2.6

The Processes of Type Dynamics

The MBTI® four-letter type is unique in that it consists of a code that defines not only each letter independently, but also the interactions between those letters—what is known as type dynamics. Type dynamics describes the mental processes in the order of how we naturally access them and their development—Dominant, Auxiliary, Tertiary, and Inferior processes (note: Jung called the processes functions).

You can find your type dynamics in the type table below by hovering over your personality type. The tertiary process is expressed as either extraverted or introverted according to individual experience.

ISTJ

ISFJ

INFJ

INTJ

ISTP

ISFP

INFP

INTP

ESTP

ESFP

ENFP

ENTP

ESTJ

ESFJ

ENFJ

ENTJ

Dominant Process (First Process)

Everyone has a mental process they rely on and feel the most comfortable and competent with in its use. We develop one of the four mental processes to a greater degree than any of the other three. This first process is typically the most developed, conscious, gets the most energy, and represents the core of our personality. It is called the dominant or first process.

Dominant Process: The One We Rely On

During the first part of your life, you come to rely on your dominant process because it is the one you tend to develop first and feel the most competent when using it. You can think of this process as the driver of your personality car, or your personality superhero. What motivates and persuades you, how you manage change, and what careers may interest you, all come through your dominant process.

Mental processes develop by being used consciously and purposefully. As the dominant process is used, it becomes strengthened and differentiated from the other processes. We tend to feel competent, comfortable, are most conscious of, and trust this process the most.

Extraverted or Introverted Dominant Process

People who prefer Extraversion use their dominant mental process in the outer world because this is where they are naturally drawn and where they direct and receive energy (interact and engage). We see their dominant mental process in action since it is the one they show the world, the one they extravert.

For example, if an individual prefers ENFP, their dominant process is Extraverted Intuition. We know this because we extravert the process indicated by the last letter, in this case P or their Perceiving process. For ENFP, their Perceiving process is N or Intuition. This means that they use their Intuition preference in their outer world; it is the preference people would see in action.

People who prefer Introversion use their dominant mental process in their inner world because this is where they are naturally drawn and where they direct and receive energy (reflect and contemplate). Since their dominant mental process is used in their inner world, we don't see it in action. Rather, we tend to see their auxiliary process since it is this process that they extravert, show the world.

For example, if an individual prefers ISTJ, their dominant process is Introverted Sensing. We know this because we extravert the process indicated by the last letter in our type, in this case J or Judging which is the Thinking process. Since ISTJ prefers Introversion, the process they extravert would be their auxiliary, not their dominant or favored process. This means that they use their Sensing preference in their inner world; people won't see this preference in action, rather they would see their auxiliary process, which is Extraverted Thinking.

Since the dominant process is extraverted for people who prefer Extraversion and introverted for people who prefer Introversion, misunderstandings can occur on both sides. Those with an Introversion preference may feel misunderstood, because we don't see the core of who they are and those who prefer Extraversion may feel misunderstood, because we don't see that they, too, have a rich inner world. We all have a process we extravert and one we introvert.

The Eight Dominant Processes

When the direction of energy (Extraversion or Introversion) is applied to each of the four mental processes (S–N, T–F), eight dominant processes are created. Find your dominant process below and see if it fits for you. These eight descriptions reflect how we are on a good day when using the gifts of our first process.

Extraverted Sensing (Se) ESTP/ESFP: Acts on concrete data in the here and now. Likes to experience the world—active, talkative, and social. Trusts the present, what is tangible and real. Keyword: Experiencing.

Introverted Sensing (Si) ISTJ/ISFJ: Compares present facts and situations to past experience. Excellent recall for specific details. Trusts and remembers the past. Stores sensory data that is important to them for future use. Keyword: Remembering.

Extraverted Intuition (Ne) ENFP/ENTP: Sees possibilities in the external world. Enthusiastic and enjoys networking. Trusts the big picture, forms patterns and connections, which can then be shared with others. Keyword: Brainstorming.

Introverted Intuition (Ni) INFJ/INTJ: Can appear visionary. Connects unconscious images, themes, and connections to see things in new ways. Brainstorm internally with themselves. Trusts and relies on inner insights, which may be hard for others to understand. Keyword: Visioning.

Extraverted Thinking (Te) ESTJ/ENTJ: Seeks logic and consistency in the outside world. Concern for external laws and rules. Logical, analytical decision makers who organize the environment to achieve goals. Keyword: Organizing.

Introverted Thinking (Ti) ISTP/INTP: Seeks internal consistency and logic of ideas. Trusts internal framework, which may be difficult to explain to others. Experience a depth of concentration that is objective and analytical. Keyword: Analyzing.

Extraverted Feeling (Fe) ESFJ/ENFJ: Seeks harmony with and between people in the outside world. Interpersonal and cultural values are important. Encouraging and interested in others. Keyword: Harmonizing.

Introverted Feeling (Fi) ISFP/INFP: Seeks harmony of action and thoughts with personal values. May not always articulate those values. Empathetic, sensitive, and idealistic. Keyword: Valuing.

Stress Leads to Overuse of the Dominant Process

When we experience everyday stress, like a flat tire on the way to work or a sick child that needs to be picked up from school, we tend to lean into the area we feel most competent in, our dominant process. If we rely on it too much, it can be overused at the expense of the other processes causing an imbalance in the psyche. Overuse of the dominant process comes through in an exaggerated way. We become caricatures of our best selves!

What does the dominant process look like when exaggerated?

Extraverted Sensing: overindulgence, hyperactive, overly talkative

Introverted Sensing: dogmatic, obsess about unimportant data, withdraw

Extraverted Intuition: over the top, swamped with options, change for the sake of change

Introverted Intuition: unrealistic visions, only accept data that supports their theories, make things overcomplicated

Extraverted Thinking: detached, cold, overly rational, critique lack of logic in others

Introverted Thinking: obsessive search for the truth, detached, look only at cons, driven like a machine out of control

Extraverted Feeling: insistent they know what is best for everyone, intrusive, ignore problems, force superficial harmony

Introverted Feeling: carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, hypersensitive, pompous, feel sorry for themselves

The dominant process is just one part of the typological equation, albeit the most important one to everyone. However, if we only counted on the dominant process, our personalities would be one-sided and out of balance. The auxiliary process helps provide this much needed balance.

Auxiliary Process (Second Process)

If individuals used their dominant process all the time, they would have a one-sided personality, always taking in information (and never making decisions) or always rushing to decisions (and not stopping to take in information). Therefore, there is a second, balancing process called the auxiliary process.

The auxiliary can be thought of as the front seat passenger in your personality car, where the driver is the dominant process. The driver is in control of the car and the passenger is there to support them. Where the dominant process is the superhero of our personality, think of the auxiliary process as the sidekick. For example, Batman would represent our dominant process and Robin our auxiliary process.

The auxiliary process tends to develop after the dominant process. During adolescence and early adulthood, individuals tend to develop competence in and rely on their dominant and auxiliary mental processes. They give less attention to the opposite processes, the letters that do not appear in their type code.

It is crucial to understand that the basis for good type development is a well-developed auxiliary process that can support the dominant process. There will never be a perfect balance since the dominant process receives the most energy. The auxiliary process supports the dominant process to alleviate a one-sided personality.

How does the auxiliary process balance the dominant process?

Balance Between Perception and Judgment

Everyone needs to be able to take in new information and everyone needs to be able to come to closure or make decisions about that information. The auxiliary process helps ensure you do both.

If a person were always gathering information (Sensing or Intuition), then they would constantly be drawn in by new perceptions but have difficulty making a decision or coming to conclusions. They may come across as indecisive. The auxiliary process guides the person's focus to decision-making.

In contrast, if a person were focused only on judgment (Thinking or Feeling), they may be sure of their decisions, but would be unable to take in needed new information to modify their behavior as conditions changed. They may come across as too decisive. The auxiliary process guides the person's focus to taking in information.

For example, someone with Intuition as their dominant process will have a Thinking or Feeling preference as their auxiliary process. In this case, Intuition would develop first followed by Thinking or Feeling. They would give most weight to their perceptions, but would use Thinking or Feeling to reason and make decisions about the information they took in.

Balance Between Extraverting and Introverting

The auxiliary process helps you balance Extraversion and Introversion. Everyone needs to be able to pay attention to the outer world and move into action, and everyone needs to be able to pause for reflection and pay attention to their inner world. The auxiliary process helps in this balancing act.

For this reason, calling someone an extravert or introvert doesn't really apply in typology because we do both and type dynamics shows us how we do both!

How the Auxiliary and Dominant Processes Work Together

ENFJ, one of the 16 personality types, prefers Extraversion (E), Intuition (I), Feeling (F), and Judging (J). Since they prefer Extraversion, they use their dominant process in the outside world. Remember, that the last letter in the type code (Judging preference) tells us what we extravert, so in this case, they would extravert Feeling (Fe) since it is a judging process.

Since the dominant and auxiliary processes are the two middle letters of a type code, if the Feeling preference is extraverted, then the Intuition preference must be introverted. For balance, this type would use Introverted Intuition (Ni) in their inner world. Extraverted Feeling (dominant), used in the outside world, is the core of the personality and is supported by Introverted Intuition (auxiliary). Without using the auxiliary process, individuals who prefer Extraversion might never stop to reflect.

ISTP, one of the 16 personalities of type, prefers Introversion (I), Sensing (S), Thinking (T), and Perceiving (P). Since they prefer Introversion, they use their dominant process in their inner world. The last letter in their type code is P, therefore they would extravert Sensing (Se) since it is a perceiving process. They would use their Sensing preference in the outside world.

If this type extraverts Sensing, then they must introvert Thinking (Ti) to bring balance to the personality. Since they prefer Introversion, they use their dominant process in their inner world—Introverted Thinking. Introverted Thinking (dominant) used in their inner world is the core of the personality and is supported by Extraverted Sensing (auxiliary). Without using the auxiliary process, individuals who prefer Introversion might never move to action.

Type dynamics is complex, so don't worry if you are unsure on how to figure it out. We've made it easy for you—refer to the type table at the top of the page.

As mentioned, we use all the processes, even those not in our type code. From our example, an individual who prefers ENFJ also has access to the Sensing (S) and Thinking (T) processes, what we refer to as the Tertiary and Inferior processes.

Tertiary Process (Third Process)

As you know, we use all the mental processes, even those not in our type code or four-letter type. In type dynamics, the third process (non-preferred) is called the tertiary process.

This process tends to be less developed and conscious in individuals, and we typically are less competent and comfortable in its use. The letter (preference) of this process does not appear in your four-letter type. It is opposite to the auxiliary process. If, for example, your auxiliary process is Thinking, then your tertiary process will be Feeling.

In the personality car where the dominant process is the driver and the auxiliary process the passenger in the front seat who supports the driver, the tertiary process is represented by the "teenager" in the back seat. They are there but will likely have earbuds in, listening to music, and scrolling social media. When they want attention, don't worry, you will hear from them. The tertiary process is often activated under stress, when we least expect it.

Is the tertiary process introverted or extraverted? There is debate on this issue in the type community. Some type experts say that most of the energy goes to the dominant process, so if the dominant is extraverted, then all other processes must be introverted. Others say that for "real" balance in the psyche, the tertiary process must be opposite the auxiliary process in orientation. For example, if the auxiliary is Extraverted, then the tertiary must be Introverted. The experts leave it up to you to choose whether your tertiary process is extraverted or introverted. You decide from your own experience!

Development of the Tertiary Process

Natural development of this process tends to come later in life (around midlife) after you mature and feel comfortable with the dominant and auxiliary processes. As you grow and develop, you learn that there is a time and place to use your third and fourth processes. With practice you can learn to use this process, but it will likely never be as comfortable and easy as your preferred mental processes.

Around midlife, the question arises in life, is this all there is? The tertiary process can guide you toward areas of your life you have avoided, areas that require skills you do not feel comfortable using.

For example, a person with dominant Thinking and auxiliary Sensing processes (four-letter types ESTJ, ISTP) will have tertiary Intuition and may begin taking courses just for the sake of learning in later life, not necessarily for practicality as they were guided to do when younger and leaning into the dominant and auxiliary processes.

Whereas a person with dominant Thinking and auxiliary Intuition processes (four-letter types ENTJ, INTP) will have tertiary Sensing and may begin doing carpentry or weaving, or some type of hands-on activity in later years that leans into their Sensing process. Notice that in both examples, the letter indicating the tertiary process is not in the four-letter type code.

We can consciously access this non-preferred process with type awareness, but it will likely take additional energy and focus to do so. Although the tertiary process can make an appearance when under stress, it is the inferior process that really bursts in!

Inferior Process (Fourth Process)

The fourth process (non-preferred and not shown in your four-letter type), or inferior process, tends to be the least developed and conscious in individuals. Therefore, they tend to have difficulty accessing it and when they do, they may feel incompetent and uncomfortable in its use.

The inferior process is opposite in every way to the dominant process. If the dominant process gets most of our psychological energy and attention, then the inferior process gets the least. For example, if the dominant process is Introverted Feeling, then the inferior process would be Extraverted Thinking.

In our analogy of the personality car, the inferior process is represented by the baby in the car seat in the backseat. If the baby is sleeping, the driver probably won't notice them there, much like the unconscious nature of the inferior process.

Development of the Inferior Process

Development of the inferior process tends to come in late midlife. It can be the source of great stress, or it can be the seed for significant personal development—often both.

For example, if Intuition is your dominant process, Sensing would be your inferior process. You would probably have significantly less interest in and feel less competent and comfortable with the Sensing process (noticing and paying attention to details, focusing on the present). Type awareness provides the opportunity for personal growth and healthier relationships where an individual can begin to work with, understand, and appreciate the Sensing process.

Inferior Process and Stress

Under extreme stress, such as illness, fatigue, physical or psychological trauma, and major life transitions, the inferior process may emerge without conscious intention and attempt to overpower the dominant and auxiliary processes. This can lead to a person feeling "in the grip" of his or her inferior process.

We are left with "baby" driving the car! The inferior process is everything opposite to the dominant process. It is like Dr. Bruce Banner (dominant process) and the Incredible Hulk (inferior process) or Dr. Jekyll (dominant process) and Mr. Hyde (inferior process).

The inferior process may also manifest under stress when resources of the dominant and auxiliary processes are exhausted. When this happens in someone's life, that person may say, "I don't know what got into me." It often feels like being out of control (outside the conscious ego). The inferior process may show up in childish, immature ways and wreak havoc in our lives.

What does the Inferior process look like when activated?

Extraverted Sensing: obsess over external, small, unimportant details, overindulge in sensual pleasures (overeat, over drink, etc.), see environment as hostile and dangerous

Introverted Sensing: obsess over internal unrelated facts or details (tunnel vision), uncomfortable with turning inward so may withdraw and become depressed, focus on imagined physical ailments

Extraverted Intuition: lose sight of details and facts, impulsive behaviors, worry over multiple possibilities, too many options (catastrophize the future)

Introverted Intuition: wild fantasies and visions of impending disaster (catastrophize the future), attribute meaning where there is no meaning, come up with extravagant visions of unseen forces of cosmic proportions

Extraverted Thinking: overly critical and negative toward others, judge others harshly, quick to take action to try and control/correct their own imagined incompetence which often backfires making the problem worse

Introverted Thinking: overly critical and negative towards themselves, depressed and withdrawn feeling inadequate, all-or-none judgements, obsessed over seeking absolute truth

Extraverted Feeling: use logic to an extreme in an emotional, obsessive way, hypersensitive emotional state in relationships, strong emotional reactions—loss of control

Introverted Feeling: hypersensitive to emotions, feel emotional but try to control it, afraid of feeling strong emotions and try to hide it

Notice that when we are in the grip of our inferior process, we are pushed into a world where we feel the most uncomfortable, least competent, and have the fewest resources. People who prefer Extraversion will feel locked up in their inner word and may become withdrawn and depressed. Those who prefer Introversion are more likely to act out their inferior process in the outside world, displaying negative characteristics they'd rather others not see.

In Summary

Since the inferior process can often make us uncomfortable, depressed, or even embarrassed, some people think we should try to avoid it. Even if you wanted to, we couldn't and we wouldn't want to anyway.

There are reasons why the inferior process erupts into consciousness. It helps us stop, take a step back, and notice what we might be overlooking. With this new awareness there is potential for self-growth and personal development.