The Mysterious INFJ
A critical step in the reliable use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is verification of type through a dialogue between the individual completing the inventory and the practitioner interpreting the results. After receiving the results, the client will read the description of the personality type, in the aggregate, to determine if it is largely accurate. In my experience, I have found the INFJ notoriously difficult to type. Even after the verification step, the INFJ can be uncertain that this description fits. It isn’t due to shortcomings in the Myers-Briggs questionnaire. It is mainly due to the rarity and complexity of the INFJ type.
Exact percentages vary but the INFJ, the rarest of the personality types, is said to account for 1-2% of the overall population, females slightly more often than males. The INFJ has been called “The Mystic,” “The Counselor,” and “Empath”. They are described as original, gentle, caring, and highly intuitive. The quality of extrasensory perception, or ESP, is often attributed to them. People who have known INFJs for years continue to be surprised when yet another layer of their complex personality is revealed. As a result of their inferior sensing function, they can be stubborn and obsess about an inconsequential detail , usually when they are under stress. Their ability to see the big picture can be affected during these times. INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large. They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they are so genuinely interested in people — a product of the auxiliary feeling function they most readily show to the world (Introverts show their auxiliary function, or the function that supports the dominant function, to the world first). Still, INFJs are true introverts, who can only be emotionally intimate with a chosen few from among their long-term friends, family, or mate. Yet, INFJs will suddenly withdraw into themselves, sometimes shutting out those closest to them. This apparent about face is necessary, providing both time to rebuild their energy and a filter to prevent the emotional overload that can happen as they deeply experience other individuals. This is perhaps the most confusing aspect of the enigmatic INFJ character to outsiders particularly if experience with this type has been limited. I have 3 INFJ’s in my life, my brother, my daughter, and my best friend and I can attest to the fact that they are like Russian nesting dolls, when one doll is exposed, another one lies inside.
The INFJ has a curious mix of psychological preferences that both serve them well but also create almost constant dynamic tension. The first of these is the tendency to desire closure and timeliness battling with an even stronger preference to keep generating more options and perspectives (N vs J). This can lead to a feeling of being confused or disorganized because even as an INFJ is trying to complete something on time, new ideas keep appearing which try to displace that which has already been decided. One of my earliest recollections of this in my daughter was when she shouted, “Mom! Help me stop this video in my head!” An INFJ may begin a project or a paper and find themselves operating under a time crunch not because they are disorganized, but because they have yet to call a truce between their imaginative mind and their need for closure. Hence, an INFJ may report a preference for “P” or perceiving characterized by working best under pressure, keeping an open schedule, and allowing events to unfold when in fact this behavior is not preferred but is a byproduct of the battle between an internal brainstorm and the need for closure. The upside to these opposing forces is that the INFJ, having an awareness of what is happening, can consciously turn off the debate, and enjoy a rare combination of creative thinking and follow through. An INFJ wants both!
Another interesting nuance of this personality type is the feeling preference combined with introversion. As feelers, INFJ’s are focused on people: listening to them, encouraging their growth, and honoring their unique qualities. Many INFJ’s are counselors, ministers, and teachers. They are often in the forefront of significant movements to change the world. Famous INFJ’s include Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King jr. and Nelson Mandela. They are often actors and comedians such as Adam Sandler, Carrie Fischer, and Jamie Foxx. A preference for introversion merely means that the individual has to retreat into the mind at some point, to recharge energy. Introverts, particularly those who have a people oriented feeling preference (INFP, INFJ), can and do extravert well but when the battery has been drained, such individuals may abruptly withdrawal from the scene. The jewel in this dynamic though is that as introverts, these individuals also tend to be observers and can therefore experience people at a deeper level, identify the ironies in life, and combined with their rich imaginations, dream of a more ideal world than the one that exists today. As far as verifying type, the I versus F dynamic might result in a reported preference for extraversion. Another possibility is that the richness of their feeling experiences may feel overwhelming at times so they rely on thinking to manage their thoughts and emotions. Hence a “T” preference may be reported. This complexity can lead to confusion on the part of the INFJ during the type verification process.
A logical question at this point might be, “Why is it so important to know one’s type? An INFJ might mistype as an INFP, INTP, ENFJ, or INTJ. The brief answer to that is when type is known, one can better understand cognitive strengths and make choices that will make use of an individual’s greatest gifts. Type identification can also uncover blind spots and illuminate reoccurring sources of frustration in work/school situations, communication, relationships, and identification of overall life purpose. For general information on the value of psychological typing, please see my link at: http://www.annholm.net/myers-briggs-type-indicator-mtbi-is-psychological-type-the-key-to-uncovering-your-potential/ There is also an excellent website for all things INFJ at http://www.infj.org/public/infjcharacter.html
One of the characteristics often attributed to INFJ’s is ESP. Sometimes they seem to sense “something in the air.” As I was writing this piece last night, my INFJ brother, who I talk to perhaps once per month, called me from a baseball field. He said, “I want to share this with you. My son played his last baseball game on this field. The sun is setting and I am sitting on the dugout bench, by myself, reflecting that everything goes so fast. It’s a cycle though, like the rising and the falling of the sun. I wish I could share this moment with Dad and Grandma. They were here for me like this once. It’s romantic and beautiful.” The irony of writing a piece about INFJ’s only to have one of my favorite among these call me during a quintessential INFJ moment!