Mary Arrington is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. As always with guest writers on the site, Arrington’s piece represents her own insights and assessments and not necessarily those of the site.
By Mary Arrington
ENFP and ESFP. We know that both are awesome types, but how can we tell the difference? The usual opinion on the internet is that anyone smart or imaginative must be an N type, but that just isn’t the case. If only it were so simple!
ENFPs and ESFPs share a lot of similarities. Both tend to take an explorative, laid-back approach to the world; both are very perceptive and tend to come up with lots of ideas; both are very quick thinkers; both are often unusually good at telling entertaining stories; both tend to be deeply fascinated by the world around them; both are easily bored and tend to feel a need for new experiences and ideas to feel alive; both tend to have a great sense of humor; both think that this list of comparisons is getting too long, and so on.
But there are also many differences, and these differences come down to the dominant and inferior functions of these types, since both have auxiliary Fi and tertiary Te.
ESFPs have dominant Se and inferior Ni
Dominant Se gives the ESPs the most realistic perception of all the types, since Se is so directly focused on objects as they appear. Se looks around and sees everything; it scans the environment and takes it all in – the people, the buildings, the weather, the… everything! Se is also extremely good at forming unconscious short-term predictions about the things it perceives. Many of the more intellectual descriptions of the functions tend to miss the full magnificence of the Sensation functions. The way Se operates in the physical world is actually a lot like how Ni acts in the intellectual world. For example, many Se sportspeople can somehow just know where they should be to best receive a flying soccer ball that has just been kicked towards them. Or Se types in general can just know from looking at two cars gliding towards each other that they are going to crash (sometimes many seconds before it happens) – something that most other people don’t realize until the loud crashing noise forces them to pay attention!
Imaginative ESFPs tend to be creativity bombs and come up with lots and lots of ideas. However, while they do come up with lots of creative ideas, their ideas tend to follow a common theme or perspective. In other words, the creative output of ESFPs tends to have more cohesion than that of ENFPs who are stimulated by not just a multitude of ideas, but a multitude of perspectives. Therefore, ENFPs constantly try to see things from radically different points of view, which they sample one after another, while ESFPs are usually more interested in developing their current perspective as far as it can go.
As creative writers, ESFPs tend to have a big advantage over ENFPs when it comes to writing realistic, thrilling stories that make the readers feel like they are really there, living the story. They are also much less likely than ENFPs to get distracted by questions about the philosophical meanings of their art, or to be interested in talking about the unconscious source that is the wellspring of their creativity. They might say: “I just find the story interesting and I felt like writing it,” or: “It’s a cool story, what more do you want?”
That was a little bit about superior Se in ESFPs. But ESFPs also have inferior Ni, which manifests itself in a couple of interesting ways. First, it can often give Se types a lot of confidence in their worldview and make them dismissive of perspectives that are too ethereal and don’t refer back to anything in the real world. This can become a problem when it leads them to dismiss views that are not based on “real” experience. However, it can also make them very good at debunking things that need to be debunked – like shady paranormal claims, for example.
Inferior Ni can also lead an ESFP to experience strange and paranoid thoughts that are similar to conspiracy theories in structure. Like INJs, they sometimes get an intense notion that they’ve figured out what’s really going on behind the scenes – something that nobody else is picking up on. Dominant Se has trouble dealing with these kinds of unconscious psychological hunches, so these premonitions often come through to the conscious mind of ESPs in a more physical form. For example, they may believe that shadowy, powerful figures are plotting to seize world power and turn the rest of us into zombies, or that aliens have injected a mysterious substance into the bloodstreams of all human beings that stops us from achieving our full potential. Of course, these are crazy and paranoid ideas, but with regards to creative story writing, these kinds of ideas can also be worth their weight in gold to writers, as they are both very imaginative and also very spooky. The TV show The X-Files is a good example of inferior-Ni-style themes and ideas being used creatively in pop culture.
ENFPs have dominant Ne and inferior Si
Dominant Ne gives ENPs the most multifaceted perception of all the types, since Ne is focused not on what the external world actually is, but all the different ways it could be, or all the different ways it could be understood. Ne wants to see every side of everything — no perspective is too far-fetched, as long as it’s fresh and new,and makes the Ne type think about the world in a different way. Because of this focus on multiple possible perspectives on reality at the same time, ENPs are actually quite poor at dealing with situations where it is necessary to engage with factual reality as it is happening here and now, and they can sometimes fail to take advantage of the opportunities they come across when compared with Se types.
In some cases, the ENP types’ quest for new perspectives can also lead to strange lifestyle choices. Especially with ENFPs you sometimes see them leaving family and friends behind in order to go off and join a religious commune or travelling abroad in exotic countries with a culture totally different from their own. However, these whims rarely last very long before the ENFP gets bored of them too and moves on to chase yet more perspectives.
Like the ESFPs, ENFPs are usually very creative and find it easy to come up with lots of ideas. Because of this, they can also be great writers, film directors, actors and artists. But one way in which they differ is that where the creative ideas of ESFPs tend to revolve around a consistent perspective or theme, ENFPs tend to throw lots of different perspectives and themes into the same mix – including them all, even within the same piece of work! For example, an ESFP might write a brilliant horror story with a creepy and exciting tone throughout, while an ENFP would be more inclined to write a story that has lots of different tones and perspectives all included, and all of which contradict each other (sad, happy, and scary might awkwardly take place, all within the same scene, for example).
That was a little bit about superior Ne in ENFPs. But ENFPs also have inferior Si, which manifests itself in a couple of interesting ways. First, inferior Si can make it hard for ENFPs to pay attention to facts and details in the sensible world since their brains are too busy swirling in different directions because of all of their perspectives and ideas. So they might forget where they put their car keys. And after eventually finding them, many start wondering where they parked their car! On the other hand, it can also make ENFPs experience almost transcendental bliss from activities where they have to pay close attention to their own bodies or physical states – such as yoga, meditation, or even ballet.
Inferior Si can also lead an ENFP to become very interested in past eras where they have an unconscious drive to amass a comprehensive catalogue of facts about what everyday life was like in those eras, until it’s almost as if they can recall it themselves. On the other hand, while they feel this unconscious impulse very intensely, most ENPs also tend to feel an equally strong impulse to move on to something new before they ever get to the state where they amass such comprehensive knowledge. So inferior Si can also turn the ENFP into a kind of historical jack of all trades who zigzags between factoids from different eras.
I am indebted to Ryan Smith, Hannah Strachan, and Rachel Wood for their comments and ideas.