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In this episode Joel and Antonia dive deep into the needs and desires of the ISFJ personality type.

In this podcast on the ISFJ personality type you’ll find:

ISFJ – Memory/Harmony in the Genius System

Easy to overlook just how quirky ISFJs can be.

Our survey indicated just how sensitive ISFJs feel. They want to be in relationships and socialize but they find themselves getting overtaxed easily. They have a yin/yang relationship with socializing.

Car Model

Cognitive Function Stack – the mental processes you use that inform and influence your personality. Each refer to a different way you understand and experience reality.

The driver process is Introverted Sensing (Si), which we have nicknamed “Memory.”

Memory is a Perceiving process. A way to take in info and understand it.   (More info on Memory here.)

Memory is about taking in information then post processing. A review process as opposed to in the moment.

Si are interested in reliability. What is more reliable than what you have already experienced? All the things you pay attention to become a part of who you are. Your memory stack.

These are the most adaptable types over time. You incorporate experiences and they become a part of who you are.  

ISFJs are rather open to new info especially if they don’t feel threatened. If they have had good experiences over time and don’t face the world with fear, they can be more open.

ISFJs personally unique experiences craft them into the unique individuals they become.

They can become uber specialists if they wrap their identity around a certain hobby or skill.

ISFJs rely upon templates of the world. ISFJs take a new piece of info and if they have experienced it they categorize it with everything else. If there is no experience with it, they will put it on a shelf until they can ruminate on it and see how it fits in with previously held beliefs. As you mature you get better at knowing how everything fits in your world.

When people of this type open themselves up to new experiences they get a magnanimous relationship with novelty. They have no problem with other people choosing novelty. They don’t have an antagonistic relationship with newness. They can freely Hold back and observe.

An antagonistic relationship may show up for an ISFJ if they have had some trauma. If they feel the universe is hostile they will react more strongly against newness.

ISFJs co-pilot is Extraverted Feeling (Fe), which we have nicknamed “Harmony.”

ISFJs end up becoming experts of the people in their lives.

They are good at understanding human relationships and dynamics.

They are sensitive to emotional interplay and dynamics. It becomes the way they make decisions.

ISFJs become masters at predicting the behavior of those closest to them.

They will often wonder, “What can I do to smooth over the dynamics beforehand?”

If you are focused on Harmony and you lead with an adaptive process which incorporates other people’s behaviors, ISFJs have a similar phenomenon to INFJs. INFJs can absorb other’s emotions – even strangers – due to their iNtuitive process. ISFJs aren’t plugged into people in general, but they can be sensitive to the emotional energy of the people in their lives.

In fact, it is a struggle for them. “How can I hold space for my loved one without matching and absorbing their emotion?”

ISFJs are good for holding space for everyone they come in contact with. but they spend so much time meeting other’s needs that they take a back seat when it comes to their own needs. This can cause burnout.

Take the time to meet your own needs and realize that you cannot meet other’s needs if you don’t meet your own.

Become more sophisticated at creating better boundaries. Say no every now and then.

ISFJs on the survey said they feel a need to be perfect. This is not a natural tendency but it is a loop you can get caught in if you feel others are dependent upon you to create a memory or a successful event.

ISFJs 10-year-old process is Introverted Thinking (Ti), which we have nicknamed “Accuracy.”

Accuracy is concerned with metrics and data. It is Void of emotional connection. In the 10 year old level, the data comes down to things like the size of a casserole dish or making sure everything is optimized for memory creation. It can come up as perfectionism.

We use the 10 year old when we are feeling defensive. ISFJs want to be above reproach. Nobody can blame the ISFJ if they have done everything perfect.

ISFJs may cover their furniture with plastic to keep it flawless. However, When you put plastic on your couch it is not optimized for people on the couch. The original intent was to make sure everyone had a good experience, but now it has become about being above reproach. If you remove the plastic, something might spill and the couch may not be pristine but the lived in feel is what we prefer as people.  

ISFJs need to show up the best they can and then allow other people to have whatever emotions they are going to have.  

A healthy perspective for an ISFJ to have is, “I am going to do my part to meet people where they’re at, but I’m not going to take responsibility if they don’t have a good time.”

ISFJs are not responsible for everyone.

Accuracy is Not always a negative aspect of the ISFJ personality. Ti needs to be in support of Fe. Not the other way around. Letting Ti serve Fe would be Like choosing the best possible vantage point for the family to enjoy fireworks.

ISFJs often fill roles in the family as the budgeter or bill payer.

A lot of ISFJs can be found in early education. Or nursing and midwife roles.

The 3-year-old process is Extraverted Intuition (Ne), which we have nicknamed “Exploration.”

When ISFJs are safe they can have a very exploratory side to them. They can be into creative and possibilities thinking. Artistic. Martha Stewart type decor. Crafty. They like having a good time. A freedom side.

If they use this process when stressed it can show up as being very impulsive. They may crave some novelty. It’s best to use Ne as a creative outlet as opposed to an impulsive space.

If you are going to use your inferior process of Exploration, go ahead and paint the kitchen a different color. Don’t run off to Vegas and get married.

ISFJs may feel invisible at times. They become so good at getting other people’s needs met that people forget that the ISFJ has needs too.

ISFJs need to articulate their needs.

Some mentioned in the survey that they feel underappreciated for their profound institutional knowledge. They can be walking encyclopedias of info.

ISFJs need to speak up and share their wealth of knowledge.

Assertiveness is tough for ISFJs to develop. This is where Harmony can come to the rescue. It encourages them to be assertive.

ISFJs can adapt a little too much to situations that aren’t good. They need to create boundaries or they will allow intolerable situations to continue way too long.

You’re not fated to anything. You don’t have to deal with negativity and assume that is your role in life. You are allowed to be happy.

NLP can help you rewrite how your brain has experienced the past.

It is your responsibility to change your world to match your needs.

Real Harmony is a win/win.

Keep your finger on the pulse of that martyrdom complex and refuse to be a martyr.


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Personality Hacker
Personality Hacker teaches you the coding language of your mind and how to use it to create happiness.
Showing 25 comments
  • Victoria

    Loved this! I really appreciate the point about the ‘templates’ we (as ISFJ’s) create to more easily process information. It was quite a revelation for me to hear someone else speak about the overwhelm I can feel in processing information quickly…and that more often than not I just need time to post-process it to see how I feel or what I think about a certain experience or situation. I’ve also never noticed that I’ve created these ‘templates’ to more easily process what I’m experiencing- now that I think about it I use them in so many aspects of my life. Really found this episode insightful and helpful, thanks!

    • Jeremy

      As an ISFJ, how do you create and use templates in your daily life? Can you give an example? I’m an INFP and this aspect of introverted sensing puzzles me.

    • Tracey

      Agreed! The “template” idea was a new revelation for me, too. I understood already that my ISFJ type influenced my need to take my time with things that are new and my desire to want to try new things out alone instead of in front of an “audience”, but the template idea helps me to understand why.

    • Charis Branson

      Thanks for your feedback, Victoria! As an INFJ, I prefer some time to post process as well. Maybe I should try the template idea. 😉

  • Jeremy

    Very insightful. I love how Personality Hacker has nicknames for the cognitive functions that encapsulate the way the function works. The terminology used in the discussion is also helpful, for example, describing “Memory” as post-processing and utilizing templates helped to create a visual for me of the mechanics of introverted sensing. In my experience with ISFJ’s, since they focus on others’ needs over their own, they tend also to not ask for help. I picture an ISFJ as Atlas trying to selflessly balance and hold up the world for everyone else, while ignoring the personal toll that effort takes.

    • Charis Branson

      Thanks for the comment, Jeremy! Great illustration of Atlas. Maybe he should ask the giant Tortoise for help. 🙂

  • Tracey

    LOVED this deep dive into my type. Thank you!

    I liked how you examined the 10-year old function of accuracy from a few different angles. I knew how it show’s up when I’m feeling defensive, but knowing that it’s positive to use it in the service of harmony helps give me some direction in developing it more.

    The discussion about how ISFJs can resemble INFJs in the area of sensitivity to others’ emotions was SO interesting, since I have always felt like I identified with that aspect of the INFJ personality, and my INFJ spouse and I seem to share it in common. I think the distinction that ISFJs do this more with their loved ones is SPOT ON. I notice that I am much more able to tune out the “noise” of others’ problems than my husband is, but if something is going on with close friends or family, my empathy kicks in hard, and it’s all I can think about.

    I’m not sure if I’m the specific survey-responder that Joel mentioned in regard to being the institutional memory at work, but if I didn’t say anything about that in my survey, I definitely feel that way, too! For me, it’s not really about being offended at not being asked my opinion, though. It’s frustration that I seem to be the ONLY person who remembers my organization’s activities, policies, and procedures on various projects from year to year. I realize that this institutional memory is a particular strength for me, but sometimes I have to work to remind myself that it’s not a strength (or even a priority) for many others.

    • Tracey

      Can’t let my apostrophe typo go up above. SHOWS. Not show’s.

      ALSO, I love how Antonia pointed out how “quirky” we ISFJs can be. My friends know that I’m an expert in a couple of really random subjects and they can always come to me for information. 🙂

    • Charis Branson

      Thanks for the comment, Tracey! It’s nice to get some perspective from an ISFJ.

  • Steven

    Wow.. ISFJs have a ton of overlap with INFJ (from a external point of view). Do any other types share this connection to quite this extent?

    • Charis Branson

      Sure. A lot of the types are going to have some overlap. In fact, that is why there can be so much confusion between types. We have done a few comparison articles to address these similarities and some ways to tell them apart.

  • Todd Hartzel

    Really enjoyed the similarities between this type & infjs. The use of archetypes vs templates (buckets). It’s fascinating how similar Ni & Si are. Maybe this might clear it up for those that are still on the fence of which one applies to them.

    • Charis Branson

      Thank you for the comment, Todd. And thanks for bringing up the term “archetypes.” I was trying to figure out which term to apply to my way of categorizing. Archetypes is it.

  • Kerry

    I think my husband is an ISFJ, and finding that balance between harmony and accuracy is such a thing. Sometimes it means any little complaint I have is the equivalent of forbidding that thing for all time. Remember that time five years ago I said I didn’t like ____? He does, but I don’t, and five years on it feels like he’s just making things up as excuses even though it probably did happen. But the research and the optimization is real too, and everyone near him benefits.

    • Charis Branson

      Thanks for the feedback, Kerry! I’m glad you benefitted from the podcast. 🙂

  • Sarah

    Thanks for this! My mom is an ISFJ, and I really enjoyed this insight into her thought processes. Being an INFP, I felt she viewed me with suspicion through my younger years (she does view the universe as hostile, and with reason, although I’ve been hoping she’ll address that,) but your observation on long-term adaptability was spot on; she has become one of my integrity-supporters! Also, she is beyond master of her interest and I love knowing how she keeps digesting such huge chunks of information. Finally, your plastic on the couch comment cracked me up: there is plastic on her couch!

    • Charis Branson

      Haha! As I was listening to this, I was thinking back on all the women I have met over the years that covered various parts of their house with plastic. This INFJ isn’t entirely immune however. I actually had a plastic cover over a vintage dining table. I threw it away after this podcast.

  • Jennifer

    Listened to this on Christmas after waiting for it for several months! Best gift this year. I really resonated with the idea of post-processing; I need to give myself permission to say “let me think about that” rather than be forced to make a fast decision. In a forced/fast choice situation I often have a negative response, but after some time to process, even only a few minutes at times, I will come out more positive. And yes, I am flexible, adaptable to a fault.
    I also really appreciated the comments about how overwhelming the quantity of sensory information can be. I am very easily distracted and must make – often subconscious – decisions to disregard certain input that does not seem relevant. This gets me into trouble sometimes, when that discarded info proves to be relevant. This mental process drives me to like tidy space over clean (sanitized) space. It feeds de-cluttering which drives those close to me nuts sometimes, as I discard things that they think I should have more sentimental attachments to.

    No doubt in my mind that I am ISFJ, it feel great to have this affirmed. I love how much variety there is in our interest/content, and I agree we are definitely quirky – a surprising trait given how “traditional” we can be.

    Thanks for the great insights!

    • Charis Branson

      Thanks for your comment, Jennifer! Since realizing I am an INFJ, I have given myself permission to post process to a certain extent. I am self employed, so when my phone rings it is likely a client looking for an appt. I never answer the phone. I wait to hear the message and find out the needs of the client before deciding when, and if, I want to see them. This way I sound way more professional and organized on the call, rather than floundering for dates and times.

      I really resonated with your comment re: de-cluttering. I do that too, and have thrown things away I wish I hadn’t. :/

  • Larry

    I enjoyed the majority of what was shared but the “F” in me felt a a bit defensive during certain segments. All in all it was informative and helpful. The closing comments about avoiding the martyrdom complex rang true and a lifelong relationship with a toxic parent has certainly imprinted me. I would be grateful for your feedback regarding some of the particular personal development programs or products that were mentioned in order to achieve the win-win harmony you mentioned. Probably not ready for the neurolinguistic therapy at this point but certainly interested in the self help reading and methods you alluded to.

    • Antonia Dodge

      Hey, Larry – there are some really powerful models found in Anthony Robbin’s book “Awaken the Giant Within” for re-imprinting your mind. He does use a variation of NLP, but I think you’d enjoy investigating the tool through his book.

      This article was written in response to a question from an INFJ, but the advice would be exactly the same for any ISFJ:

      Hope those help as a starting point. 🙂


  • Diane

    Wonderful, rich description of a number of ISFJ attributes.

    I’ll list just a few here that really hit home:

    » On becoming an “expert” and “mastering” something.
    This has happened to me during my life. For me, “expert/mastering” has come as a RESULT of long-term study in an area of interest, not the GOAL in and of itself. The final outcome being, I have been able to teach or assist others in the same.

    » Concept of “exploration” (3 yr. old seat), bingo! When I feel safe I open up like a flower and am free to be my most fruitful. I can truly be “me”. But as you cautioned, I can get too spontaneous when over stimulated.

    » Avoid discord. I like to make the environment I’m in (when I have control over it) try to influence such that people can be themselves comfortably.

  • Colleen

    I don’t agree with the idea that ISFJs do things like they do so that they can’t be blamed if something goes wrong or that they try to be above blame. For me and my understanding is if this was someones motivation to put so much into something this would actually be working against their harmony. As an ISFJ i have never be in a situation when something has gone wrong that i think “well i did the best and can’t be blamed for it going down the shitter” I am more like “shit what else could i have done, what did i miss” I think a more accurate idea is that its about about not beating themselves up when they feel something didn’t go well.

  • Michael Sanders

    Hey, Joel and Antonia!

    Michael here. I appreciated meeting you both recently at the NC meetup.

    Just before leaving, Antonia was saying that she really didn’t get the “ISTJ vibe” from me and that I may actually be an ISFJ. I took this positive feedback and started investigating what makes an ISFJ tick.

    I’m definitely very traditional and see how that is my dominant trait, ISTJ or ISFJ. One of my uncles actually did genealogical research on our family and was able to trace us back to European nobility. These early impressions in my life, along with frequent family reunions, helped form me to be who I am today. I see family and community and tradition as important values to have. One of my friends shared with me how his family tradition was to eat all the samples at Costco and then have a hot dog and a drink for $1.50 afterward. I admired that aspect of his life and started to brainstorm about what traditions I could start for my family or continue to support.

    After listening to your podcast, I certainly could see how I am an ISFJ in that I have had desires in my life to create the perfect experience for my friends or family. This is definitely the tertiary introverted thinking or accuracy trait. The whole idea of wanting to optimize where you stand so that you see the fireworks is a perfect example which actually happened to me once!

    I was with some friends at Disney World in Orlando and we were going to see the fireworks. We have to navigate through an already large crowd at that time. So I suggested that we each place our hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us so that we did not get separated from one another. Then I led the train to the best place we could get to see the fireworks.

    Also, regarding the harmony aspect of my personality, I usually have a hard time saying no. This was feedback from a previous employer. I definitely struggle with boundaries in relationships and my friend shared some resources with me on how to develop healthy boundaries and it was like the holy grail to me. I was thinking, “Where has this been all my life!?”

    As far as the exploratory/fun/Disney side, or exploration trait, I definitely have that as well. My friend has also called it the “X-factor”. This charismatic unexpected side of me that usually leaves most people with their jaws on the floor. It’s only in situations where I feel safe and comfortable. It would be difficult for me to consciously choose to audition in front of thousands of people. It only comes out when I get in my element.

    For example, I was hanging out with some orphans from Uganda one time. We started playing drums together and all of a sudden I found myself singing along with them. There was a sense of being drawn into it that helped me relax and unveil that side that is usually reserved for those who are closest to me.

    Thanks for your podcast!

  • Janette

    WOW! Thank you guys for all your research and knowledge expressed on the podcast. Through it I got the answer that began my search and the realization that I have a lot of personal growth to do yet. On a subconscious level I think I knew that I fell back on my 10yr old accuracy when confronted with stress or conflict but not why I do or that I can do something to change that situation. Before this search I would have just defined my self by how intensely I feel for people in my life. Hiccups only occurred when I met difficulty with my 10yr old. I can switch that now that I’m aware, thanks to you guys.
    I have experienced trauma in my life but was extremely lucky to have one parent teacher by word and example that the universe is generally a friendly place. So mostly I don’t act my age, more like a big kid looking at the world with huge eyes of wonder. I would like to give my 3yr old more free reign.
    Having been part of an organization that empowers people with disabilities for 15yrs now, the bank of procedural knowledge and history of the org and personal knowledge of the people is sitting there waiting to be tapped into. So your suggestion of speaking up and offering factual info for shaping pending change was extremely helpful. Just like that my frustration dissapates. Just got to work on that assertive thing!
    Wow again!! What a powerful few minutes to my life. Thanks. Awesome. Life changing!

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