By Michael Pierce
The SFP types are among the most underappreciated types in the Jungian community, often finding themselves to be the butt of jokes and attributed a medically concerning low intelligence. The ESFP, particularly, though called ‘the Performer’ by David Keirsey, seems to be called ‘the Partier’ by the Jungian community. ESFPs often seem to be associated with partying, and frankly, usually wild sexual partying, or at the very least, unrestrained hedonism of some sort. The ESFP is seen as a fun-loving party-goer, teaching people how to relax and let loose. Drunk and disorderly, they are (according to the stereotype) without a care in the world but how to satisfy their lust for sensations. They are considered, essentially, as happy-go-lucky, people-loving ESTPs, or else shortsighted, uneducated, hedonistic ENFPs.
I am not aware of any Jungian function that is necessarily disposed to getting drunk and partying, or any of the above statements. I think the nickname of “Partier” is not even just misleading, but plain wrong. The ESFP does seem to have a fun-loving attitude, but that is not the same as being an unrestrained party animal. I think the ESFP should be just as associated with potential brilliance and genius as any other type.
As always, let’s break down what constitutes the ESFP functionally.
They are a Perceiving type, meaning that they prefer extroverted perceiving and introverted judging. This means that they base their judgment criteria on subjective, inner information, while simply observing and drinking in objective information and experiences. You could say that they are more receptive towards the outside world and more aggressive towards their inner experience.
Their preferred way of doing this is through extroverted sensation and introverted feeling. Extroverted sensation is photographic: It has the most direct relationship with objects of all the functions, giving them the clearest and most realistic perspective. Introverted feeling is individualistic: It has deep, personal passions and convictions that it holds to despite outside opposition, and greatly values the right to individual freedom of expression and being true to oneself.
Third, they are very similar to the ISFP; both prefer Se and Fi. The ESFP, however, prefers Se more than Fi. Nevertheless, they are in some sense the same type, or at least sister types. I personally like to call SFP types the “Aesthetes,” because they combine a sharp and vivid perception of the world with isolated and passionate subjective values, thus giving them a highly developed and individual appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of existence. Of course, “Aesthete” is simply a nickname to help me remember the SFP nature, and is not meant to imply that all SFPs are natural artists or musicians, or even that they appreciate what you yourself may call art.
The ESFP, then, is an “Aesthete” for whom their objective observations and experiences are more interesting and important than their individual values and desires. They are primarily concerned with experiencing a direct, photographic relationship with the objects around them.
The word I like to use for the ESFP is “energy.” ESFPs tend to have a distinct aura of positivity, happiness, liveliness, activity, health, and vitality; in short, they seem to have an abundance of energy, both physical and psychological. It therefore is of interest that Friedrich Nietzsche’s vision of the Ubermensch or “Overman” has a remarkable similarity to certain aspects of the ESFP personality. This is no mystery, because the ESFP is the reverse of the INTJ, representing Nietzsche’s more depreciated and undeveloped functions. Nietzsche believed the Ubermensch represented an individual who had a “Dionysian” relationship with life and the world. As Nietzsche said in The Will to Power, “[The Ubermensch] wants rather to cross over … to a Dionysian affirmation of the world as it is, without subtraction, exception or selection. … The highest state a philosopher can attain [is] to stand in a Dionysian relationship to existence – my formula for this is amor fati [love thy fate].”
I do not mean to suggest that ESFP preferences are literally the Ubermensch that Nietzsche described – there is a great deal more to this concept than I have presented. I bring it up, however, because I think this life affirmation – the health and vitality of the Ubermensch – helps illustrate a fundamental part of the ESFP personality, namely their saying “yes” to life: If any type is life affirmative, if any type naturally represents the vitality and fearlessness, the strength of heart and mind, and the fullness of life, it is the ESFP.
This Dionysian relationship with the world, which I consider a hallmark of the ESFP, can be broken down and described in terms of the ESFP’s functions, particularly Se and Fi. Se has the most direct relationship with the world of any of the functions. In both the ESFP and ESTP, dominant Se manifests as a prioritization of the here and now and how to get the most out of it. This commonly manifests in ESFPs as a natural, relaxed, and even happy-go-lucky attitude, marked, above all, by a certain spontaneity.
While the ESTP’s Ti/Fe axis can cause them to conceive of morals and values as something outside of themselves that they should align themselves with, the ESFP’s Fi/Te axis sees morals and truth as something that originates from within the individual. Even if ESFPs are inspired by something outside of themselves, their values must still grow from within them, because the Fi/Te axis only harmonizes with the beat of their own drum and is loath and even clumsy at aligning with any other.
As I mentioned, this preference for Fi over Fe is the cause of the ESFP’s spontaneity, for the ESFP doesn’t just live in the moment, but also wants to express their own values in the moment, thus often manifesting as a peculiar spontaneity. The ESFP’s expression of their passions will often take place in this spontaneous manner. The ESFP is a passionate type who values things deeply and feels things deeply and, like the ENFP, finds individual people extremely enjoyable, and their returned love especially moving. More than any other pairing of functions, Se and Fi together are a recipe for a joyful soul.
This all gives you the impression, I am sure, that the ESFP is always happy and never serious or sad. But this, too, is hardly the case. The ESFP is marked by spontaneity, enjoyment of life, energy and passion, but just like the ENFP, the ESFP also has its sober and serious side. The ESFP’s enjoyment of life can at times overflow so that they not only laugh longer than others, but may appear inanely entertained or overly gushing or loving, as giving the impression of being too sensitive to their own passions. On account of all this merriment, the ESFP may even give the impression of being intoxicated in some cases. But all of this is not because the ESFP themselves are simpleminded or inanely entertained; it is merely a manifestation of their great willingness to enjoy life to its full, which is sometimes much more than the rest of us are accustomed to.
I have seen ESFPs, even moments after recovering from an especially hearty throw of laughter, snap back to sobriety and serious examination when duty makes it clear such an attitude is needed. This does not mean that the ESFP’s laughter was not sincere; I like to think of it as a natural component in the enjoyment of life, meaning that laughter and enjoyment are not so much involuntary reactions, but voluntary actions when seen in the mature individual; a choice one makes to be humorous and cheerful and enjoy things, which can be changed back to sobriety just as voluntarily.
This sober attitude is, I think, a certain manifestation of Te. Not that Te necessitates a serious attitude, but I think the fact that it is merely depreciated, and not repressed as in IFPs, gives the ESFP a certain edge when it comes to serious dealings. The ESFP is able to strategize how to logically go about a specific goal. Like with the ENFP, this adds to the ESFP’s free-spiritedness sense of wanderlust, because not only do they want to experience reality and fulfill their values, but by way of Te, can plan very strategically and efficiently for how to do this. Because Te exerts a certain influence over their cognition, they can frequently experience a drive to accomplish their goals, which only adds to the sense of their abundant energy.
The ESFP’s dominant Se has several other effects: Like the ESTP, the ESFP often regards their subjective perceptions, meaning their Ni, as objectionable, because such perceptions are in danger of personal bias and having a warped perspective, rather like the INFJ and INTJ regard objective perception as equally unreliable because of the unreliability of the senses. As such, the ESFP and ESTP often take a dislike to highly educated jargon and metaphysical discussion, because such things represent the repressed aspects of their own psychic life, and thus take on all the unnerving mysteriousness and unsettling airiness that undeveloped Ni represents. The ESFP often feels that such academic and intangible musings are wrongly rewarded with honors and praise, because those who focus on such musings are so often completely useless in the real world and in terms of practical problem solving – in other words, in engaging directly with the world.
Another effect of dominant Se, especially combined with Fi, is the sensuality that is often found in the ESFP. This is not a necessary effect, but it does seem to be a very common one, even more so than in the ESTP. The ESFP’s affirmation of life often includes an affirmation of sensual experience. Stereotypically, this can found in Quentin Tarantino’s bloody cinematic style. But less stereotypically, and in my opinion more commonly, the ESFP’s affirmation is not demonstrated as a flagrant surrender to sensuality, but can actually appear to be the opposite, where the ESFP, in order to truly affirm life, refuses certain things that they feel actually negates life – for instance, Ringo Starr gave up his recreational drug use, stating that when doing drugs “you’re not creating, you’re not doing anything positive.”
One more matter that needs consideration is the ESFP as a performer. In one respect, this is a correct nickname. Se’s affirmation of direct experience and Fi’s affirmation of personal values often give the ESFP a love of the limelight, where they can perform in real time, express themselves in the here and now and experience things as they come, while at the same time affirming their own values before an audience and obtaining their affirmation. Thus, while the ENFJ tries to persuade and coerce others by empathizing with them, getting on their level and then leading them to a goal defined by the ENFJ, the ESFP has no such interest in leading others, but only in enjoying the mutual affirmation of each other’s values. And so, ESFPs do not usually attempt to interfere with the values and goals that others have, but merely consign themselves to expressing their own values as inspiration for others who may wish to follow.
Finally, there is the problem of repressed Ni. While the ESFP and ESTP would not admit it, they find the realm of Ni just as enticing and seductive as the INFJ and INTJ can find their repressed Se. While the ESTP tends to overestimate the reach of their big ideas, the ESFP, being more focused on the values of the self, thus finds their relationship to their subject and their attempts to read its intuitive visions to backfire more on the self. By this I mean that the ESFP may experience paranoid thoughts, or foggy intuitions concerning their relationship with the world that are less than comforting. Hunches that people are out to get the ESFP, or that something strange and unprecedented is about to rear its ugly head in their life, which come with conviction of any intuition. What is happening here is that the ESFP does not devote enough effort to introspecting on their own intuitive associations, finding it difficult and unnatural to do so. So the intuitions they have are often misinterpretations of impressions, erroneously seeing links between things that are not really so strongly linked, or seeing grand overarching patterns where there really are none.
So, in summary, the ESFP has great “energy,” saying “yes” to life and trying to enjoy it as fully as possible. This often makes them spontaneous, passionate, free-spirited and happy-go-lucky, inspiring positivity and strength in others. Although they may cross over into frivolity, they are not simpleminded, but can demonstrate a sober, serious side as needed, and they have a powerful Te drive to target and accomplish their goals. They also repress Ni, which can result in discomforting paranoid thoughts that come to them with intuitive certainty.
Thanks for reading, and for all the ESFPs out there, thank you for your positivity and teaching us how to say ‘yes’ to life.
Watch this piece as a video here.