By Kristen Claire Jones, Special for USADT
If you’ve done the Myers Briggs test and know you’re an INFJ, then hopefully, this discussion will be interesting for you. It assumes a working knowledge of Jung’s typology system as adapted by Myers Briggs and also an understanding of the basic markers and characteristics of the INFJ temperament.
The Introversion/Extroversion Issue
The E/I issue has been debated ad infinitem in many places but the primary difference for the INFJ is biological (i.e. cannot be changed). It boils down to how much stimulation you can take in and still remain comfortable. For INFJ’s, this threshold is low and you are going to have to accept this fact, frustrating though it is. Your ability for laser focus on one thing for long periods; your tendency to observe and reflect, and your need for time alone are all a direct result of a lower threshold for receiving external environmental input. If you take in too much, you will become overloaded. Because you don’t depend as much on external stimuli for motivation as other types, you come to regard your internal concepts about life as primary and even once this picture this looks pretty solid, it is, in fact a work in progress that will never be complete. Why? Because introverted intuition is your dominant function.
What is introverted intuition? It is the process of recognising and interpreting information you take in. It is a perceiving left brain function. What’s interesting about this way of viewing the world is that you take in the material facts as do all the other types, but you are immediately aware of an ability to organize them in more than one way. You form many different conceptual patterns with information which changes its meaning and gives new options or potential outcomes. Your direct opposite, the extroverted intuitive types, do this too but unify information into multiple “outward” patterns or possibilities. For INFJ’s the patterns aren’t out there but inside and part of themselves. Everyone will at some time use introverted intuition to contend with some serious ambiguity in their life but what’s unusual about the INFJ is that they use introverted intuition as their “dominant” perceiving function all the time! It is their primary method of understanding reality.The extreme end of this perception is experience of psychic phenomena. Something that seems to result from the combination of the F and introverted N function.
The immediate problem you face as an INFJ utilising your dominant function is that you are going to see things from many, sometimes conflicting points of view all at the same time! This can paralyze you from taking any action or expressing an opinion though usually your J function will overcome this problem. It’s a rather strange combination of vision and practicality. You won’t necessarily feel a need to declare that one opinion is inherently better than another. The great thing about this though is that unlike most other types, when you face what appears to be an insurmountable problem, it is often possible to solve it by just changing your perspective and defining the situation in some other way. The world could do with more people who have the ability to think this way. INFJ’s make great councillors, teachers, mediators, managers, editors and even politicians for the very reason that if they can get another person to see beyond the fixed subjective paradigm of their own typological reality; there is the chance to move them past an unhelpful gridlock pattern of thought. It is so important for INFJ’s to develop their secondary and tertiary functions because if they can do this, they become prepared to surrender some of their inner world and share their skills.
A major pitfall to watch out for as an INFJ is that because it’s so instinctual to see the systems or the scaffold that underlies cultural, religious and personal assumptions you will immediately see the flaws in these structures. You see the aspects of reality that aren’t being acknowledged. INFJ’s can get stuck in the habit of mentally tearing these away (whereas others will just consider them fixed and live within them). However, unless you can articulate something better, and find the language to describe it, this part of the INFJ temperament turns into a pointless and unhelpful exercise. A lot of INFJ’s try to address this constructively in some form of art, poetry, music, writing or political commentary. Others will do it by trying to work within, and subtly alter, distorted economic or business structures. They will instinctively try to break through simplistic, fixed patterns and assumptions which create distortion, inefficiency or suffering of some kind.
From the INFJ’s perspective, the self cannot be defined by external circumstances. On the contrary, reality is what INFJ’s bring to something from within. You will, of course, create a personal external identity just as other types do but you tend to place much less importance on it, sometimes even seeing it as a kind of character to assume in certain circumstances. If, for example, you are at a party and you’re asked what you do (a perfectly reasonable conversation opener) you might find yourself struggling to give a suitable answer. This is because INFJ’s simply don’t view themselves in terms of externals (what they do or who they are in relation to others). To them, the self is something that cannot be explained in a sentence and involves not just the individual self but also the universal self that exists within the INFJ. To complicate things further, the line between the individual self and the universal self starts to get blurry as the INFJ gets older. This is complete lunacy to other types, particularly those who are dominant sensates but it is the reality of the INFJ.
Many INFJ’s long for some kind of religious/spiritual succour, but they will generally outgrow any belief system once structures creating separation (e.g. the saved and the sinful) are uncovered. This is because separation is fundamentally at odds with the inner world of unity that most INFJ’s ultimately arrive at. You won’t find it easy to explain all this to someone you’ve just met, while clutching a wine glass at a cocktail party. My advice on this? Get over it and tell them what they want to hear! What you can and will recognise about these types of social situations which all INFJ’s hate, is the underlying unifying need for all types including yourself to connect with others. You might feel horribly inauthentic expressing yourself in this way in a social setting that’s looking for a short sound bite of information that skims the surface but the world won’t grind to a halt. If you can begin to recognise that the majority of the population are E’s and sensate not intuitively based, then you’ll realize that most other people feel depleted and overtaxed by the kind of inner mental processes and discussions that motivate and energise yourself. INFJ’s are the rarest (less than 1% of the population) of the personality types and it really helps to remember that other people are not experiencing reality as you do.This sense of both the universal and the individual self residing within is both the curse and the blessing of the INFJ and the older you get the more important and insistent the universal part will become as you look to contribute in some way to making the world a better place. As you agonise your way through your early years, try to remember that the real beauty of The INFJ type lies in the fact you are not at the mercy of your external environment for your sense of identity and self in the way that extroverts or introverted sensate types are where things need to be reflected back to them in order to be real. Conversely, remember too that too much introspection on your part will deprive you of your ability to share your views and yourself with others. Some level of extroverting is important because it forces The INFJ to become aware of the reality of others and you need to understand clearly what exists in the external world in order to bring about any kind of change. You share this need to make a difference with many other types and while INFJ’s are idealistic, there is no naiveté (or even thoughts of success) attached to the INFJ’s perception of the process.
If you are young and struggling, just realize that many INFJ’s spend the first half of their lives just trying to work out what it is they are actually perceiving and then trying to coordinate it into a coherent big picture. Unlike ST’s or NT’s who tend to focus primarily on detail the NF is always striving for the biggest picture possible that they can create.This is a big job and many INFJ’s only start to feel comfortable as they enter midlife.
Extroverted Feeling the Secondary function
Each personality type has one dominant and one secondary function. The secondary function for the INFJ is “extroverted feeling”. The dominant function will come naturally and easily to you but the secondary function will be harder and take much more effort. Our two best functions are meant to work together but because their attitudes are directly opposed, their integration initially creates inner conflict. The attempt to use both creates a certain amount of mental and emotional friction. We need this friction to stay conscious no matter what type we are. An unopposed dominant function leads to a one dimensional life and a vague sense of feeling incomplete.
In some ways, it is easier for the INFJ type to assimilate the secondary function because they experience conflict all the time between their inner and outer reality and between their individual self (which can feel very different from others) and their universal self which feels intensely connected to others.
Regardless of what type you are, if you get stuck in your dominant perspective (refuse to grow) you tend to start to lose touch with who you really are and what you want. The problem is rectified (regardless of whether you are an E or an I) by some level of introspection to find out what is truly important to you and not just rely on feedback from others.
As an INFJ, one of the greatest challenges is finding out what feelings coming in are yours and what are not. You’ll have already worked out that picking up others feelings will often cause you a considerable level of pain and discomfort. Because you do this, it’s a very important discipline for the INFJ to come to understand that taking on other peoples pain will only weaken and distract from any assistance you can give. You need to recognise the feelings as not yours as they flow in, and then learn to immediately release them so you can focus clearly and objectively on the problem. At the same time when something is yours, you must somehow articulate and own it. The idea of being emotionally vulnerable is frightening to an INFJ because there are no natural filters. This can and does result in becoming very self protective in certain situations but your innate understanding and ability to experience the feelings of others provides a universal bridge that gives a unique ability to find common ground in resolving difficult, conceptually challenging problems of all kinds in all walks of life.
As a general conclusion, INFJ’s can sometimes feel a bit sorry for themselves with all this going on but the truth is that each personality type will face different and just as difficult challenges. All of them in some way ask us to take responsibility for taking raw unformed talents and transforming them into something beautiful. Often we stubbornly won’t develop our secondary and tertiary functions until the price of that imbalance becomes greater than we can pay. In other words a crisis of some kind. When we feel in conflict or stuck, this is the prelude, if we allow it, to re evaluation of our usual coping mechanisms and to further typological growth which can lead to a happier and healthier life.