Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Care & Feeding of the INFJ

INFJ: The Counselor

So, for context, let me first say that when I asked a close friend for help writing this who is also an INFJ (as I am), she (half)-jokingly said, "Just write: you wouldn't understand" and leave it at that. (!!)

The INFJ is the enigma of the 16 types; it's the rarest (estimated at about 1% of the population) and certainly the most difficult to pin down descriptively, but I'll do my best. 

If you are partnered with an INFJ, is important for you to understand that they are incredibly empathetic and sensitive, and that this is both a blessing and a curse. They do best with partners who are strong, steady, balanced, and healthy, because there is always a risk of the INFJ taking on negative emotions from their partners by virtue of this almost-pathological empathy. Too, the INFJ can get overwhelmed about the woes of the world. Without getting too new agey, the best way to explain it is that the INFJ is profoundly connected and responsive to the energy around them. They feel everything more deeply than most people do and are affected on a cellular level by the pain and suffering of others. It is not unusual for the INFJ to be moved to tears over the plights of strangers. They need a partner who sees and values this quality, because it is foundational to who they are at their core; anyone who isn't able to appreciate it or who finds it irksome will be experienced as rejecting the INFJ outright. 

The INFJ is freakishly intuitive. This is probably the other most important thing to know, because ultimately it accounts for their "superpower", which looks a lot like psychic ability but is really just hyper-intuition. Get ready for the INFJ to basically read your mind all the time, tell you your business before you even know it, and routinely predict events that will come to pass. 

This is largely an unconscious process, but the partner of an INFJ will probably realize at some point that at all times, the INFJ is reading the environment around them. They are taking the emotional temperature of everyone in the room, assessing body language, watching interactions, eavesdropping, sorting data, analyzing, questioning, filing new information, rejecting old information, looking for patterns. Constantly vigilant of everything and endlessly receiving data. (This sounds like a lot of work, but for INFJ it is effortless and reflexive; it's just what their brains do.) 

This can be off-putting to people who misinterpret it as a judging function. It is not. Despite the "J" in the name, INFJ is decidedly not a judging type. They get the "J" because what gets extraverted (shown to the world) is a decision-making function, extraverted feeling. But they are actually a classic prospecting type, with some vast majority of their energy going towards (neutral) information-gathering. As such, yes, they technically are analyzing you, but it's not intentional, and ultimately it stems from a deep desire to understand you (and everyone/everything else). 

They have enormous stores of information in their internal files, much of which they aren't conscious of, and can pull out details they didn't even know they observed, mostly about "vibes" and "impressions" (more so than they'll recall verbatim conversations or sensory details). INFJs can, with uncanny accuracy, "just know" things. This is their greatest strength and what can make them so interesting to partner with. 

All of this is to say, it is true that INFJs have the busiest brains out there, but they should not be misinterpreted as simple over-thinkers. Very little of this energy is wasted. While there is a certain amount of navel-gazing in any of the NF types, when an INFJ is at their best (i.e., not in the grips of some emotionally-stunting funk) they are more often than not pondering large, complex, abstract ideas and trying to grapple with philosophical or moral dilemmas (rather than just stewing about how they personally feel about stuff, although of course the more neurotic INFJs will do quite a lot of this too). Basically, if you peered inside their brains at any given moment, you'd be astounded at the amount of activity going on all the time. 

There is a certain wisdom to the INFJ that people respond to favorably, like, "this person seems to know what they're talking about." You can take your INFJ to a dinner party, so long as it's a relatively small group, and trust that they will connect with people and probably end up with several new friends or business contacts. People generally like INFJs, even if they aren't quite sure what to make of them or even find them awkward at first, or slow to warm up.

Anyway, that clarity of vision and depth is a quality they very much value in themselves, and as such they will be deeply hurt by an offhanded comment such as "you think too much" or "you're so serious". (Advice: don't ever say any of that to an INFJ). 

What makes those type of comments sting so much is that the one thing INFJs want more than anything is to be understood fully, and they genuinely try to make themselves known to the people they care about. But they get frustrated and hurt when most people still just don't get them. And any of the aforementioned comments reflect a lack of a) understanding and b) appreciation for the unique perspective of the INFJ. 

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Care & Feeding of the INFP

INFP: The Healer

The most helpful thing to understand about INFP is that they are first and foremost deeply introverted. They are also incredibly sensitive. Some vast majority of their cognitive energy is spent simply feeling their feelings. 

And they have so.many.feelings. 

This is actually quite a lot of work on an energetic level, and can be exhausting for the INFP, particularly for INFPs who haven't developed skill or comfort expressing themselves, because then basically their whole life is happening inside their heads. The INFP is private and guarded naturally, so even the well-developed INFP is often reticent to express their deepest feelings. When they do, it would behoove their partner to lean in, get comfortable, and listen carefully. The INFP will clam right back up if they feel remotely judged, criticized, or unheard, and it will be a long while before they try again with you. (If they ever do). 

It is not uncommon to find INFPs who habitually isolate themselves or push people away, often because they had negative relationship experiences in the past or even just because they fear negative experiences. (Remember they are extremely sensitive, so deep emotional wounds can take a long time to heal). A wounded INFP will protect that rich internal landscape with the tenacity of a pack of junkyard dogs. Admittedly, these self-protective INFPs are hard to build relationships with, but it is not impossible with patience, time, and practical affection. 

And I will add here that it is entirely worth it, because any INFP is a wonderful partner when you really snag one. They will give you all the space and understanding you need, a quality that is especially valuable if you're a big, weird extravert who struggles to find a partner who accepts you fully. An INFP will embrace your idiosyncrasies willingly; in fact, they tend to prefer "weird" or unconventional people. And once they trust you, they actually like it when you encourage them to get outside of themselves. They can be hilarious, silly, fun, playful partners. They can be wonderful performers and storytellers, in part due to their rich imaginations. They are also great with kids, in part because they are somewhat childlike and innocent themselves. They do well with bright, optimistic, cheerful, peaceful, steady, independent partners who are undaunted by their dark spells. 

Because INFPs (even under the best of circumstances) are prone to dark spells, depression, and self-pity. They are very hard on themselves and prone to feeling guilty or ashamed and getting stuck in cycles of feeling this way. And they will usually withdraw when they are hurt or overwhelmed. It's just how they are. So a partner of an INFP has to learn to curb the urge to draw them out forcefully, because it won't work. They will actually be most likely to dig their heels in and retreat further if you try to force them to open up when they don't want to or aren't ready. That said, they do need your encouragement to come back from the dark side, especially if you have done or said something to contribute to their shutdown. You will need to gently inquire as to what's going on with them, and what you can do or say to make it better, and wait patiently until they are ready to talk to you about it. 

I know that sounds confusing. 

Here's another way to say it: https://www.patreon.com/posts/care-and-feeding-8768336


Care & Feeding of the ENFP

ENFP: The Champion

The most important thing to know about dating ENFP is that they need a lot of physical affection in order to grow and thrive in a relationship.  They need to feel connected to their partner, specifically in a physical way. ENFP loves to nest; they are the consummate cuddler. While it can sometimes feel smothering or codependent to a partner who doesn't value this, a partner who does will find a warm and inviting home with the ENFP. You will get tons of support, love, affection, and space (which sounds contradictory, but isn't really) in a relationship with an ENFP. 

ENFP is full of big ideas, and will entertain, delight, and surprise you with all the ways their brain can work at once. They are brilliant at brainstorming and creative problem-solving. They happily live in bigideasabstractconceptpossibilitiesbrainstorm-Land; this is the ENFP's natural habitat and the place they feel the most alive.  So, frankly, do not expect them to always attend to the practical things you'd like them to attend to or that you think they should care about. They can attend to those mundane tasks, but it costs them a lot of energy. They just don't really care about details that much and will happily allow their partner to pay the bills, make the appointments, and just tell them (nicely, patiently) what to do and where to be when. They have a relative sense of time, so you can probably expect your ENFP to be late on a regular basis, mostly because they are running around trying to get everything done and be everything for everybody. The thing that makes this less frustrating is that once they do finally sit down with you, they are fully present and totally engaged with you. They will turn on that particular ENFP charm, and you'll forget you were ever annoyed. 

(Update: I've had a lot of people get stuck on this "ENFP is always late" thing because they're like "this sounds like me except I'm on time all the time"... generally upon probing further, these people are on time because they are concerned with upsetting other people, not because they have some deep commitment to being on time or have any real concern about time in general. The main idea is that ENFP's concept of time is relative, meaning they don't tend to view it as a "real" or objectively meaningful thing. This also relates to why you may not hear from them for hours/days at a time, because they may get immersed in something and completely disregard or be unaware of how much time has lapsed.) 

So, anyway, one way to show an ENFP that you love them is to allow them space, grace, and forgiveness to be their semi-flighty selves, and to consciously ground them in a loving way that isn't shaming. In other words, they will probably like (value, appreciate, or even need) that you're more responsible than they are, but you don't constantly have to remind them of that, because that will hurt their feelings and make them feel like you don't appreciate them. Pay attention to the things that you are not annoyed by in your ENFP, because there are many!

ENFP is prone to guilt and shame trips, when imbalanced. They want to be able to say "yes" to everything. They are active, imaginative, courageous, inspirational…which often means people want them to do stuff with/for them. But ENFP is only human, and also is the most introverted of the extraverts, (meaning they need alone time), so they can easily slip into a cycle where they are promising too much to too many people/places and can't keep up with everything. In these moments, instead of asking for help, they may just double-down on the overcommitment and end up feeling like they let everyone down and are a huge failure. (Enter self-pitying ENFP emotional meltdown here). You can help your ENFP by learning to notice when they seem depleted or anxious, and offering to take up some of the slack, or just be there with positive support and affection. You can do little nice things for your ENFP in these times that will be appreciated, even if in their anxiety and worry they forget to be quite as appreciative as you might hope. There is a slight tendency of the ENFP to be unintentionally self-centered when they are not at their best. A well-developed ENFP will not mind you pointing out when this begins to happen; a gentle, "Hey, I'm here too and I need some attention" should suffice. Avoid shaming language at all costs. 

ENFP is a social chameleon; they can fit in anywhere. Everybody loves an ENFP! So, the positive aspect of this is that you can take your ENFP anywhere and know that they will be likable, charming, and charismatic. They may not follow any rules or conventions that are expected of them, but no one will really mind because they are generally pretty delightful to have around. They are intuitive about people and have an uncanny ability to connect with and win over virtually anyone, even the most curmudgeonly or reluctant of folks. 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Intuitive Feeling Men

If you read "Care & Feeding of the Intuitive Feeler, Pt 1", you already know that the NF deeply desires connection. 

This is true for both women and men, although generally, NF energy (especially INFP and ENFP) could be considered feminine energy. I don't mean that male NFs are feminine, just that they innately have qualities typically assigned to femininity (e.g., nurturing, empathy). The thing about male NFs, though, is that oftentimes, they don't even know they're "feelings" types at all. They often find out only when their lives are in full crisis-mode. My theory on how this happens is that we socialize men to be tough, stoic, etc. We teach men that being "sensitive" (empathetic, emotional) is bad, that nice guys finish last, that crying is for girls. And so this often stifles the innate tendency of "sensitive" men to be present in their feelings, and to learn how to get their emotional needs met effectively and in a healthy way. 

Male NFs who are not in touch with their true natures are usually very unhappy. Imagine living fundamentally out of alignment with your true nature most of the time. It is a lot of work! They may be inclined to abuse drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, or overeat (basically, anything to numb all the feelings). They may be selfish, cold partners, or they may just fake their way through their relationships never really feeling quite right. (*The one place they sometimes can feel safe being open and vulnerable is with their children, so they often take great pride in their fathering abilities and are remarkably good dads). If they don't have kids, they may often just put all of their energy into their careers, thinking this is just the way it is. Feeling silly that they have an ache, a longing, for something deeper. Walking around with all kinds of unnamable feelings they couldn't talk about anyway, because "men don't talk about" these things. Wondering vaguely why they are so unhappy, what is missing, is this all there is? 

The rest of this post can be found on my new blog: www.patreon.com/amymiller

Care & Feeding of the Intuitive Feeler, Pt 1

Most of the people who come to me for counseling/therapy/life coaching (whatever you want to call it) are Intuitive Feelers, (or "Idealists", one of the four subgroups of MB) despite the fact that NFs actually only make up about 12-15% of the general population. They are INFP, ENFP, INFJ, and ENFJ, and I can usually spot each one with uncanny accuracy within just a few minutes of our first meeting. I'll talk some specifically about each one later, but the collective is also helpful to understand. We use the letter "N" to signify "iNtuitive" to differentiate it from the word "introverted" which is what the "I" signifies in MB. The other subgroups are SJs (the Sensing Judgers or "Guardians"), NTs (the Intuitive Thinkers or "Rationals"), and SPs (the Sensing Perceivers, or "Artisans"). 


The best explanation for why so many of my clients are similar in this way is that there is a deep attraction between NFs, a sense of "speaking the same language".  In jest, I've described my job in part as "making intuitive feelers feel less crazy", because often NFs feel adrift in the world, not quite fitting in with how everybody else is going about doing things. NFs often report a vague sense of being a square peg in a round hole. So they find me online and read my website and blog and think "This person is going to understand me. This person gets it. This person speaks my language." (I'm an INFJ, in full disclosure). So while of course I can effectively work with people who are, say, ISTJs or ENTPs, and I certainly like other personality types, the people I feel the most easily able to understand are other intuitive feelers. **(Side note: learn to trust the ping of that little voice that says somebody is "your people". You're almost always going to be right.)  

I am writing this in part as a way for people who are NFs to see themselves as part of a tribe, (and to feel "less crazy") and in part for people who are NOT intuitive feelers to understand and relate better to, and care more effectively for, the NFs they love. 


The NF is above all idealistic. We value harmony, fairness, justice, camaraderie, deep understanding. We are activists; we are humanitarians. We have big ideas and deep thoughts and we want to discuss them at great length. We love to inspire and get inspired. The Intuitive Feelers are teachers and champions and counselors and healers. It is important for us to feel as if our lives have meaning and that we are living in alignment with our deeply-held values. We constantly explore questions like: 

Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my purpose? Why do I feel so restless? Am I doing it right? How can I be the best version of myself? How can I best care for others? What am I supposed to be when I grow up? How can I best be known? Why do I have so many feelings? Am I weird?

The #1 hallmark of an NF's emotional orientation is a deep desire for connection. I would go so far as to say it is a non-negotiable need. To non-intuitive-feelers, this can feel like a confusing thing when we ask for it. "What do you mean, "connection"? We have sex. We love each other. We talk. I'm right here. How do you not feel "connected"? 

This is a thing that comes up a lot in couples work when one partner is an NF and the other is not (especially if the other partner is an SJ or an NT). I try to explain to the non-NF in the relationship that connection in this sense is an abstract concept that is rooted in unnamable and entirely subjective feelings. (They often look at me like "WTF did you say?") 

Okay, I'll try to unpack that: 

Connection is just something you know when you have it and you feel its absence when you don't. At its core, it is about being seen, understood, and valued in the right ways. It's about ease of communication. It's about feeling familiar and comfortable with a person, like it's not so taxing to get close. There is safety in connection. A sense of being "at home". 

NFs: I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. There are people you meet in your life who will just feel familiar to you right away. There are people you might not see for 10 years and then pick right back up where you left off. Some relationships feel deeply connected in a quick, easy, and organic way, and some just … don't. (Side note: generally speaking, when we NFs report feeling quickly and organically "deeply connected" it's to another Intuitive Feeler.) 

But that is (I think) because it's more natural between us; I don't think it means we can't connect with other types. Sometimes the solution is for the NF to step back from abstract feelings-land, and give actionable name to the thing they want from their partner. I might ask "What can your (ISTJ or ENTP or whatever) partner do or say that will help foster this sense of connection for you?" Teach your non-NF partner how to connect with you; it's frustrating for them when you just say "it's this thing"… I am telling you, often they literally just don't understand that, and it can even sound ridiculous to the more rational/logical types. 

We need to try to do all of that peacefully, though. Harmony is a prized quality in our relationships. As well, NFs prize collaboration and coming to diplomatic conclusions that are win-wins. Which is also to say, NFs are conflict-averse, generally speaking. Not to say we can't do conflict, but we would really prefer to either ignore negative things altogether (especially INFP, ENFP) or have them neatly resolve with very little upset or anger (especially INFJ, ENFJ), because it pains us (all NFs) to feel disconnected from our partners. It is important for NTs in particular to recognize this, because you people are not personally threatened by conflict. You can have a fight with someone you love, and hash it all out, and even have it get kind of ugly, and then once it's all said and done, be like, "Okay, that's settled, what's for dinner?" 

But the NF can't easily do that quick of a recalibration, so be mindful and pick and choose your battles carefully. We can easily feel disconnected during conflict, especially if we sense that the relationship is on shaky ground already, and that can drag up all kinds of extreme negative emotions. When we are in a negative space, we can be very irrational, even mean (I'm looking at you, INFJ). We often respond with defensiveness when we feel backed in a corner, and so it's best to approach us with ideas and suggestions rather than complaints and personal attacks. 

We are at our best with partners who are relatively stable and who naturally err towards optimism and brightness, and although we might be attracted to dark or brooding people (some of us actually tend to be those dark people- I'm looking at you, INFP) it would behoove us to avoid them. All the NFs are deeply empathetic, but for the more pathologically empathetic among us (specifically INFJ and ENFJ) a partner's negativity will literally affect us. It will infect our spirit and drain us of energy. It will make us cranky, and mean, and difficult to be around.  

We also need physical touch. Sex is often about that aforementioned connection more than it's about…sex. Rarely do NFs have sex just to do it. Most of us need to feel close in order to really enjoy it. Too, some of us may spend more time daydreaming than actually doing the things we can do with our actual partners, and then be surprised when our partners say they don't feel close to us. So from our partners, we sometimes may need to be reminded of the sensual, the corporeal, and brought back down to earth. If left alone, we can be a million miles away, so be present with us. One way to ground us in reality is with touch.

Also, get deep with us. We love to have meaningful conversations; it's our bread and butter. It nourishes our spirit. So tell us your secrets, your dreams, your big ideas, your wacky theories. Talk to us about anything out of the ordinary; there is nothing worse for us than being bored with someone. Teach us about things you know that we don't, (but don't talk down to us). Make sure you listen to our ideas, too. Dialogue with us and challenge us to clarify our visions. 

Speaking of communicating…as a partner to an NF, you should know that we take things personally in a way that is sometimes confusing to other types. We may invite criticism (ENFJ, in particular, does this) but it should nonetheless be given sparingly because it will hurt our feelings if we feel the criticism is not constructive or is something negative about who we are personally. (You may say, "I don't like how you did that" and we might hear "I don't like who you are" and react in some out-of-proportion way because it hurt our feelings. So be cognizant of how you phrase things and make sure you're saying lots of nice things to us, too.) ENFP and INFP in particular need lots of verbal praise; it is not sufficient to expect that NFs in general "know how you feel". We may, in fact we probably do because we are intuitive, but we need you to say it. No, that maybe isn't "rational", but it's how we feel. That should be sufficient reason for you to give it if you're able. A few kind words will go a long way in the care and feeding of your NF, and costs you very little. 

That is worth repeating: we need encouragement and kind words of affirmation. We need to feel like we are being appreciated for who we are. 

Disclaimer: I'm not a certified MBTI administrator and so I'm just going to talk about archetypes and tendencies and particular "ways of being" in the world that I've observed. Some 95% of my clients are NF types, so I'm also referring to the sorts of people I interact with the most, which clarifies why I don't address the other MBTI subgroups. I really don't have much experience working with other types of humans! NFs are my people. 

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On being an introvert...

The thing about being an introvert is that our energy is a non-renewable resource. There is only so much of it available in a day, and so we have to learn to be judicious about where and how we spend it. Being around awesome people nourishes us, teaches us, challenges us to grow, and/or simply makes us happier…but it does not give us energy, no matter how awesome they are. And being around not-awesome people drains us especially quickly.
If I think of my energy in terms of what it consists of (e.g., love, attention, time) and think of where I put it as an investment, it becomes clear that I cannot afford to invest it unwisely. I have historically been generous with my energy, and offered it without question to undeserving (people, places, activities) and then wondered why I felt energetically bankrupted.
Meditation: 2015 is the year where I am careful with my energy, and do my best to only invest it in (people, places, activities) which are likely to offer a high return on that investment, and to invest it mindfully and do my best not to waste it on (people, places, activities) that simply siphon it away.