By Boye Akinwande, with additions by Eva Gregersen
As I’m sure may currently be the case for many of you, I was quite skeptical of CelebrityTypes’ type assessment of Kanye West as an ISFJ when I first came across it. At the time of this writing, there appears to be no “default” assessment of West’s type, but ISFJ almost seems like the result one would arrive at if one’s intent was sarcasm. I imagine that my issue, like yours, stemmed from the fact that I took more of a behaviorist approach to typology wherein the concrete behavioral traits, interests, ideas, and skills of an individual are thought to presuppose that individual’s functions. According to this view, since West’s behavior is characterized by recurrent social faux pas and a seemingly unapologetic vanity that stands worlds apart from the considerate and self-effacing demeanor that is typically associated with ISFJs, any attempt to type him as one is quite plainly ludicrous. End of story, right?
Not quite. In accordance with the psychodynamic approach to typology employed by CelebrityTypes, the articles on the site can often be seen to caution skeptics (such as my former self) not to mistake the contents of cognition for the psychic functions themselves. In other words, while there are certainly correlations between type and such contents (behavioral traits, interests, ideas, skills, etc.), they cannot be taken as the direct constituents of a person’s type, the way 90% of the internet does. For a simple explanation as to why, consider how the existence of such contents in an individual’s psyche is often more a function of time and place (the culture in which he is situated, for instance).
Jungian typology is really a theory about the nature of conscious attention (and inattention) that an individual directs towards the contents of consciousness. According to the psychodynamic approach, the functions exist as meta-perspectives that, in theory, are divorced from psychic contents. Rather, they operate as lenses that fundamentally bias the way we conceive of, structure, and relate to information in the psyche. In West’s case, understanding the psychodynamic approach is paramount to understanding why CelebrityTypes assesses his type to be ISFJ.
Styles and Types
As previously covered on the site, a person’s psychological type does not exhaust everything about his personality. However, since many practitioners of Jungian typology are not well-acquainted with other domains of personality studies, they tend to construe everything they observe about that person’s personality as having to do with his type. In the case of Kanye West, most people seem to construe the factors of his Narcissistic personality style as having to do with Fi. However, I would argue that this is a category mistake.
At its base, the distinction between Fe and Fi (or Fe/Ti and Fi/Te) says little about the value judgments (contents) that the individual will hold. Rather, the distinction has to do with how one goes about forming judgments, deriving them from either objective (Fe) or subjective (Fi) sentiments (from the function point of view) or on the basis of one’s ontological predispositions (from the axial point of view), seeing humans as being either more similar to each other (Fe/Ti) or more divergent from one another (Fi/Te).
Hence, as it should, the psychodynamic approach to typology places us more in line with the consciousness of the individual and avoids making too many assumptions that are tied to behaviorist modes of personality studies or the non-constant (but invariably influential) culture and zeitgeist that the individual finds himself in. Doing so lifts us out of a behavioral (or Aristotelian) mindset like “Fe types evince group-oriented behavior” to a more psychodynamic mindset like “Fe types are prone to form object representations where they see other individuals as extensions or variations of themselves.”
Next, returning to the question of personality styles, it is my impression that the specific behaviors that are often coupled with the ISFJ type under the behaviorist point of view are really the behaviors of the Dependent personality style, an adaptation that is indeed overrepresented among ISFJs. Like the conjunction that often arises between INTJs and the Narcissistic personality style, it is not hard to see how Dependency could more easily converge with the psychic disposition of the ISFJ type than that of other types.
Defiance and Standards in ISFJs
Before we get to West, it is worth calling attention to another ISFJ who has famously caused a ruckus with her defiance and the championing of her own standards, namely the civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Parks was an African-American woman who was riding the bus and refused to stand up so as to give up her seat for a white person. In refusing, not only was Parks defying social convention, she was also breaking the law, and hence, though most people view her behavior in a more favorable light than they do West, Parks was actually more defiant than West, even though lacking a noticeable Narcissistic disposition. Hence, contrary to a stereotype that many hold of ISFJs, they do have it in them to take a stand that goes against the dominant mores of the group, even if doing so is controversial and even if it aggravates the people around them.
Indeed, since they are in general far more meticulous in their handling of facts than other, non-Si, types, it is not illogical that ISFJs may often draw attention to standards and factual inaccuracies that may more easily elude the awareness of other types. By way of their greater receptivity towards facts and their handling of these, the conscious attention of ISFJs may often be directed towards more minute observations specific to their immediate realities. By way of this adaptation, ISFJs may often be seen to have especially concentrated and raw emotional attachments to the people or experiences from their personal lives.
As Jung said in Psychological Types §650, Si is amongst the most irrational functions. But because most Si types do not possess any facility whereby their Si can be expressed directly, the true nature of Si is rarely seen and Si is consequently mistaken for a wholly passive process, without machinations or designs of its own. West, being an unusually Narcissistic ISFJ, divulges more of these typically inexpressible Si machinations to the world than does your usual ISFJ. However, his sense of injustice appears too confined to his own lot and life experiences and consequently too hard for others to relate to. Too often, the end result is that his outbursts and defiance land him on an island, too remote to be reached by the sympathies of others.
By contrast, though a higher incidence of the Narcissistic personality style may readily be seen among the NFJ types, the more holistic disposition of their Ni-Fe combination often serves to mitigate the disagreeable and self-absorbed elements of that style. In West’s case, the preponderance of Si, rather than Ni, has the unfortunate consequence of making the actual standards and values that he is fighting for more specific to his situation and therefore less relatable.
West’s Abrasiveness at Award Shows
INTERVIEWER: “What are some of the things you’ve learned about yourself since becoming a family man?”
KANYE WEST: “You know, I can’t pinpoint that. I don’t have the answer right on me. I got to think about it and give you a really good answer. I got a lock and loaded amount of information that I like to express on a very wide scale. But if you ask me a question like that and I go back and think on it, maybe I’ll have the answer for you in a couple of days.” – West: Kanye West meets Zane Lowe BBC 2015
As I mentioned before, the view of West that predominates in the public eye is that he has an abrasive and erratic personality; a personality that seems a far cry from your stereotypical ISFJ indeed. The above exchange, however, appears to suggest something quite different about West. All else being equal, the above exchange would seem to suggest introversion and/or introverted perception over their opposites. Furthermore, even between the two introverted perception functions, the Ni type is still characterized by immoderation, since the Ni types have inferior Se (as well as because of the more ideational and less empirical nature of N over S in general).
Another consideration here is that, all else being equal, Ni types would be inclined to care less about truly doing justice to questions that have no noumenal implications (Psychological Types §659). In fact, of all the types, it is on balance the Si type who is the most discerning with regards to doing justice to wordly information on the granular level, carefully processing and accounting for every detail in their striving for empirical precision.
Among the moments most responsible for West’s infamy have been his public disapprovals concerning the outcomes of award shows. He has expressed frustration about not getting the accolades he felt he deserved, storming out of the 2004 American Music Awards when he discovered that he was not the recipient of an award that he felt he deserved. Likewise, West has famously come to Beyonce’s defense when he felt that she too had been cheated out of an award that he felt should have been hers. And though far less publicized, West has also publicly criticized the decision to award him certain accolades that he did not feel that he had deserved. In fact, West has done so on at least four occasions.
Though public discourse seems to content itself with discussing what Kanye West has done on these occasions, the present endeavor of this article calls for something more than that. As psychological typologists, we must also ask why West has repeatedly behaved in this way, and what psychological motivations may lie behind it.
As I hope to show in the following paragraphs, my own foray into the matter has suggested to me that West has meticulously processed the empirical facts pertaining to each of the decisions that he rose to protest. He absorbs and processes the facts, weighing each of the artists carefully in his mind; yet being an Si type, the underlying perceptions (as opposed to the resulting judgments) are profoundly personal and not directly perceivable by others. As Myers says of them, Si types are characterized by “vivid private reactions” to the thing sensed; reactions that are rarely discernible or comprehensible to others.
The theme that runs through most of West’s outbursts at award shows appears to be that West truly cares about standards of fairness and justice in relation to the awards: He takes a serious interest in whether each award is bestowed upon the artist whom he perceives to deserve it the most. Understood from his own perspective, West’s abrasive outbursts are really efforts to uphold the integrity of award shows as an institution for artists and musicians. Like other ISFJs before him, West will not stand for what he perceives to be arbitrariness or injustice, except in his case he is focused on something that others have a hard time seeing as worthy of such exacting moral attention, namely the proper bestowal of awards.
INTERVIEWER: “How about the Grammy? You received one, but didn’t attend the ceremony…”
MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN: “I think the Grammys are nothing more than some gigantic promotional machine for the music industry. … They don’t honor the arts or the artist for what he created. … [But having won one] why should we refuse it? … If our record company and the music business want to have a party, why should we spoil it for them? … Just because we don’t like it, why ruin it for them?” – Keenan: Interview with Maynard Keenan of Tool NY Rock Magazine 2002
While the Fi type may more easily withdraw his personal sentiments from such external metrics (such as with Maynard James Keenan as quoted above), West’s cognitive loci are closer to what we would expect of an SFJ type: To West, the externalized and empirical metric matters and the formalized stamp of recognition of the peer group should be awarded to the proper person. As opposed to those more cynical takes on award shows as having more to do with advertisement and lobbying than talent, West accepts the institution of the award show at face value: Given that there is a winner, that winner should also be the right winner. And given that the winners are supposedly decided on the basis of their contributions, we are obligated to conduct a proper and careful estimation of what they may be – to ensure that every fact is “fully and fairly sifted” as the Duke of Wellington said.
When asked in a recent interview about his rationale for speaking out in such instances, West likened being unjustly “defeated” at music awards to when he tried out for his school basketball team and did not make the team even though he made all the shots. His analogy captures an oft-expressed nightmare for ISJs, who, because they repress Ne, often do not like to enter situations where the rules that regulate them cannot be known with certainty. As the Si type Woodrow Wilson said, we should be able to recognize the everyday impressions of our world in even the most ceremonious retelling and evaluation of what has taken place: We cannot have one version of reality for the real world and another for the history books, and according to West, nor can we have one evaluation of an artist’s contributions in the real world and another at the award shows. As he has said:
KANYE WEST: “I don’t want [award shows] to rewrite history right in front of us. At least, not on my clock. I really appreciate the moments that I was able to win rap album of the year or whatever. But after a while, it’s like: ‘Wait a second; this isn’t fair. This is a setup.’” – West: Behind Kanye’s Mask The New York Times 2013
Because Si types repress Ne, they may sometimes fail to consider how different perspectives may not only be desirable, but indeed sometimes necessary, in different contexts. Because they are primarily orientated towards their own repository of thoroughgoing, yet at times also overly personalized and specific knowledge of the facts, Si types can sometimes react with incredulity and defiance when their tightly-clutched impressions of the facts do not match up with the “official” or “authoritative” discernment of the same facts. In this respect, the Si type is not different from the Ni type who sees his own perspective and how his own idea must be true to the exclusion of all others; only the Ni type deals more with possibilities where the Si type deals more with facts.
The Unseen Relations of Si
As Jung, von Franz, and Myers have remarked, Si is usually private, unseen, poorly understood, and mistaken for an introverted version of the Si type’s auxiliary function. Jung and von Franz have contended that sometimes, on a few rare occasions, it will be possible to catch a glimpse of the “inner irrationality” of the Si type, such as for example if the Si type is an artist. What they do not say (but what I shall add) is that if the Si type is beset by Narcissistic traits, it will also frequently (but not always) be possible to see more of the Si type’s inner life.
In Kanye West’s case, it is my impression that there is an interaction between his Si function and his Narcissistic personality style, where the Narcissism provides the brazenness for dragging the rest of the world into the narrowly focused and heavily personalized perceptions of Si. It also appears that, intrapsychically, there is an interaction between the two where past impressions and factual accomplishments continually reinforce the grandiose self-image that West cannot help but portray.
While all Narcissistic personalities rely on past successes to “keep themselves warm,” West’s grandiosity is often grounded in statements that are uniquely factual and impression-based, in contradistinction to the more flighty and ideational cognitive style that is seen in most Narcissists (even S type Narcissists). For example, as he says in his First MTV Interview from 2002:
“If you’re taught you can’t do anything, you won’t do anything. I was taught I could do everything.”
“It was instilled in me to just go out and get it.”
West is noted for making outrageously grandiose statements (such as: “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.”). An argument that is often seen against the possibility of Fe, or ISFJ, is that such outrageous, off-the-wall, and “self-interested” statements must bear witness to an Ne-Fi (NFP) disposition. However, as opposed to personality systems like the Big Five, Jungian typology is not so much about the ‘what’ as it is about the ‘why.’ Reverse-engineering West’s behavior to the most suitable functions of consciousness is the ‘what’: It is an extrovertive approach to personality studies. Trying to interpret the cognitive processes and motivations that underlie the person’s behavior is the ‘why.’
The Narcissistic Adaptation
As a pattern of consciousness, one of Si’s dispositions is to absorb and reinforce the lessons taught by experience, forming accurate, deep, and rich impressions of the way in which reality was brought to bear on the Si type. Since a child’s caregivers and role models will often be central components of the person’s reality in childhood, one may often see Si types referring to the lessons imparted to them by their role models as, by comparison, Si types are uniquely suited to pay attention and hold on to those lessons from early childhood on.
In West’s case, he had quite an unusual mother who instilled in him from an early age that he was uniquely talented and destined for greatness. As she recounts in her memoir:
“Everyone prays for their child to be healthy. … I prayed for my child to be healthy and brilliant. [When he was seven months old] I knew my prayers had been answered – beyond my wildest imagination. I never imagined that I would be the mother of someone quite as unique as Kanye West, someone God had chosen to do something very special in the world.” – Donda West: Raising Kanye (Gallery Books 2009) p. 2
As Donda West continues to make clear in her memoir, she raised West with the constant reinforcement of the notion that he was special and that he would (indeed: must) grow up to do special things. Thus she fostered what psychologists would call the “grandiose self” and sowed the seeds for the development of his Narcissistic style.
Interestingly, she also encouraged him to think for himself and to speak his mind:
“One of the biggest challenges for me … was how to discipline Kanye without killing his spirit … give him boundaries that would keep him within the parameters of what is appropriate. You may laugh and ask, ‘Kanye, appropriate?’ And to that I would reply, ‘Yes, appropriate.’ To me, being appropriate does not always mean conforming. Often it means just the opposite. Sometimes, refusing to conform and even confronting is not only appropriate but necessary to change the world for the better.” – Donda West: Raising Kanye p. 8
Not only did West’s mother encourage him to speak out, she instilled an equivalence in him between acting appropriately and acting defiantly, going against the predominating mores when the situation called for it.
It is furthermore worth noting that Donda West describes her son’s temperament as naturally conforming and obedient:
“Rarely did I tell Kanye no. I gave him most everything he asked for. … Why? Because Kanye earned it. … He was a good kid. Had he not been, things would have been different. Had he talked back to me and refused to do what I asked of him, I would not have rewarded him. To do so would have been to enable a brat, not raise a child.” – Donda West: Raising Kanye p. 9
Donda West’s description comes close to how von Franz and van der Hoop describe the default disposition of the Si type in childhood as being passive and receptive, and West himself has stressed on countless occasions how he always looked up to his mother and took his cues from her. Again the analysis leads us to the conclusion that the grandiose and intemperate facade is a functional, adapted layer of the personality, whereas the deeper-lying structural properties of West’s personality are quite different.
Hence, rather than expecting ISFJs to align themselves with convention and always act appropriately, it would be more reasonable to expect ISFJs to align themselves with what they subjectively associate with these values. In West’s case, he was taught to trust in his own judgments and to speak out against perceived unfairness, even if others did not.
This approach still isn’t perfect, as a person’s values are still mental contents. But it’s certainly better than the trait-based arguments that are usually given for West as an Fi type. In fact, when attempting to pay more attention to the functions themselves, one may often come across mental processes in West that bear witness to an Fe/Ti configuration:
“The idea is more important than our personal well-being. That’s the reason why a lot of time I’ll say things that are not for my personal well-being. For people to create for their personal well-being is a very selfish way to create … creating to make your life better, as opposed to creating to make everyone’s life better.” – West: You Have to Take the Lashes of Backlash Bloomberg Television 2014
Grandiosity and Redemption Themes in African-American Culture
Finally, I will end this piece by calling attention to certain properties and themes of contemporary African-American culture. As I said in the beginning, the non-constant culture and zeitgeist that the individual finds himself in will often influence his mental contents to a strong degree – a premise that will invariably grow in cogency when dealing with the Si type. Hence, to make sure that we are understanding the individual in relation to his culture, and not mistaking the culture for the type, we should understand a few sociological facts about African-American culture.
While some have contended that West’s demonstrations of self-love and extravagance are mere examples of personal vanity, there is evidence to suggest that this is not the whole story. Indeed, to some African-American community leaders, self-love may well be a political act, aimed at redeeming the African-American community from its downtrodden history through unapologetic self-affirmation. Within this cultural prism, flaunting one’s success, and reveling in one’s own awesomeness, is seen as a way to counteract the past marginalization of the African-American community – exploding the burden of black stereotypes by turning them on their head and portraying oneself as akin to a “human, all too human” Greek god: Shamelessly self-indulgent and self-accepting, while at the same time being resplendently above it all.
For his part, West has given a number of remarks to indicate that his acts are at least partially influenced by this tradition of African-American grandiosity and “Greek god” dandyism and that they could be seen as one reason for his behavioral extravagance. In an interview with Bloomberg Television, he said: “Black people are allowed to wear big chains and name [the brands of clothing] they have on, to say out loud what [their] stuff costs.” Or, in an interview with The New York Times, he said: “That’s how I was raised. I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists. But I’m also in the lineage of a Miles Davis – you know, that liked nice things also.” And further: “I think that’s a responsibility that I have, to push possibilities, to show people: ‘This is the level that things could be at.’ … The passion is for the 18-year-old version of myself. The passion is for the kids at my shows. I need to do more. I need to be able to give people more of what they want that currently is behind a glass [to them].”
 Von Franz: Psychotherapy (Shambhala 1993) pp. 68-69
 Myers: Gifts Differing (Davies Black 1995) p. 80
 Trammell: All the Times Kanye West Gave His Own Awards to Someone Else (Fader Magazine 2015)
 Myers: Gifts Differing p. 80
 West, quoted in Carnamanica: Behind Kanye’s Mask (The New York Times 2013)
 Stepping out of the argument, if I may be allowed a personal aside, the same pattern may also be observed in West’s own stated mentality concerning his recent attempts to break into the fashion industry: “I have put in my 10,000 hours,” he said in reference to a commonly-known regimen for success introduced in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. West’s foray into fashion has been met with a mixed reception, and in interviews, his reactions betray a struggle to come to terms with the opacity of the “rules” for achieving success in that field. He seems eager to subject all his knowledge to a predictable regimen and becomes frustrated when he is not able to do so. Having a hard time disengaging from his personalized and deeply-keeled sense impressions, he struggles to reconcile the diligence and thoroughness that he knows he has put into the effort with its apparent lack of success.
 Von Franz: Lectures on Jung’s Typology (Spring 1971) p. 27
 Jung: Psychological Types §650
 Millon & Grossman: Overcoming Resistant Personality Disorders (Wiley 2007) p. 135
 Kanye West: Foreword to Raising Kanye (Gallery Books 2009), cf. Van der Hoop: Conscious Orientation p. 31, and von Franz: Lectures on Jung’s Typology p. 27
 Miller: Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity (Duke University Press 2009)
 West: You Have to Take the Lashes of Backlash Bloomberg Television 2014
 West, quoted in Carnamanica: Behind Kanye’s Mask (The New York Times 2013)