By Michael Pierce
David Keirsey nicknamed them the “Provider,” and I have also heard “caregiver” and “supporter.” In general, the ESFJ stereotype is that of a mother hen; louder and more expressive than the ISFJ, and therefore without any mystery about them. According to the stereotype, they are the ever-smiling bourgeois worker bees having tea at exactly two o’clock on lace doilies, poured from tasteful, flower-decorated china pots. If they don’t have such fine things, they’ll do their best to pretend, and if they have even finer things, one redeeming characteristic granted to them is their philanthropy and generosity. I intend to grant them a great deal more than that.
To begin, let’s break down what constitutes the ESFJ functionally.
They are a Judging type, meaning that they prefer extroverted judging and introverted perceiving. This means that they base their judgment criteria on objective, outside information, while simply observing and drinking in their subjective information and experiences. You could say that they are more aggressive towards the outside world and more receptive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted feeling and introverted sensation. Extroverted feeling is accommodating. It adapts to objectively understood values, becoming whatever is appropriate, harmonizing or desirable for a given situation. Meanwhile, introverted sensation perceives reality as it is, but invests its perceptions with subjectivity and recalls these subjective memories in similar situations. It is recording, or if you like; cataloging or recalling.
Third, they are very similar to the ISFJ: Both prefer Fe and Si. The ESFJ, however, prefers Fe more than Si. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call SFJ types the “Guardians,” because they thoroughly examine reality and compare it with all the past experiences they’ve collected in their database, and then decide how to best harmonize with or provide for or protect a situation. Of course, “Guardian” is merely a nickname to help me remember the SFJ nature, and does not mean SFJs are necessarily interested in guardianship as we normally think of it.
The ESFJ, then, is a “Guardian” for whom accommodation of others is more important than their subjective perceptions. They are primarily concerned with harmonizing appropriately to objective standards of sentiment.
The word I like to use to remember the ESFJ’s nature is “Cooperation.” This word may not seem any more impressive than the stereotype: Cooperation is often thought of as “not rocking the boat,” which does not make for an interesting personality. However, this is an oversimplification in the case of the ESFJ; they have great potential for gaining the cooperation of others, or eliciting it between two otherwise estranged parties, and thus using their gift as a tool to bring people together, or even summoning them into a force that can work as a single, powerful unit. At least this is how ESFJs seem to solve problems: By encouraging cooperation between parties, by helping people to recognize their similarities and common interests, and by enticing them to become more and more of a true human family; one united whole that can accomplish anything. The ESFJ can be very good at this type of persuasion.
For one, the ESFJ is already well attuned to objective valuations – in other words, to what is generally considered valuable, normal, appropriate, or comforting in various contexts. The ESFJ, preferring Fe to any other function, is particularly good at “fitting in,” wielding the known language and customs in a way that is pleasing and familiar to others. Granted that they are good at it, the ESFJ can be a very enjoyable person to be around, very kind and courteous, friendly, forgiving, generous, and perhaps above all, easy to talk to, in the sense that they want to listen to you, have genuine concern for you, and will make sure that you know this is the case. If anything, the ESFJ’s Fe drives them to give up of themselves for others, or at least to resonate deeply with that sentiment. The ESFJ, like the ISFJ, tends to be service-oriented. Other personalities are by all means willing to help, but this is peculiarly present in the SFJ types because their Fe is combined with Si.
I think a good way to look at Si is as sensitivity to one’s impressions of the environment, rather like a sensitive, photographic plate (as Emma Jung described it – ed.), or the vibrations along a spider’s web. This web is grounded and focused on things as they are, and not as they could be, which tends to give Si types a down-to-earth, practical perspective. In any case, the ESFJ demonstrates a certain grounded attitude that can be very helpful and stabilizing.
ESFJs are therefore sensitive to the concrete needs of others, or more accurately; they are sensitive to their own subjective interpretation of the needs of others, which can offer great insight or misunderstanding. In any case, one can generally expect the ESFJ to prefer the down-to-earth approach. The point here is that ESFJs often come across as being grounded, and more than that; as being reliable and disciplined.
The combination of dominant Fe and auxiliary Si makes the ESFJ personality very interested in human connections. They like to work with people, and in the end, are trying to become one with people; to cooperate fully with them, and to develop as rewarding a give-and-take relationship with others as possible. Beyond that, the ESFJ loves the feeling of family, or of being a part of a united group; part of a cooperative whole. To most ESFJs, we’re truly “all in this together.” For the ESFJ, if that motto is true, then it demands certain kinds of action. If we’re all in it together, then we’ve got to get along. There’s no reward for isolating oneself or for interacting negatively with others and getting them down. So the ESFJ tries to be very kind and warm and well connected with the people in their lives. I think Harry S. Truman summed it up best when he said: “The rule around here is that [employees may not] speak to the President. I break it every day and make ‘em speak to me.”
There are two final points I’d like to make about the ESFJ, concerning their tertiary and inferior functions. First, the ESFJ’s tertiary function is Ne. Like with the ESTJ, this manifests along with Si as both a meticulousness and a multifaceted interest. For the ESFJ, intuitions are an objective matter; they are something very much invested in objects, uncontaminated by any personal or subjective ideas (as is otherwise the case with Ni). As a result, their intuitions are much more clear-cut, and – if you will – practical (at least in comparison with the INJs).
Second, ESFJs repress their Ti, meaning they repress personal logical principles. For the ENFJ, this means a tendency to wander from what is certainly true into exaggeration for the sake of effect. For the ESFJ, who is less concerned with presentation of a vision than they are with pragmatic service, this repression manifests as a tendency to lose themselves in harmonizing with people. In other words, in their attempts to unite people into “one family, one group” they may make too many concessions; over-align with public opinion, and forget their own sense of identity and ethics in the process. More than any other type, the ESFJ “do as the Romans when in Rome.”
So, in summary, the ESFJ is cooperative, and good at fostering cooperation. They are focused on, and sensitive to, the subtleties of peoples’ connections with each other, and they seek to persuade others to join in traditional conceptions of unity and family by way of appeals to good-natured cooperation. ESFJs are practical, down-to-earth, courteous, and warm-hearted. Unfortunately, they repress Ti, meaning they may relinquish their own sense of right and wrong in favor of obtaining a sense of fellow-feeling with others.
Thanks for reading, and for all the ESFJs out there: Thank you for your warm hearts, practical minds, and for trying to help us realize the connections that unite us all.
Watch this piece as a video here.