ESFJ Cognitive Functions: Primary and Shadow Functions of the Caregiver Personality Type


An ESFJ personality is one of the 16 personalities established by Myers and Briggs. You may be familiar with ESFJ being referred to as a consul, caregiver, guardian, or provider. But did you know that, in addition to these generalizations, an ESFJ has cognitive functions that can definitively explain their personality?

An ESFJ has four primary functions: extroverted feeling, introverted sensing, extroverted intuition, and introverted thinking. The first two of these functions are dominant. In addition to primary functions, ESFJs also have four shadow functions, which are the opposites of their primary functions.

Keep reading as we will summarize the ESFJ personality in terms of its functions. Then we will analyze the eight cognitive functions: what they are and how they impact an ESFJ’s personality. This analysis will be the most in-depth you can find on ESFJ functions out there!

What are the Functions of an ESFJ?

The primary cognitive functions of an ESFJ are Extroverted Feeling, Introverted Sensing, Extroverted Intuition, and Introverted Thinking. This is in order of dominance; for example, Extroverted Feeling defines ESFJs as primarily friendly and decisive among others, while Introverted Thinking, controlling objective analysis, is only faintly visible in an ESFJ.

In addition to these, ESFJs have four shadow functions — the exact opposites of the primary functions — which come out in hard times. But to understand what all this means, let’s take a step back and explore the ESFJ personality at large.

What Is the ESFJ Personality?

The Myers-Briggs ESFJ personality represents approximately 12% of the US population based on MBTI test results. The letters in ESFJ correlate to Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging, which represent the 4 major aspects of this personality.

The following list briefly covers what each of these designations means:

  • E – Extroverted – ESFJs draw energy from interacting with people. They are not easily exhausted by large groups. ESFJs are attentive to others and attuned to their environment.
  • S – Sensing – An ESFJ’s mind is focused on immediate facts and details. They are organized and work to get tasks done quickly and efficiently.
  • F – Feeling – ESFJs make decisions based on the people around them and use their own feelings and values to help them make decisions.
  • J – Judging – ESFJs prefer things to be rigid and organized. They prefer living by a routine or schedule. ESFJs can get uncomfortable with spontaneity and chaos.

So, you can see that the four dimensions of an ESFJ are what shape their thoughtful personality. However, while the mainstream focuses mainly on the Myers-Briggs theory of personality, it does not give you the complete picture of who an ESFJ fully is.

Because much of the Myers-Briggs personality theory is based on Carl Jung’s cognitive function theory, it can be used to describe an ESFJ in more depth. So, we have provided you with a detailed understanding of the cognitive functions of an ESFJ. Keep reading to see how their eight cognitive functions determine how an ESFJ shows up in the world.

One of the most noticeable characteristics of ESFJs is their eagerness to make friends.

The Eight Cognitive Functions of An ESFJ

All of the personality types, including ESFJ, have functions associated with them. An ESFJ has four primary functions and four shadow functions. These functions explain how individuals exist, act and communicate with others in their everyday lives.

What Are Primary Functions?

The following list describes each of the primary functions:

  1. Dominant function – This is sometimes called the hero function. It focuses on how we are seen in the world, mostly by others, but also by ourselves. An ESFJ is an extroverted-dominant personality. This means they are mainly affected by the thoughts, emotions, actions, and opinions of the people that are a part of their daily life.
  2. Auxiliary function – This function is also known as the parent function. The auxiliary function is focused on rules, order, and how we show up in the world. For an ESFJ, this function helps them make decisions. But these decisions are based on the information their dominant function is perceiving. In this way, the auxiliary function helps balance the dominant function.
  3. Tertiary function – Sometimes this function is known as the eternal child function. The tertiary function harnesses an ESFJ’s inner child. We use this function when we respond to other people. This function is underdeveloped relative to the first two.
  4. Inferior function – The inferior function is sometimes called the anima or animus function. This function is the least developed function of the four primary functions. It focuses on relationships, connecting with others, and interacting with people who are different from us.

With these functions, there is a hierarchy when it comes to several being active at once. It is important to say again that the first function is the most dominant and the fourth function is much more reserved.

Most people are most likely to notice the dominant function and least likely to notice the inferior function when interacting with an ESFJ.

The functions that fall into each of the slots above vary depending on the personality type. For example, an ESFJ’s dominant function is extroverted feeling, but an INTP’s dominant function is introverted thinking.

In addition to the primary functions, there are four shadow functions. Many times, people do not consider the shadow functions because they are not what you first sense or see when interacting with another person. However, knowing the shadow functions can reveal parts of a person’s personality and help you to better understand them and their actions.

What Are Shadow Functions?

Shadow functions are the minor aspects of someone’s personality. Moreover, though they are the parts of ourselves that we do not want to show people, they will inevitably come out from time to time.

When an ESFJ is exercising their shadow functions, they can be observed as being unfeeling and selfish. Most of the time, shadow functions appear when we are stressed, tired, irritated, or in a tense situation.

Shadow functions are part of everyone’s personality, so you should not be ashamed of them. Learning about your shadow functions means you can recognize when they pop up and what triggers them. This way, you can try your best to avoid exercising your shadow functions in the future.

It is worth noting that sometimes you just do not have any control over your shadow functions, so be kind to yourself when they do show up despite your best efforts to prevent them from surfacing.

There are four shadow functions to the ESFJ personality based on Jung’s theory, and they fall into the following categories:

  • Opposing function – This is the first of the shadow functions, and it acts as the main defense mechanism when one goes through a difficult time or has to find ways to overcome a challenge. For ESFJs, this function is introverted feeling. It focuses on considering the self when making decisions.
  • Critical parent function – The critical parent function can be associated with a tiny critical voice in your head. For an ESFJ, this means focusing heavily on the present without considering how past experiences may play a role in a situation.
  • Deceiving function – This shadow function, sometimes called the trickster function, calls on you to make quick and harsh judgments to protect yourself.
  • Devilish and destructive function – The devilish function, also called the transformative function, is the weakest of all of your cognitive functions. This function comes out when your ego is threatened. This function can make an ESFJ appear cold and distant, as they are trying to achieve their goals systematically, which may leave little to no room for relationships — clearly at odds with their generally extroverted character.

With that general overview of the eight functions, you are probably feeling more confident in your understanding of the basics of Carl Jung’s theory. However, you may still have quite a few questions about the specifics of an ESFJ’s functions. Let’s move on to our detailed descriptions of each of the cognitive functions of an ESFJ, and answer your questions below.

The Primary Functions of An ESFJ Personality

When you interact with a person with an ESFJ personality, you will notice their primary functions first. Of the four primary functions, the dominant and auxiliary functions will be most apparent to you.

The following are the four primary functions of an ESFJ personality:

  1. FeExtroverted Feeling. The ESFJ’s dominant function of extroverted feeling relates to how the ESFJ processes emotions and interacts with others. ESFJs make quick decisions and tend to be people who openly share their feelings.
  2. SiIntroverted Sensing. This auxiliary function relates to how an ESFJ interprets and organizes information. They tend to focus on their present moments and will avoid abstract thinking. ESFJs thrive on the order and routines around them. This can create a bit of black and white thinking on an ESFJ’s part.
  3. NeExtroverted Intuition. As this is the tertiary function, it is hard for an ESFJ to use intuition with their full confidence. But it helps balance their introverted sensing function. When dealing with a situation that they have never experienced before, an ESFJ will try to see the potential in others. An inventive ESFJ can use their intuition to solve problems, but it doesn’t come easily.
  4. TiIntroverted Thinking. The weakest of the 4 functions relates to how the ESFJ interacts with the information their external world is sending out. Generally, introverted thinking is used best in conjunction with introverted sensing to analyze information gathered by the dominant function. But the weakness of the inferior function is that it is difficult for an ESFJ to analyze theoretical and abstract ideas.

These are the four primary functions of an ESFJ. Presently we will discuss the shadow aspects of an ESFJ’s personality. And stay tuned to see how all eight functions influence an ESFJ’s internal and external worlds.

The Shadow Functions of An ESFJ Personality

There are four shadow functions of an ESFJ personality. They are opposite of the primary functions. And shadow functions can incite defensiveness, self-criticism, self-sabotage, and destructiveness.

The following are the four shadow functions of an ESFJ personality:

  • Fi – Introverted Feeling. The introverted feeling function is the opposing shadow function for an ESFJ.
  • Se – Extroverted Sensing. The extroverted sensing function acts as the critical parent function for the ESFJ.
  • Ni – Introverted Intuition. This function is in the deceiving or trickster role of the shadow functions.
  • Te – Extroverted Thinking. The extroverted thinking function is the weakest function for an ESFJ. It holds the devilish and destructive role, as it is the eighth and final cognitive function of an ESFJ’s personality.

Shadow functions tend to appear in demanding and nerve-wracking situations. This can easily trigger us to say or do something hurtful, which we can blame on the shadow functions.

ESFJs can become overly critical when influenced by their shadow function of Extroverted Sensing.

When an ESFJ’s shadow functions are expressed, expect to see uncharacteristic behavior for your ESFJ. For example, an ESFJ who is caring and attentive may become cold and insensitive in the face of unexpected difficulties.

Comparing the Primary & Shadow Functions of ESFJs

As we have stated, the shadow functions of an ESFJ are the opposites of all of their primary cognitive functions. So, an ESFJ who has the dominant extroverted feeling function also has the opposing shadow function of introverted feeling.

The following chart explicates the primary and shadow functions of an ESFJ personality in a side-by-side view:

Main Processes Primary Functions Shadow Functions
Feeling Extroverted Introverted
Sensing Introverted Extroverted
Intuition Extroverted Introverted
Thinking Introverted Extroverted

The following chart shows how the shadow functions of an ESFJ appear in comparison to their primary functions:

Type of Function Description of Primary Function Description of Shadow Function
Feeling
  • Can make quick decisions
  • Good at displaying empathy
  • Strong sense to care for others
  • Easily connects with other feelings and emotions
  • Can influence others and easily express themselves
  • Great at making friends
  • Overlook objectivity when making decisions
  • Focused on self
  • Distant toward others
Sensing
  • Great memory
  • Naturally develops routines
  • Strategic
  • Good at reading facial expressions
  • Attuned to other people’s body language
  • Critical of others
  • Seeks validation
Intuition
  • Steadfast of opinion
  • Optimistic
  • Difficulty with theoretical and abstract thinking
  • Repetitiveness due to the need for verbal processing
  • Great at seeing all the options
  • Difficulty leaving their comfort zone
  • Defensive in the face of criticism
  • Difficulty focusing
Thinking
  • Difficulty with complex ideas
  • Can overcomplicate situations
  • Do not rely heavily on objective logic
  • Only learns as needed
  • Easily distracted
  • Strong desire for control and understanding
  • Trying to convince others to support their choices

As you can see, some of these shadow functions are unpleasant and sometimes uncaring. Some instances may draw out a particularly nasty side of an ESFJ when compared to their nature under the expression of their primary functions.

The Primary Functions’ Impact On An ESFJ In Life

The primary functions play a major role in the ESFJ’s internal and external worlds. This section details how an ESFJ is seen by others and how they see themselves. And this information will give you insight into what each of your interactions with an ESFJ mean.

The four primary functions play either core or supporting roles for an ESFJ’s internal and external worlds. The following chart summarizes each of these roles:

Type of Function Role In An ESFJ’s Personality
Extroverted Feeling The core role of the external world
Introverted Sensing The core role of the internal world
Extroverted Intuition The supporting role of the external world
Introverted Thinking The supporting role of the internal world

As you may have noticed, your internal world or your mind is dictated by your introverted functions. With your interactions in the external world, it is the extroverted functions of an ESFJ that illustrate this personality.

Keep reading to see how these four functions influence the actions, comportment, and beliefs of an ESFJ personality through the lens of the internal and external worlds.

The Internal and External Worlds Of An ESFJ

With an ESFJ, their internal world is governed by sensing and thinking. This means that an ESFJ functions as compassionate and prepared. Their internal world is ruled by a desire for deep relationships, while their external world is governed by feeling and intuition. This means that the ESFJ functions as emotional and perceptive.

The following is a chart that highlights the functional differences between an ESFJ’s internal and external worlds:

The Functions That Impact An ESFJ’s Internal World The Functions That Impact An ESFJ’s External World
  • Concrete thinker
  • Empathetic
  • Independent
  • Open-minded
  • Organized
  • Pleasant
  • Practical
  • Sensitive
  • Candid
  • Clever
  • Creative
  • Expressive
  • Insightful
  • Natural leaders
  • Optimistic
  • Team-oriented

As you may notice, there is some overlap between how an ESFJ functions in their internal and external worlds. For example, internally and externally an ESFJ is very relationship and connection-oriented, which can be seen through their internal sensitivity and external insight.

Let’s Wrap Up: The 8 Cognitive Functions of An ESFJ

To recap what we covered above, the cognitive functions of an ESFJ are broken up into two categories: primary and shadow functions. Their primary functions are extroverted feeling, introverted sensing, extroverted intuition, and introverted thinking.

It is important to understand the role that the primary functions play in an ESFJ’s personality. But it is just as important to understand the shadow functions as they may give you insight into why an ESFJ is acting in a certain manner when under pressure. ESFJs are warm and empathetic, but in their shadow state, they are peevishly logical and frustratingly distant.

An ESFJ’s compassionate and caring attitude is affected most by the dominant function. While the least dominant of the primary functions, introverted thinking, affects an ESFJ’s ability to analyze and connect complex thoughts and information.

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