If you want to get deeper into the MBTI system, then you need to go beyond the dichotomies and even deeper than the functions. Learning about the shadow functions and how they will affect your personality and your development, is a good way to start these explorations. It will open up new paths of development and help you understand what you do and why on a much deeper level.
Your Primary Functions
There’s a lot of debate about the shadow functions when it comes to MBTI and not everyone agrees on what they are. The most prominent theory is that shadow functions are exactly what they sound like. They refer to the parts of you that you don’t access, the hidden parts. And in terms of the MBTI system, this usually refers to the cognitive functions that are the opposites of your strengths.
In the MBTI system, everyone has four cognitive functions that determine their personality type and guide their behavior. These are linked to the four-letter personality description that you’re probably familiar with. These four letters dictate the cognitive functions that you use, are most comfortable with, and can build strength in. For example, ENFPs have the following function stack:
- Extraverted intuition is your dominant. This is the way you see the world and the learn about it.
- Introverted feeling is your auxiliary function, which makes decisions about the world and determines what’s most important to you.
- Extraverted thinking is your tertiary function, an underdeveloped part of your personality which makes you aware of the emotional states of the people around you.
- Introverted sensing is your inferior function, which usually manifests in times of stress and is strongly connected to the past as a determiner of the value of the present.
These are your strengths and the functions that you’ll exhibit most often in your personality. However, your personality is also affected by the opposites of these dominants. When you use your dominant functions, you naturally suppress their opposites, and this gives rise to the idea of shadow functions.
The Role of the Shadow Functions
John Beebe was one of the first researchers to introduce the idea of the shadow functions in his Eight Function Model. According to this model, the shadow functions are the opposite of your primary functions. So, following the previous example, an ENFPs shadow functions would be:
- Introverted intuition.
- Extraverted feeling.
- Introverted thinking.
- Extraverted sensing.
Basically, the introverted and extraverted natures of the functions are flipped around to create the shadow functions. These functions represent the parts of you that lie at the edge of your mind, the parts that are hidden and those that you probably don’t want to admit to. This is all tied in with your ego and who you think you are. The primary functions are a part of your ego, particularly your dominant and auxiliary. The tertiary and inferior functions can become part of the ego as you develop them. But the shadow functions aren’t part of your ego and aren’t always socially acceptable or acceptable to how you think about yourself. As a result, they only come out when your ego or core is under threat.
The ego is an important part of your psyche and protecting it is important. But protecting it against everything is inadvisable. The ego can lie, become overinflated, and stunt your growth and development. And this is where the good side of the shadow functions comes in. They can be destructive if used incorrectly, but if used correctly they can stabilize and protect the ego. They can also prevent it from becoming overinflated by giving you a needed reality check.
How to Recognize the Shadow Functions
The shadow functions usually show themselves when you’re under so much stress that your usual strategies aren’t working. When they’re in control, you’ll find yourself acting in ways that seem completely unlike you. You may find that you don’t even understand your own behavior when they show themselves, because you’re following instincts and patterns of behavior that are completely foreign to you. So, if you’ve ever been through a really stressful time and found yourself turning to strategies that you’ve never considered before, this was probably your shadow functions at work. They can make you behave in ways that are irrational, morally ambiguous, or completely unreasonable.
Using this copying mechanism can be a very bad thing sometimes. Your shadow functions are part of your unconscious mind, which means you don’t have control over them, and they can act independently of your moral codes or social restraints. That’s why it’s so important that you gain an understanding of this part of your personality and use it only in ways that benefit you and the people around you.
The Roles of the Shadow Functions
As you have four primary functions, you also have four shadow functions. They all perform a variety of functions of course, but are generally characterized as follows:
The Opposing Personality.
This is the function that’s in your fifth position. So, for an ENFP it would be introverted intuition. This function acts in opposition to your dominant function, questioning the way it sees the world and the goals it sets. This is often the part of you that’s stubborn, argumentative, and refuses to go along with others and events. Basically, this is the part that will lash out when your ego is under threat. If used positively it can be used to strengthen and back up the dominant function, but few people use it in this way.
The Critical Parent.
The shadow function in the sixth position is often called the critical parent because it’s the shadow of the auxiliary. This is the part of you that can ‘feel’ other people’s weak spots and go straight for them when you’re in a fight. It can be directed outwardly at other people or inwardly at yourself and thinks nothing of humiliating and ridiculing in its search for control. You’ll probably only use this part of your personality when you feel at risk of losing something important, but the damage it can inflict can be devastating. This function can be used to understand others more deeply when it’s used positively and can confer a depth of wisdom that’s truly remarkable.
The third shadow function is often referred to as the trickster and it’s a troubling and deceiving part of you that’s also essential for growth and individuation. This part is deceptive, sly and manipulative, and creates chaos all around you. Using this function can feel very wrong and cause confusion and bad decisions. After all, it’s a very underdeveloped function and often completely untrusted because of its very nature. But on the positive side, this function performs the vital task of protecting the child that lives inside you. And it also provides comic relief and the inhibition that allows you to play even once you become an adult.
The fourth function is often thought of as the demon and will feel the most ‘other’ to you. This makes sense. After all, this is the shadow of your inferior function, the one that flares up only in times of trouble, so the idea that its shadow could be even more frightening isn’t much of a stretch. Your relationship with this function may be so strained and negative that you struggle with people who use this function as a dominant and project the worst qualities of yourself onto them. When activated, this function can be very destructive and any actions that result from it will probably be regrettable. As an added problem, this function is usually deeply unconscious and will erupt from your mind unexpectedly or impose itself unconsciously.
Learning about the shadow functions takes time and there are no hard and fast rules for how they appear. Everyone is different, so to understand your shadow functions you will need to look at your own personality and the parts that you usually shy away from. These types of explorations aren’t comfortable, but they’re essential if you want to grow in healthy ways.