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Pierce’s Revised Portrait of an ISTJ

By Michael Pierce

ISTJs – an outline:

  1. They are formidably responsible and upstanding.
  2. They are usually ahead of the game in taking care of business; very much on top of things.
  3. They have a great sense of humor.
  4. They aren’t usually uptight, but seem rather confidently relaxed, like a sea captain used to dangerous storms: their approach to the future is one of ‘this is bad but nothing I haven’t seen before’.
  5. They are naturally thorough, taking in a ton of information before forming a conclusion or conjecture.
  6. They are very realistic about things — they might even appear a strange combination of optimistic and pessimistic. See point 4.
  7. They never jump on the bandwagon: they always do things because they have concretized it into their experience themselves, and are thus avoidant or skeptical of fads. If they are optimistic about new technology, it’s because they are pleased with what they’ve seen so far and are waiting patiently until they are sure of it.
  8. Overall, give the impression of a weathered but amiable sea captain full of tried and sure wisdom and the flicker of a twinkle in their eye, suggesting a shadowy hint of playfulness usually associated with NFPs.

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Dominant Si

The process of Ne/Si is essentially as follows, regardless of which function is more conscious: Ne filters in experiences from the outside world in terms of their associative possibilities and perspectives, while Si composites this multifaceted data into ideal images of things in its experience. The latter process of Si predominates in the ISTJ — it is easily placed under the ISTJ’s conscious control, within their awareness or ability to choose and decide. Meanwhile, Ne works almost entirely unconsciously, that is, normally without the ISTJ’s control, awareness, or choice: it is comparable to an involuntary bodily function.

Now, some may describe the dominant function as being more unconscious or out of our awareness than the tertiary function. I agree, in that its operation is so obvious we don’t notice it, like the nose on our face or the fish in water. However, I think it is better compared to the process of walking. We’re so used to walking when we’re an adult that we don’t think about it — we just do it, and we might as well call it ‘unconscious’. Yet, we are still in control of where we are walking to and in what manner we will walk there, even if the details of the actual process are not always in our focus. We are also easily capable of examining and thinking about the individual process of walking; but we are not so easily capable of doing this with, say, our heartbeat. We don’t make decisions about how fast our heart will beat or in what way, it does it without our volition, continually in the background, and hence, whenever it does come under our awareness it’s because something is going wrong, and this event interrupts our other processes of walking and so forth.

Now, in a nutshell, Si accumulates information (through the unconscious perceptions of Ne) and over time concretizes that wisdom into very personal perceptions, interpretations or ‘traditions/routines’, if you will, that represent ideal, composite forms of real, concrete things. It is precisely this ‘concretizing’ part of the process that is constantly within the ISTJ’s awareness and volition, and it is precisely this aspect which encourages their famous (or infamous) conscientiousness.

The process, in fact, is structurally identical to that of Ni, but with the ‘subject matter’ being the more concrete, the direct, the strictly real and pragmatic, as opposed to the ethereal or merely possible. Both functions are generally experienced as a stream of thought or swirling cauldron of ingredients poured in by the extroverted perceiving process, wherein the information, whether concretely real (Si) or ethereal (Ni), mixes together to form new conceptions and perspectives of things. In the case of Si and the ISTJ, these new conceptions are the composite images of the world I have mentioned above — but the process itself has an affinity with Ni that is not generally recognized: that ebb and flow of internal perceptions which the type watches and tracks, and from which it derives its insights. The writings of Sigmund Freud, particularly those in Psychopathology of Everyday Life, are a good example of this process in the ISTJ, where all of those aspects of the world generally considered by Ni types to be ‘boring’, ‘ordinary’, or ‘dry’ (such as syllables of words or detailed memories) are the subject of in-depth analysis and synthesis.

In any case, the end result of such syntheses is the ‘composite image’ of reality. As discussed in my perceiving axes video, the Ne/Si axis has a certain, curious removal from reality not experienced by Se/Ni types, where the appearance of the world and what the world is actually like are far more separate than they are in the Se/Ni mind. The senses, or whatever is immediately perceivable, is mistrusted, and considered merely one of multiple sides to a thing which need to be explored through Ne. The real and present world, then, is not perceived as something immediately real, as something ‘extremely loud and incredibly close’, but as something that is put together in the mind, a sort of internal blueprint, field guide, or nature sketchbook that can be consulted to make sense of things.

This is the foremost aspect of the ISTJ’s character: the quiet and patient accumulation, concretization and consulting of recreated images of reality. This is why they are so often conscientious: because they are, to put it negatively, rooted in their preconceptions of things drawn from the past, but to put it positively, unassailable by the tumult of new opinions and experiences that might put less grounded types off balance. Several quotes from successful ISTJs help demonstrate this:

Jeff Bezos: “A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn’t last.”

Warren Buffett: “…what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble.”

Ingvar Kamprad: “Be thankful to those who are the pillars of our society!”

Peter Thiel: “…it’s much more important to be right than to be contrarian.”

A prevailing theme here is consistency: the ISTJ concretizes an ideal perception of reality, and barring a significant existential crisis, that ideal will remain very similar throughout their life, with edits added into or onto that original base; hence, why ISTJs usually enjoy routine and familiar structure in their lives. It is also why some find them curiously or infuriatingly stubborn, obtuse, or otherwise ‘stuck in their ways’, needlessly shunning new ideas or perspectives, being unable to move on from their own prejudices and fears and explore new territory.

Another prevailing theme is endurance: there is a sense with ISTJs of being a stone obelisk beaten and weathered by thousands of years of whirling sand but still standing and still readable. They hold onto their wisdom in storm and drought, hurricane and doldrums (rather like the INTJ holds onto their vision through similar conditions). Hence the earlier image of the rugged yet cheerful sea captain: the world is as changeable as the seas, but with experience and solid principles one can weather the storm.

Auxiliary Te

Assisting the ISTJ is auxiliary Te. I plan to offer a much more comprehensive description of Te in both the ESTJ and ENTJ videos where this function is dominant. For now, I will give a briefer overview of the effects of conscious Te in the ISTJ.

Te and Fi work in tandem as a judgement axis, where Fi provides the valuating, emotional, feeling fuel or drive for the goal-achieving, factual, ‘get it done’ Te process. Specifically, Te provides Fi with conclusions based on objective facts and data, which are naturally most concerned with quantifiable data, data that can be measured, standardized, used, and ultimately evaluated and ‘assigned’ a specific, personal feeling-tone by Fi. Conversely, Fi can begin with an evaluation which motivates Te to do something or other as effectively as possible.

In either case, Te reinforces the ISTJ’s Si stubbornness with a sense of logistical tenacity reminiscent of the INTJ. They think in terms of ‘get it done’ — I should point out, of course, that this does not imply ‘get it done as ruthlessly and brutally as possible’, because more often than not, the most ruthless, brutal or even direct route isn’t actually the most effective — intentionally ticking people off does not help you accomplish most goals or meet most specifications, for instance.

I’ve found that in many respects, the ISTJ personality is a hybrid of both the INTJ and ENTP personalities, which is a visual way of representing the meeting of Te/Fi and Ne/Si. The ISTJ has the INTJ’s combination of practicality and tenacity in approaching their goals, but combined with the cautious, doubtful, multifaceted ENTP nature. Where the INTJ smacks the nail straight on the head from two or three angles at most, the ISTJ examines and more carefully chips away at the nail from a number of angles for a more refined job (which quite often tests the INTJ’s patience).

This combination of Te/Fi tenacity and Ne/Si caution gives the ISTJ an inner paradox of optimism and pessimism — on one hand, they are supremely pessimistic, fully aware of everything that could go wrong or fail in one’s plans if every practical precaution is not taken, and reporting these things with the sobriety of a morning newscaster. Yet, one does not see in their eyes any look of hopelessness — quite the contrary! Their attitude is one of optimism amidst pessimism: it’s as though the ISTJ is saying, ‘yeah this oncoming storm is going to suck, don’t ever think it won’t — but also don’t think for a second that I’m not getting us through it.’ Just as much as Si says ‘this is going to be bad’, Te says ‘but I can deal with it.’ They are soberly intrepid, grimly humorous: a gold-hearted seadog, if you’ll pardon the poetic phrase.

Tertiary Fi

The unconscious personality, or ‘shadow’, if you like, is the result of the opposing ends of the two axes being submerged in the unconscious: these ends can sometimes be seen quivering beneath the water’s surface, obscured by ripples and plays of light — just so the unconscious personality generally manifests itself as a sort of contradictory, paradoxical opposition to the subject’s conscious personality; that odd element of a person that seems counter to all you thought that person represented.

Hiding beneath the ISTJ’s pragmatic traditionalism is an opposing personality: spritely, cheerful, witty, spontaneous, and quite heart-felt and passionate. It is a faint yet caricatured INFP, an INFP seen upside-down. Because Fi is closer to the surface, it manifests more prominently and therefore gives the impression to the close observer that the ISTJ sometimes secretly wants to be an INFP.

I believe that it is the combination of Te and Fi that is responsible for the ISTJ’s realistic optimism. Without the subjective, passionate evaluations of Fi, Te would be without direction or guidance, not knowing where to go. Thus, Fi provides the ISTJ, albeit more unconsciously, with such evaluations and passions, which further fuel their optimism for the future, saying to themselves, ‘this is how the world ought to be (Fi), and this is how I am going to make it so (Te).’

However, only the Te aspect of this dynamic is consciously expressed. The Fi aspect, which is dominant in the INFP, is a shadow in the ISTJ, the black and white shadow of the much more dynamic INFP. The ISTJ has within them a hidden sense of idealism, of wonder and dreaming, a connoisseurship of various feelings, emotions, and tones that motivate them. As they identify with this hidden aspect of themselves, they may begin thinking of themselves as deeply feeling individuals, passionate about what they do, harboring very deep feelings and judgements that are decisively difficult for them to express but which fascinate them and they want to be more a part of them. Te always wins over, of course, but that doesn’t stop the ISTJ from exploring their Fi and wondering if things might not be better if they were to relax their strict accounting of plain facts and give in more fully to what they feel to be right and true.

Overall, this pale shadow of the INFP is gentle, letting things be, dreaming, and concerned with expressing their feeling principles over operationalizing them, all oppositions to what is preferably conscious in the ISTJ, but there nonetheless, and a large part of what I think gives the ISTJ their peculiar twinkle and amiability.

Inferior Ne

The other half of this shadow, as I’ve been calling it, is the opposition of Si: Ne. The ISTJ, as I took pains to explain, is defined by their natural concretizing of experiences into detailed, pragmatic wisdom and ideal conceptions of things. It is rooted, stable, and consistent — yet this is only possible if it be supplied by a function that is uprooted, unstable, and inconsistent — not in a negative sense, of course, but in the sense of creativity, novelty, innovation, and possibility. Si is centered on making the future predictable and stable: Ne is centered on embracing the multiple possibilities of the future, the multiple perspectives on things, and dislikes being so pinned down to something sure and concrete. It is therefore an odd paradox, as in any personality, that the ISTJ manifests a dim but ever present shadow of chaotic novelty-seeking.

In my experience, the ISTJ is all too aware that their dedication to Si causes a lack of Ne in their conscious development. They therefore may try to compensate for this lack by seemingly uncharacteristic and even brash capitulations to Ne combined with Fi. A great example of this is expressed by Jeff Bezos in an interview with Business Insider, where he is asked why he, without any apparent reason, makes rockets to enter space. His entire explanation is fascinating, and I have posted a link to that section of the interview below. I will quote, however, one particular part that demonstrates not just Ne but the whole shadow INFP: “I come up with lots of rational reasons why it’s important [to enter space], and I really do believe them…but I also just love it.” Earlier, in his somewhat more strained attempts to explain himself, he says “you don’t get to choose your passions, your passions choose you”. This would all seem to heavily imply that Jeff Bezos builds rockets because of a conscious capitulation to his unconscious processes: the dreaming idealist who defies facts in favor of desires and has a thirst for the new, the unexplored, and the frontier.

As with all personalities, it is worth noting that ISTJs enjoy being complimented or recognized appropriately for their Ne and Fi, and would likely be highly flattered if someone described them entirely in terms of those functions: as innovative, as passionate, as gentle yet exploring the unknown, which gives the sensation of being supported or reinforced in areas normally felt as weak and unfulfilled.

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To complete this video, I will now give a very brief overview of the ISTJ’s relation to other types.

It is my theory that type relationships between quadras mirror those within the same quadra: in other words, the kind of relationship that exists between the introverted perceiving ISTJ and the same axis wielding extroverted judging ESTJ is the same framework existing between the ISTJ and the similarly extroverted judging but different axis wielding ENTJ.

We can construct a rough hierarchy, not of positive to negative, but of natural familiarity to lack of familiarity; that is, how much the two types would align in terms of the assumptions they make and processes they operate on.

ISTJ, ESTJ, INFP, ENFP, INTJ, ENTJ, ISFP, ESFP, ISFJ, ESFJ, INTP, ENTP, INFJ, ENFJ, ISTP, ESTP.

Published in Michael Pierce