ESFP Cognitive Functions: Primary and Shadow Functions of the Performer


An ESFP personality is one of the 16 personalities established by the Myers-Briggs model. Sometimes ESFPs are referred to as the performer, entertainer, artisan, or explorer. An ESFP identifies as fun-loving, engaging, spontaneous, and social. But you know all that already, don’t you? Well, if that is true, do you know the functions of an ESFP personality?

ESFP Cognitive Functions Overview

An ESFP has four primary functions. They are, in order of dominance, extroverted sensing, introverted feeling, extroverted thinking , and introverted intuition. Extroverted sensing and introverted feeling are the most dominant functions. ESFPs also have four shadow functions, which are the opposites of their primary functions.

In this post, we will briefly break down the ESFP personality. Then we will dive into what the eight cognitive functions are. Following the in-depth discussion of the primary and shadow functions, we will cover the functions that make an ESFP a great employee. Keep reading for the deepest analysis of ESFP functions out there!

Breaking Down the ESFP Personality 

The Myers-Briggs ESFP personality represents approximately 9% of the general population based on MBTI test results. The letters in ESFP correlate to Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving, which represents the four major dimensions of personality.

The following list is intended to quickly recap what each of these designations means:

  • Extroverted – ESFPs love interacting with new people and experiencing new things. They draw energy from other people and do not drain easily in large groups. ESFPs can be the life of the party, fun, and social. 
  • Sensing – An ESFPmind is focused on the present. They work to get tasks done quickly and efficientlyAn ESFP lives with a practical mindset. 
  • Feeling – ESFPmake decisions based on the people around them. They have a strict set of values that helps lead them to their independence.  
  • Perceiving – ESFPs are spontaneous people. This personality is known to go with the flow and not get too caught up with creating a plan.

The Myers-Briggs theory of personality, which the ESFP personality type is based on, is greatBut the dimensions that shape an ESFPpersonality tell you more about them as a person. It does not explain how they function in the world.

But fear not, by using Carl Jung’s cognitive function theory in conjunction with the Myers-Briggs personality test, you can easily learn the primary and shadow functions for an ESFP.

The Eight Cognitive Functions Of An ESFP 

All of the personality types have functions associated with them, and an ESFP is no different. The ESFP has four primary functions and four shadow functions. These functions explain how individuals live and communicate with others in their daily lives.

The Primary Functions Explained

The following are the four different types of primary functions: 

  • Dominant function – Sometimes called the hero function, this focuses on how we are seen in the world, by ourselves, but mostly by others. An ESFP is an extroverted type, so they are affected by the perceptions of the people around them. 
  • Auxiliary function – Also known as the parent function, this is focused on order, rules, and how we act in the world. In this case, it helps an ESFP make decisions based on the information their dominant function is perceiving. The auxiliary function helps balance the dominant function.  
  • Tertiary function – This function, known as the eternal child function, harnesses the inner child and is drawon when we respond to other people. This function is underdeveloped compared to the first two.    
  • Inferior function – Sometimes called the anima or animus functionThis is the least developed function of the primary functions. It focuses on how we relate to people who are different from us.  

Of the four primary functions, the first is the most dominant, and the fourth is much more reserved. That is to say, when we interact with others, they are most likely to notice our dominant function and least likely to notice our inferior function.  

The functions that fall into each category above vary depending on the personality type. For example, an ESFPdominant function is extroverted sensing, but an INFPdominant function is introverted feeling.  

In addition to the primary functions, there are shadow functions. Oftentimes people overlook the shadow functions, but they can be very revealing.  

The Shadow Functions Explained 

Shadow functions are the non-dominant parts of an ESFP’s personality. When an ESFP’s shadow functions are in full view, they can be perceived as being unfriendly. Usually, shadow functions appear when we are tired, annoyed, or in a situation that causes tension. These are the parts of ourselves that we do not generally want to show people, but they do come out from time to time.

Shadow functions are nothing to be ashamed of, though. Everyone has them, and learning about your shadow functions means you can recognize when they pop up and know what triggers them. This way, you can be more aware of them in the future. Yet sometimes, it feels as if you do not have any control over them.

There are four shadow functions to a Myers-Briggs personality based on Jungtheory, and they fall into these categories: 

  • Opposing function – This is the first of the shadow functions, and it acts as your main defense mechanism when you are met with a challenge. For ESFPs, this is Si, which focuses on comparing past and present experiences. This function could have you dwelling on past mistakes and worrying they will repeat themselves.   
  • Critical parent function – The critical parent functions as the voice in your head, which for an ESFP means they may sacrifice your values for others. This will ultimately make an ESFP unhappy because they are betraying their valuesSelf-criticism and criticism of others are highlighted for ESFPs when their Fe is experienced. 
  • Deceiving function – This shadow function, sometimes called the trickster function, calls on you to make quick and harsh judgments to protect yourself. For an ESFP, that means when the Ti is experienced, they can become stuck. They often use humor or aim to invalidate other peopleexperiences when the ESFP feels attacked. 
  • Devilish and destructive function – This shadow function, also known as the transformative function, is the weakest of all of your cognitive functions. It shows up when your ego is threatened. This function can make an ESFP feel frustrated because they missed the signs that were pointing toward a poor outcomeMany times, an ESFP becomes stuck in a difficult scenario when experiencing Ne.

Now that you have a general overview of the eight cognitive functions, let’s dive deeper into each of them.

An ESFPs Primary Functions 

The primary functions are what you are most likely to recognize when interacting with an ESFP. The dominant and auxiliary functions shine through in an ESFP personality.

The ESFP primary functions are as follows: 

  • Se  Extroverted Sensing. This primary, dominant function relates to how the ESFP learns. They have strong senses that help them understand information. Sensory experiences attract ESFPs. They are use their senses to interpret the world, both their internally and externally.
  • Fi – Introverted Feeling. This auxiliary function relates to how the ESFP processes emotions and interacts with others. They are constantly looking to stay authentic and follow their truth. Here ESFPs will ask themselves important questions about their nature and values. ESFPs are great at making decisions based on their feelings and values.
  • Te – Extroverted Thinking. This third function relates to how the ESFP interacts with their world. ESFPs love to be organized and methodicalESFPs tend to be very goal-oriented and use logical reasoning to get things done.  
  • Ni  Introverted IntuitionThe weakest of the four functions for an ESFP, intuition is difficult for ESFPto harness often due to it being underdeveloped. An introverted intuition may lead ESFPs to predict outcomes incorrectly and take unnecessary risks.

In addition to the primary functions, like every personality, ESFPs also have their four shadow functions. 

The Shadow Functions of An ESFP Personality

While the primary cognitive functions of an ESFP are quite interesting, there is much to gain from understanding an ESFP’s shadow functions. Diving into the shadow functions provides a more detailed look at the functions of a personality. Also, it is important to note that shadow functions are sometimes called the unconscious or hidden parts of your personality.

The shadow functions of an ESFP are the opposite of all the primary cognitive functions. So, an ESFP who usually possesses extroverted sensing has the opposing shadow function of introverted sensing. The following chart clearly shows the primary and shadow functions of an ESFP personality in a side-by-side view:

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

Shadow functions appear at the worst times, usually when we are stressed and willing to say or do something hurtful. It is during these times when the shadow functions are expressed, you can expect to see some uncharacteristic actions from an ESFP. For example, an ESFP who is usually social and creative may become withdrawn and insecure when an unexpected challenge arises.

The following is how the shadow functions of an ESFP show up in comparison to their dominant functions:

Type of Function  Description of Primary Function  Description of Shadow Function 
Sensing 
  • Live in the moment 
  • Dislike hypotheticals 
  • Love to use their senses 
  • Spontaneous 
  • Too focused on the details 
  • Stubborn
Feeling 
  • Considerate of others 
  • May overthink their belief system 
  • Constantly refining their values 
  • Authentic  
  • Values personal freedom 
  • Shallow 
  • Quick to think harshly of others 
  • Easily annoyed or irritated 
  • May begin projecting their shortcomings onto others
Thinking 
  • Rely on logic to problem solve 
  • Always looking for a way to streamline and be more efficient  
  • Not interested in the details 
  • Easily drained 
  • Can succumb to analysis paralysis  
  • Quick to criticize others 
Intuition  
  • A risk-taker  
  • An abstract thinker 
  • Strong ability to look for patterns 
  • Misinterpret peopleactions or intentions 
  • Come off as confused 
  • Scatter-brained and unfocused 
  • Idealistic and impractical  

As you can see, shadow functions are called shadow functions for a reason. They do not shine a light on the best parts of you and can have you acting harshly. You are bound to get the mean side of an ESFP while they are controlled by their shadow functions.

ESFPs’ shadow functions can drive them to the point of conflict with people they perceive to be in their way.

Keep reading as next, we discuss the differences between how an ESFP personality functions in their inner world versus their external world. 

The Primary Functions Impacts On An ESFPs World

Below we will discuss how each of the primary functions influences the internal or external world of an ESFP. And we will let you know what that all means when you interact with an ESFP.

These four functions play either core and supporting roles for an ESFP‘s internal and external worlds. The following chart summarizes each of these roles:

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

These functions play an integral role in how an ESFP is perceived in the world and how they perceive themselves. 

As you may have noticed, introverted functions reflect how you act in your internal world or your mind. At the same time, extroverted functions exemplify your role in the external world through your interactions with others. Keep reading to see how these four functions influence an ESFP personality’s actions, demeanor, and beliefs out in the world.

How Does An ESFP Function In Their Internal World? 

Because ESFPs have deep emotions and the need for harmony at the center of their internal world, they tend to be easily overwhelmed by their inner selves. Their internal world is ruled by a need for authenticity and healthy boundaries.

The following is a list of characteristics that help an ESFP excel in their internal world: 

  • Caring 
  • Emotional 
  • Empathetic 
  • Imaginative 
  • Masters of self-care 
  • Moralistic 
  • Trustworthy 
  • Very self-reflective 
  • Considerate of many perspectives

The internal world and the external world influence how an ESFP functions with those who are around them. Keep in mind, just as their introverted functions impact their internal world, an ESFP‘s extroverted functions affect their external world.

How Does An ESFP Function In The External World? 

An ESFPs external world is ruled by extroverted sensing and thinkingThis means the ESFPs function ilively when interacting with othersand they focus on efficiency when completing tasks. Their focus is on decision-making at their own pace.

Additionally, ESFPs can be matter-of-fact and commanding in their communication when it is needed most.

The following is a list of characteristics that help an ESFP excel in their external world: 

  • Always looking to improve themselves 
  • Capable of making decisions quickly, if needed, but preferring to take time 
  • Creative   
  • Critical of self 
  • Exciting 
  • Punctual 
  • Impulsive 
  • Independent 
  • Eager to make tasks fun 
  • Strongly intuitive
  • Understanding 

One thing that can be a major weakness for an ESFP is that they may not see the big picture. Often, an ESFP will not know exactly where they are consciously headed when making a certain decision, but they have a strong subconscious sense of the outcome. 

An ESFPFunctions and Their Career Success  

ESFPs do well in careers that are different every day and allow for lots of social interaction. This is where the dominant ESFP function, Se, and the secondary function, Fi, shine for an ESFP. Individuals with extroverted sensing (Se) and introverted feeling (Fi) look for a career that allows for flexibility and strength in building interpersonal skills.

The following chart highlights the strengths and weaknesses of an ESFP employee based on their functions:

Type of Function  Strengths in the workplace   Weaknesses in the workplace  The best jobs for ESFP personalities 
Extroverted Sensing 
  • Love variety 
  • Quick to notice details 
  • Good under pressure 
  • Engaged  
  • Artistic  
  • Fast problem solvers 
  • Not one for a plan or rigid structure 
  • Can feel restricted by others 
  • Focus too heavily on the details  
  • Artist  
  • Performer 
  • Firefighter 
  • Actor
Introverted Feeling 
  • Use feelings and values to make decisions 
  • Empathetic  
  • Organized 
  • Goal-oriented 
  • Can be too hard on themselves and others when under pressure 
  • Overly critical 
  • May lash out at others 
  • Psychologist 
  • Social worker 
  • Counselor
Extroverted Thinking 
  • Logical 
  • Always looking to be more efficient 
  • Reserved
  • Too concerned with creating disharmony
  • Athletic coach 
  • Human resources specialist 
Introverted Intuition 
  • Looks at the abstract 
  • Tries to identify what will happen in the future 
  • A good pattern spotter 
  • Difficulty with abstract concepts 
  • Can be insensitive to others 
  • Fashion designer 
  • Musician   
ESFPs thrive in careers that are engaging and allow them to think on their feet.

An ESFPfunctions allow them to thrive in any workplace, but they do especially well in environments that call for a flexible, go-with-the-flow nature.

Recap: ESFPs’ Four Primary & Four Shadow Functions  

In conclusionan ESFP personality’s functions are extroverted sensing, introverted feeling, extroverted thinking, and introverted intuition. The most dominant of the functions, extroverted sensing (Se), produces the ESFPs characteristic adventurous and energetic attitude.

On the other hand, the least dominant of the primary functions is introverted intuition (Ni) which impacts an ESFP’s ability to make connections and trust their intuition.

These primary functions and their opposing shadow functions help shape an ESFP. Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of the role each of the eight functions plays in personality type. ESFPs are exciting risk-takers, but they can be distant, off-putting, and engage in negative self-talk when their shadows come out.

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