rarely discussed.
The shadow functions are the most unconscious functions of the INFJ, and they can show up at times when the INFJ feels they are “not themselves” or are acting in a way that seems foreign to them. The shadow can show itself when the INFJ is extremely stressed, under immense pressure, or has a strong negative reaction to something that threatens their ego or identity.
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A Quick Disclaimer
I’d like to preface this whole post by saying that not a lot of conclusive research has been provided on the shadow functions. The study of the shadow functions is something that is largely left out of most books on type theory. Almost everything I can find in relation to them is very theoretical. While nearly all typologists acknowledge the existence of the shadow, there is far less research on how we use these functions than on how we use our primary four cognitive functions. However, I think having an understanding of the theory of shadow functions and how they show themselves can be helpful in our day-to-day lives.
What Carl Jung Believed
Carl Jung believed that the shadow functions are the unknown or dark side of our personalities. The shadow is instinctive, irrational, and is often what we project onto our enemies. We find ourselves simultaneously intrigued and attracted to these functions in others, yet distrusting and skeptical of them at the same time because we don’t identify with them or have good control over them. Because we experience such a conscious separation from these functions, we may project our own failures in using them onto others.
What Is Projection?
A narcissist who lies constantly believes that everyone else is lying about everything and feels that they can’t trust anyone. They have projected their own dishonesty onto others who may actually be honest and truthful.
We all tend to have poor control of our own shadow functions because they are so unconscious to us. When we see other people using these functions, even in a positive or advanced way, we may project our own negative use of these functions onto them. Like the lying narcissist who can’t trust anyone, the INFJ who has Introverted Sensing in their shadow functions may not trust or respect someone else’s positive use of Introverted Sensing.
What are the INFJs Shadow Functions and How Are They Used?
Shadow functions are often the source of the negative and unhealthy aspects of our personality. They are the parts we’re ashamed of, that show up when we “lash out” at others, behave in ways we regret, or exhibit a loss of control. They may show up in our dreams and cause us to act in our dreams in ways that are completely unlike us.
We usually aren’t very aware of our shadow functions, because they are in such opposition to our primary cognitive functions. You can see this if you take a look at the functions side-by-side (above).
Because the shadow functions are largely unconscious, and we don’t associate them with our “true” selves, they almost never completely take over our personalities. They stay in the background, we don’t truly identify with them, but they may “speak” to us throughout the day when we experience stressors or threats to our ego.
Each of the shadow functions has a somewhat ominous-sounding title.
The 1st shadow function, Extraverted Intuition, is labeled The Opposing Role.
The 2nd shadow function, Introverted Feeling, is labeled The Critical Parent.
The 3rd shadow function, Extraverted Thinking, is labeled The Trickster.
The 4th shadow function, Introverted Sensing, is labeled The Demon.
The Opposing Role
Your 1st shadow function is the most advanced of your shadow functions, yet still almost entirely unconscious in its use. This function will show up mainly as a way you become defensive. It’s how you might “throw a tantrum”, become rude, obstructive, or unfriendly. If you are having an argument with someone and they insult your ego, you may react brashly or with a quick temper, spouting out words or thoughts that oppose your normal way of thinking. The Opposing function speaks up like an argumentative child who must have his way. Because the INFJs Opposing Role is Extraverted Intuition, we have to have a basic understanding of what Extraverted Intuition is.
What Is Extraverted Intuition?
Extraverted Intuition is the ability to see how one thing could lead to many complex alternatives. It sees limitless possibilities and potential outcomes. People who have proficient use of Extraverted Intuition (ENFPs and ENTPs) are extremely flexible and open-minded and regularly modify their viewpoints based on new information.
The Difference Between Extraverted and Introverted Intuition
INFJs have a strong use of Introverted Intuition, which means they tend to be more single-minded in their focus, connecting all the dots to form one major conclusion or insight. Once they have formed that insight and reflected on it, they hold to it very tightly. This gives the INFJ their characteristic resolve and belief in their revelations. Extraverted Intuitives tend to see many possibilities and insights and are more frequently changing their minds about them. This makes them more open-minded, but while the INFJ is at risk of being called stubborn, the Extraverted Intuitive is at risk of never settling on a clear conclusion.
The INFJ uses Extraverted Intuition (Ne) in a largely unconscious way. They respect it and are intrigued by it, but consciously have a hard time controlling it. If someone challenges one of their Ni insights or their core revelations, the Opposing Role may come into play and the INFJ may use Extraverted Intuition in a confused, haphazard way to try to confirm their Ni beliefs. While INFJs can enjoy brainstorming and thinking about numerous possibilities, much like Ne users can, they can become overwhelmed if these Ne possibilities cause them to doubt their Ni visions or take them out of their preferred focus. This can lead them to lash out and become angry and belligerent with whoever or whatever is causing this stress and confusion.
Because INFJs respect Extraverted Intuition, they can become quickly angered and frustrated by people who refuse to see things from multiple angles or are unwilling to modify their beliefs when shown a new possibility. However, INFJs can also be stubborn and unwilling to change their views, so their use of the Opposing Role in arguments can seem hypocritical or out of synch to onlookers.
The Critical Parent
The INFJs second shadow function, and sixth cognitive function, is labeled The Critical Parent. Why? The critical parent is the nagging, harsh voice in your head that tells you that you have failed, that you’re not good enough, or that you’re doing something poorly. It can also use this same voice in judging others. For the INFJ, the critical parent role is filled by Introverted Feeling.
What is Introverted Feeling?
Introverted Feeling is a strong awareness of one’s own values and beliefs and emotions. It is more concerned with one’s own subjective values than the emotions and desires of others. People who have a strong use of Introverted Feeling (INFPs and ISFPs) hold very fast to their personal morals and emotions, and try to live in accordance with them. While they may be extremely open-minded and empathetic to others, they will not personally go against anything that doesn’t strongly align with what they believe is morally right for them. Their values and morals are independent of social norms and environmental factors. They form these values based on their own deeply-held personal beliefs. Introverted feelers are extremely aware of their own emotions and feelings, and if you ask them how they feel they can provide you with an accurate response. They are also quite private with their feelings and keep their emotions and values more internalized, not feeling the need to force them on others.
How Introverted Feeling Affects the INFJ
INFJs, who use Extraverted Feeling as their second primary function, are extremely aware of other people’s emotions but far less aware of their own. They have a harder time saying “no” to things they don’t want to do because they are so concerned with maintaining harmony. They may have a hard time defining how they feel or what they want or need. This is why many INFJs can become suddenly indecisive when asked what they want to do for the night, what food they want to eat, or how they feel about a rule or agenda. When asked to express what they want, the INFJ feels selfish and worried about giving the wrong answer. They like to know first what other people want, and then they may tailor their answers based on the other person’s needs and desires. An Introverted Feeler would have a much easier time describing what they want and expressing it.
Introverted Feeling manifests itself in the INFJ as an internal criticizing voice. “Why can’t you make up your mind? Don’t you stand for anything? You are such a fake. You have failed to uphold your own standards.” It can also express itself in judgments the INFJ makes upon others; “that person is being fake, that person is a phony, that person has no real values or morals, they are a failure and an embarrassment.” Normally the Critical Parent function will only show itself in times of extreme stress where something important is at risk. When it is engaged, it can overpower us and cause major damage to ourselves and our relationships.
The trickster function, sometimes referred to as the deceiving function, fools you into thinking that something is important to do in defense of your ego. It causes you to see yourself and others in a false light and it distorts your experiences so that you misunderstand them and react to others in an overly critical or defensive way.
Typology experts say that the Trickster comes out when there is a threat of ego disintegration. So the trickster may come out when your self-identity and self-esteem are vitally threatened.
For the INFJ, the trickster role is fulfilled by Extraverted Thinking (Te). INFJs are not normally skilled at using this function and can make mistakes in perception or decision-making when trying to use it.
What is Extraverted Thinking?
Extraverted Thinking makes decisions based on objective facts and logic from the outside world. Extroverted Thinkers like to control and organize their outer world in a logical way. This makes them excellent delegators, leaders, and great at creating efficient processes and plans. Te users consider logic and pros and cons when making a decision, and are less concerned with harmony and the emotions of people involved. They tend to value pre-established rules.
How INFJs Use Extraverted Thinking
An INFJ may project their poor Extraverted Thinking abilities onto another person who is effectively using Extraverted Thinking. For example, an ESTJ (who uses dominant Te) may try to organize or delegate to the INFJ in some way. They are very proficient at this, but the INFJ may naturally bristle at this strong display of Te. They may think, “You’re trying to control me! You are such a power-hungry animal! I will not let you do this so I will try to exert my control over my own life and system back to you!”. The only problem is that the INFJ has poor conscious control over Te and may try to use it in a way that is completely inefficient or has logical loopholes. They may also read into what the Te-user is doing and distort it into a different experience or motive. The Te-user may be, in actuality, trying to help the INFJ, yet the INFJ sees it as an effort to try to control them and claim ownership of them.
The demon is the most suppressed area of your unconscious personality. This function is how you will take in information when you are at your very worst and most destructive; when your ego is severely threatened and at risk of obliteration. People who are regularly confronting their Demon are at risk of great mental anguish and have probably reached a real breaking point.
The INFJs Demon function is Introverted Sensing. This means out of all the eight cognitive functions, this is the one they have the least conscious control over.
What Is Introverted Sensing (Si)?
Introverted Sensing (Si) is the storing and recall of past data and experiences. Introverted Sensors usually have an excellent memory for details, and can look on the past with fondness and appreciation. They look at what has worked well in the past, what is the “tried and true” method, and try to apply it to the present moment. Si users recollect information thoroughly and can easily tell if something doesn’t match up with past experience. They are quick to see inconsistencies, to notice changes, and to spot abnormalities. When a Si-user experiences something in real-time, they quickly compare it to something they’ve experienced in the past to see if it matches up. Si users are also usually very aware of their body’s needs and feelings. They are aware of internal sensations, like whether they are hungry or whether they are in pain.
How INFJs Use Introverted Sensing
Because Introverted Sensing is the INFJs Demon, it normally reflects itself in very negative ways. The INFJ can often be haunted by the past and skeptical of it. They see only what was negative about the past, only what traumatized them, only the mistakes they made. They may only see the mistakes and failures of others as well. They will pinpoint all their mistakes and failures as signs that they will never be anything but a disappointment or a failure. They may become immersed in their past trauma or regrets and unable to get out. When in the realm of the Demon function, the INFJ can also become completely incapable of holding onto any details accurately and may distort past details to fulfill their vision of failure and hopelessness.
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Can the Shadow Functions Ever Be Positive?
Because the shadow functions are so unconscious in nature, it’s hard to ever have very strong control over them. We identify most strongly with our primary functions; these make up our identity and ego. The shadow functions feel more like strangers inside of us or unwelcome guests. They may seem to shout out thoughts or ideas into our minds that are unwelcome or outside of our conscious control. None of this sounds good, does it? But the truth is, these arguments and thoughts can help us to have balance if we can only be aware of them when they show their faces.
As an INFJ, if I over-use Introverted Intuition, then my Extraverted Intuition shadow helps me to see things from another angle. If I’m over-doing it with Extraverted Feeling and losing touch of my own inner values and morals, that Critical Parent of Introverted Feeling may scold me enough that I may stop and consider what my values are. There are times when the Shadow functions are necessary evils in our lives, but there’s a fine line between learning from them and being destroyed by them. We should try to keep our eyes open and be aware of their existence, but most typologists and psychologists suggest we should try not to focus on them too extensively. It is better to focus on gaining control over our primary functions and to be cautious about how we react when the shadow functions try to take control. Trying to “practice” using the shadow functions can result in further disintegration and confusion in our lives. It would be like telling a left-handed child they need to practice using their right hand proficiently. It will only cause them to feel frustrated, insecure, and hopeless. Yes, being aware of them is helpful, so that when they do try to get into our lives we can acknowledge that we may be feeling irrational. It can also help us to determine whether we should try to see something from another point of view. But it’s generally unwise to focus a lot of time and effort into developing the shadow functions; it’s better to work on developing your four primary functions as best as you can.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Do you agree or disagree with this article? Do you have any insights based on your own experiences? Let us know in the comments!
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It is just so hard to find my personality type. If I don’t know which side of the brain I am in, how would I know my personality type. I am starting to think that the whole thing is pointless. Why do I have to confuse myself even more.
Okay, I’m really scared here because everything I’m reading about the shadow functions is what I have become. I hate the way I feel inside my skin. I experienced a life altering event (death) 10 years ago and was told I was an unhealthy infj. I had never been interested in personality types, only at the age of 35, my psychology teacher tested the class and I tested as an infj. I remember telling her I wasn’t an introvert 😂 and she explained to me what it meant not what I thought it meant. I was also offended with the fact I judged people, she explained to me what that meant as well. Yes. We all judge people. It’s to our level of awareness that is key. People look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them, people who say they do not judge are the biggest hypocrites of all. And I go on trying to get them to understand it’s kind of innate in all of us it’s just to the level of our awareness that makes the difference. Just like prejudice, it’s not only limited to race, there are prejudices of all things, clothes people wear, hair cuts and colors, tattoos, etc… Prejudice is similar to being biased, your subjective thoughts about above mentioned.
Sorry for getting off topic. My question to you is how do I get back to seeing myself and others, the world, the way I used to and not how I do now ? This is why I feel like I’m a bad seed…. My sense of self is off and so are my perceptions. I also experienced an existential crisis and a really negative dark meaningless view on life and lost faith. I’m praying there is still hope for me to right what I’ve wronged if need be and get myself back healthy and in alignment with my truth, my true self.
Thank you for this very helpful article! The only thing I disagree with is the idea not to refrain from developing the shadow functions. My experience is, that our functions need their shadow sibling to become more balanced. I work a lot on Fi to balance my Fe. In my default mode I’m really bad in knowing what I myself feel and need – so my Fe tends to bulldoze me a lot by making decisions about what is good for everyone else. It’s important for me to get in touch with my own feelings and values to be able to honor my own needs and boundaries as well. What is true though, is, that completely neglecting Fe and following Fi instead wouldn’t be a good idea either. It’s all about balancing them.