September 1, 2014

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 russianinterpreting 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!

Comments

  1. Sleep Thief ~ says:

    Sorry for the typos. ;^; My phone dislikes long texts and correct spacing between words. =.=

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Sleep Thief. Actually, it is on my list to write a blog about INFJ careers because I have received many requests to address that question. What will fulfill? I absolutely DO intend to write that blog, maybe even this weekend. See I have this personality type called ENFP who sometimes gets overextended and must reign it all in before she can get to the checklist! Stay tuned for that blog on INFJ and careers! A

  3. This was the BEST explanation I have ever read about why I tested as an INTJ.

  4. Glad the article was helpful in enriching your understanding of type. Thanks for commenting.

  5. DANIEL IVÁN CAMPOS ESPINOZA says:

    Thanks from Chile. I’m INFJ (22 years), and I’m finding myself right now.

  6. So glad the article helped!

  7. Love this. My mom’s also an INFJ (passed down to me) and I connect well w/INTJ due to my needing to ‘get’ the ESP she experiences so vividly. I’m sloooowly allowing the F to fully shine, despite it being overwhelming. Knowing it’s common for us to easily burn out definitely helps. Also, love the story about your brother, thanks for sharing that, too.

  8. Suddenly I know why it is so difficult to take these tests! Thank you for sharing this enlightening (and reassuring) peice.

  9. I am an INFJ and now so much makes sense.

  10. can you comment on the relation of this type or rather the combination of INTJ/INFJ to the HSP (highly sensitive person) issue. It seems that this is very close.

  11. Titus- I am not quite sure what your question is. Can you elaborate a little more? Thanks. Ann

  12. Ann – sdorry for being too cryptic – it just occurred to me that the INFJ/INTJ type (and you described the ‘cross over for the two) characterization seem to cover a lot of ground that is also covered by E Aron’s HSP characterization; I just wondered whether especially INFJ types are more often than not HSPs…has this been studied, scientifically? The science on Myers-Briggs typology also seems rather on the weak side – when it comes to the usefulness to treating illness (but then, much medical science is so too). Thanks. Titus

  13. Thanks for clarifying, Titus. By the way, you have a great name! The MBTI is a tool meant for use in “normal” populations and not anything in the realm of mental illness. Although not scientifically studied, it does make intuitive sense that certain types would trend toward a certain mental illness profile. For instance, someone who has “SJ” preferences that are not functioning well might trend toward obsessiveness, for instance. But we type practitioners also need to know the limits of our assessment and training skills too. Therefore we really try not to venture into areas that we are not qualified to assess even though we might think of good questions like the one you brought up. Thanks for writing!

  14. Thank you. As an INFJ, I can attest to everything (yes, everything) you’ve said here. The N vs. J conflict is a concept I hadn’t read about, but it helps me understand better why it takes me so long to order at restaurants and why I always finished papers in college just before the deadline. I wondered if I might be a P, but now I know I’m just complex and conflicted!

  15. This is the most succinct and least “vague” description/explanation of what I experience daily as an INFJ. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time studying and exploring my own type, as well as learning to quickly determine that of others…which is not only a ton of fun, but also a great deal of help in explaining why I’ve always been so interested in understanding the “Why?” behind the actions of others. I’m a Physical Therapist and spend MOST of my work life primarily in my Auxiliary Extraverted Feeling function and also have developed my tertiary Introverted Thinking (reading, studying etc. theology, social sciences…) almost to the point of preferring that function when I’m not working. I’m not sure that’s healthy and it’s definitely been a hindrance to relationships (friendships and a recent divorce)…can you comment (point me to where you’ve already commented) on your understanding/experience of INFJs in relationships both romantic and platonic? Maybe more specifically…how can I get others to understand me when I rarely feel like I understand myself? And tied with all of that, should I try to expend less energy on relationships at work (patients, co-workers) in order to “save” some energy for my more important relationships – friends, relatives, romantic interests? How? Thanks so much…please don’t feel obligated to answer at length.

  16. Drop me an email at annholm@annholm.net and I will answer your question more specifically. The short answer is that since this type is 1/100 in the general population, your perspective will be very unique. Often we look to others to help us understand ourselves and if we don’t exactly see ourselves coming and going, that can be a difficult strategy. Learn to honor your beautiful uniqueness and others will also. At the same time, sometimes you have to explain yourself. For instance, my INFJ daughter used to “disappear” without any comment when she needed to introvert but then people wondered why she left. Did we offend her? Just learning to say, “Hey, I going for some introvert time (or something like that)”, helped considerably. Relationships are most difficult when we don’t understand the normal behavior of others if it’s different from our own.

  17. Rynie Joubert says:

    Yea you understand us.Well done! You do better than most of us INFJs.lol.So…how do we not make others’ problems ours?I have worked and over worked myself in South Africa…and STILL the cultures fight…lol.I live over seas now and it bothers me DAILY…but I was so over worked I became so sick…I feel guilty for leaving but had to look after myself and still…all I want to do is helping peoole.How do we not feel bad about ourselves when others treat us bad and disrespect us or when we can see thar they dispise us?What can we do about it when others dont like us because they can see we see they are jealous of us? Why is it sooo hard to not to judge shallow people…Im just very honest…Im surronded by a lot of ES personalities…if you didnt pick it up already…lol.Their word cuts through my INFJ flesh.Im not over sensitive at all…ha ha….YES I am.lol.If you want to email.me because the questions are intense its fine as well.Just what you prefer
    Sorry its so intense….INFJ.

  18. Please email me at annholm@annholm.net The questions are not too intense yet I want a little more information so I can give the best response.

  19. I am a developing INFJ that still doesn’t really know who I am yet. I can say for sure that the mask I wear to show the world is a lot less caring about people than who I actually am. I guess no one understands me, and that’s fine. As long as they care enough for me that they want to find out my real feelings, it’s enough for me. Thank you for writing this post, it truly represents my inner conflicts.

  20. Thank you, Lorlaine. There are some really useful comments from other INFJs too. Glad you liked the post.
    A

  21. Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and
    in depth information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.

    Fantastic read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds
    to my Google account.

  22. I’ve just found this article and it’s a really good read. I’m a 42-year old man who doesn’t really know who he is, although I’ve known I’m an INFJ for a few years. It made sense! I’m at a crossroads in many areas of my life at the moment but I’m most desperate to find a new career as my current job has utterly burnt me out; but it’s so hard to make a change, especially if you don’t know yourself well enough to know what you want. A lot of the INFJ suggested roles do appeal, perhaps unsurprisingly. But my main problem is that I don’t know who I am or what I want, (or that I want to do too much and can’t choose which way to commit) and others do struggle to understand me. So often I feel like there’s something wrong with me because my experience of a situation differs so much from everyone else’s. Thanks for the help.

  23. Paul-
    The first piece of advice I would offer is that your type, INFJ, is rare, particularly among males. While this bestows some very special gifts, you also don’t see yourself coming and going every day. Therefore, role models are less available than other types. For instance, the ESTJ type is a more frequently occurring type so role models are readily available. Often an INFJ type has to do some extra work on the side to make a most of your personality type. Seek to understand yourself. Accept your uniqueness. You may even hire a coach to help you sort through this. The main point is that you are excellent and you can learn to find both fulfillment and success once you understand yourself and not judge yourself. Hope that helps.
    A

  24. Aubrey Connelly says:

    Thank you. Very helpful. But do any other INFJ’s find it frustrating to know others so well? I find myself longing to be wrong about people. I meet someone and in just a few seconds I know if they will be good or bad for me, my friends, my son, my employer. Sometimes I shut out the inner voice screaming at me because I want to trust someone even though all my warning bells are sounding. Or I want to like a person because on the surface I can’t find any reason not to like them. But I’m always right. I wouldn’t call it ESP but my friends and family do. I should find it helpful, this sixth sense, but instead I find it exhausting.

  25. Thank you for these articles! I find them helpful and insightful. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test many times, yet it’s only been in the past 3-4 years that it has become quite valuable in the workplace and then at home. Finally, someone understands me! Every time I feel odd, confused, overwhelmed etc, I hop onto an all about INFJ/ISFJ page and feel at home. I somehow flip flop between the two.. not sure how ‘The Protector’ vs ‘The Nurturer’ differ exactly, but have had various jobs. I think someone asked about that?
    I started off in high school wanting to become an account (aka a book keeper), but dove into Greek/Roman Classics (history/art) and then became a Graphic Designer. I also enjoy being a DJ, but most importantly discovering and relating to the musicians I find. Along the way, I began to have the most fulfilling of all my ‘careers/callings’, taking care of musicians at events (and running these events). Whether it be 3-4 days or 24 hours, I will delve into this with my heart and soul, sacrificing sleep and energy all for the sake of protecting and nurturing (taking care of) these new found friends.
    I also got into management and social media, which was exhausting. It still exhausts me, although I keep trying to master it. Perfectionism and people-pleasing are my downfalls, and yes, being around intensive extroverts or large social gatherings has me drained just thinking about it.
    I have a very close friends that are highly valued and same with family. I also see in pictures in my head, as someone else mentioned. Can’t shut off the darn movie theatre in my head. If I lose something, I try to visualize it in my head. I can’t do this with numbers, no way. But if I need to see rooms or people or fashion, done.. all in my head.
    Speaking of fashion, not sure about other INFJ’s out there, but I enjoy bucking trends.. find something and love it (before it becomes trendy), become all enamored, but drop it once it becomes trendy. I will dive into researching a trend, piece of furniture, or find a deal, for days and days until presto!.. I find the exact thing I need to find at the price I want. If it’s from somewhere other than North America (the UK or from a big US city – New York, Chicago, Miami), and on sale, all the better!

    I will bookmark this site. Thank you!

  26. Thank you for writing! All of the comments certainly help others of this same complex and rare type, feel that they are understood. You brought up the ISFJ/INFJ types wondering what the difference was. If I could sum it up in a nutshell, ISFJ is more practical and in the moment, sort of like a first aid kit. Service in the moment. It is also more prevalent in the population than the INFJ type. INFJ is bigger picture or future in it’s thinking. They tend to think on a large scale and with a great deal of complexity in their solutions. It is in this complexity that INFJs often feel misunderstood or they have difficulty articulating to others, what they are thinking. Hope that helped!

  27. Aubrey, this is a very important angle on the INFJ discussion. While it is true that INFJ’s can know others well very quickly, their idealist temperament might be a little too harsh at times- In other words, the high standards and vision for a more perfect world might make the world as it is, sometimes difficult to bear. Thanks for writing.

  28. VaderPrincess says:

    Wow! Extremely insightful. Sometimes my unique INFJ-ness feels more like a curse than a gift, but articles like this make me lean more toward the positive! Thank you so much for spending such effort trying to understand all us INFJ’s :) I’m wondering if you have a rough idea on what percentage of INFJ’s you think are likely empaths?

  29. I believe that many INFJ’s are empaths. If I were going to venture out on this concept, I would say the ability to pick up signals outside of oneself via Fe (extraverted thinking/auxiliary function) and to “connect the dots” (dominant Ni – introverted intuition) would be an ideal combination of Jungian strengths to be an empath. It is a blessing and also sometimes a burden, keeping in mind that there 15 other personality types who have other strengths and therefore may not be as in touch with these parts of themselves, maybe not valuing it in self and others. For instance, some types value logic above all so they might be confused by an INFJ’s empath qualities. However, there is room for everyone on this planet so we can value logic too!

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  1. […] leader in the education industry took the MBTI Step II personality assessment and verified as an INFJ.  INFJ’s are introverted, and tend to be brilliant, complex, emotionally self- aware and […]

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