Each personality type has four Cognitive Functions. Functions put language to the way they process information and make decisions, and their order is based on personal preferences. Thinking and Feeling are used to make decisions, while iNtuition and Sensing are used to process information. Each type is referred to by their top two functions. Internal functions are the ones you use in your head, and external functions are the ones you use to interact with the world around you.
The NiFe’s functions are as follows:
1. Ni - internal iNtuition
Ni is the way that an NiFe perceives their inner world, it dictates the way they store information and how they perceive that information. It also heavily dictates the path that their train of thought will take. Ni tends to store information in a spread out way with all the pieces of data having connections of various strengths to multiple additional pieces of data. This creates a dense web-like mass of information that is too large to be viewed in detail as a whole, but can be zoomed in on to show intricate clusters and threads of thoughts. This network of data rests slightly outside of the conscious mind, giving Ni a dreamlike quality that is equally likely to be experienced in images and impressions as it is to produce concrete facts. Because the focus of the Ni perception is constantly scanning the whole but also frequently zooming in on various thoughts and feelings and changing angles on a subject, Ni dominant people tend to experience their inner world as constantly fluctuating.
2. Fe - external Feeling
Fe is the NiFe’s first extroverted function, so this is the function that the NiFe is most likely to use when interacting with the outer world and it is the filter through which they receive communication from the rest of the world. Fe is also the way that the NiFe processes their emotions. This function serves Ni and is primarily focused on other people.
3. Ti - internal Thinking
Ti makes decisions based on logic and operates internally. Ti helps to stabilize the shifty nature of Ni and helps the NiFe to interpret their Ni connections in a sensible way. This function can help them to fully understand the connections that Ni makes outside of the conscious realm.
4. Se – external Sensing
Se is the NiFe’s last and least developed function. This function is what perceives the outer world as stable, concrete, and structured. It’s also the function that helps an NiFe to be aware of their surroundings, appreciate beauty, be fully present in the moment, and feel connected to the physical world. This function is operating at a low level on the NiFe’s awareness radar and gives them only the minimum input required for the tasks they are doing unless the NiFe actively engages this function. Unfortunately for the NiFe, they can experience the outer world as overwhelming and stressful if they spend too much time actively taking in outside stimulus, or if real world facts and data escalate to an intensity that demands the NiFe’s full focus.
The Inner World
An NiFe often feels like their whole brain is working at once. On good days, it feels like smooth and cohesive movements of data headed to a single point on a horizon of discovery, but in times of stress, it seems more like a chaotic whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. For the young NiFe, they may feel like spectators of this process rather than active participants, however as they mature, they will be able to exert more control and direction over this process.
Ni is primarily concerned with analysis and thought more for the experience of stretching its own perspectives rather than for the formation of firm conclusions. While they like to know where they stand on some issues, they tend to be comfortable with paradoxes and the unknowable more than other types. Ni is mainly focused either on the future, or things in the present that remain unknown or un-provable (for example: other people’s motives, the true origin of the universe, how will that cliffhanger on their favorite show be resolved).
According to work of neuroscientist Dario Nardi, individuals who lead with Ni tend to access their brain in a holistic way, engaging multiple areas of their brain and synchronizing those regions in a rhythmic, and tranquil pattern that is usually associated with the brain activity one would expect to see from an individual who is thinking in their area of expertise, however, for the NiFe, this is what happens to their brain when they encounter a new problem or concept. Because of this, they need to take on new challenges to their thinking regularly.
They often require a certain standard of security in their outer world because they need the freedom of the full use of their faculties as they are constantly expanding their inner universe. Unlike those with Ne who often feel uninspired unless they have a steady influx of new experiences, Ni users do not need a constant stream of novel stimuli to have new epiphanies. One or two simple but meaningful encounters with the outside world might be all the Ni user needs to come up with an intricate plot for a screenplay or an idea for a life-saving invention.
NiFe’s tend to have a rather large “working memory,” meaning that they can retain active consciousness of a large number of facts or details for immediate use. In the short term, they can have a remarkably accurate memory showing a great attention to detail, while still retaining the big picture. However, if they spend too much time trying to hold multiple perspectives and a wide array of details in their mind, they will suffer from internal overstimulation; this can even lead to moments of panic or feeling trapped inside of one’s head. It can also be a huge killer of the NiFe’s natural creativity.
They must learn to identify when they are approaching detail overload. When this happens, it helps to externally record thoughts (in a journal, planner, to do list, or by telling another person). Externally recording thoughts allows them to release the thought into long term storage, knowing that they are more likely to be able to recall it later. Or, if they feel they have adequately addressed the matter, it allows them to “delete” the info completely.
Another feature of Ni is that it tends to bring up needed insight and stored information at exactly the right time, without much effort to consciously recall what is needed. Unfortunately, this automatic drive to bring relevant information into the forefront of consciousness can result in negative patterns, like over analyzing problems that have no immediate solution to the point that they can become fixated or obsessively worried. Ni makes it very difficult to put a problem “out of their mind” or compartmentalize their thoughts. They will often find themselves pulled back to the unresolved issue until they can solve it. Coping techniques include designating a later time to process, reaching out for support as soon as possible, distraction, and meditation/prayer.
Ni is the main source creativity in these individuals. They have a highly developed inner world that will generally remain largely private to them. A strong mind’s eye and vivid imagination make NiFe’s the rulers of the daydream. While they can go overboard with this trait, a bit of positive and intentional daydreaming is normal and healthy for them.
NiFe’s tend to feel the pull of their second function as a steady undercurrent to the direction that their thoughts take. They are fascinated by the intricacies of human interactions. They have a deep desire to not only understand but to relate to other people. They may ponder for days what the real meaning of an off-hand comment was, or they might dissect another person’s life choices from afar. While this may seem to other types as some kind of strange obsession or judgmental intrusion, it is actually a normal manifestation of the NiFe’s desire to know others deeply.
Fe is an external function, but for an NiFe, it impacts their inner world by drawing their focus to real life people and situations. Fe causes the Ni to ponder real life people, questions, and events in an imaginative way. They typically prefer to focus on people and projects that serve people. Especially when dealing with matters of great emotional importance, Fe’s absorption of the intangible emotional vibes in an environment usually determines where Ni will focus.
While connections with other people are important to them, they often struggle to switch back and forth between using their inner functions (Ni and Ti) and their outer functions (Fe and Se). The NiFe may feel social anxiety due to this difficulty or fear they may be seen as awkward, nervous, or flustered.
The presence of Fe in an NiFe’s life is often experienced as a blessing and a curse. When they sense the emotions of other people, Ni’s vague, impressionistic nature often means that they don’t always clearly perceive origins and reasons for their emotional impressions. This is especially true for young NiFe’s who may not be able to clearly define why they dislike being around certain people or put in certain situations. It is the development of Ti that allows them to retrace the steps that Ni traversed subconsciously.
Ti often helps with the “untangling” process of NiFe’s more mysterious impressions. It helps to ground, narrow down, and make sense of the random thoughts. Ti often utilizes the real life, concrete, Se facts to help steer Ni in a more rational direction. Although Ti is normally used in the service of Ni and Fe, NiFe’s often enjoy activities that give Ti freedom to explore on it’s own. With ample alone time and challenging topics to think about, they tend to find that Ni with Ti leads to mental pursuits that encompass both creativity and logic. Strategizing, planning, problem analysis, and complex designing go well when they are allowed to take their time.
Ni and Ti together make for an imaginative, curious, and mischievous inner world. Ti can trip up an NiFe when it is too heavily relied on in emotion-based situations. In emotionally/relationally threatening situations where key facts regarding intentions or motives are unknown to the NiFe, they can can become overly analytical, critical, assuming, and cold. This is a result of Ni and Ti teaming up without fully acknowledging how much they really don’t know about the situation.
The final function in the NiFe’s main stack is Se. Se impacts the NiFe in positive and negative ways. Generally speaking, problems with Se arise when they are not getting enough time alone, when their outer environment is not sufficiently peaceful and secure, when the Se stimulus they are getting is stressful, empty, or negative, and when they are required to use their Se in intense ways or for prolonged periods of time. Se overload is inevitable at various life stages. The development of self awareness, proper boundaries, sufficient alone time, and healthy habits all go a long way in keeping them from burning out from Se overload.
However, when an NiFe has small doses of positive Se on a regular basis, they actually gain energy, insight, and happiness from Se experiences. This is why simple, healthy, natural Se pursuits (athletic, artistic, tactile, epicurean, sensual, etc.) can be very positive for the NiFe and help to relieve stress. The older and more experienced an NiFe is, the better they are at maintaining control over their Se rather than allowing it to overwhelm them.
The Outer World
NiFe’s are among those types who are highly adaptable in their behavior, but at the same time often very reserved. These two traits in combination make an NiFe hard to identify by those who don’t know them well. It can actually be quite tough for NiFe’s to know how they’re perceived by other people, as more than nearly any other type, they spend a lot of time in their heads.
In fact, after 3 pages about the inner world, our NiFe co-author got stuck trying to describe the outer world of the NiFe. So from here, your friendly resident TiNe will pick up and do his best to do justice to the mysterious and fascinating NiFe.
Fe distinctly causes NiFe’s to be drawn to people. They find people absolutely fascinating...but nearly always from a distance. After socializing, even with close friends, they need long breaks. They study people with an intensity that’s rarely matched by any other type. They often find themselves caring about and even wanting to defend people groups who are being oppressed - whether or not they have any personal connection to them. They have a low tolerance for people who put down others for any reason.
It can be a struggle for NiFe’s to care so much for people - not just those close to them, but entire people groups. It tends to be quite exhausting when you exert so much emotional energy caring about so many people and yet don’t necessarily have the energy to actually do anything to help or defend them. This heavily external focus also often means that they don’t have an easy time knowing and expressing their own needs in relationships.
When it comes to determining values, it's pretty easy for an NiFe to say "I don't like that because it doesn't make any sense" (using Ti to make a logical assessment), or "I don't like that because it hurts other people or violates a collective value" with Fe, but it's harder for an NiFe to say, "I don't like that because I believe it's wrong, even though it isn't obviously hurting someone," which is more like an Fi judgment.
Everyone has deep Fi-style values to some extent, even if they don’t actively use Fi as a function. When an NiFe person is trying to figure out why something that isn't bothering them at an Fe or Ti level keeps coming to their mind, it can be helpful for them to recognize if there's a specific value they hold that isn't easily explained by their Fe or Ti.
Most NiFe’s are people-watchers and they often end up being interested in sociology and psychology. They naturally see patterns in human behaviour and according to Nardi, their brains “harness all neocortex regions in order to 'realize' an answer...Each region offers a different perspective, and a zen-like synchronous state allows the person to reconcile various perspectives to arrive at a best-fit answer...Sometimes, when the brain’s regions offer highly divergent answers, no amount of triangulation can synthesize and answer.” Because of this, they can always point out the side to the conversation that isn’t being represented and may be accused of being devil’s advocates at times - an accusation they will often readily admit to.
They can usually see why someone is coming from their own perspective, but they like to bring up alternative perspectives so the person can see it from a different point of view. If you’re close to one, you can trust an NiFe to tell you if they think you’re being stupid. Although it might not be surrounded by fluffy language to make you feel good, it’s likely they are doing it from a genuine place of caring about you.
They can be outgoing when they need to be but not for extended periods of time without severe consequences. Being outgoing draws on their energy in an intense way because it’s forcing them to engage with their outer world. They tend to be very private, even with people they’re close to. If an NiFe tells you their secrets, it’s a deep honor, they do not trust until it’s been earned. You may observe an NiFe walking around with headphones in, completely avoiding eye contact or speaking with you if at all possible. This could be at home, at work, or out in public. If possible, do not disturb the NiFe in this state, they need time in this inner head space to function.
They are quirky and tend to draw other quirky people. Although they might feel very strongly that they are the least interesting person on the planet at times, it’s not uncommon for them to give off the vibe that they’re the most interesting person in the room unintentionally. This is usually because their hair and choice of clothes tends to have a lot more personality to it than the average person, and because they are usually either the one quietly making hilarious sarcastic comments or chilling in the corner by themselves with a dark and mysterious vibe to them. They really like being different and often discover new musicians, books, and films before they become popular. It can be quite irritating to them when the thing they’ve enjoyed in private is suddenly everywhere.
They overwhelmingly feel that their inner world is vastly more fascinating and colourful than the world around them, and they struggle to convey anywhere near the level of detail, beauty, or simply the humor of what they’re experiencing in their mind in a way that does it justice. They often feel that the way they portray themselves to the world is really lame. They often lament that they don’t “do” anything and are genuinely confused when people think they’re fascinating.
They also tend to need to talk through their thoughts or at least externalize them by writing them out to feel like they’re fully fleshed out. Generally the thoughts in their head exist in a very abstract form, so talking through them or writing them down can help to solidify them. They may find it frustrating at times if people assume that the thoughts they’re sharing are fully formed and decided on, especially if they’re expressed with emotion and therefore assumed to be intensely solid beliefs. Often they’re just talking to work out a thought and they haven’t quite arrived at a conclusion yet.
As NiFe’s get older, they tend to get warmer. They are less afraid of caring and showing how much they care, and less concerned with keeping people at a distance. They also get better at not accidentally giving the impression that they’re bored, arrogant, or judging everyone when in a group setting.
It’s important for the NiFe to not spend too much of their day in an environment that demands their focus on real world details that don’t have a clear and obvious structure to them. They naturally operate well in circumstances where they know exactly what they’re meant to do in concrete terms. However, because Se is last while Ni is driving, if they have yet to be trained on exactly how to do something and it’s not clear to them intuitively, they may freeze up. This is because Ni can see so many ways of doing the same thing that they can struggle to pick one option over the other. As they age and develop their Fe, they tend to get better at just picking an option and going with it and then analyzing it afterwards to see if a change needs to be made the next time around.
It’s not uncommon for them to have strong abilities that they don’t really show off to people. You may be surprised to stumble across a piece of their writing and learn that an NiFe you know is an incredible writer but never mentioned it to you before or attempted to share their work with anyone. They can be sensitive to how they’re perceived based on the way they express themselves, and often over analyze comments that are made about their appearance or performance. Given their strong need for privacy for their innermost thoughts, they’re generally uncomfortable with sharing self-expression when it’s very personal to them and they’re one of the most likely types to have a form of artistic expression that they engage in solely for their own enjoyment.
Too much time being forced to engage with the real world can get really exhausting for NiFe’s. Finding ways to minimize this drain is a good way to allow them to focus their creative abilities on the things they are best at. One of the biggest drains is when real world things are unstable (like not having enough money to pay the bills) and the NiFe needs to think about all the little practical details of staying alive, it can be especially stressful. Having to actively think about finding work, doing paperwork, playing the social games, cooking their food, and making money can get old really fast. Another common drain can be having a lot of emotional demands from people around them that they simply don’t have the energy to meet