The psyche as a ship that we learn to pilot with our dominant function. Our remaining functions play different roles on the ship, but they operate within the constraints of our dominant course.
The Ship's Roster
In the years when we're consolidating our place and powers through some combination of love and work, we identify with our dominant function (Base)
and captain the ship in terms of the view it encourages. Most of our other functions fire on as a crew, and we need them to administrate our primary goals.
Our secondary function (Creative)
is the most important of these crew members. It operates as a kind of petty officer, who follows our order, but also brings alternate perspectives to our attention. The views of the petty officer are crucial to the success of our journey, and we need to take them into account. However, until we're in a crisis situation, we may treat this function as more of a servant than a counselor.
Our inferior function (Suggestive)
strikes us as a troublemaker - a would-be captain who opposes the course we're taking. This function sows enough dissension among the crew that we have no choice but to supply it with a lifeboat and put it off the ship. Unknown to us, the lifeboat is attached by a long rope to the ship's hull, and as the disgruntled inferior function makes its way back to shore, the rope is playing itself out.
Our tertiary function (Mobilizing)
doesn't like our agenda either, but its strategies are opportunistic rather than oppositional. When the ship is in motion, this function is happy to water-ski behind it, shouting rude remarks. A good petty officer (Creative)
will advise us to consider some of these comments, as long as they're not distracting the crew from their posts. But we're more likely to forget the water-skier is even there.
The Crow's Nest Functions
Let's take a look now at the four middle functions of a type profile (SuperEGO, ID)
The top two (Role + POLR)
occupy the crow's nest on our typological ship. Their perspectives compete with our preferred way of seeing life, but when we run into problems our dominant skills can't handle, they're the first functions we turn to for solutions.
As Grant (ESTJ character)
tries to adapt to the changes at work, he turned to his own crow's nest functions, Extraverted Feeling and Introverted Intuition.
Extraverted Feeling offered Grant an alternative to his dominant function, Extraverted Thinking. As a Thinking type, Grant was most comfortable analyzing things logically, by way of general rules and principles. Extraverted Feeling encouraged him to assess others' reactions and to pay more attention to his relationships.
Although these functions compete with each other, they both activate areas in the left brain, encouraging adaptation to others' standards. So Grant used his Feeling skills fairly well - when he recognized their logical utility. In his current situation, it was important to him to get along with the new board members and to be appreciated, so he socialized with them and tried to foster loyal personal connections.
In the same way, Introverted Intuition (POLR)
offered Grant an alternative to his secondary Introverted Sensate skills. This skill was barely developed for Grant. He preferred to see reality as factual and consistent over time. Introverted Intuition encouraged him to see reality as a matter of viewpoint - relative and arbitrary.
As his work relationships changed, however, Grant used his Intuitive skills more often to support his dominant aims (POLR supporting Base)
. He tried to explain to himself why he saw things so differently from the new board members, and he wanted those members to know that his understanding of the job had meaning and utility.
Although we generally use our crow's nest functions to shore up our dominant position, it should be noted that a well-developed secondary function (Creative)
helps us to use their perspectives more expansively, to broaden our options. For example, if Grant had realized, by way of Introverted Sensation, what priorities were unconditional for him, his Introverted Intuitive (POLR)
crow's nest function might have counseled him to explore new avenues for their maintenance and expression.
The Double Agents
The remaining two middle functions (Demonstrative, Ignoring)
are what I call double agents. The skills they provide share common ground with our preferred ones, but double agents activate the opposite brain hemisphere. Serving largely as a maintenance crew on our typological ship, they tend to mutiny when they get the chance.
Under normal circumstances, Grant's double agents, Introverted Thinking and Extraverted Sensation, served his dominant goals well enough. Their right-brain skills did not come easily to him, but they gave him needed balance when things were going smoothly in his life. In particular, they encouraged him to "go with" things as they happened rather than analyze them beforehand - to enjoy sports, to be spontaneous, and to use his sensory skills as well as his cerebral ones.
As his situation changed, however, Grant began to use his double agents more defensively, to keep him from feeling anxious. His crow's nest functions had solved none of the problems he was having, and he was experiencing a classic crisis of the secondary function. He felt stuck.
In terms of our analogy, Grant had taken his typological ship as far as it could go in one direction. The inferior function (Suggestive)
, which he'd put off the ship long ago, had reached shore, and the rope between the lifeboat and the ship's hull was becoming taut. Indeed, this disowned function had tied its end of the rope to a monster truck, and was now starting to drive it inland.
As his ship came to a standstill, Grant's double agents (Demonstrative, Ignoring)
recognized a potential power shift, and they got out of his control. In consequence, Grant sometimes acted like an inferior ESP (Se dom)
. He was impulsive and self-indulgent rather than spontaneous. And he felt trapped, like an inferior ITP (Ti dom)
, by the new rules he was supposed to be following. This is how double agents generally switch allegiance - by pulling us away from our strongest tendencies toward our less conscious side.
Recognizing the Impetus to Grow
Grant's psyche was prompting him to go beyond his accustomed identity- to broaden his conscious options, to modify his direction. To that end, his inferior function (Suggestive)
, Introverted Feeling, was pulling him backward, undermining his usual aims and goals.
Grant had felt the effects of this unconscious pull long before (but) he held to his dominant Extroverted Thinking course.
He treated the problem as a purely external one - and his task, as he understood it, was to stay in control: to be objective, logical, and diplomatic, no matter what else was happening.
All of this sounds sensible enough. But when life is pushing us to grow, focusing on the external problem generally makes things worse. What Grant actually needed was more contact with his secondary function (Creative)
He needed to figure out what was truly important to him, to recognize the tenuous connection of his job to his genuine faith experience and potential. He needed to ask himself what would truly fulfill him in the years ahead.
Grant had always resisted questions of this sort, because his primary goal was to adapt to the conditions of his job and marriage. He wanted to know what to expect, and he wanted to stay true to his obligations. He didn't want to re-examine the path he was taking.
But his inner life was also real, and acknowledging its existence would have changed his view of the problems he was encountering. Indeed, by using his secondary Introverted function (Creative)
deliberately, he would have satisfied some of the Introverted demands of his inferior function (Suggestive)
. Under such circumstances, the inferior function loses some of its negative leverage.
If we don't turn to our secondary function at this point- that is, if we insist on doing what we've always done - we eventually reach a point where our water-skiing tertiary function (Mobilizing)
takes over the ship.
Our tertiary function has been coasting on our dominant momentum for a long time, and that arrangement is now in jeopardy. So this function frantically climbs aboard, tosses the secondary function (Creative)
over the side and insists that we get out of this mess at any cost.
Grant's tertiary function (Mobilizing)
was Extraverted Intuition, and he rarely used it in a fully conscious way. Intuitive motives struck him as irresponsible and illogical. Now, as Extraverted Intuition gained more access to his decision-making process, Grant was filled with adolescent daydreams about running away.
He reasoned that he'd been meeting others' expectations all his life. When was it going to be his turn? He longed to do something adventurous and exciting, something new, something that didn't involve the social roles that were draining his forces.
The tertiary (Mobilizing)
function is dangerous in a crisis because the point of view it encourages is not so much wrong as it is misplaced. Grant had
been meeting others' expectations all his life - as a good provider, a successful son, a decisive man. He did need more contact with his Perceiving skills, with the self that existed apart from his social identity.
But Extroverted Intuition was not useful to Grant in this regard. Its outward focus kept him from looking within, and it encouraged him to believe that the pressure he was feeling from his inferior function (Suggestive)
was being caused by other people.
Once we're persuaded that our inner conflicts are outside enemies, our only options are fight or flight. And the tertiary function (Mobilizing) always
counsels flight. Its solutions can't be implemented without jettisoning a good deal of what we've already established.
Some types actually follow this shortsighted advice, but most of us are like Grant. We fight for our present way of doing things. And given the fact that all our inferior aims have been projected onto others, we credit ourselves with taking the high road against impossible odds. Meanwhile, our inferior function (Suggestive)
keeps pulling us backward, and we're certain that it's only strength of character that's keeping us afloat. We're no longer dealing with dissatisfaction and frustration. We feel decisive and strong, primed to do battle with dark forces.
Indeed, Grant became consumed with self-oriented idealism, envisioning himself as a long fighter for justice in a corrupt situation. In reality, his inferior function (Suggestive)
, Introverted Feeling, was subverting his more developed ideas about the logical consequences of his actions. He opted for a prophetic stand at work and got fired.
If Grant had been using his Introverted Feeling function in a conscious way, he would have recognized the distinct possibility of this outcome. But his feelings of justification were actually a product of diminishing consciousness. Rather than expand his identity as an Extraverted Thinker, he stopped thinking altogether.
The problems we create when our personality moves too close to the unconscious side are almost always dramatic. We get a good hard kick from life, which forces us, ironically, to use the very secondary skills we've been resisting.