INTPs Under Stress: The Shadow Functions

I’ve written some about struggles faced as an INTP female. However, there is an extra layer of INTP depth and darkness we have not explored. This layer is exposed during seasons of stress. It is the INTP shadow.

What is the Shadow?

It has been said that our shadow is the part of us that others see, but we don’t. (John Beebe)

However, even we may begin to recognize our shadows when they are unearthed in periods of distress.

As an INTP who has battled chronic illness more or less throughout her life (with particularly rough patches within the past seven/five/two years), I have some unique experience from which to draw in painting the portrait of the stressed INTP. This is not to discredit or lessen the stressful experiences of other INTPs! However, Lyme Disease has a “special” way of altering your brain, which can make the shadow more pronounced, so I’ve had some extra opportunity for observation.

(Ever read Bite Me? It’s written by Ally Hilfiger, who suffered from Lyme Disease. I’ve only skimmed her book, but several of the parts that I read in more depth bore great similarities to my own experience. Before discovering what was going on, she was perceived as “simply” having a mental illness, and was admitted to a “nut house” (that’s never happened to me, but I’ve definitely battled severe mental illness. The leading cause of Lyme-related deaths is suicide, if that gives some indication of how mind-altering and oppressive the disease can be). Some types of chronic illness can really alter your personality and neural biochemistry that much.)

Well, how does that sort of alteration – a stress- and/or biochemically-induced one – look for the INTP?

When an INTP is stressed, initially, they will become a more “natural”, intensified version of themselves. (This is mostly pre-shadow. We’ll get to shadow later.) This often means more introversion and withdrawal, heightened extroverted intuition (Ne) (perhaps to the point of paranoia – or increased depression and anxiety about their accurate Ne perceptions and observations), and more susceptibility to unhealthy uses of the weaker functions (introverted sensing and extroverted feeling).

Due to their introverted sensing, the stressed INTP may become extra rigid or trapped in an area of life (such as an oppressive, fear- and rules-based system) which they associate with both childlike comfort and childlike boundaries. The INTP is generally not attracted to excessive restriction, as they place a heavy premium on autonomy. Under stress, however, they will often become complacent and accept the rigidity of a less-than-ideal structure for the reward of familiarity, comfort, and the freedom to be, well, apathetic, perhaps because they no longer have the energy to care, and tend to have developed some apathy in general (depending on the area of life). (C.S. Joseph describes apathy as a form of self-defense for the INTP, although for a slightly different reason than covered here.)

In times of stress, the INTP may resort to prison bars of familiarity, and be more easily provoked if someone attempts to pull them away from that. Conversely, the INTP may become severely reactive to areas of rigidity in their life, taking an extreme approach and fighting that introverted sensing area with extra zeal and paranoia, fueled by their heightened extroverted intuition.

Another way the stressed INTP’s Si (Eternal Child) may become more pronounced is through the pursuit of a hobby, collection, or creative obsession (either new or old/familiar – more likely the latter). This is their outlet for relief, and often the next-to-last attempt to cope more healthily with stress. This could manifest as an electronics collection, drawing, or mastering a DIY skill (such as homemade makeup or bread).

The INTP doesn’t like to depend emotionally on people, but if all else crumbles, they may rely on their inferior function, extroverted feeling, to save the day.

And so lastly, the “natural” INTP may respond to stress in some odd, intensified ways with their inferior extroverted feeling. This could manifest in shouting matches or as emotional eruption (for example, the INTP becomes so frustrated and overwhelmed, that they have to quickly leave the room in order to avoid blowing up on – or sobbing in front of – everyone). If they can’t extricate themselves from the situation in a timely way, they will unleash their anger on – or potentially emotionally hurt – you, or else stuff it and try desperately to cover up their frustration with silence and feigned apathy, until they have a quiet space in which to cool down and privately process their confusing extroverted feelings.

Another way the INTP’s extroverted feeling can respond to stress is by excessive (but awkward) caring and concern for others. The INTP may begin to project onto others their own personal suffering and stress, and be confused into perceiving that others are suffering from the same cause of distress as they are, and require the same degree of comfort they are currently craving (or never received). This can result in an awkward form of smothering or overprotection of others.

This “altruistic smothering” can also be the INTP’s disguise for fear of abandonment. Many INTPs would not recognize or acknowledge this type of fear in themselves, which is one reason it is found more in the inferior Fe and in the discarded unconscious self (the shadow). The INTP wants to be self-sufficient and not emotionally dependent on others, so this fear of abandonment, when it exists, is stuffed deep down in the unconscious. Inferior extroverted feeling is the INTP’s cover which expresses emotional care and strength for other people, but doesn’t tend to express the personal need for emotional support. That would be too vulnerable. However, the stressed INTP may slyly and unwittingly seek emotional and social validation by “altruistically” smothering others, in an unconscious effort to prevent their abandonment.

The unhealthy awakening – or testing – of the INTP’s inferior extroverted feeling is the key into the abyss. In other words, it’s the last defense and final gateway before the INTP’s shadow emerges. If they are attacked and overwhelmed beyond what the weak extroverted feeling can endure, the gate to the dark side is opened.

What is the INTP’s shadow? The ENTJ.

Meeting the INTP Shadow: Unhealthy ENTJ

To my knowledge, even most of my close friends have never met my ENTJ shadow (if anything, they’ve probably seen the intensified INTP version of me – including my overworked extroverted feeling – when I’m under stress.) Some former acquaintances from my more energetic years have seen glimpses of the ENTJ shadow, but mostly, it has unfortunately manifested around family during times of stress. I say “unfortunately”, but it can have its positive sides as well.

It’s important to understand our shadow side, so that we can draw from its benefits and minimize its pitfalls.

One of the benefits of the ENTJ shadow is that I get things done in a visually tangible way, and make significant progress (from a certain viewpoint) in my life. However, there is always a price to pay, so it’s not healthy for me to be an ENTJ long-term.

The functions of the ENTJ are completely opposite of (but in the same T/F/N/S order as) those of the INTP.

Good Parent
Eternal Child

(For a deeper understanding of functions, check out How to Remember Myers-Briggs Function Stacks.)

As you can see, emotional fears – such as fear of relational abandonment – would typically get stuffed at the very bottom of the shadow, in introverted feeling. This is a place the INTP and ENTJ shadow tend to avoid, or only explore in private. It’s the INTP’s eighth and most inferior function, and is like a basement or attic they only visit when they have no guests around, because the place is haunted. It’s the place containing the most suppressed memories and fears. Even if the INTP Fe has brought some “junk out of their attic” as a hospitable guest, to make you feel like they are opening up to you, there are probably feelings they’re still keeping hidden in the attic. It’s possible they’ve even forgotten about many of them.

Once the bottom of the INTP’s function stack (Fe) is hit – and sufficiently triggered – the ENTJ monster rears its ugly head.

What does this look like? As an INTP female, it tends to look a little different for me than it may for many INTPs (the majority of whom are male). As is the case for most people, however, my shadow reveals both some frightening and useful traits.

When excessively stressed, I go from not particularly wanting anything (P) to knowing exactly what I want (J), and being willing to practically “walk through Hell” to get there. I cease to care about people’s feelings very much (switch from inferior Fe to inferior or “demon” Fi). I become extremely practical, industrious, and efficient (this is an extroverted thinking (opposing role) trait, along with potentially extroverted sensing). My combative and argumentative ability and readiness is heightened, and I tend to be less concerned about speaking entirely diplomatically (whereas the INTP tends to be more diplomatic).

In the past, I have also developed unhealthy sensory addictions during periods of stress (such as excessive caffeine consumption, and suboptimal or thoughtless shopping habits/choices). This can be the ENTJ shadow extroverted sensing (trickster) at work. It may crave external stimulation or tangible “results” as a soothing and sustaining mechanism, and, due to its lack of practice or familiarity for the INTP, can respond immaturely and impulsively to this craving.

(Note: a genuine, healthy, adult ENTJ would likely handle their extroverted sensing and other functions much more maturely due to familiarity and practice).

The ENTJ’s introverted feeling, if and when it is even present, can manifest as private sobbing sessions (with or without a known specific cause), or inner contempt and resentment (often directed at self as much as at others), fueled by ENTJ’s introverted intuition (critical parent) and/or the stressed INTP’s warped extroverted intuition (which is normally a healthy, helpful auxiliary).

In times of intense stress, the Ni critical parent tends to manifest for me as an internal questioning of my morality, integrity, motives, and justification for what I do or want to do, and harsh criticism for my perceived failures.

According to

The critical parent function shadows the auxiliary mother/father function. In contrast to the “parental” second function that nurtures and protects, the critical parent belittles, inactivates, and humiliates. It calls out our shortcomings and failures and rejects our ideas. This function can be directed inwards towards our ego, or directed or projected at others.


Creative chaosMerciless order
options open
Extreme self-discipline, potentially
at the expense of relational connection
Endless execution
DiplomacyStubbornness, bluntness, difficulty listening
Content to
specialize and
hone current
More willing to temporarily compromise passions and
strengths in order to ultimately bring about
personal change and accomplish goals in specialty areas.
Cares about
Cares about quantity (time, money,
business production or efficiency)
(stays out of
way unless
Irritated, aggressive arachnid (stay out of their
way, or they will tear you to shreds
without quite knowing or caring
(until later) that they have done so. It’s not
that they want to hurt you, it’s that they’ve
lost all patience or tolerance for perceived
distractions or obstacles to their goals.
They don’t want anything or anyone
blocking their vision for achieving
personal progress (and consequently,
stress relief). And so without much
thought, they quickly “remove”
(avoid, trample over, cuttingly argue with)
any perceived obstacle – even a human –
as they would any insentient object. It’s not
meant personally. It’s meant for progress.
Book smart (Ti) –


Industrially smart (Te) –

Efficient, Organized, Bold

(Micro)Managerial, Ornery “drill sergeant”

of concept and
Management of overall resource usage integrity,
and overall progress per resources invested

Looking at this comparison, you can probably see why a healthy INTP and ENTJ can actually have a dynamic working relationship.

However, when the INTP is stressed, there is often no ENTJ to look out for them – or whom they trust – so the INTP becomes their own makeshift ENTJ, working together with their shadow to try to protect the INTP identity (“ego”), behavior, and freedom.

Some things which may particularly irritate the stressed INTP – or their ENTJ shadow:

  • Unsolicited coaching/advice on how to accomplish their goals (they’re already self-motivated and have a plan, they just haven’t communicated it to anyone, unless there is a perceived need to)
  • An effort to control their schedule (they probably have a very ambitious and carefully-constructed one – digitally and/or mentally)
  • Conversation they perceive as pointless:
    • Gossip
    • Informing them about something routine or functional which does not pertain to them or require their input
    • Discussing anything else they have no need to know or discuss
    • Asking them to confirm, agree to, or guarantee something to you about their personal choices and path (in other words, insisting on an “okay” or “yes” from them on something that’s their own decision)
    • Asking them “how they feel” (their shadow extroverted thinking function doesn’t really care that much – they won’t be hindered from their goals by their feelings, and only have respect for those feelings specifically pertaining to the object of their goals. They can see their feelings as a weak point in their armor, which might lead to failure of their goals if they reveal its location).
    • Asking them to inform you about much of their personal life / stuff you don’t need to know
    • In general, wasting time or energy with breath. To the ENTJ shadow, breath is precious; it must be used for accomplishment, not idle chatter or deep analysis of feelings. This may be especially true – in a more literal fashion – for the ENTJ shadow with cardiovascular or respiratory/asthma problems – issues which may exist in a stressed INTP. They literally can’t afford to waste air. The chronically ill INTP/ ENTJ shadow is conserving that precious air to get things done, all with the (conscious or subconscious) goal of eventually restoring themselves to a healthy state. They may view any waste of air as delaying the achievement of that healthy state.

In the end, the ENTJ shadow is really working for the oppressed and struggling INTP, and particularly striving to protect and restore the sanity of INTP’s Ti and the safety of INTP’s Fe. The ENTJ is the substitute operations manager of INTP’s logical freedom and sensitive, childlike feeling. In times of intense and chronic stress, it works doggedly until those are restored. That is the ENTJ shadow’s unconscious (generally unacknowledged) project.

Stressed INTP Ti (Hero): “Can I just have some sanity for once?”

ENTJ shadow Te (Opposing Role): “Don’t worry, I’ll ruthlessly defend your right to sanity.”

Ne (stressed Good Parent): “People are dangerous. I can’t trust anyone.”

Ni (Critical Parent): “You can’t trust yourself, either. Tap into me and I’ll keep you from trusting at all! Except me, of course.”

Ne (stressed Good Parent), Fe (Inferior/Aspirational): “People hate me.”

Se (Trickster): “Don’t worry, I’ll help you drown out the rejection, or find a way to make them like you. Be more impulsive. Buy more things that will increase societal approval. Drench your fears and insecurities in addiction or impulsive and risky pursuits.”

Si (Eternal Child, Relief): “I just want the freedom to be me, and focus on my creative outlets and projects.”

Ni (Critical Parent): “I’ll make sure you stay true to you, even if it means offending or disappointing other people.”

Fe (Inferior/Aspirational/Soul): “I care for people too much, and I push them away. And the people who show feeling toward me are just trying to manipulate me.”

Fi (Demon): “Don’t worry. I’ll help you shut all your feelings and care inside, so they can’t get hurt.”

Te (Opposing Role): Yes, forget about any(one’s) feelings! Logic rules!

Ti (Hero): People don’t listen to or respect my logic.

Te (Opposing Role): Well, then you don’t care about their feelings!

You can probably see the mix of positives and negatives in this internal unconscious dialogue.

Are you an INTP? Do you remember a time when you shifted (partially or completely) into your ENTJ shadow? Share your experience in the comments!

The Struggles of an INTP Girl

INTP Functions

How to Remember Myers-Briggs Function Stacks

P.S. Speaking of resource management…

…check out my book, Time Management for the Free Spirit: Flexible, Fun Time Management for Creatives, Young Families, and Those with Chronic Illness, available in e-book and paperback!

Whether this was written in my natural INTP state or ENTJ shadow is uncertain. Perhaps they coauthored it. However, it was written particularly with Fe compassion for P types. 🙂


(Admittedly, the paperback costs significantly more than I would have liked to charge. Unfortunately, the necessity of printing this book in color significantly increased the cost of production, and as it is, I receive very little in royalties even for the price of $12.49.

At $4.49, the e-book is a much more cost-effective option, unless you have a specific need or preference (value) which makes the hard copy worth the investment. But there I go being all Te-shadowy and bossing you around on stuff you can figure out for yourself. 😛 )

14 thoughts on “INTPs Under Stress: The Shadow Functions

  1. Pingback: The Sixteen Types – Ego, Shadow, Subconscious, and Superego Dimensions – Reflection Cube

  2. Jonathan V Peirce

    This was very fascinating, thank you.

    I am a male INTP, and this sounds so familiar. I had an accident that caused a traumatic brain injury, and while I was recovering, I lived in my shadow.

    Thank you again,

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Whit T

    Thanks for the article, I’ve found a lot on your blog that resonates.

    I am an INTP female and have a heavily used ENTJ alter ego. I definitely agree with you that the shadow can have positive aspects. It’s mostly about managing how often it is used and to what end, something I’m still struggling with.

    I’ve been battling with depression, anxiety and obsessive self criticism for decades. I have regularly used this ENTJ personality to get myself out of a rut. During these periods I become very organized, efficient, goal driven, and assertive. I’ll often develop an exaggerated belief of my own capabilities and have an almost aggressive disregard for authority. It can last for a few days, to a few months. It takes massive amounts of energy, and because it is so focused, it generally ignores signs of fatigue. These periods typically end in burn-out.

    The upside is I get a TON done. As a result, I keep holding out hope that I can harness this shadow self in a healthy way that doesn’t inevitably end up with me fried, confused, depressed, and desperately needing to be alone for a few weeks. I’d be interested to hear if any other INTPs have successfully integrated their shadow.

    Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Whit! Glad you’ve found a lot here that resonates, though I’m sorry to hear we have similar struggles. 😦 I’m definitely still figuring out how to integrate my shadow as well. Thanks for reading, and sharing your experience!


  4. Paula

    INTP (pretty sure) female here who doesn’t usually comment, but this is a special case. This is the best discussion of shadow for INTP I have run across and it comes at the right time. Thank you for leaving it up for me to find. Now trawling your site for more gold

    Liked by 1 person

  5. z3r0g

    This was insightful, I often wondered why I tested as INTP but at work exhibited ENTJ traits. It also helped me understand why, in the past, I’ve had problems with addiction under times of stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Z

    What can I say, this describes me to a inTp. pun intended. Or maybe I misunderstood the meaning of puns.

    Either way this accurately explains and describes me and helps me lots.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Osamatarig

    I’m really using this shadow right now and early it was very weird to experience se but now I’m used to it and yes this happened when I was immersed in anxiety and depression

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Osamatarig! Sounds like you’ve found ways to integrate your shadow Se over time. Sorry to hear about the anxiety and depression, and hope you’re doing better. ❤


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