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Building Blocks of Personality Type – Introverted Sensing (Si)

By Leona Hass & Mark Hunziker

Dominant for ISTJ and ISFJ
Auxiliary for ESTJ and ESFJ

In this chapter, we seek to present a picture of the “pure” Introverted Sensing that we would see if we could carefully remove it from its natural state where it is influenced and colored by all the other elements of personality. Though no process actually exists separated from the rest of the personality, the portrait that follows reflects core characteristics that are in play whenever Introverted Sensing is engaged at a conscious level. 

Introverted Sensing most clearly resembles the descriptions in the following pages when it is in the dominant (first) position. In fact, these descriptions are based on input from people for whom the process is dominant (1STJ and ISFJ). But even with Introverted Sensing in the first position, what you observe will vary noticeably depending on other factors - particularly whether it is paired up with Extraverted Thinking or Extraverted Feeling in the auxiliary (second) position.

In order to draw a complete picture of the “essence” of Introverted Sensing, one must use bits and pieces that cannot individually demonstrate “pure” Si. Like the splashes of color in an impressionist painting, however, the bullets in this chapter, when taken all together, reveal a vivid portrait that will enable you to recognize Introverted Sensing when you see it. Knowing what the process would look like if it could be separated from other influences is the foundation of process watching, the practice that will quickly take you as far as you want to go in understanding personality. 

Introverted Sensing is an information - gathering process. It focuses on the subjective, internal world of past experience by comparing current sensory experiences to similar past experiences through a vivid and detailed internal database of memories. Si wants to relive the past and selectively explore the impact and significance of current events, people, and experiences.

Introverted Sensing 

  • Experiences the present world through comparison with previous experiences.
  • Re-experiences the past sequentially, in vivid sensory detail.
  • Focuses on the memories and comparisons that are triggered by current objects, people, and events.
  • Stores sensory references from the past in a subjective internal database.
  • Has a high level of internal body awareness.
  • Subjectively selects what gets noticed in the present and recalled from the past.
  • Seeks to use previous experience as a guide for exploring the current experience.

Introverted Sensing

  • Sees the current world through subjective internal filters.
  • Uses an external stimulus in the present to stimulate an internal experience: the recall of the past.
  • Asks: How does this event in the present compare to similar events in the past? What is different? What is the same? How can it be improved?
  • Resembles a mental Rolodex file, video, or database for sorting through the internal images to find the right reference.
  • Enable accurate recall of all steps or events in the exact order in which they happened.
  • Looks at what happened and how it could be improved. Learns from past mistakes.
  • ls energized through combining vivid past experiences with the present to relive special moments.

When people are using their preferred Introverted Sensing

  • Their past experience provides the frame of reference for comparison with their present experience.
  • Much attention is paid to the facts and details of personally significant past experiences and how they are similar to or different from the present experience.
  • Their memories are clear and detailed but subjective, so they will not necessarily agree with someone else’s recollection of the same events.
  • Their most vivid memories are those that were most impactful. These memories are replayed over and over again with all the associated details and emotions. It is like actually physically reliving the event and re-experiencing the same emotions.
  • They prefer and trust their subjective recall. They may simply ignore someone else’s conflicting version of events and rigidly defend their own. Accepting a different version would require changing the memory itself. It would be like re-recording the whole event.
  • They are usually closely attuned to the physical condition and energy of their bodies.
  • The current experience that is triggering a recollection may be integrated with the memory, or it may be virtually ignored if found to be not relevant to the memory.
  • They may form associations with people or things in the present, based on someone or something similar from the past.
  • The intensity of a previous experience determines what will be remembered. Watching a sunset does not bring to mind every sunset ever seen, just the significant ones. These could include the best sunset ever or ones associated with significant events like falling in love or the death of a loved one.
  • They are referencing an internal database that is filled with an enormous amount of detail. The detail, however, is not 100 percent reliable as an objective record of the experience or event.
  • Familiarity has a great impact on making a current event more comfortable because the more similar the event is to past ones, the more easily it can be compared to them internally.
  • No one can change the internal references except the individual.
  • The current data and experience are not real until they have been validated by comparison with a similar circumstance or experience.
  • The recollection of a past event is automatically and immediately overlaid on the current experience.
  • They interpret the current situation through association with previous experiences. Sometimes this produces brilliant insights. Often it gives them a surprisingly complete grasp of the current situation. Occasionally it leads to misinterpretation and erroneous assumptions.
  • A smell or sound can trigger a flood of vivid memories, with all of the related emotions.
  • The present stimulus can be disregarded and reliving the past can become the current experience.
  • Their internal experience is about the most memorable one of its kind, whether good or bad, happy or sad.
  • They may appear quiet and composed, while internally they are very active, perhaps even in turmoil.
  • When something happens that is different from anything that they have personally experienced before, they need to find something that is similar in some way so it can be used for comparison.
  • What is important to them is the subjective experience, not the present external event.
  • They tend to do familiar activities well. Their internalized experiences, along with their ability to evaluate and compare them, serve as a reference library of best practices.
  • They cannot be pressured into changing a memory. Creating it was very personal and vivid. Recreating it must be done independently as well.
  • Remembered information is reality to them. Revising a memory is not just a matter of altering a record of an experience. It is like changing the experience itself.

When we experience people who are engaging their preferred Introverted Sensing, they

  • Do not always seem to be with us in the present. Sometimes, when they return from their reverie, they tell a story from their past that seems especially important to them.
  • Seem to recall past events from a unique perspective. The specific details and emphasis are strongly colored by how they personally experienced the event.
  • Tell about an event as a sequential, personal story. It is not like a “report,” in which one seeks to summarize the key objective facts of what happened and may make a point or reach a conclusion. Their reason for telling the story seems to be in the telling itself.
  • Sometimes reject new information that might cause them to change their course of action.
  • Are often predictable in their actions.
  • Usually are well organized and neat.
  • Are clear and confident about knowing what to do in any given setting or situation based on their prior experience.
  • May show emotional behavior even when there is nothing in the current external environment to support or explain that emotion.
  • May approach a task with statements such as “We did something like this before and it was not successful. This part worked but that part didn’t. Here is how we can make it work better this time.”
  • Often describe tangible items by comparison to other objects. They frequently use phrases that start with “looks like,” “seems like,” “feels like,” and “tastes like.”
  • Often compare events and situations to ones from the past. You may hear “I’ve seen this before” or “that reminds me of the time.”
  • Understand concrete descriptions and stories that make a point through comparisons.  
  • Can get side tracked into talking about topics that are related to the subject at hand rather than talking about the subject itself
  • May seem to wander aimlessly through stories of questionable relevance as they search their internal database for the correct one to use for comparison. Sometimes it is difficult for others to listen patiently to them while they sort it out.
  • May recount previous events in great detail. Sometimes only the storytellers themselves can see how those events are relevant to what is going on now.
  • Can bring great insight to a situation through their past experiences.
  • May go back and forth between two extremes of energy during a conversation. They could become animated and energetic if the subject evokes either happy or sad memories. On the other hand, they could show no interest at all if the subject is not something they have personally experienced.
  • May not provide much input or feedback during group decision making unless allowed time to access their internal world.
  • Can usually tell you exactly what you said at a specific time. If you disagree with them about what you said, they may become rigid in defending their recollection or totally shut down and not communicate at all
  • May be difficult to get to know.
  • Often have great confidence and certainty about the right way to do tasks.
  • Tend to be dependable and stable.
  • Have a learning style that is like rolling a carpet forward: linear, with each new learning an extension of the previous one.
  • Usually cannot be convinced that they are not recalling facts accurately. The more they are pressured or coerced, the more resistant they become. They need to be allowed to decide for themselves whether their internal data is incorrect and given space to re-form their memory.
  • Tend to accept change more easily when they can look to a similar transition in the past and find support for making the change in order to correct mistakes or improve a situation.

Specific perspectives and approaches of Introverted Sensing

  • Internal structure and organization for any task, project or group
  • Development of effective solutions based on past experience at lessons learned from previous mistakes
  • Institutional memory and a sense of organizational continuity through a history of past successes and failures
  • An internal template for how familiar tasks are done and how to build from experience to approach new tasks
  • A high level of precise internal body awareness
  • A calm and professional manner
  • Insightfulness, usually without unnecessary assertiveness

Paraphrased descriptions of what it is like to gather information through one’s preferred Introverted Sensing

  • Experience is like constant de ja vu. Everyone occasionally has the experience of some sight or smell instantly transporting them to a vivid recollection of a past event, but for me it’s almost constant. It is where I live.
  • My internal data is a lot like having detailed photographic plates that are available to me as a clear series of sequential pictures. It’s like a movie or video in my head that replays all the details over and over. It’s like a slide show or a mental Rolodex. The images always come to me in a certain order. These images are superimposed over what is going on in the present environment, which allows me to see all the similarities and differences.
  • I relive the experience. I feel exactly what I felt before, just as intensely.
  • I never use a camera because my internal pictures are so much more vivid and rich. Photographs are too flat and lifeless. The pictures inside are what really bring me back to a time and place.
  • I know the day’s weather by looking at the sky and comparing it to the pictures of skies in my memory and remembering the weather we had on those days.
  • Once I identify something, there’s usually no need to personally experience it any further. I get only what I need to trigger the relevant Images.
  • I’m hesitant to embark on totally new ventures. I am much more comfortable when I have already experienced something similar.
  • I am the only one who can revise a memory. Changing a memory is like destroying a valued object, like shattering a glass picture. It is done only when new additions to my internal database absolutely require revising the old material. Then I have to rebuild the memory from scratch.
  • I am very good at knowing when something is not right with my body. Without thinking about it I constantly and automatically compare my internal readings, like heart rate, pain, and energy level, with their normal state. I can usually tell if something is wrong with me long before any doctor or medical test can pick it up.
  • I don’t like a lot of change.
  • If you talk to me about something I have not personally experienced, I may just blank out. I do not have a clue what you’re talking about because I don’t have a reference.
  • I can recall in extreme detail the room layouts of places I have been. In department stores, my friends are amazed by how I can go to the exact location where we saw an item several weeks before.
  • I enjoy shocking people by describing what they wore and what they said in a meeting ten years ago.
  • I can describe, in great detail, several scenes and events that happened’ when I was very young. I remember a lot about when I was sick as a child, even the clothes that my parents were wearing. I was nine months old when I was sick, and I can still recall the experience fifty years later.
  • I really hate driving somewhere I’ve never been before. When I do get directions, I prefer to get specific details such as mileage or landmarks to go by. Maps don’t work well for me. Once I’ve been somewhere, I normally stick with the same route that I know.
  • In choosing a career, I needed to reflect upon what had worked and not worked for me before and what I had liked and not liked in previous jobs.
  • Whenever I drink a beer, I’m comparing it to my memory of the best “perfect” beer. Every beer I ever taste is compared to that beer. If I ever taste one that’s better, I’ll know it with certainty, and that will become my new standard of the perfect beer.
  • I can remember every teacher I ever had. I can hear their voices, picture the classrooms, and remember most of my classmates and what we did.

Scenes from the world of Introverted Sensing

  • A participant in a four-day workshop was able to describe in exact detail what each of the thirty-four participants had worn each day. She could also cross-reference those internal images and knew which people had worn the same articles twice.
  • I experience a tree by overlaying that tree with memories of significant trees from the past. When I am looking at a tree, it could bring up pleasant childhood memories of a tree with a swing or maybe unpleasant memories of getting stuck in a tree. I’m sure that no one else would experience that same tree in the same way that I do because my past associations with trees are mine alone.
  • If you bump into an old acquaintance with a preference for Introverted Sensing, your acquaintance may well proceed to tell you the details of your last encounter: where you were, what you were wearing, the weather, and what you talked about. He or she may make comparisons between the two meetings, such as noting changes in your hairstyle.
  • In a restaurant, I’ll remember what I ate there before or what I had at a similar restaurant. My menu selection will be based on this previous experience. If the menu choices are so completely strange to me that useful internal comparisons cannot be found, the waiter can be helpful by giving me something familiar to work with: by talking about the spices or the method of preparation or by comparing the menu items to the dishes that I know.
  • In a scene with friends on a boat, I’ll probably be drifting off in my mind to another boat ride. I’ll be reliving what was happening, whom I was with, where we went, and what we saw.
  • In a “type-alike” group exercise that focuses on talking about an object, our group always includes memories triggered by, and usually closely associated with, the object. For example, when a bag of eight markers was provided for the exercise, we remembered working with sets of markers in the past. Of course, we also knew that there should have been ten markers in the set and which colors were missing.
  • While planning with some business associates where to go for dinner, one young man said he wanted to go somewhere that served spareribs. He proceeded to tell us about a place in his hometown that served “the best ribs in the world.” As he was describing them, he came alive. His face became animated and he even began salivating. He said that he could actually taste the ribs. The others in the group were pulled into his experience by his vivid descriptions and his energy. But when he was done reliving the memory of those ribs, he no longer wanted ribs for dinner. He said that he had just experienced the best ribs in the world and any others would be a disappointment.
  • My young nephew walked through the door and immediately wanted to know what happened to the rug in front of the door. Since I had removed the old rug a while ago, I didn’t immediately understand the question, so I asked, “What rug?” Taking my question as my not valuing his memory, he got angry, put his hands on his hips, stomped his foot, and said, “You know, the green rug that was right here!” After I apologized and explained what had happened to it, he felt validated. He proceeded to compare the new rug with the old rug.
  • A woman described her vacation to Cancun. As she talked, her facial expression changed. She was talking about how much she had enjoyed herself. She said she could smell the Cancun air, see the fish in the clear water, feel the breeze on her face, and hear the birds. She said she immediately had the same sense of relaxation she had while in Cancun.

Unique strengths of Introverted Sensing

  • Awareness of when something is out of place, whether it is an object in a room or a step in a process.
  • By comparison to a remembered internal image of the same environment or procedure
  • Learn from past experience, to rarely make the same mistake twice
  • A reliable knowledge of the steps, in sequence, involved in most events or projects
  • Lend substance to the current situation by providing historical context
  • Bring structure to the current task or situation based upon what has or has not worked before
  • Careful attention to detail
  • Detailed, vivid memory
  • Stability